Benediction Online

Sunday, February 02, 2014

It is Enough

Luke 2:22-40 

Today we celebrate not only Groundhog Day but also the presentation of Jesus in the temple. According to Leviticus, forty days after his birth, the first-born boy child was to be brought to the temple and dedicated to God.  So Mary and Joseph brought Jesus on the appointed day. If Jesus was born on December 25th he was presented in the temple forty days later, on February 2nd which is today. The last time February 2nd fell on a Sunday was in 2003, so it’s not often we get to hear these lessons on a Sunday morning.

Yet the words of Simeon are very familiar. Two elders of the people, Simeon and Anna greeted Mary and Joseph and recognized in the six week old child someone very special, someone they had been waiting for, and Simeon prayed a prayer that today we call the nunc dimittis which is Latin for “now dismiss.” In the form we most often use, it says:
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
   to go in peace as you have promised;

For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
   whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
   and the glory of your people Israel.
I think that Simeon is saying that his life is fulfilled. Now he has seen Jesus it is enough. He is ready to die, to go in peace as God has promised.

Which has made me ponder, what is enough? If I were to find myself dying today would I like Simeon say it is enough? What would I need to have happen in my life in order to be able to say that?

Enough is not an easy concept for us. We live in a culture which is geared to more.
If I give you a glass of water you might drink it right down and enjoy it. If I give you a second you might still drink it but enjoy it less, but if I press a third on you you would probably say, no thanks I’ve had enough. When did enough come? Enough came at a certain point when you realized you weren’t enjoying the water as much as at first and every additional sip you enjoyed less. Enough is when we are satisfied. Yet our culture is geared to our wanting more. If you watch the SuperBowl this afternoon you will see many wonderful and creative commercials, all geared to make you want more. Enough doesn’t make a profit.

We are so focused on more that it’s difficult for us to contemplate our lives coming to an end and it being enough. “Lord, you now have set your servant free” says Simeon, “to go in peace as you have promised.” It is enough; “for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior.” What more could he want? What more could there be?

The early church realized that in the reign of God they did not need to fear death, and so they took risks that led to martyrdom with bravery and even with joy. Their lives lived in the new reign of God - in the love of Christ - were enough. Each day was enough. But today we see long public battles over when it is enough to let someone die and when we should continue to try bringing them back to life. And for every public battle there are millions of private ones. It is hard for us to say, this life has been enough and now Lord, “set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.” In a recent article, the president of Mount Holyoke College wrote that death continues to be viewed as patently un-American." We do everything we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive.

As followers of Jesus, death is not fearful because we know that he has already conquered death – through his resurrection he has proved that the very worst that can happen to us is just the entry into a new life. Nonetheless, like Woody Allen, I know I feel that “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Yet death is an integral part of life. And here in the faith community we get to support one another not just in the joys and challenges of life but also in the sorrows and difficulties of death. We are going through a time when many of our members and friends are being touched by death or by life-threatening events which remind us of our mortality. Last weekend, Brad Marz who built our kitchen died unexpectedly; John Haley, Betty’s husband is almost certainly in his last days or hours; Jim Hayes is under Hospice care as his cancer has metastasized; Dorill Thompson and Maggie Kemish have both had emergency surgery for bowel obstructions; Joann Rusch is still in rehab having difficulty breathing. And there are many others we know and love who are looking death in the face either in their own lives or the lives of their loved ones.

We often feel powerless to help in any meaningful way, because we cannot take away the pain. Jesus may have conquered death but he did not take away the pain of separation from those with whom we have lived and loved, in dark times and in the good times. Let us never forget that we can surround them with loving light in our prayers. And we can rejoice with those who recover and weep with those who mourn.

Last week I attended a training in community organizing. Among the qualities of a good leader they included “has come to terms with their own mortality.” I’m still not sure why they included that but I have been pondering it. What does it mean to have come to terms with my own mortality? I think perhaps it means to be at peace with myself and with God, to let go of the hurts and the regrets and allow myself to celebrate the joys and the fortitude, the strengths and the beauty that I have experienced, so that if I were to die unexpectedly today it would be enough. The regrets outbalanced by the gratitude.

Often our regrets are fueled by expectations that have not been fulfilled. Our culture fills us with wants – we want a deep satisfying romantic relationship; we want a beautiful house; we want a high status job; we want a better car; we want the latest smart gadgets; we want the bigger and the better. It is as though we really believe that “he who dies with the most toys wins,” or that if we haven’t had a dynamic career or a life-long relationship we are not really good enough. Sometimes our regrets are tied to what appear to be mistakes that we made, forgetting that God takes mistakes and brings resurrection.

For God loves us, each one of us. God is not actually that concerned about careers or relationships or bank accounts or possessions. God will make sure we have those to the extent that it will help us play our part in the reign of God, but she is far more concerned about our flourishing both as individuals and as an important part of the ecosystem that makes up this planet and the whole cosmos. God’s deep love for us is what makes it enough because that is our primary relationship; that is the holding place of the soul which will continue right through the barrier of death.

I imagine that when Simeon held Jesus he had a deep sense of “Yes.” A deep sense of knowing that everything was going to be ok. I don’t think his response was one of an ambition fulfilled, but of knowing for sure that God’s love was being fulfilled in the promised Messiah. It was a deep knowledge of God’s love which enabled him to say, it is enough. “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.”

It was not an intellectual knowledge of God’s love but a visceral one; one which he felt in his gut. I want that for each of us; that knowledge of God’s love which is not a head knowing but a deep in your belly, in your cells kind of knowing. I don’t have it all the time but I have it more often than I used to. For many years I only knew that God loved me – I didn’t KNOW that God loved me. Healing is coming to know God’s love through and through, because once we know his love like that there is no longer any sense of separation; we are one with the divine.

I wish I could tell you exactly how to get from here to there; from your current experience of God’s love to an experience which meets your deepest needs. I can’t. But I do believe that Jesus meant it when he said “Seek and ye shall find” and I believe that God’s desire is for each of us to know and relax into her love. And I suspect that we can cultivate in ourselves an awareness of God’s love just as we can cultivate the knowledge of God’s peace.

Then we will be able to say with Simeon, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior.”