At one point it was a place where marriages started and were strengthened. It used to be a place where community got people through catastrophic: from cancer the loss of a child. It was the location where some came to Christ through the waters of baptism, a light in the darkness, a hope in those times that were horrible and yet almost without warning it lapsed; from making history to being history.
If you read The News Gazette, you probably saw the front page story from July 17th, 2016, entitled Test of Faith which let their subscribers know that a place of ministry was about to become a monument. Urbana’s First Methodist Church after 181 years in the community has dwindled down from over 1,400 people to less than 120 on any given Sunday. Now they face shutting the doors for the final time. Diana Williams, of Champaign said, “she thinks about all the people who have been a part of the church since its start in 1835, and of all the things they’ve done in the community over the years, and she sees a piece of local history that might be dying. “On our watch,” she said. “It’s very sad, really.” The article looked at trends and statistics, but then a few of the leaders of the church started talking about trying to make changes now but finding they were unable as prospective members went to churches elsewhere, doing things differently.
The article revealed that the church still realized its calling, but had gradually lost touch with the commitment to follow through. Jesus took the next step declaring His commitment after Peter gave his confession of faith: on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it.” Jesus shows us his commitment to us–but today we have to answer if we are committed to him, committed to ensuring we are part of doing ministry rather than morphing into a monument. We can see commitment go one of two ways—people sometimes lack the commitment to keep something valuable alive but there is another type of commitment where people commit to how things use to be and are forced to watch an old way of doing things die. A lawyer by the name of Horace Rackham walked into the Michigan Savings Bank and asked for a $500 loan, he explained what he was going to invest in the newly developing car industry one of his clients was starting…The bank manager gave him the money with a warning: The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad. Only later would he sell those 500 dollars’ worth of stock for $12.5 million.
In our text today from Luke 2:25-35, we meet our main character Simeon sitting at the temple committed to something that on the surface seemed:
CRAZY—(Luke 2:25-27a) 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.
As Mary and Joseph neared the temple they were trying to faithfully follow the Jewish custom. Jesus was circumcised on the eight day symbolizing him being set apart, now a month old his parents took him for the purification where the firstborn son was “redeemed” bought back from the Lord in acknowledgment that the child actually belonged to God–in this case more than most people knew. Except for this mysterious figure name Simeon who is described as righteous, the same description given to Job and other prophets, and devout which was used to describe a statesman such as Abraham. He committed himself to led by the Holy Spirit as he waited for the hope of Israel, the promised Messiah, God’s fullness.
For all intent and purposes his commitment must have appeared crazy, waiting and watching for what didn’t come year after year. Maybe it is just as crazy as some find faith in Christ is in the 21st century. Yet, for John Booy, it was 37 years of commitment that brought the impossible to fruition. John was driving the customary 15 or 20 minutes to church with his wife and another couple. It was a destitute area, run down and broken, and one of the passengers said, “What if God called us to this area?” and they all laughed, thankful that they didn’t have to get involved. It was full of gangs, substance abuse, vandalism, and violent crimes. Then the next week, the question came up again but with less laughter, until finally they decided to see what God wanted them to do. They moved into the neighborhood and started to meet their neighbors first connecting with adults and then with the children that played on the front stoops. As they committed to continued prayer, they found out that the school in their neighborhood was the 3rd worst in the state. The Potter’s House was then born, a school that welcomed in students from over 30 nations, 2/3rds of which are living in poverty. Commitment wouldn’t be judged in months or one day a week, but in decades and in generations. 37 years later John Booy is still involved as a principal, overseeing teachers who don’t clock out but welcomed homeless kids into their spare bedrooms, and amazingly 100% now graduate, 95% go to college.
Being committed to Christ sounds crazy—maybe that is exactly what God wanted. You have people who find out you give to your church and they scoff, or that you volunteer and they feel squeezed, but like Simeon he decided it was better to look crazy to the world, than to go crazy living without God. A lot of people are living a life that is crazy–completely on their own power and strength, their own standards and whims, and the results are ripping the world apart, family, morality, ethics, justice…Maybe in reality, the craziest thing to do would be to try and live life without the one who sustains life, to try and find peace without the prince of peace, to find rescue without the redeemer. Psalm 37:5 put it this way: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Committed Christians joining together becomes the perfect expression of God doing something crazy, not just us being crazy. Together we serve Christ best. Together we come to know God better, be in fellowship with him not because he needs us, but because we would go off course without him!
I hear a lot of people these days complaining about the hypocrites and shortcomings of organized religion or people making the claim that commitment to Christ can look a like the being uncommitted to the church, but what has unorganized religion ever produced? When have we loved God and loved each other better by being disconnected from each other?