Let’s look again at the collect: “Almighty and Everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever”. (Preface of the Epiphany, Book of Common Prayer, Pg. 239)
On this Sunday, we are celebrating the feast of “Jesus Christ our Lord being presented in the temple”. So just as he was presented, our prayer is that we may be presented to God with a pure and clean heart through Jesus Christ our Lord. We come to be presented individually and together. Just as loose spokes affect the integrity and function of a wheel, we as individuals are called collectively and together to be a unified church presented to our God by our Messiah and leader, Jesus Christ.
The purification of a pure and clean heart is an “inside job”. I used to be a member of the YMCA in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and at one time everyone was supplied a lock for our lockers. Every lock had its own combination, but the “Y” had a master key that fit every lock. There were several robberies and it was discovered that it was an “inside job”. One of the workers was opening locks and stealing valuables. The Holy Spirit has a master key that opens our hearts and the desire of the Spirit is to purify us from the inside out, It’s an “inside job”.
Recall the words of the prophet Malachi in the first reading: “Thus, says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness”. (Malachi 3:1-3) This is a good thing. The Holy Spirit’s work is described as a purifying fire, and another description is like a purifying soap, washing us from the inside out.
Sanctification is a process of change, but it’s not just a passive process that happens in the passing of time. It’s a change that occurs when we allow God to abide with us as “temples of the Holy Spirit, to walk in step with the spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 5:8) We are encouraged not only to study scripture and talk about the Kingdom of God, but we are motivated within to practice those principles in our lives, in the way we face reality, and in the way we view the entire world. Living these principles keeps us grounded in a ‘gospel-centered reality’. Keep this expression in your mind: “Gospel-centered reality.”
“Happy are the people whose strength is in you: whose hearts are on the pilgrim’s way” (Psalms 84:4) We’re called to be pilgrims Paul says, sojourners and travelers on a journey, just passing through. (1 Peter 2:11) We are following the lead of our Lord. Followers of God have been described as travelers or sojourners since the beginning of creation, traveling unknown territories and uncharted waters. Adam and Eve’s faith was challenged when they left the Garden of Eden and experienced adversity and hardship. Terah, left the land of Ur of the Chaldeans (now known as Iraq), took his sons Nahor and Abraham, Sarah and Lot, Nahors’ son. They settled in Nahor, a town in the Mesopotamia, in an area known as the Fertile Crescent, perhaps in what is known today as Syria. After Terah died, God spoke to Abraham and told him to leave his country and travel to an unfamiliar land. He left his people, family members of his father, and set out on a journey into the unknown, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1) He was looking for a place he could call home,
Moses led Israel out of Egypt. They were sojourners, pilgrims just passing through unknown territory, in pursuit of the promise land, the land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. The early Jewish Christians were persecuted and forced to travel to other places of the known world for safety. The scattering of the Jewish people was called “diaspora”, the scattering of people to other places. They were refugees, fleeing for their lives to wherever they could find shelter from persecution.
No person who is created in God’s image should be called “an illegal”. If we do not minister to the sojourners, immigrants and refugees looking for a safe place to call home, then we are “missing the mark”, blindly putting aside a ‘gospel-centered reality’. As Christians, we are reminded that we are also called to be sojourners, followers of King Jesus traveling on the road to the Promised land, the land that flows with milk and honey” We are sojourners “looking for a city, whose architect and maker is God. There will be no night there, neither the need of a light. For Jesus, will be our light, he’ll reign and he’ll shine ever bright”. (Revelation 22:5)
This is not a political sermon. It is not designed to back any party. We are called to minister to those in need; to minister to pilgrims, to refugees, to people who are called “illegal”; to people called “aliens”. Every human is a person in the sight of God. If we forget this and refuse to treat all people as they want to be treated, then we are missing our mandate – to love God and to love one another. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important law, the first on any list. But there is a second law to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
As Christians, we are called to walk in the light of God, to subscribe to the purification process of the Spirit who desires to change us from the inside out, as Paul would say, to go from ‘glory to glory’. “ [We] who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The Bible reminds us that we are called to be pilgrims and sojourners, just passing through, on our way to the land of milk and honey, the promised land. If we lose this vision, we may say we are followers of Christ, but are we living the gospel-centered lifestyle of God’s calling? We are called to minister to the strangers in our midst. In Hebrews, we are admonished to “be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body”. (Hebrews 13:2-4 KJV)
We are called to help free those held in slavery through the fear of death and inhumane treatment. We are called to reach out, not to imprison or call people illegal aliens. Some among us may be in violation of man made laws, but that gives us no right to call anyone an “illegal alien.” Let us reach out to those who are hurting, to those in desperate need, to those who are suffering, and to those who have nowhere to go.
“Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.” May our hearts be set on the way of the sojourner, those who are just passing by. We are on a journey, looking for a city, whose architect and builder is God.
This is the pilgrim’s way.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen