Let’s look again at the collect for this service: “Almighty and Ever living 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 by Jesus Christ our Lord. We come to be presented individually and together. Individual spokes affect the integrity and function of a wheel, just as we are called collectively and together as 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 locker 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”. But the Spirit does not come to steal and destroy. The Spirit comes to heal and transform us with the divine love of God.
Our first reading from the prophet Malachi says this: “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 change 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”, as the Apostle Paul instructed. (1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 5:8) We are encouraged to not only talk and study the scriptures about the Kingdom of God, but we are motivated within to put those principles into practice in our lives, the way we face reality, our entire worldview. It’s a ‘gospel-centered reality’. Keep that expression in your mind: “Gospel centered reality.
The psalmist says: “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 noted as travelers or sojourners since the beginning of creation, traveling unknown and uncharted waters. Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and experienced adversity and hardship traveling in a world outside the Garden of Eden that challenged their faith. 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 to leave his country and travel to a land that he knew nothing about. He left his people, family members of his father and set out in uncharted waters., “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,
Many years later, Moses led the Israelites 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. Refugees fleeing for their lives is not a new problem. It has been with us since the beginning of humans on earth.
We are the church of Jesus Christ, “called out” to minister to those in need; to minister to pilgrims; to refugees. Every human is a person in the sight of God, and if we forget that, and we refuse to treat all people as we would want to be treated, then we are missing our mandate, which is to love God and to love others. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” (Matthew 22:37-40, MSG)
There is a video on the national church website that includes Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, his Canon to the ordinary, and 5 bishops on the border between US and Mexico, and that includes our bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, Bishop Susan Brown Snook. Bishop Susan shared about how our diocese includes refugees as members of our churches. She mentioned Sudanese, Congolese, Karen and Middle Eastern refugees and asylum seekers, the last two, Karen and mostly Chaldean are connected to St. Alban’s. For 80 years The Episcopal Church through Episcopal Migration Ministries have been working with refugees, those seeking freedom from danger. In fact, this church goes back to the 2nd World War when St. Alban’s was instrumental in resettling Swedish refugees displaced by the war into San Diego area. I would like to see if we could find out about some of those families and see what has happened to them over the generations and where they now live.
The Bible reminds us that we too are called to be pilgrims, sojourners, just passing through., on our way to the land of milk and honey, the promise land. If we lose vision of that, we may say we are followers of Christ, but are we living the gospel centered lifestyle that God has called us to? We are called to minister to those who are 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)
The psalmist says: “Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way”. Our hearts are to be set on the way of the sojourner, those that are just passing by. We are on a journey, looking for a city, whose architect and maker is God.
This is the pilgrim’s way.