Looking for the truth
Things in the U.S. are a hot mess right now. Our government is at a standstill because those that were elected to govern can't decide on who should lead them to govern. Perhaps by the time I finish writing and publish this post, there will be a duly elected Speaker of the House. I'm not confident, because we are so entrenched in our tribes that there can be NO COMPROMISE! None, I tell you! And I hope that you are reading that with the disgust I feel at this situation, because nothing ever gets done or accomplished without compromise. I would prefer a moderate of either party to a zealot on the right or left.
The other crisis this week has brought our national past time to its knees, but even amidst the horror of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsing on the football field there were things that made me hopeful: the rapid, appropriate response of the medical staff, the care and concern shown by the fans in the stadium and those on TV, the love shown by Hamlin's teammates, and the friendship and support shown to the Bills by the Bengals. There was a shot on TV of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow standing with Bills quarterback Josh Allen. In the middle of agony, there was friendship. After Hamlin was taken away in an ambulance, Bengals coach Zac Taylor crossed the field and spoke with Bills coach Sean McDermott. No one could hear the conversation, but the body language told me that Taylor was asking what the Bills needed in that moment. Could they play? Did they want to? "It's your call, we'll do whatever you need," I imagine Taylor saying to McDermott. The rivalry was set aside, and most people focused on the fear that everyone was experiencing on behalf of a 24-year-old man who shouldn't have had to be fighting for his life.
Now, of course, we are getting back to usual - whose Tweet was inappropriate? Who lied? Why did it take the NFL (National Football League, for my readers outside the US) an HOUR to suspend the game indefinitely? Who said what to whom? Was it the other player's fault? Let the finger-pointing begin. And Damar Hamlin is not out of the ICU yet, though there is word today that his condition is, thankfully, improving.
The debacle on the House floor is a little bit of a relief from football drama, to be honest. (And, this just in -- Kevin McCarthy has lost a 6th vote to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. Hoo boy).
This was not what I was planning to write about this week. I was planning to write about Simeon and Anna. Maybe they can help me make sense of what is going on.
Friday is January 6. Before it gained notoriety as the day of the Insurrection at the US Capitol, it was celebrated as Three Kings Day, Epiphany, and I learned this week that in the Catholic Church January 6 is Circumcision of Christ day (something like that).
It is the day that Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple for his dedication. According to Jewish Law, all firstborn boys were to be presented at the Temple at 40 days of age for a ritual of Redemption. All new mothers needed to be purified, or cleansed, after giving birth. Presumably Mary and Joseph went to the Temple (obviously not on January 6) to accomplish both requirements.
In Luke 2:22-36, we meet a man called Simeon and a woman named Anna. Both had been promised that they would see the Messiah. Simeon was a righteous and devout man, and the Holy Spirit had promised that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. He came to the Temple while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were there, took Jesus into his arms and recognized him as the Promised One:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 22:29-32)
Simeon was the one who told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul (See the Mother of Jesus: Mary here).
Anna was a prophetess who was old, and never left the Temple. She prayed and fasted night and day. When she encountered the infant Jesus in the Temple, she began praising God and speaking about the baby, to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)
When I read this story, I remember a children's message I did several years ago. Jay and I were out walking in our neighborhood one day in late February or early March - a time when I would have been desperate for any sign of spring. As we walked, I stopped and began looking into a tree. Jay asked what I was looking for, and I answered, "The bluebird! There he is!" Jay asked how I knew to look for a bluebird, and I told him it was because I heard the song and knew he was there.
When I spoke with the children, I talked about Anna and Simeon, and said that they recognized the Messiah because they know God's voice, just like I knew the voice of the bluebird. They knew when and where to look because they had been listening.
Of course, I talked to the children about how that meant it was important to be in church. But now I think that being in church can hide God's voice behind the beautiful songs of the choir, the sermon of the pastor, the power of the leadership, the rules, the arguments about building upkeep.... Not always and not for everyone, but we must be careful that what we are hearing, even in church, is truth.
So today, as I reflect on the stories of Simeon and Anna, I am struck by a couple of truths.
First, Simeon and Anna were in regular contemplation about God - who was God, who were they, what was God asking of them. I started to write they "had a personal relationship with God," but that is too much of a cliche that we in the US use to bludgeon those who we think don't. Simeon and Anna prayed, they fasted, they sacrificed, they trusted, they LISTENED.
Second, Anna was a woman. She was a prophetess, so presumably somebody listened when she shared what God had told her. She was devout. God chose to tell HER that his son was in the Temple. God, and Luke, didn't feel that a woman's place was not to be sharing the Good News.
Third, they trusted God. God made a promise to them, kept that promise, and they knew.
Fourth, they were righteous, devout, and prayed and fasted all day. They studied. They listened. I don't imagine their prayers were laundry lists of things they wanted. They were more in a humble state of contemplation.
Fifth, when their prayers were answered, they rejoiced. Simeon thanked God, and Anna told everyone who would listen that the baby she had just seen was indeed the redemption of Israel.
Maybe we spend time in church, synagogue, mosque or temple, but are we listening for the word of God? And when we hear it, do we ponder it? Or do we listen for things that already confirm what we think we know, that keep us secure in our pews and smug in our "faith?"
How do we know something is true? How do we know something comes from God and not from the mouths of men, or our own egos? We ponder. We pray. We study. We pray some more. We ask God to remove our egos from the situation and help us to discern what God would have us do.
Does God say that women must submit to men, and that women have nothing of value to say to the men in their lives? Clearly not - look at Anna, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, the Marys and the many women Paul respected in his travels and ministry.
Is it God saying that women must cover their heads, and keep silent in worship, and submit, submit, submit? I think God is saying, "Submit only to me. And I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)
So, here's the thing about the hot mess that is the United States right now. I think that we are so busy squawking about our positions, our rights, and what we want that we are forgetting to pay attention to what is true. I would really like to hear a thoughtful, honest conservative tell me why President Biden's policies are a "disaster." I understand that there are perspectives different from mine, and if they are honest and thoughtful, well-researched and insightful, then I can decide for myself if I want to agree or disagree. If I disagree, I can at least respect. That is required for compromise. I think we in the US aren't listening - certainly not to each other, and I don't think we are listening to or for God, either.
We have all come together to pray for Damar Hamlin. But as football weekend in America kicks off again - the NFL playoffs are fast approaching, and the College Football championship game is Monday night - we will retreat to our respective metaphorical locker rooms. We will pray for victory for our team - and when/if we prevail, we will thank God and give praise to Jesus. But what about our opponents, who were also, presumably, praying to the same God for the same outcome? Why wasn't Jesus on their side?
Father Richard Rohr had an interesting Facebook post on Sunday (I think). He said he found it interesting that Jesus was so involved in the University of Georgia win over Ohio State, that Jesus actually had time to play in that game (my words) when he had so many more important things to do - like be in Ukraine. What are we asking of God? Are we asking the right questions? Or are we expecting God to confirm our superiority in our own spheres of influence?
When we insist on being right, we stop listening to God, who just might be suggesting that we re-think things. When we insist that our way of governing is the ONLY way, we stop listening to the God we insist we have personal relationships with, because God might just be saying, "No. There is another." Imagine for a moment that Simeon had a grandson, or Anna a nephew, and they REALLY wanted THAT child to be the redemption of Israel. If they had insisted to God that theirs was the best child for the job, they would have missed out on seeing the real Messiah. They were able to set their egos aside and wait on the promises of God. If they could do it, why can't we?
When we insist that God is only on our side, we have missed the point entirely. Those football players on their knees on Monday night were praying for their fallen teammate as earnestly and honestly as they knew how. They weren't praying for the ball, or an interception, or a victory. They were praying for the health and well-being of another human being, and they were trusting that God would be holding him, and them, in God's hands, whatever the outcome.
Let's all reflect on that this week. Let's pray that God will guide us to find God's light and love in each other. Let's pray that our actions might help bring healing and health to everyone in our communities - not just those on our team. Let's listen, just like Simeon and Anna, for God's voice telling us, "This is my beloved."
And may God help the USA.
Bibleview. Jesus at 40 days old was taken to the Temple | Bibleview. Accessed Jan 4, 2023.
Buffalo Bills at Cincinatti. Image. Breaking: NFL Announces Decision On Bengals vs. Bills (msn.com). Accessed Jan 4, 2023