We are introduced to two prominent disciples, Simeon and Anna; prominent in the sense that they are important in the life of Christ and the gospel narrative of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple as a baby; not prominent that they were celebrities or people of renown in their day. They were not popular or well known. I’m sure people in the religious committee did know them, especially Anna who we are told spent her days and nights praying in the temple, a widow 84 years of age. For many years she was a figure known to anyone who frequented there.
The temple was the center of Jerusalem, a hub of the religious community. Simeon and Anna not only recognized and gave reverence to Jesus as He was presented in the temple, but they also presented themselves to God. The temple was lively 24/7. The history of temple worship is quite extraordinary, with temple guards, night duty changes, psalms that talk about praying through the watches of the night, people coming into the temple to pray, to make peace with God and to find solace from the daily affairs’ of their lives.
It’s similar to why we come to worship together in this sanctuary on Sunday mornings, to make peace with God and to find peace for our life. The sanctuary becomes a refuge from the world, a place to find shelter in the time of turmoil and confusion. It’s a place that we can present ourselves to God.
There’s many ways we can pattern our lives after the “Presentation of Jesus” in the temple. One is when we baptize our children or adult baptism. We are presenting our children, our family, ourselves unto God. We have special dates set aside to honor those that make profession of faith at confirmation. It is an educated and informed presentation of ourselves to the Lord.
At the Eucharist table we come and present ourselves to God, following the example that Jesus gave us when He presented Himself to God, as a child, and later as a sacrifice.
We too are encouraged to present our lives as a living sacrifice. Paul writes in the letter to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1) Everything we are; our soul, mind and strength, we present to God and we might say something like this: “Here I am Lord, all I have is yours, and God is saying: all I have is yours, You are one, as Jesus prayed that you may be one with Him as He is with Me”. We have a covenant, a bridge between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. We have a bridge that we walk on, and that bridge is Jesus.
And, when we walk out of this building on Sunday morning, church is not over. The church community worship service is over, but church is just beginning. The church is beginning another week. We are just getting started in “doing church and being church” to everyone outside of these walls. We as a church are presenting ourselves to God every morning as the psalmist says: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it”. (Psalm 118:24)
When we go to work we are presenting ourselves to our colleagues and those we come into contact during the day. When we go to school we are presenting ourselves to our classmates, teachers and our commitment to our studies. Every part of our day is an opportunity to present ourselves to God.
As a Hospital Chaplain for the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospitals in the boroughs of NYC, I worked with other multi-faith and inter-faith chaplains, rabbis, imam’s, priests and pastors. I remember talking one day with a rabbi and an imam. They mentioned that in Islam and Judaism, religious life affected their culture and every part of their lives, whereas Christianity did not affect Christians in the same way. The rabbi assured me that she was not trying to hurt my feelings, but stated that Judaism affected your entire life, not just part of it. I argued that Christianity it affected my entire life as well. She mentioned that for me she could tell that it did, but for the Christians she knew and observed, Christianity is just a part of their life. And, I thought about that. I always try to be open to constructive criticism, as long as I can see it in context. And the imam was saying: “Yes we pray five times a day”. The rabbi said that it was customary for observant Jews to have three prayer offices a day.
I mentioned that in Christian monastic communities there are seven prayer offices, but in our Book of Common Prayer we have broken those seven times down to three, morning noon and evening, and sometimes Compline.
I mentioned that it’s difficult for me to have several prayer offices a day, and it’s difficult enough to ask people to do one prayer office a day, let alone 3 times, 5 times or 7 times. And the rabbi and imam agreed. They both said, “Yes, we have that same problem too”. So, what she was saying in theory is that we all live busy lifestyles, but in principle, Jesus and the apostles are saying to us: “We are called to love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength”. It’s not about how many times a day we pray, but as Christians we are called to a life a prayer, “a lifestyle of prayer that is considered prayer without ceasing, or to pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
The natural and the spiritual lines become blurred and everything becomes transparent as we present ourselves completely to God. The divine and natural become intertwined.
We can truly call it liturgy, because that is what liturgy means: “The work of the people; the time that we work, study, pray and rest becomes our liturgy and an invitation to make a continual presentation of ourselves to God”. We are called to present ourselves to God every day in every way. That does not mean we don’t make mistakes, because we all know better than that. If anyone ever tells me that I’m part of a perfect church, then I better leave that church, because we all know that I’m not perfect, and if I stay the church it will no longer be perfect.
That’s the beauty though of this Christian walk. It’s not about a legalistic lifestyle. It’s a life of grace and freedom. At the end of the day, Christ’s commitment to us is far greater than our commitment to Him. It reminds me of the words from the old church hymn: “We may fail, but Jesus never, glory to His name”. It is a mutual commitment. We present ourselves to God, and we in turn are transformed by the Spirit of God. As it says in our reading in Isaiah: “I will wash you and make you clean. As the refiner’s fire purifies gold and silver, so I will refine you, renew your mind and your soul. Your worldview will change because you will change. It’s a transformative experience when we present ourselves to God. It’s not just what we do together on Sunday. It’s not just about what we do when we pray in our private devotions. It’s the way we live our lives and the way we conduct ourselves before God.
Let us present ourselves to God every day and in every way.