Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of Jesus, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple. Today marks 40 days since the birth of Jesus, and according to Jewish law and tradition, it was time for Mary and Joseph to take Jesus to the temple for ritual purification, and to dedicate him to a life of prayer and contemplation.
Some of you may have friends and family who are also Episcopalian, and who will tell you that today is Candlemas. This is also true, but reflective of a later tradition added by the church as an opportunity to bless the candles that will be used throughout the year.
However, today, I’m going to focus on the Feast of the Dedication.
When I was being prepared for confirmation in my 20s, I had to present to the priest a copy of my baptismal certificate. So I asked my mom to help me procure such an item, figuring it was stashed away in some file at home. Turns out I had been baptized twice…first in the Lutheran church, then in the Baptist church. Since I was baptized in the Lutheran church as an infant, the Baptist church understood this to be a “dedication” or what some might call a “christening”…hence the second baptism when I was nine in the Baptist church. Regardless of whether it was a baptism, dedication or christening, the intention was the same…I was being presented to the church and to God and dedicating myself to prayer and to do God’s work.
If I’m not wrong, most, if not all, of us here have made these same promises at some time, or had them made on our behalf. In the Book of Common Prayer, it’s these promises that are found in our Baptismal Covenant:
--to put our whole trust in, follow and obey God,
--to continue in the teaching of the apostles and the breaking of bread and the prayers,
--to persevere against evil and ask for forgiveness when we fall short,
--to proclaim the Good News by our words and by our lives,
--to serve Christ in ourselves and in others,
--to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of everyone.
When we are baptized, when we (or our parents) make these promises, we are dedicating our lives to God.
Now that’s the “easy” part. Saying the creed is easy. Coming to church on Sunday is easy. But when we really dedicate ourselves to God, when we really embrace the promises that we have made, we realize that being a Christian is no walk in the park!
In the gospel story from Luke today, Simeon the prophet is there at the presentation of Jesus. Not only does he recognize Jesus as the incarnate God, but he also knows that a life dedicated to God is one that will be difficult at times. He makes a prophecy to Mary, the gospel tells us, that Jesus will be the rise and fall of many and a sign to be opposed. In other words, the life ahead for Jesus will be difficult and full of contradictions. He will be proclaimed the long-awaited Messiah, but won’t meet the expectations of many in terms of that title. He will teach in synagogues, but the temple authority will despise him. He will lift up the lowly and cast down those in power. He will be a light to the nations, but will over turn tables. He will say “follow me”, but won’t tell you where he’s going. And yet, he will be doing the work he was sent to do. He will bring about the Kingdom of God.
On Wednesday, I participated in an online class being led by Bp. Michael Curry of North Carolina. I have heard Bp. Curry preach at both a friend’s ordination a few years ago, and then again in Indianapolis at General Convention in 2012. He is a dynamic preacher and really fun to listen to. On Thursday, he was presenting on topics from his new book “Crazy Christians”. For Bp. Curry, a “Crazy Christian” is someone in whom the ministry and teaching of Jesus is so vivid, that through them, God becomes visible to others. A “Crazy Christian” is someone who lives into their “true self” instead of the “false self” that has been created for them by the media and the expectations of others. At the end of the class, Bp. Curry invited people to embrace this idea of being a “Crazy Christian” and with it, all the contradictions that come along with being a person dedicated to God.
When we take seriously our dedication to God, when we take seriously those promises we make in our Baptismal Covenant, we are inviting God to become alive in us. In turn, God calls us by name and we become our true selves. This may mean speaking out against an environmental injustice happening in your community. This may mean really committing to praying when you say “of course I’ll pray for you” instead of absent-mindedly forgetting. It may mean not living up to the expectations imposed on you by others because you are living up to the calling of God. Being a “Crazy Christian” may mean turning over a few tables in order for there to be peace in the world. Yes, being a “Crazy Christian” may be one of supposed contradictions, but it also means being fully alive and present to God in a wonderful and life-giving way.
If I had stayed in the Baptist tradition, this would be the perfect place for an altar call…the invitation to come up and rededicate your life to Christ. But we’re Episcopalians, so we don’t do that. However, in a few moments, you will be invited to come before the altar and receive communion. I invite you in these moments between now and then to consider your life as it has been dedicated to God thus far. Have you truly embraced the words and promises found in the Baptismal Covenant? How have you presented your life to God and to the world, fully participating in the Kingdom of God? Are you ready to be a “Crazy Christian”?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.