‘How do we encounter God’ – 31st January 2021 – Candlemas

The Readings

Hebrews 2.14-18

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.


Luke 2.22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 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.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Sermon
By David Clark, Lay Reader in Training

How do we encounter God?

A question with a wide range of answers. Were we all to answer it now, there might be broad themes that might emerge, God encountered in scripture; the sacraments; music; nature, but each answer would also be slightly different. Some would not have everything above on their list, or have different ways in which they encounter God. Just take a few moments to reflect on where you encounter God.

Our Gospel reading today tells us how two seemingly very ordinary people had their first encounter with Jesus.

Simeon has been looking forward to the consolation of Israel and is expecting to the see Lord’s Messiah before he dies. This combined with his speech gives the impression that he is an old man who can now depart in peace having seen the salvation of all peoples, but the passage isn’t explicit on this.

Simeon is led by the Holy Spirit to the temple for this encounter with Jesus. He is drawn to the holy place of the Lord, and there meets him. For this to happen he must be receptive to the Holy Spirit, it rests upon him, and be willing to follow her lead.

Simeon then gives us this great hymn of praise to God. It is enduring, in use in worship for more than 1600 years. Today we might say it at funeral or hear it sung in a service of Compline or Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer. It is the third and final of the three hymns of praise in the first chapters of Luke. First we have the Magnificat, uttered by Mary in response to the words of Elizabeth, who was moved by Holy Spirit and the baby John in her womb. Secondly the Benedictus, spoken by Zechariah, John’s father, who in following the Lord’s plan and naming his child John finds his voice again.

The language of these hymns has much in common, albeit with different emphases. Salvation for all, help for Israel, fulfilment of promise. All of what is spoken in these hymns will echo down the generations. These words are not just for the here and now but for the future.

Separate from the hymn Simeon has words for Mary to ponder. A recognition that Jesus will cause division and a reversal of fortunes for many in Israel. The encounter with Jesus has changed not just the person themselves, but those around them. Simeon’s words to Mary also foretell her own sorrow, which lies ahead of her at the foot of the cross. Which is the reason we find this passage set for Candlemas, the end of the forty-day greater season of Christmas. We turn from the infancy narratives to the coming forty-day season of Lent and Jesus’ passion.

Luke has a pattern of pairing a man and a woman together for stories. Elizabeth and Zechariah for example. So we turn now to Anna. She is explicitly given the title of prophet, a rarity for a woman, given to Deborah in the Book of Judges, but to no other woman in the Old Testament. She is explicitly described as being of great age, having lived most of her life as a widow. Unlike Simeon she is faithfully in the temple all of the time, worshipping, fasting and praying. Like Simeon she has been waiting to for the redemption of Israel. Sadly, she has no hymn of praise, or at least none is recorded for her.

Both Simeon and Anna encounter Jesus in the temple. Both have been patiently waiting for the salvation of God. One has been doing so within the temple, the other outside, but is drawn inside by the Spirit. The same holds true today. Some of us will dwell within the modern temple of the Lord, the church worshipping and praising God. Others will be drawn to the house of the Lord at particular times, by the Holy Spirit for an encounter with Jesus. They will have much to teach those dwelling in the temple, just as those dwelling in the temple of have much to teach those who are drawn in.

While both Simeon and Anna encounter Jesus in the temple, it is not the only place of encounter. As we reflected earlier on the places where we encounter God I’m sure some of them are outside the church. As it should be, God is not restricted to one place. But encountering God often requires us to be receptive to the encounter, which can be more easily accomplished in a place designed for that purpose. Hopefully, sometimes it can be hard to encounter God in church, often when the church is not living up to it’s best ideal. When it is exclusionary, inwardly focused or not attentive to encountering God.

Let us work for a church that is receptive to God, open to encountering Jesus throughout our lived experience and ready to hold the light of revelation up for all to see.


The Prayers
Prepared by Siobhan

God of love, we ask for your blessing on your church and world. We pray for all who serve you in ministry especially remembering our worship team. May we proclaim the love of Christ in our neighbourhood by being sensitive and responsive to the needs of others. Help us to consider the gifts we have to offer and the service we can do to help our neighbour, our church, our community and our world.

Continue to strengthen the link between our mission partnership churches St Mary’s, St Mark’s and St John’s. As we prepare to engage in shared learning through Lent, may we be open to the enrichment, insights and spiritual growth that come from dialogue with one another.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

God of mercy,
As Holocaust Memorial Day was remembered this week, we pray for all those who are victims of persecution, oppression, prejudice or racism. Be with those who are fleeing their homes, those who are exploited and those whose human rights are violated. Give strength to the people who investigate and prosecute trafficking. Bring liberty and freedom to all whose lives are entangled in slavery and trafficking in our world today.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

God of healing, we pray for the sick of our community and for all who are in need. Amid mental and physical suffering may they find consolation in your healing presence. Watch over those who feel isolated or alone, calm their fears so they may know your peace. We pray for those struggling financially at this time of economic uncertainty, for those who are homeless, and for those experiencing relationship problems. Help us to reach out to others, with personal small acts of kindness, by signposting them to support agencies and by holding them in our prayers.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

God of faithfulness, we pray for all our frontline workers across the country, who work in many different sectors. We pray especially for NHS staff on our critical care units, Emergency Departments, COVID wards, and for ambulance and police personnel. Give them the physical and emotional strength to continue to respond to the demands placed on them. Protect them from long term psychological distress resulting from their day to day work. May they be supported well by services which provide counselling and pastoral listening. Help them and all frontline workers to have time to be restored and refreshed in their week.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

God of compassion, we pray for all those who have died recently and those who mourn them.
In silence we remember those known to us.
Eternal rest grant to them O Lord.
In silence we bring before God our own prayers intentions
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.