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It’s been good, over the last few months to be working through this series of sermons called ‘Living Faith. We have learnt much together about what it means to exhibit the qualities and characteristics of Christian discipleship.
Today, we come to the final sermon in the series, which really leads us to the point of taking our Christian discipleship all the more seriously: the topic of making ourselves available for service in the church and in the Kingdom of God.
And the characters we’ve just met in our Gospel reading – Simeon and Anna in the temple – have a great deal to teach us about what it means to be available to God. Through Simeon and Anna in the temple, what do we learn about the type of people who God calls to be his messengers? Three things…
1. That God is no respecter of age
Now churches sometimes get themselves into a pickle when it comes to considering people according to age. Some people may be guilty of not showing enough value or respect to young people as if faith can only be real or truly expressed when you hit a certain age like 16 and, prior to that age, the young person cannot be considered a proper and full member of a church. And then, at the other end of the spectrum, it’s sometimes the case that older people are put out to pasture once they reach a certain age, as having nothing else to offer our great institution.
The fallacy in many churches is that it is only the people in the 25-55 age bracket who have anything positive to offer the church. And since the prevailing pattern in churches today is that we have plenty of contact with children and young people and loads of contact with pensioners – but much less contact with the 25-55 age group – that can create a pattern for decline rather than growth when it comes to local churches.
It really is time for the Church in England to wake up to the reality of our mission, as Bishop Richard reminded us a few weeks ago. As he said so clearly from this pulpit here, it is churches that take seriously children and young people that are growing in the UK and that we need to prioritise that whilst taking seriously the needs of the older generation too. He commented that St. Andrew’s is becoming a flagship church for the London Diocese by how we are maximising our ministry to children, young people and families and that we must encourage all generations into activity ministry: young and old alike.
Because the truth is that this equal respect across the generations clearly reflects the heart of God. Whether it is with regard to children or those in the autumn of their lives, God is not age-ist.
God is no respecter of age and it doesn’t matter what your age is: God still wants to use you for his purposes.
Throughout Scripture, we read of young people being used by God and for God: Isaac, Joseph, David, Timothy, the boy with the loaves and fishes…There are many examples in Scripture of young people being used as Christians used to make a real difference for God. And if we count ourselves as being young this morning, we need to know that God wants to use even you to make a difference for him.
And for those of us who don’t count ourselves as being young anymore, we need to consider the challenge that God sets before us to liberate our young people into the service of God, Because the truth is, more often than not, our young people are desperate to make a difference; they are desperate to channel their energies and the church seems a good place for them to do that. And we need to carefully consider whether or not the way we structure our Institution serves as a liberation or a barrier to the full involvement of young people. Is the way we do church a cork in the bottleneck for our young people or is it a funnel through which their energies and skills can flow?
This is an important question for us to ask ourselves.
God calls young people to be his messengers.
But God calls older people into his service too. What do I mean by old? What is elderly? I don’t know – I’ll leave that for you to judge! Perhaps it might help you come to a decision on that by thinking about Bob Hope’s definition when he said, “You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake!”
But what is absolutely clear is that Scripture is crammed full of people past retirement age called by God to make a difference in the world for him. Abraham, Moses, Haggai, Ezekiel, many of these Old Testament saints were called by God when they should have been collecting their pensions…
And my firm belief and what I believe will be the catalyst for major growth here at St. Andrew’s, is that for some of you who have been faithful disciples of Christ for 20, 30, 40, 50, even 60 or 70 years – for some of you, the best is still to come in terms of Christian discipleship.
It would not be unusual for God to use some of you more powerfully in your retirement than in all your youth added together.
Because that’s the way God works: if you are still open to being used by God, if you want to be a vessel for God’s transforming love and power, age is no barrier at all.
God is looking for youthful people to be his disciples. That might be young people like Mary, it might be older people like Simeon and Anna. But youthful people all the same.
As Malcolm Boyd once said: “Youth is not properly definable by age. It is a spirit of daring, creating, asserting life, and openly relating to the world.”
Are we youthful for God?
First, then, God is no respecter of age
2. God is no respecter of gender
Today, we live in an egalitarian society; a society where, more than ever before, there is movement towards equality of the sexes. The days of Martin Luther in the 16th-century who said that, “women should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children…” – the age of that type of comment, if it isn’t dead yet then, God willing, it soon will be…
And in recognising that equality in the church, we are recognising something that is in the very heart of God. It is the clear and unequivocal testimony of Scripture that God recognises no difference between male and female when it comes to calling people who will minister his Gospel.
I’m picking up on Paul’s words that, “in Christ there is no male or female; all are one in Christ Jesus”. I’m picking up on the fact that, throughout Scripture, there are as many women as men called to bear witness to the love of God.
Our God is a God who recognises the special giftings – the unique giftings of both men and women alike – as Anna in our reading this morning proves very clearly. Our God is a God who acknowledges that if a church is to represent the whole nature of humanity, if the church is to represent the image of God Himself, then we must value the gifts and the ministries themselves with no special regard for the gender of the giver the genetic make-up of the minister.
All are one in Christ Jesus. In him there is no male or female. That is the testimony of Scripture, that is the teaching of the Word of God.
So then, if God is no respecter of age, if God is no respecter of gender, what does God look for when calling people to minister his Gospel? Well, as someone one put it so simply, “When God measures a person, he doesn’t put a tape round their head. He puts it round their heart.” God looks to our hearts – and if our hearts are right, he will use us.
Simeon and Anna in our reading reveal two characteristics of the heart that are so important if we are to open ourselves up to be used by God – Acceptance and Excitement.
God wants us to have accepting hearts. Simeon gives us a wonderful example of that, doesn’t he? When he finally meets with Jesus, when he finally sees the Messiah face to face, he just says, “Oh God, do with me whatever you want…”
And God wants us to have excited hearts. I love this image of Anna, this old woman getting so excited in her faith that she just can’t stop telling other people about Jesus.
Is that how it is with us? Are we so excited about what God has done for us and for this church
that we just can’t stop telling other people about him?
God has a work to do – a message to proclaim. He’s not just looking for people to become Vicars. He’s looking for everyday people with everyday lifestyles and everyday jobs to go out and proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Is that a task we want to undertake, regardless of our age or gender?
Simeon and Anna serve as wonderful examples to us. As we draw a line under our Advent and Christmas seasons today and prepare to move into Epiphany, we are left with the challenge of their examples and we are called by God to respond.
It’s up to each one of us how we do that…