The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s070g16   The Presentation of Christ in the Temple  31/1/2016

‘my eyes have seen your salvation’  Luke 2:30

Today we have the choice of reading the continuation of the account of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of his youth, and his message so scandalising those who could name the other members of his family, they tried to kill him by throwing him off a nearby cliff - and the completely opposite reaction; this welcome by Simeon and Anna when his parents brought the baby Jesus to the Temple for his purification, ‘according to the law of Moses’.

I have enjoyed reading the seminal feminist text: ‘Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers’ (1) - this quote particularly intrigued me: ‘The witch was a triple threat to the Church: She was a woman, and not ashamed of it.   She appeared to be part of an organized underground of peasant women.   And she was a healer whose practice was based in empirical study.   In the face of the repressive fatalism of Christianity, she held out the hope of change in this world.’  (2)  It has come to me that infant baptism, linked to the ancient practice of the purification of women, was most probably to cleanse the new-born from the evil influence of midwives and the blood of childbirth and to wrest control of the soul back to the male priesthood.   Suddenly I am beginning to see the gender-political overtones to some of our ancient practices, things we see as normal and benign.   Surreptitiously in infant baptism, the male dominated world is restated and affirmed as normal.   The historic marginalisation of women in the medical profession is well documented in this book and this has been aided and abetted by the patriarchal church.

I begin to see gender-political overtones in the ‘second’ of the Genesis accounts where ‘Adam’ is created first, written to assert the primacy of the male gender.   Fortunately Genesis also gives us that ‘first’ account where male and female are created simultaneously and equally.   Of course, probably Genesis 2 was written earlier than Genesis 1 and this fact ought to give us permission to both learn from the ancient thinkers, but also to move on from their narrow perceptions.

I have been reflecting how Luke’s gift to us is a critique of religion, and here we have in Simeon and Anna, two elderly seekers seeing this coming critique and welcoming it.   Simeon and Anna see in Jesus something completely new, something which will overturn the established order of things in religion, something that will offer an alternative to Lingchi: ’death by a thousand cuts’, that orthodoxy of any hue only offers. (3)   Neither have any axe to grind; neither have political ambitions to fulfil; neither (Jensen-esk) were going to have any indispensable role in the coming of the commonwealth of God.  (Thanks, Carole, for this alternative phrase for the kingdom of God :-)   They were not just some church patriarch or matriarch who saw in Jesus someone who would mean things could continue, ‘as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end’ (4), ‘when we can continue to avoid using common courtesies in congregations and in the community’. (5)

I once was interested in amateur radio, yet nothing I could do would ever save it from the oblivion that mobile phones and the internet brought.   As a male priest, I couldn’t, even if I had wanted to, save the church from the ordination of women, rather to the chagrin of some of my colleagues.

I was amused to read in ‘Witches, Midwives, and Nurses’: ‘Confronted with a sick person, the university-trained physician had little to go on but superstition.  Bleeding was a common practice, especially in the case of wounds.’  (6)   Now-a-days, why would anyone voluntarily consult such an antiquated physician rather than someone who is up with the latest evidence-based methods?   And if this is such a given, why would we not consult a spiritual physician who is conversant with modern scholarship rather than someone who can faithfully parrot John 3:16 and 14:6 as if these are the answer to everything?

Often I hear sentiments that the church needs to attract the young, and this has some truth to it.   But if we attract the young and impressionable simply to perpetuate what is; where is that vision of the commonwealth of God, that change, which Simeon and Anna foresaw and welcomed?

I am grateful to the Rev’d Max Wood, (7) who writes about the Diocese of Sydney’s ‘Mission 2020 document’ under four headings: ‘conversionism, activism, biblicism and crucicentrism’ identified by David Bebbington.   (8)   Crudely I would paraphrase these by saying that the conservative evangelical’s faith in bible and cross means that they are right and do not have to change, but that they are impelled to threaten everyone else with eternal damnation unless they become like them.

Is this good news for anyone; either for those who have to prove their faith and commitment by the number of converts they make, or for any of the millions of others who are not loved unconditionally as they are?   Hardly!   It actually sounds delusional, and far more dangerously delusional than those suffering mental illnesses, to me.   Usually the one suffering mental illness hurts themselves and their family members.   The religiously delusional hurt societies and generations.   Is this the sort of existence Simeon and Anna longed to see and saw in the baby Jesus?

If Jesus coming is only to pronounce sacred what happens in church, what is; this might be convenient for those of us who are white, straight, healthy, baptised, confirmed, communicant, wealthy enough to tithe, male Anglicans - but no one else - for neither Simeon and Anna fulfilled most of these conditions.   Surely they didn’t rejoice to foresee a world dominated by white, straight, healthy, baptised, confirmed, communicant, wealthy enough to tithe, male Anglicans.   It is like looking forward to Donald Trump and Sarah Palin running the USA!   😱

1.  Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
2.  ibid p49
6.  ibid p52
7.  Rector, Parish of St Luke, Mosman, NSW.