The Quiltwork of the Kingdom

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Presentation of Our Lord

Luke 2:22-40

February 2, 2014

Peder Stenslie

I want you to take a look at this quilt up here.  We receive these quilts from churches all over the state.  They are sent to us so that we can give them to you as a symbol of God’s love and care when you leave here.

These quilts are works of art.  Different pieces of fabric have been sewn together in different patterns, maybe with a border around the edge and placed on some kind of backing material.  You can tell by looking at these quilts that someone has taken care to arrange shapes, colors and textures into an artistically pleasing arrangement.

The origins of quilting, however, were less artistic and much more utilitarian.  People were determined to squeeze every bit of use out of their fabric scraps.  The individual quilt pieces were taken from still usable cloth cut from worn out clothing, like dresses or shirts, or from scraps leftover from sewing projects.  These fabrics had generally not been purchased but were hand woven by the owners, with many hours of work put in to them.  They were far too valuable to just be thrown away.  Therefore, any still usable pieces would get new life as part of a quilt.

There were multiple components to these quilts.  A piece from an old work shirt would be combined with scraps leftover from a pretty dress, and maybe parts of an old curtain.  These would all be firmly stitched together by needle and thread, laid on top of a middle layer of material called batting and then sewn to some kind of backing material.  Yarn ties would anchor the whole thing together so the batting wouldn’t bunch up in the middle.

All of this would be done by the hands of the quilt maker… the one who conceived it all, pulled the pieces together, shaped them, stitched them and created a useful community of these varied pieces of fabric, thread and yarn.

In today’s lessons the focus is on the presentation of Jesus… in the temple… but also in history and in the flesh.  The life and being of God is manifested in Jesus.

Yet even though the focus is on Jesus, it is fascinating to observe what unfolds in the world around Jesus as he is presented.   The Spirit of God is on the move in the world.  It stirs the hearts of men and women and calls into being something quite new.

In today’s Gospel lesson we meet Simeon, a good and righteous man, stirred by the Spirit of God, who comes to proclaim the work of God in Christ.  And then there’s Anna… wonderful, surprising Anna… an isolated old widow, cut off from the world… who becomes one of the first great woman preachers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Verse 38 reads:  At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)

Anna stands between two other great woman Gospel preachers of the Bible:  Mary, the mother of Jesus who proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ even before he was born (in what we call the Magnificat of Mary); and Mary Magdalene who was the first to proclaim to the world that the crucified Christ was not among the dead, but alive.

How is it that there are still people today who can think that women have no place preaching the Gospel?  They’ve been doing it powerfully since before Jesus was born.

With Christ himself, Simeon and Anna declare that the Kingdom of God is at hand among us.  And with them we see what happens as it unfolds.  New creation emerges as people are drawn into the work of God.  And what an amazing new thing it is!

Just listen to this sample list of people woven into the quilt work of God’s Kingdom.

*A wild man of the desert, John the Baptist.

*Rough, hard-working fisherman Peter, Andrew, James, John.

*Foreigners and outsiders, like the Samaritan woman at the well or the Canaanite woman with the gravely ill daughter, or the Roman officer seeking help for his sick slave.

*Poor and desperate people, like the poor man blind from birth or the sinful woman who wept at the feet of Jesus.

*A convicted criminal, executed for his crimes alongside Jesus.

*A runaway slave named Onesimus, as well as his former owner.

*A despised and dishonest tax-collector, Zacchaeus

*Wealthy and respected members of the Jewish, religious elite, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

*A violent, Christian-hating Pharisee named Saul who later became the apostle Paul.

Men, women, rich, poor, privileged, outcast, foreigners, insiders, righteous, sinners… all called and drawn together by the Spirit of God… and remade the people of God.

God is at work everywhere and in all people… and his purpose is to bring into being something new that feeds his creation with life.

In today’s 2nd lesson we hear of God’s entering the world of flesh and blood in Christ.  He does this so that he might physically bring the Kingdom of God… the power of God… into our world.  Taken together, these passages create a most beautiful image of the work of God

God weaves two worlds into one another… the Kingdom of God and the mortal world in which we live.

God enters our world and puts on human flesh; and by his Spirit he draws us into his Kingdom.  He does this not because he wants to get fancy with art.  He does this in order to deliver blessing to all people as he brings them together in community.  He weaves his people into the Kingdom of God in order to make something new, something life-giving and healing and hopeful.

He wants all of you brought in… because he wants all of you to know life and love.

The church — the community of life created by God on earth — is God’s quilt of many colors, shapes and textures.  And we here at Heart River reflect that.  Look around you and see the people that have come together here.  It is truly amazing!

We are an unlikely combination of people.  I don’t think you would find a group quite like this coming together, sharing community and unity of purpose in any other setting.  We are here for each other because God has brought us here.  He has created this little Heart River family and desires to give life through it.

Sadly, it must be admitted that the church often doesn’t live up to the purpose for which God created it; but then again, very often it does.  And here at Heart River that purpose can be clearly seen.

We reflect the powerful truth of the scripture:  All belong to God, and he will have all of us know the treasures of life.  God is the one who brings us together; and he calls us to learn what it means to be his people together… one family.

Being one people together… one family… that may be at times uncomfortable for some.  It may seem strange and unlikely.  But those who know the church, know that this is exactly what the church was meant to be… and can be.  It is why we exist.

Pastor Renee, Solvei, Kristian and Johan have been in Chicago this weekend participating in an ELCA Global Music training event.  Some of you have seen some videos of their gathering that have been posted on Facebook.

They have been experiencing this wonder of the church as well.  Musicians from all over the world… many colors, cultures and traditions… gathered together into community.  There are participants from Honduras, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Namibia, Puerto Rico, Tongo, Haiti, Palestine, Japan, Singapore and others.

At the heart of that community… like this one… is the love of God bringing people together who otherwise would never know each other.  At the heart of that community… like this one… is the love of God giving new life and new hope as we learn to share with each other our troubles and burdens as well as the strength and goodness that comes from God.

You and I are being woven into the quilt work of God’s Kingdom.  Heart River is a part of the new creation brought forth in the world by God’s Spirit.  That is cause to give thanks… to rejoice.  And it is cause to take firm hold of this community God has placed us in and welcome the presence of Jesus… and the work of the Spirit among us.

Let God feed us here with love, strength and healing as we make our way through life.