- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

The following are excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Jeffrey B. MacKnight at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Bethesda.
Simeon said these famous words when he encountered Jesus in the temple, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation" [Luke 2:22-40].
The other day while shopping I met a woman whose husband grows disabled and requires constant care. They have been married for 66 years. Her basket included flowers to brighten up his 88th birthday dinner. Despite the difficulties, she said, "I'm just glad I still have him."
Some of us here know a family whose third child was born with severe medical problems. After ten months in the hospital, the baby's last best hope is an organ transplant. The family has amazed me, even as they try to just put one foot in front of the other.
Their devotion has so inspired me that I have had to ask, "What brings out this degree of sacrifice?" In today's story of Jesus' presentation in the temple when he was 40 days old, Joseph and Mary are there to witness a sacrifice of two doves, which was required by Jewish law. All ancient peoples had elaborate systems of sacrifice, either to appease God or the gods. Typically, the first fruits of the field or even the body were given to God, as if God's share of the profits of the earth.
A great innovation of Judaism was the substitute sacrifice. Rather than slaughtering one's first born on an altar, another sacrifice could be made, as with the doves. Joseph and Mary made a substitutionary sacrifice for their son Jesus. Now, what does sacrifice mean for us today? The ancient idea of slaughtering beasts or birds on altars no longer speak to us. I know the altar guild would heartily agree.
What, then, can inspire this somewhat cynical and often self-centered generation to sacrifice? Jesus took the idea of sacrifice in His Jewish faith to a radical new level. Jesus doesn't ask for the first fruits or for a child. He asks for our whole selves. He asks not for slaughter on an altar, but our whole lives a living sacrifice.
There was the case of the young man who came to Jesus and asked, "What must I do to achieve salvation." And Jesus said, "Go and sell all that you have, and then come and follow me." A living sacrifice. What can inspire us to such a way of life? We need to glimpse the face of God for that kind of inspiration.
That glimpse of God came to Simeon and Anna in the temple so long ago. That glimpse moved them to shout out, "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation." We need to see the face of God. See that face in the elderly husband who requires so much care. See that face of the sick baby who lives day by day. See it in people that we meet everyday.
When we truly encounter God, we are willing to cast off everything to truly live and die for Christ. I think of Martin Luther King, who said in his speech down on the Mall, "I have been to the mountaintop." He was saying, "I have seen God. I have had my vision." And once that was done, he was willing to sacrifice all for the cause he so deeply championed. He was ready to live and ready to die for Christ.
Today, it is my privilege to baptize the child of my cousins. They are offering their first-born son to God in this temple on this day. They are asking God's blessing. They are asking God to make their son a member of the body of Christ. From now own, their lives are inextricably linked with him and with God. They have seen the face of Christ in the face of this child.
There will be sacrifice involved. Not just the sacrifice of losing many nights of sleep, or of college tuition, when the time comes. As with any child, there will be the heights of joy and also the depths of pain and loss. Like Mary and Joseph, the parents are no longer living for themselves.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Tony Chung at Korean Baptist Church of Washington in Silver Spring
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