Sermon 01-01-17: “Living and Dying like Simeon and Anna”

January 9, 2017


Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has a life motto that is becoming increasingly popular among members of his team: “Audience of One.” It means that Wentz strives to live his life devoted to glorifying and pleasing one person, Jesus Christ our Lord. Easier said than done, I know. But as I discuss in this sermon, Simeon and Anna lived their lives that way. How can we?

Sermon Text: Luke 2:22-38

[Please note: No audio or video due to a malfunction on my iPhone. 🙁 ]

If you’re a professional football player, you know about something called a “recovery pool.” After being banged around on a football field for three hours, the “recovery pool” is the ice bath that you soak in after it’s over. It helps to heal all the bumps and bruises a little faster. In late October of this year, the recovery pool at the Philadelphia Eagles’ training facility became the site of a worship service as five players—count ’em, five players—were baptized by the team pastor, tight end Trey Burton. And they were baptized in the icy cold water of the recovery pool as about 15 players looked on.

As much as I dislike the Philadelphia Eagles, I have to admit: God is up to something on that team. This is clear from their many well-attended team Bible studies, to prayer and healing services, to the message that quarterback Carson Wentz and a few other players wear on their cleats: “AO1” with the verse Romans 5:8. Romans 5:8 is classic verse most of us know: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But the AO1 part… What does that mean?

Carson Wentz says that it stands for his life motto: “Audience of One.” Wentz explained it this way: “It was kind of a motto I picked up early in my career, and I finally put it on my body just to live [with] the Lord as my audience whether it was playing football, going to school, or whatever I’m doing in my life.”

So… even though he plays in front of 70,000 fans every other week in Philadelphia and millions more at home, he’s really playing—and living his life—for One, for the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the only person he wants to impress. That’s the only person whose approval he needs. That’s the only person whose opinion he cares about.

Like Carson Wentz, I want to live my life for an audience of One. Don’t you?

It reminds me of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4: “I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court; I don’t even judge myself… the Lord is the one who judges me.”[1] Paul lived his life for an “audience of one.”

And that’s the way these two old people in today’s scripture, Simeon and Anna, lived their lives.

By the way, when I was teaching in Kenya several years ago, one of the native Kenyan pastors was telling the class about an experience he recently had with quote—an old man he knew. “He was old!” this pastor said. He kept reminding his audience how old this man was. Old, old, old. I exchanged glances with my fellow American pastor, Susan, as if to say, “He’s not being politically correct. It’s not polite in our American culture to talk about other people being ‘old.’”

Anyway, later in that same class, another native pastor described waiting in line for an oil change for his car—when another “old man” walked into the garage. The pastor said, “Of course I gave up my place in line to this old man…” And when he said that, I realized something which blew me away: In the traditional culture of Kenya—as in the traditional culture of Simeon and Anna in today’s scripture—being “old” was the greatest compliment; it was considered a good thing, a great blessing, a gift, an honorable achievement. If you were old, you were considered wise. And you were treated with great respect. And some of you seniors are like, “Preach it, Pastor Brent!”

The culture we live in has the exact opposite view of growing old. But our culture is wrong.

My point is, it would have meant a great deal to Mary and Joseph that these two old people come up to them in the Temple and bless them—and prophesy about this child.

But Simeon and Anna, like these players on the Eagles team, like the apostle Paul, are living their lives for an audience of one. In the case of Anna, that’s almost literally true. Luke tells us that she’s 84. She would have gotten married at around 14. Her husband lived for only seven years. So she’s spent probably 63 years doing what we see her doing today: worshiping in the temple, fasting and praying—praying for what? For the “redemption of Jerusalem,” Luke says… in other words, praying for the Messiah to come.

I realized last summer that I wasn’t being as diligent as I needed to be in visiting the shut-ins of our church. It’s not that I wasn’t visiting them, but it was always near the bottom of my priority list. And other things had a way of crowding out the time I would otherwise have to visit. Since July, I’ve been on a weekly schedule. Nearly every Wednesday, Susie has me go and visit two of them. I take Communion to them; it is an important part of my ministry. Even a couple of weeks ago, a group of us went Christmas caroling to some of them.

I know from experience that shut-ins often feel, well, kind of useless. They often apologize to me for not being able to come to church as often as they used to, for not being able to contribute financially the way they used to, for not being involved the way they used to be. And not just shut-ins… I know some of you seniors in our church feel that way, too. Physically, you can’t be as active as you used to be; you’ve slowed down, and no matter how much you try, you can’t speed up again; you physically can’t roll up your sleeves and get to work the way you used to do.

Listen… If that describes you, if you’re feeling a little old and a little useless and maybe a little sorry for yourself, I have an important message for you: Snap out of it! I’m serious. I need you! The church needs you! In fact, I have an important job for you. It’s a job at least as important as serving on a committee, or volunteering for Vacation Bible School, or giving a lot of money to the church—however important those things may be. I need you to be this church’s Anna and Simeon. I need you to be this church’s prayer warriors. That’s what Anna and Simeon were. And that’s what I need more of you to be, as well.

If you feel like you can do little else for this church, for God’s kingdom, you can do what Simeon and Anna do! One of the advantages of being older is that you have fewer things in life to distract you from prayer, fewer things pulling you in a dozen different directions; you have more time to devote to prayer. We need you to pray and pray hard!

Brothers and sisters, prayer is going to change this church! While I didn’t say this out loud—or when I did, I said it softly—when I looked at our church’s financial needs at the end of November, I believed it would take a miracle—it would take nothing less than divine intervention—in order for us to reach our goal. It’s not that we haven’t been in a hole before—we usually are at the end of each year—but this hole was larger. So I thought it would take a miracle. So what did we do about it? We prayed… We gathered here every Sunday at 9:55 and prayed specifically for the financial needs of this church—that we would have all the money we needed—that God would give us all the money we needed. I didn’t ask you to pray that God would enable you to give more—or the person sitting next to you. I asked you to pray that God would give us what we need. And surprise, surprise… what happened? Somehow we had all the money we needed!

God did that! Do you believe it? God answered our prayers!

And as I asked in my eNews article, “What is God trying to teach us through this experience if we only have ears to hear?” One thing is that prayer accomplishes mighty things! Do you believe that? If you do, will you please say, “Amen!’ He’s trying to teach us that we can trust him! He’s faithful! He’s faithful! If you believe that, will you say, “Hallelujah!” Praise him for his faithfulness!

Simeon and Anna lived their lives for an audience of One. And Simeon knew that he had accomplished all that his Lord had assigned him to do. How do we know? Because he says, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.”[2]

When he says “dismiss,” what he means is, “You may now let me die in peace. I’m ready to come home. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. I have taken whatever talent you gave me, whatever gifts you gave me, whatever resources you gave me, Lord; I’ve put them to work for you and your kingdom; I’ve faithfully discharged my duty to you, and now I’m ready to enter the joy of my master.”

How many of us, when we reach the end of our lives, will be ready, willing, and able to say that? Or will we instead say, “Please give me more time, Lord. I’m not ready! Just give me a little more time!”

Did you hear about the man in Spartanburg, South Carolina, last week who started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to save the 94-year-old actress Betty White from that deadly menace known as… 2016? His point was that in light of the many celebrity deaths that have happened in last year—including, of course, the deaths this past week of Carrie Fisher, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and singer George Michael—he was prepared to go to the home of Betty White, who isn’t retired, who continues to work in television, and stand guard to make sure that she makes it safely into the new year. He went on to say that if Betty White didn’t want him to do that, he would use all the money he raised to support his favorite charity, a community theater company in his hometown.

So it was a clever, if somewhat tasteless, ploy to raise money for charity. But this man was exploiting the idea that this past year has been unusually tragic when it comes to beloved celebrities dying. I don’t know if this past year has been any worse in that regard than any other year. But when the news broke on Christmas Day about George Michael and a day or two later about Carrie Fisher, there was, I thought, an unusually large public outpouring of grief.

What’s that all about? I believe it’s related to the fear of our own death: “After all, if death can be so unfair to these people—that it can rob them of their lives when they have so much to live for—where does that leave me? If fame, wealth, power, the love of millions of adoring fans, won’t protect even these people from suffering and dying, what hope do I have? If it can happen to these people, it can happen to me… And that scares me.”

So I think there’s an important message here for us. Are you ready for it? It will happen to you—death will happen to you and me—sooner or later, only God knows when. Unless Jesus returns before we die. But barring that, it’s going to happen to each one of us. We can’t escape it. We have no choice.

But when death comes, will it be a tragedy for us? Well, when it comes to that question, we do have a choice.

Even when it comes to people like George Michael, or Carrie Fisher, or Debbie Reynolds, we have no idea whether or not their deaths represented a “tragedy.” Maybe. Or—for all we know, and we don’t know much—maybe each one of them, like Simeon in today’s scripture, was ready, willing, and able to say, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” Because if they could say that, well, their deaths weren’t tragic at all. Because death for them would have been a departure from one kind of life to an even better kind of life—as Paul says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” and to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

If they were like Simeon, their deaths weren’t tragic at all. It is presumptuous for us to say otherwise.

I want to die like Simeon. What about you?

And yet, God’s Word, as Hebrews says, is “sharper than any double-edged sword,” penetrating down into our souls, judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart.[3] And today’s scripture is judging me: It’s as if God were telling me something like this: “Brent, you’re not ready to die like Simeon. Because in order to die like Simeon, you have to live like Simeon. Which means recognizing that every moment of life that I give you is a gift to be used not for yourself and your own glory, but for me and for my glory. It means you live your life under assignment from me. It means living as if every moment is an opportunity to fulfill your duty to me. It means believing that every moment is charged with meaning and purpose because I have given it to you not for yourself, Brent, but for me.”

Live your life that… then you can die like Simeon.

But I’m not there. For example, recently I have felt pressed for time—under pressure because I don’t seem to have enough of it. I’ve sensed that I don’t have enough time for family, for my job, for my wife, for my children, for exercise and leisure, for hobbies, for reading—for things I want to do. And the reason I feel this way is because I don’t want to believe that my time isn’t my own to do with as I please—that my time is a gift from God, to be used for his glory.

See, at my sinful worst, I believe I need more time. But that’s not true. What I need is more faith. More trust. And our gracious Lord has been letting me experience the discomfort of this pressure, however unpleasant that may be, in order to teach me that. Isn’t it just like the Lord to do that?

What is he trying to teach you?

1. 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 CEB

2. v. 29 NIV

3. Hebrews 4:12

2 Responses to “Sermon 01-01-17: “Living and Dying like Simeon and Anna””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, great that God has blessed your church financially! Actually, I have on occasion been praying for your church on that subject myself sometimes, since I read occasionally about that need on this blog. Would that I prayed more, and more fervently, for a lot of other things!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Tom, thanks so much! I cherish your friendship. I pray for you, too. Let’s keep letting one another know our prayer concerns.

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