Sermon for February 2, 2020
This past week I attended a clergy conference at Chapel Rock, the diocesan camp in Prescott. I had mixed feelings about going. I wasn’t looking forward to the cold weather and I struggled a little bit creating conversation with people I barely know. But the conference turned out to be special because of a presentation we heard on dementia.
Tracey Lind was the dean of the cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio and served on the board of the Church Pension Group. She started to have memory problems and eventually learned that she had early onset dementia. Her doctor told her that she needed to go home and get her affairs in order. Tracey decided that she needed to take early retirement from her career as a priest. She also decided her life was not yet over. She and her partner, Emily, decided that they would share information with others about how to deal with issues of dementia. That is how they came to speak at the clergy retreat.
Tracey is an amazing person. She offered personal details about what it is like to live with dementia. Some people may wish to hide their dementia issues from others, perhaps because they are ashamed. But not Tracey. She has great courage. She talked about the things you would expect. She told us things that she can no longer remember. She talked about the difficult issues a family must face when dementia rears its ugly head. She spoke about how she tried to plan for the worsening of her dementia, all the while not knowing exactly what it would be like.
I was not surprised to hear about how people try to be normal with others, to hide their disease. I was not surprised to learn about the frustration one feels when they don’t know the right words to say. I haven’t thought as much about how hard it can be to go out in public. For example, Tracey struggles when she travels on airplanes. She struggles in unfamiliar places and it has a physical effect on her. Her partner, Emily, has learned that she should go ask for early boarding, to minimize the fear and trembling, all the while worrying about how others will judge them when they don’t look like they have some disability. Tracey told us that she now watches TV because it allows her social interaction without the need for her to talk. I was amazed by the huge toll that this disease has on both of them emotionally. I learned that the care partner often dies before the person with dementia because of the stress.
Dementia is probably more prevalent than we realize. We may have 8 to 10 people in this congregation dealing with dementia. I have made some copies of the handouts they provided and left some at the back of the church. The package includes tips for dealing with a person with dementia, a list of helpful books as well as a link to their blog site. I hope you find something helpful if you are dealing with dementia in some way. If you wish to learn more, you may want to record the 60 minutes program this evening which I am told has a story on Tracey and Emily. I know you will be watching the Super Bowl when 60 minutes is on.
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I will make a connection between the issue of dementia and the gospel but first let me share a little of the theology in the gospel. As faithful Jewish people, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple. The tradition was for Mary and Jesus to come to the Temple forty days after the birth of Jesus. He was presented as the first-born male. He was offered to God and in return was made holy. That tradition started in the book of Exodus.
One of the things that happened in the temple was the offering of a sacrifice. Once Jesus came along, we no longer needed to offer some bird or animal in sacrifice because Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for us. In fact, Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah and spoke of the sacrifice Jesus would offer many years later. He said, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. He told Mary that a sword will pierce your own soul too." Simeon’s words are about the sacrifice that Jesus would die on the cross for our salvation. His sacrifice is a gift that we received, a gift that we did not earn. It came from the grace and love that God has for us.
Our reading from Hebrews further described the gift Jesus gave us. Jesus became human and joined with all of us who are children of God. Jesus destroyed the power that sin has over us. In Hebrews it says, “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are no longer held in the power of sin, we are free to live a life as God asked us to do. We no longer fear that we will die because we know that Jesus has created a way for us to go to heaven. Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest, serving God and serving all of us. The reading from Malachi suggested that we must cleanse ourselves before we can stand in the presence of the Lord. Jesus offers that cleansing to God for us.
This feast of the Presentation offers many spiritual insights to Christians. It has been a day to bless candles representing the light of Jesus. It is a day to celebrate the humility of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I focus on the sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. Thus it is a day to remember all of the people who have entered into humble service, to offer their gifts to help others. Some are here with us today. I am thankful and I dedicate this service to their honor and to encourage them to continue their humble service.
Simeon was not the only one who recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Anna was also a prophet and she confirmed that Jesus was Israel’s Redeemer. She demonstrated that the Holy Spirit works though the community of all faithful people.
While I appreciate the theological meaning of the Presentation of Jesus, I choose to focus on the word Presentation or presence. Jesus came and presented himself to the priests in the Temple. But more important, he presented himself to God. His parents made the commitment that he would be a follower of God’s will, that he would do God’s work in this world. In the Temple, Jesus was consecrated to that service.
As followers of Jesus, we are thankful for his presence in our lives and thankful for his gift of salvation. In thankfulness, we follow the example of Jesus. We come each week to present ourselves to God. We ask God to consecrate our lives and we commit ourselves once again to do God’s work in the world. We also present Jesus to other people. We do so when we help another person who is poor or needy, when we comfort someone who is sad or sit with someone who is lonely.
This brings me back to the story about dementia. Tracey has dementia and spoke at length about how we might treat people who have this disease. She asked us to have compassion. It means that we must be patient, that is we need to give the person with dementia time to gather themselves before they are ready to speak. We need to find a way to offer help while still giving the person a choice. You might say, “I could read a book to you if you like but not I have answered your question many times, you need to listen more closely. It sounds like good advice for how we might treat people in everything that we do. It is the way we present Jesus to other people.
Gerald Darring wrote, “How do we present Jesus Christ to others? Do we present Jesus to others on such a pedestal that people can dismiss his example as unreasonable expectation, or is he “like his brothers in every way,” one of us, a brother human whose love of justice and peace can and should be imitated? Is the Jesus we present to others an indictment of them, or is he God’s “saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see,” the Messiah who rescues us from our personal and social sinfulness?
I hope that today you are lifted up by the gift of Jesus and the commitment that he made for us. I hope that you are thankful and ready to commit yourself to sharing the love of Jesus. May God’s presence be with you always. Amen.
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