Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Preaching and Film

From time to time, I have short form pieces that appear in places other than this blog.  Last week, The Christian Citizen, a primarily e-journal with some print publication, published a piece I wrote on the Oscar winning film "The Shape of Water".

To read this essay, click this link:
https://medium.com/christian-citizen/does-the-shape-of-water-depict-the-shape-of-us-f1606b3f4ceb

Informing my interest in film and faith is indeed my love of good stories.  Over the years, I have tapped many sources of popular culture to assist my work with weekly preaching and teaching.  I watch films in theatres, but I also enjoy a good binge watch session on Hulu or Netflix.  I also enjoy the patient (and not so patient) times between issues of a comic book story, where it may take 5-6 issues for a storyline to be completed.  (I know, I know, I could "trade wait" and read everything at once after the comic book publisher releases a trade paperback of the whole story all at once months later, but it's still a great thing to "wait" and watch the story unfold, if not prognosticate a bit on how the writer has sorted out how to resolve the storyline, part by part.)

Furthermore, my favorite show of all time is Doctor Who, which has spent most of its existence being told in episodic, multi-part form, complete with the grand cliffhanger tradition.  Why not leave them at the edge of their seats?  It can also work on Sunday mornings!

In the pulpit, I find myself remiss if I haven't thought about the ancient text and cast around for contemporary examples to further the work I have done with translation, exegesis and commentary.  The "creative process" depends on keeping the faith lively and relevant, even if you find that moment of grace coming from less conventional sources.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Words that Bless and Unite: Remembering Howard Sheffey


 
On Monday, April 16, 2018, the Rev Howard Sheffey, pastor of the Old Stone Church near Ballston Spa, NY, died of cancer.  As part of his home going service at his long-time “home church” Friendship Baptist in Schenectady, NY, I spoke on behalf of Howard’s colleagues and the ABCNYS Region as part of the tributes to his life and ministry. I offered words extemporaneously, so I have reconstructed what I said after the fact, followed by a personal note that I did not share that morning.

I come in praise of God for the life of our brother Rev Howard Sheffey.  Without a doubt, Howard loved his congregations:  Friendship Baptist, where he served as a lay leader, usher, deacon and later called to ministry and ordained, and the Old Stone Church, where he served faithfully for many years while also keeping connected with Friendship.
 
Howard believed in cooperative work between Baptists.  Most Baptists have been known to be particular minded more than united.  Indeed, like the King James Version says, we are a “peculiar” people.
 
Yet, for Howard, he did not let too many conversations go by without his affection and concern for the local Baptist Association (aka Capital Area Baptist Association, part of ABCNYS) or the Central Hudson Association (part of the NYS Empire State National Baptists) coming up in conversation.  He wanted to see more cooperation, more energy in ministry together and for one another.
 
Once he accepted his call, Howard never said never to his call to preach and serve God’s people, especially at the Old Stone Church.  We will miss him greatly, for he was a colleague and a friend to us all.   Thanks be to God!  Amen.
 
When speaking at such gatherings, it is a virtue to be brief, so I did not share this next word at the memorial service.  I did share it at the Old Stone Church at their worship service the next day (again, a reconstruction of my extemporaneous remarks):
One of the last conversations I had with Howard was over the phone, just before he went into the hospital.  I was calling from time to time to check in with Howard and Doris (his wife).  At the end of the brief conversation, Howard said he wanted to offer a prayer for me.  He offered words of thanksgiving for my work with churches and prayed for God to strengthen me for the journey ahead.
 
Certainly, one thing we heard repeatedly was the testimony of family and friends coming to see Howard and his efforts to care for them, even though he was the one dealing with the illness and discomfort.  Even in his last few days as verbal communication lessened, his smile and his gestures spoke for his gratitude and delight in seeing loved ones at his side.
 
Know that in the days ahead, Old Stone, that you are not alone in this time of transition.  Our Association, our pastors and our Region is ready to help you in whatever is needed.  Thanks be to God! Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Singing at a funeral

On Saturday, April 7, 2018, a celebration of life was held for Rev Douglas Deer, who died in February.  Retired in 2014 from First Baptist Cooperstown, Doug was remembered for his many years of ministry and his influence on the lives of many people.

We sang quite a number of hymns as part of the service.  Doug loved to sing, so we sang many hymms familiar to many Baptists.  Indeed, I knew most of the hymn lyrics (at least the first and last verses) thanks to my own upbringing in similar churches.  You could say we sang our way through a veritable  American (Baptist) Songbook!

I was asked to share some recollections as part time of the service:

I first met Doug during the summer of 2013. I had just started working with churches as Region staff and Doug was looking toward retirement.

At the end of that first conversation over at the parsonage, I knew of his great love of this church and community.  There was no doubt he and Susan had a good season of life together here.

In retirement, Doug spent a number of Sundays with churches, continuing his love of preaching.  While his health sometimes slowed him down, I knew he would be back in the pulpit once he was feeling up to it again, especially in Groton City.

When Joe Perdue shared word of Doug’s passing via the church’s Fb Page, he wrote, “We know Doug is in a better place, surrounded by the many people he ministered to” (FB post 2/28). Joe also speculated on the many train sets that surely awaited him.

This image of Doug working with his train sets is fairly easy to imagine.  Yet the other one of Doug alongside his congregants, that image captivated me even more so, for it is part of the faith he proclaimed and shared, that God would gather together those who believed in the gospel.  I can imagine pulpit and fellowship hall folding chairs are just as likely close at hand for Doug as the train tracks are in the sweet bye and bye.

It is good to note this, as ministers often feel more challenge than celebration.  It is a burdensome and joyful vocation, though in uneven proportions most days.  Pastors journey alongside  people in times of joy and concern, well acquainted with the tragic and the inexplicable.  Ministry is not easy nor does the stress level ever completely subside.  Sometimes a sense of fulfillment or vocational contentment for pastors can be elusive.

Yet I know what I sensed even in that first conversation with Doug over at the parsonage:  he was a person who kept the faith, kept saying “yes” to his vocation to serve Christ and the people within and well beyond these four walls.

His ministry and faithful witness shall continue in the lives of those he pastored and shared Christ’s light with.  Indeed, we saw in Doug’s life and ministry the words of Jesus flourish:

He said, “How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow.”
— Mark 4:30–32

Monday, March 19, 2018

Why Lent matters


From the 4th century Desert Fathers tradition, as translated by Benedicta Ward:

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”


Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Part Time Shepherding: Ministry Trends in the Here and Now

Do clergy wear multiple hats
or choose which hat to wear?
Part-time clergy.  Bi-Vocational Pastors.  Shared/Yoked Ministers.  Multiple income clergy.

These are part of the lived realities of the churches I serve alongside in upstate New York.  While we have a few "full-time" positions (i.e. sufficient resources for compensation, full medical and pension and reimbursements for ministry expenses), we have a much higher number of churches with pastors who serve less than full-time (or are paid for less than full time and sometimes struggle with churches still expecting more than their pastoral budget really allows). 

Ponder these things....

The Episcopal Church conducted a survey of its denominational clergy and found some very familiar patterns if you know anything about the trends (mostly downward) of full-time clergy becoming less likely.

Read the report via this link:
https://www.episcopalcafe.com/clergy-employment-in-the-episcopal-church-a-new-landscape/

A few years ago, a report on "Alternative Pastoral Models" was written by Dr C. Jeff Woods, Associate General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches/USA (aka "my home team").  Jeff's thoughtful piece is now several years old, yet I believe it is likely to be appreciated anew or perhaps now can be appreciated with the change already felt and experienced actively among many of our churches.

Read Jeff's piece via:  https://alban.org/archive/alternative-pastoral-models/

One of my own contributions to this changed trend in ministry (note:  it's not "changing" as it has already "changed") is my essay "4 Ways Your Church Can Pay Your Next Minister Fairly", written back in September 2014.   After I posted my original version on this blog on a Friday and shared word of its availability through social media (FB), I had over 100 views by the end of the weekend.  I realized then that I had written something more off the cuff really struck a chord.  I continue to refer churches to it as they wrestle with how to be "fair" not only to the minister but also the congregation as everyone will be more realistic about the balancing act in the long run. 

Here's a version edited for Ethics Daily's use:  http://www.ethicsdaily.com/4-ways-your-church-can-pay-your-next-minister-fairly-cms-22127



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Listen Before Speaking: MLK Holiday 2018 and 1 Samuel 3:1-20

I offered the sermon at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Albany, NY, on the Sunday of what some consider the MLK Holiday Weekend, an expansion of the one day civic holiday to include opportunities for learning and service in the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Seeing that the Revised Common Lectionary readings suggested 1 Samuel 3:1-20 (aka "the call of Samuel"), I revisited key events in King's life where a sense of call was sensed and sometimes wrestled with by even Dr. King himself.  Here's the sermon:


The call of the prophet Samuel might strike you as “low key”. Many times, we think of God’s voice booming, yet here, God is subtle, drawing in the young man through a quiet calling out that at first leaves young Samuel thinking it’s the voice of his elderly mentor Eli.

When Eli sagely realizes Samuel is not just “hearing things”, he gives some advice: When God speaks again, say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” It’s an unexpected moment, a call given as a “stage whisper” by the divine voice that could otherwise rumble across the heavens! Yet God works in a variety of ways, most often in ways we’re sometimes not subtle enough to catch onto!

The call of God can happen to anyone. God knows no partiality! We can be called to serve as pastors or missionaries or chaplains or all manner of church-related vocations. And indeed, God calls and gifts each believer for serving others through “secular” and “sacred” means. For a Christian believer, the “call of God” happens in a variety of ways and sometimes crystal clear and other times at first mostly opaque. Yet God calls. Will we know how to listen and respond? How do we hear God when times are so uncertain that it could be said, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread” (1 Samuel 3:1b)

In the summer of 1959, Joan Thatcher, publicity officer of the American Baptist Convention (now ABC/USA) was seeking material for the “Life Service” Sunday. This was an initiative to encourage churches to place especial emphasis in Sunday worship on church vocations, most particularly the importance of people being called to ministry. The publicity office sought testimony and insight from notable people who epitomized a life lived in service to Christ and the Church. Joan Thatcher reached out to a minister with a rising profile in the late 1950s and certainly a good number of American Baptist connections. She sent a letter to Atlanta, asking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asking him to write about his call to ministry. As part of her request to Dr King, Joan Thatcher noted, “Apparently many of our young people still feel that unless they see a burning bush or a blinding light on the road Damascus, they haven’t been called.”

Dr King wrote back:

My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become. A few months after preaching my first sermon I entered theological seminary. This, in brief, is an account of my call and pilgrimage to the ministry. (LINK: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/my_call_to_the_ministry/index.html)

These words about “call” were shared across the denomination as part of the 1960 Life Service initiative. We hear this word thanks to the careful archiving of the King Papers, held at Stanford University, and made available online for everyone to access. King is on our minds this weekend with the civic holiday and the various ways communities and organizations recall King’s legacy through celebration and times of service to others in need. We hear these words from 1959 with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what significance King would take on for the Civil Rights Movement, his greatest public speeches yet to be seared into the minds of generations yet to come.

Yet, in this moment of reflection, King recalls a shifting of vocations, uncertain until he was certain about his life’s pathway. It was not in the clarity of a singular moment. I am reminded of J├╝rgen Moltmann who looked back at his life and career as a theologian and observed, “The road emerged only as I walked it.” King came to the realization, yet it was not ultimately a one-time event that overwhelmed. Instead, he found his call to ministry “a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me.” He had to hear it, live with it, perhaps run from it, and then embrace it, and as any pastor will admit, then keep embracing it through thick and thin (and there’s plenty of that, if you didn’t know already!).

The life of following Jesus, whether we are a pastor or lay person, a new Christian or a long time believer, is about being on that journey, even when it’s uncertain what will come next. We are gifted to serve Christ and the world in various ways, yet we also know we are not meant to have it “all together” (or if you think you must have it all together, may I give you this kind and liberating word that you do not have to be perfect to be part of God’s Kingdom-Reign)?

Certainly, our brother Martin was given a great call and endured much in his following of that call, yet he could also look back and see where there was a dynamic at work where gradually he came into what God called him to become for the church and most certainly matters of a nation’s soul. King was the son of another Baptist minister, Rev Martin Luther King, Sr. Some accounts recall “Daddy King” as resolute in his vision of his two sons, Martin and A.D., becoming pastors, joining him in the ministry of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. He sent Martin at age 15 to the Morehouse College, a prestigious historic black college. (A PBS special next month will explore the HBCU. Similarly, the American Baptist Home Mission Society has a video recalling efforts to establish colleges and universities in the South with Morehouse itself named after a significant executive director of ABHMS, Dr. Henry Morehouse.)

Morehouse College was, as it is well known today, a fine school where King was challenged, especially as a younger than average undergraduate. He made it through his studies, and the time came as he said in his 1959 recollection, “I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry.” I note here that later this year, 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, TN.

Such a moment will be a sad commemoration, yet it will be remembered because of the witness King had built up in the nation’s conscience. We know the “rest of the story” element of King’s life, yet I think again it is well worth noting another “50th anniversary”, remembering that in February 1948, King was sent forth from Ebenezer and his studies completed at Morehouse that may to become a seminary student at Crozer Seminary in September 1948. (Crozer would later close its Chesterfield, PA, school and merge in with Colgate Rochester, thus giving students and alums for years to come a bit of challenge trying to say their alma mater is “Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School” in one breath…) Such moments in a pastor’s life like an ordination service may get shuffled away in the hectic pace of ministry with its mix of sermons to write, meetings to attend, appointments to keep, yet I find recalling these “milestone moments” in my life as a pastor are helpful. Once heard, the call to preach is hard to shake loose.

Yet for King in 1959, he looked back at his vocational pathway, exploring other tracks of professional development, embracing the call, then living it out in the years since 1948. Over that next eleven year period, he would marry, start a family, earn a Ph.D, and be called to his first “solo” pastorate, Dexter Avenue Baptist in Montgomery, Alabama. From there, King would become part of the Montgomery Bus boycott alongside Rosa Parks, help found activist groups, including what is now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He would become known increasingly around the United States, meeting with presidents and other national leaders. He would feature on the cover of TIME Magazine and publish his first book Stride Toward Freedom.

 Yet, that same time period, those years of “saying yes” to his call also came with the experience of unsettling anonymous calls and letters threatening violence. In late January 1958, King would be sleepless after a disturbing phone call. He found himself in prayer, “Lord, I'm down here trying to do what's right. I think I'm right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now, I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. And I can't let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.”

In response, King recalls, It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world." I tell you I've seen the lightning flash. I've heard the thunder roar. I've felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. Three nights later, King’s home would be bombed. Mercifully, no one was hurt, yet he knew it could have been easily otherwise for his family. Remarkably, King would call for nonviolent response, even as the violence around him threatened to continue. [LINK: https://swap.stanford.edu/20141218230026/http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/kingweb/publications/autobiography/chp_8.htm]

Flash forward to 1959 and he receives this correspondence from the American Baptist Convention. “Could you tell us about your call to ministry, Dr. King? What can you say to inspire especially our youth to explore God’s calling to ministry and mission?” Considering the long path from that initial call to preach, to the wrestling to accept it, to the affirmation and blessing of ordination to schooling and then to such a ministry as this, Dr. King could write of ministry as a call to be embraced and a pilgrimage he found himself on, not for his gain or glory, but to serve the God who called him to live and serve in difficult times in sore need of conscience, non-violence and a beloved community. What do you hear in this word today, whether it is taken from the call to a young child of ancient Israel or a 20th century Baptist whose legend and legacy may make us miss out on the man who struggled through the long haul and tumult?

How do we understand how to live and serve in difficult times in sore need of conscience, non-violence and a beloved community? Like Samuel, King was called to tell the people that the Lord was ready to bring a mighty word: “See, I am about to do something….that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle” (cf. I Samuel 3:11)

So I leave you with this troubling yet fruitful word: God calls. Will we know how to listen and respond?

(Most helpful for this sermon: the MLK chronology published by Stanford’s King Papers Project: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-resources/major-king-events-chronology-1929-1968)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Heralding the New (Simeon's Song from Luke 2)

On the fireplace mantle of my parent’s home, shepherds, magi, a barn full of animals, and an angel hovering above, have attended the holy family these last few weeks. The Nativity set hails back to my mother’s time as a nurse in the early 1970s, a career she gave up when lo unto her, I was born. During her years there, my mother was given this nativity set made by some of the patients. It is one of her treasures in this life, and every year, the Nativity figurines appear in the wooden manger scene that my father built. Even though I do not get home very often for Christmas, I know without a doubt, the Nativity is there.

The Holy Family appears on fireplace mantles, windowsills, even underneath some household’s Christmas trees. Folk who would not consider themselves religious will have one. Perhaps it is just the cultural influence, but I wonder if the image strikes a primal chord within. The scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus reminds us of one facet of human life: family. That word “family” can be complicated, as not all household configurations are the same, not all families have good stories to tell. Somehow, thought, deep down, we are drawn to these figures of mother, father, and child. The Holy Family is holy, yet they are also like us, persons hewn in the same flesh as the rest of us, prone to suffering and joy, part of this world where one can know great success and great hardship.

While most of us just put out the Holy Family or Nativity sets and leave them there, there is one tradition that recalls the great difficulty of Mary and Joseph finding no immediate welcome or hospitality. For many Hispanic Christians, there is a grand tradition celebrated from December 16 to Christmas Eve, called Las Posadas, with each house in the neighborhood agreeing to be the host of each evening’s celebration. Each evening, adults, and children go through the neighborhood, carrying candles, little statues of Joseph guiding a donkey bearing the pregnant Mary, and the crowd sings of the Holy Family looking for a place. They go household to household, ritually turned away until they arrive at the host’s home, where they are welcomed inside.

The lack of hospitality in Bethlehem is one part of the many hardships endured by the Holy Family. The annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary is scandalous as Mary conceives the child out of wedlock and while most certainly a virgin. The hardship of travel to Bethlehem while pregnant, the annoyance of having to be compliant with a census demanded by the occupying Roman government, the frantic scramble to find a decent place to spend the night, and…oh no! Mary’s water just broke!

The scene at the Temple is passed over in the stories of Jesus’ birth. We focus on the manger and the shepherds, angels, and magi. Nevertheless, here again is a story that fits into the difficulties faced by this family. More travel is necessitated, this time to Jerusalem, to fulfill the baby’s ritual purification requirements. Mary and Joseph make their way to the Temple, a place where the people of God gave praise and sacrifice and class distinctions as pilgrims found themselves dealing with the commerce built up around the Temple. The choice of two turtledoves sounds quaint, given the Victorian era carol regarding what one gets over the twelve days of Christmas. The selection, however, gives a very clear indication of Mary and Joseph’s peasant status. These two birds were all they could manage to afford.

To be a peasant in the first century CE was to be one of the multitudes of people who eked out a living as artisans, carpenters, fishers, and day laborers. There was no middle class in Jesus’ day (might not be the same much longer in our day, for that matter), just the peasants, the very few who owned land, and the elite. If you could make a living, you were lucky. If you were a landowner, you were among the few.  If you were an elite, you lived the good life, standing on the backs of everyone else beneath you while helping Rome and its local government thugs to assure your comfort and status (at least for now).

Studying the gospels necessarily involves understanding that most of Jesus’ inner circle, the crowds hearing his teachings, the recipients of his miracles and healings, and the demonically possessed were from the peasantry of the day. Most of his conflicts came from those who were vested in keeping the Temple’s religious and economic interests or keeping Rome’s vice grip of power on Palestine, Jerusalem, and anywhere else that Rome decided it should have power.

We learn that the Holy Family is set in a scene not too far off from our own day, the one that perhaps we try to make go away this time of year. We want a reprieve from the bills, the worries about utility costs rising, the deadlines at work, the anxiety of not having a job or at least one that pays a livable wage, the doctor’s report that we didn’t want to hear, the bully that will still be there on the playground when school resumes after New Year’s. The Holy Family becomes that set of parents you know, struggling to make ends meet, hoping that they have enough to care for their newborn, even if they have to go with one less meal themselves.

Years ago when visiting Ireland, the train we were on loaded up its passengers, and there they were, not “the” Holy Family, but a young family with a little baby, settling into seats near us. The couple could not have been older than perhaps their early 20s, and the baby was not quite a toddler, content to sit on a little table between his parents. For the record, the baby was not a “tiny terror” baby: that child that you somehow get “blessed” to be with on a transatlantic flight, who bellows at high decibel shortly after takeoff and just before landing, or who keeps wondering all over a public event, getting agitated once the parent finally scoops the child up in arms. No, this baby knew he had a good deal. He was cute, and with every burble, every passenger playing “peek-a-boo” with him (myself included), the baby held court among his loyal subjects.

The train door opened, and a grizzled looking old man, postcard of Ireland perfect, came through the doorway, heading for the diner car just behind us. The guy looked like he was itching for a Guinness and some conversation about the latest football match and his scowl said do not stray him from his task. As he passed the young couple, he stopped in his tracks, and a slight smile creased his wrinkled face. With a long bony finger, he tickled the baby’s chin and the baby gurgled with glee.

The old man said, “Long life to thee. May ye walk the earth many years.” With that, off he went.

In the midst of the hubbub of life, in the struggles and challenges of the Holy Family, along comes this elder named Simeon. He spotted them across the courtyard, made his way to them, and as he beheld the infant Jesus; he could not help but burst into song.

Simeon is described as an elderly man who lived his long, long life “awaiting God to comfort Israel”. He has kept a deep and abiding sense of hope that God would provide for his people. The Greek word for “comfort” is “paraklesis”, which is to say that one has “a sense of an aid or help [that] one [can] lean on”. In another Gospel, Jesus tells his faithful that after He has returned to God, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to be with them, calling the Spirit the “Paraclete”. Simeon has spent his life not worrying about how things are going, or when things will come crashing down. Simeon has learned to wait upon God.

Simeon is one of the many faithful folk you encounter while reading the Gospel of Luke. Luke tells us that there was once a father who embraced the prodigal, or God being like a woman who never stops looking for that lost coin. Earlier in the story, Mary sees great promise rather than personal scandal in having a firstborn child with no wedding ring yet. Throughout Luke, the many who eat at table with Jesus and are bedazzled or befuddled by a new worldview beckoning in an after-dinner parable.

The Gospel of Luke keeps tossing that word paraklesis here and there into the narrative, particularly as it relates to what people ought to be looking for. Jesus claims the rich, the select few “elite”, have to find their comfort. To Jesus, the poor comprised most of his audience, inner circle, and nearly anyone else around. He claims the poor have another sort of gold standard: the kingdom of God, a vision of the world that Jesus’ disciples have continued to seek, live out, and await for two millennia.

Simeon sees the world with its rough edges, undoubtedly the scars to prove it, just like you and me. He knows that Rome likes to keep control by peace-veiled fear, he knows the Temple itself has become less than what it was intended to be. He knows that this baby will be the great hope he is awaiting as well as one who will suffer mightily in bringing things about. Yet, Simeon knows that in the moment, as well as the beginning and the end, God has the last and abiding word