Presentation of Christ at the Temple: January 31st 2011
St Peter’s, Takapuna
The Rev'd Anna Lindsey - Priest Assistant
Some things never change
When you were little did you like it when a character in a book or film had the same name as you? I did. It always gave me a thrill to see my name in print and 2 of my favourite books when I was a young girl were ‘Ballet Shoes for Anna’ by Noel Streatfield (oh how my clumsy young self longed to be a ballerina) and ‘Mister God this is Anna’ which informed my conversations with God (or prayer life, as we grown ups put it) for many, many years.
So it is no surprise that one of my all time favourite Bible characters is the Anna from our gospel reading today – and when I was a little girl I wanted to grow up to live in a church…..it seems some of our childhood dreams do come true.
Anna only gets a couple of verses but Luke manages to pack in quite a lot of information – the kind of information that his 1st century audience would have taken meaning from but that 2000 years later drift over our heads. I was intrigued by the fact that Luke tells us that Anna is 84 years old, was married for 7 years but has been a widow ever since, is the daughter of a man called Phanuel and is from the tribe of Asher. Luke gave these details knowing his audience would understand their importance so I went and did a bit of digging in Biblical history, - yes, I’m a bit of a Bible geek! I’d like to share my finding with you this morning and I think you’ll see that things don’t change much and that Anna has much to teach us today.
Ok, let’s start with Anna’s background. Luke tells us that she is from the tribe of Asher. Do you remember the story of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat?? Way, way back many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began, Jacob lived in the land of Cannan a fine example of a family man…Jacob, Jacob and sons. Jacob had 12 sons including Asher and Joseph and the 12 tribes of Israel were named after them. Now hang on to your hat because we’re going to race through about 500 years of Jewish history. If you remember, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt and after he had translated Pharoah’s dreams he became top dog, and then when there was a great famine Joseph’s brothers came begging food and once there had been a reconciliation all 12 brothers and their Dad settled in Egypt. With me so far? The Bible tells us that the Israelites did well in Egypt so much so that over some generations they became a perceived threat to the leadership of Egypt and were enslaved. Then along came Moses who freed the people from slavery and lead the Israelites through the Red Sea to the Promised Land. Once the people were settled in the Promised Land the land was divided into 12 parts, one part for each tribe. If you can visualise the Mediterranean Sea and modern day Israel in your minds eye, the tribe of Asher was given land at the north end of the Mediterranean and it was rich and lush and the people of Asher grew comfortable and flabby and, as we know from our own time, they started to believe in money and comfort and stopped believing in God. They stopped following God’s law intermarried with non-Jews and became the least Jewish, least faithful of all the tribes and looked askance at the few Asherites who, like Anna, remained devoted to God.
I told you not much had changed in 2000 years! We too live in a place and time where most people put their trust in money and comfort rather than trusting God. We too live amongst people who often look askance at those you go to church. We follow in the footsteps of Anna, we are the ones who remain faithful and we should be proud of ourselves for that. Choosing to live differently from the prevailing culture is a brave thing to do.
Secondly we are told that Anna is a widow, and has been for a long time. When I cross-referenced Anna’s dates with Biblical history it seems likely that her husband would have been killed during violent battles with the Romans which took place 60 odd years before Jesus was born. Widow and widowerhood is a state that many in this church can identify with and it is not an easy stage of life. As a divorced woman who expected to be married into old age, I can identify with the shock of finding herself alone too soon and I know my Mum, who was widowed 4 years ago, finds the aloneness and responsibility very hard after sharing her life with my Dad for nearly 50 years. And yet, our church today relies on our widows and widowers just as much as the 1st century Temple relied on Anna. Much of the work and care at all churches, including St Peter’s, is done by those on their own and their worth is not often mentioned. So today we salute you and say thank you for being such a vital and much loved part of our church family.
Thirdly we are told that Anna is 84: a good age by any standards, and that she was wise and greatly respected by the people. I was speaking to an elderly lady this week who broke my heart when she told me that she had nothing to more to give and nothing to look forward to…and yet the story of Anna tells us that that is just not true. The church always needs the wisdom and insight of our wise-women and wise-men. We need their prayers and their knowledge and their counsel and their care. Anna must have been full of the aches and pains of old age and may well have thought her moments of great joy were behind her and then at the grand old age of 84 she saw, actually saw, God!!! Anna shows us that whatever age you are – there is still the possibility of surprise and joy.
Two people recognised God in the infant Jesus that day in the Temple – one was Anna, the other Simeon and they reacted to seeing Jesus in very different ways. Simeon, bless him, reacts by taking himself off to die whereas Anna goes and tells everyone that she has seen God! And by doing that she presents us with the challenge to share our faith.
Talking about our faith to others is never easy, and I’m not suggesting we all become rabid Bible-thumpers but you and I have something very precious in our faith that many others do not have. I spent time with another lady this week who is struggling because her life has been turned upside down and she said repeatedly that she doesn’t know how people cope if they don’t know the protective love of God. Like Anna we can help others know that love.
So that’s what I discovered about my namesake and whilst not everyone in our church this morning can identify with Anna as a widow of a good age we can identify with her as a spiritual person in a secular age - and we can all learn from her actions and be challenged by her to share the love of God with those who don’t yet know it.
What a woman! Amen.« Back to Sermons