Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Place for All

Luke 2: 41-52
What adult among us today has not come into contact with a twelve year old?  After all, we were one once ourselves, right?  So we know that being twelve produces all sorts of different thoughts, anxieties, moods, hormones….  It’s an eclectic and confusing time to say the least. 

As I remember back to that age; make up, boys, and The Beatles were occupying a lot of space in my mind.  And, you would have found me at church since my parents were faithful church going people.  But my reasons for going would have been different than theirs.  I wanted to go so that I could be with my like-minded friend Carol who also cared deeply for make up, boys, and The Beatles.  Church was the place to be in our little world.

So I always find it humorous that, when in the lectionary, we go from the sweet and powerful Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, and imagining him as an infant to the portion of scripture this week where Jesus has grown older, a pre-teen the penultimate before teen-ager-hood.  How time flies! 

But children do that, they grow up in an instant. 

Now he’s a boy, 12 years old.  Knowing Jesus it is doubtful that he would have been seeking out his friends at the temple in Jerusalem to talk about shaving, girls, and the hottest Klezmer band.  He is approaching a very special age in the life of a Jewish boy; Bar Mitzvah age, the age of reason, where now, under Jewish law, he is to study scripture. A greater responsibility is expected of him. 
Let us open the scriptures today from the Gospel of Luke, the 2nd chapter.

Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for Passover. And when Jesus was twelve years old, they all went there as usual for the celebration. After Passover his parents left, but they did not know that Jesus had stayed on in the city. They thought he was traveling with some other people, and they went a whole day before they started looking for him. When they could not find him with their relatives and friends, they went back to Jerusalem and started looking for him there.

Three days later they found Jesus sitting in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was surprised at how much he knew and at the answers he gave.

When his parents found him, they were amazed. His mother said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried, and we have been searching for you!”

Jesus answered, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he meant.
Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. His mother kept on thinking about all that had happened.

Jesus became wise, and he grew strong. God was pleased with him and so were the people.  (Contemporary English Version)

Well, you know how twelve year olds can be.  On one hand Jesus shows us that he is fully 12 years old by, his smart-aleck remark to Mary, ‘Why are you looking for me?  Didn’t you know that I’d be here?’  That, ‘In my house’ remark would have been considered ‘back talk’ which was forbidden by ‘the stare’ from my mother.  And Joseph probably would have been a bit perturbed by now hearing about Jesus’ other father’s house, like what is Joseph, chopped liver?

Mary and Joseph just didn’t understand what he was saying, they didn’t make the connection between the divine mystery of Jesus’ birth twelve years prior and the day to day tasks of raising a boy in the first century.  Teens are teens.  So Jesus obeyed them and they all went back to Nazareth.  Mary kept thinking about this, Jesus got older and wiser and we are told that God was really happy with the divine Son that day in the Temple. 

Fast forward and the next we hear of Jesus at his baptism and start of his ministry when he was thirty years old, an adult.  But that is the scripture in the weeks to come.

We can assume that throughout his teen years and twenty-something years he continued to grow in wisdom, travel down to Jerusalem for Passover, say prayers in the Temple, and offer sacrifices.  The Temple was the place to be because here they would have found God through the holy of holies, a place to practice ritual and study Torah, a place to be in the fellowship of other Jews.  Hopefully Jesus never got lost again and Mary and Joseph came to accept that Jesus would be found in his Father’s [sic] house.

Jesus knew all to well the importance of being in God’s house, that holy sanctuary.  For him it was a place to ‘be in’, or maybe ‘as one’ with God until it was time for his identity to be revealed.  Here he could read Torah to learn how to live, engage the prophets of old to find a sense of direction, or even read one of the Psalms of David to soothe his teenaged soul when things may have gotten rough at home.  You know how that happens when children are teens.

Everyone needs a place to go.  A temple, a sanctuary, a church is still very important today, we all need a place where we can find a refuge from the onslaught of daily living, a safe haven when turmoil knocks at your door, and a place to learn and grow with others in our faith.  We need a place where our children can grow up to be who they are, as they are, created by God with love, a place where they know they will be accepted and cherished.

You have that place here and now, but could it be more?  Could all people feel the safety and solitude that you feel when you enter this sanctuary?  And if they could, how would it be?  How would you make it known to all that this place, this holy ground that we call Wilton Congregational is a place of healing and hope for all people? 

The mentally ill, the young adults with special needs, the mother on some form of welfare, the ethnically, racially different, the gay, the transgendered, the other whomever you determine your other to be?  We don’t typically see them on a Sunday morning in our pews but believe me, they are in our community and its vicinity.

The church doesn’t exist for itself. The church doesn’t exist for the status quo, filling the coffers or those who look and dress like us.  It exists as a lens through which we can see and envision salvation and transformation for each person who crosses our threshold. It exists for everyone and anyone who thirsts to be refreshed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.  The church exists so that people can be healed in the many ways that they are in need of healing and hope.  The church exits to be a place of inclusion rather than exclusion. 

The church exists so that we can get outside of our four walls and engage others whose hopes and dreams are similar to ours but expressed in a different way.  That’s why we exist.  The church exists to tell the Gospel of salvation P E R I O D.

Soon you will prepare to be a church with a new spiritual leader and guide.  He will bring about change because that’s what each new pastor does, not because they try to mark their territory or forge their own path, but because each pastor speaks from his or her own unique experience in God’s created world.  It is always rich and from the heart.

Each pastor has a story to tell of how God has picked them up and dropped them off in a different place of grace.  Each pastor comes to the Gospel by a different path and will tell it in their own words, yet will proclaim the glory of God.  That is the constant in all of this.  God’s glory. 

Jesus proclaimed God’s glory always.  He never looked towards himself but to God. That’s what’s going on in the temple here, he didn’t defy his parents, he was attentive to God’s call upon his life and was bold enough to live it out even from the very beginning.  May we also live out God’s call to us, gathering at church, rejoicing in one another’s differences and then going out into the world with the Gospel in your heart and grace with every step you take. 


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