Scripture: Luke 2:41-52
Most of us, whether we’ve ever had a child get lost or not, can probably at least imagine the feelings of anxiety that Mary and Joseph experienced in this story, when they realized that they do not know where their twelve year old son Jesus was. They were understandably panic-stricken, frightened, and most-likely, even a little angry at his disappearance. I remember a few times when my own children were lost, or out of my sight for even just a little while, and how I experienced those emotions. But what I can barely think about is what it must feel like not to have any cell phone to connect with someone who might be have seen your lost child, or have any access to law enforcement to notify them of the situation, or no easy way to get hold of someone back in Jerusalem to ask if they might have seen this child who was inadvertently left behind. Mary and Joseph must have been out of their minds with worry, but the pre-teen Jesus, not so much. He seemingly didn’t even realize the he was lost – after all – he knows where he is. He’s just relishing being in the temple in Jerusalem, engaging in conversation and discussion and questions with religious leaders as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a twelve year old out-of-town boy to do.
While we might think that Jesus was a wee bit insolent when confronted by his parents, saying to them "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" I think he is truly puzzled by their questions and their state of emotion. He doesn’t understand his parents’ worry because for him, being in the temple feels like home. He is on the cusp of the age when Jewish law proclaims children become responsible for their actions, the age Jewish children make their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. It is the time in Jesus’ life when he is beginning to sort out who God is, who he is in relationship to God, and beginning to discern what it is that God is actually calling him to. I think we have a tendency to sometimes think that since Jesus is the son of God, that he is somehow omniscient, and that he knew fully his call and mission from the very beginning of his life. But our church teachings proclaim Jesus as fully human, as well as fully divine, that Jesus as a human was like us in all matters except for sin. This means that he, like us, had to grow into his understanding of himself, and of his call. And what better place to reflect and discern and learn - than in the temple - surrounded by wise and faithful religious leaders?
He felt at home there in learning and forming his faith. I imagine most of us probably had our faith formed by a combination of our parents and of a church community. This faith formation shapes us – and enables us to begin to understand who God is, and to start growing in our relationship to God. This is a rite of passage we all have to go through because, as the saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.” We each have to grow into establishing our own relationship to God as children of God. The Church supports us in doing this, supports us in discerning our own unique calling, in figuring out our life’s purpose. And we need the church and its community to support us as we continue that learning and growing in our faith even in our maturity and throughout our adulthood.
Our faith ultimately, however, does not get lived out within the confines of a church. In fact, we are called to live out that faith, we live out our call outside these walls. Even Jesus, after he began his ministry – did not stay in the temple or the synagogue. Most of his ministry among the people happened in places outside the church. There is a connection and a balance between what we do inside the church, and what we do outside the church. It’s interesting that what Jesus says to his parents can be translated in different ways. In the NRSV translation of this passage, which we read, Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” But Eugene Peterson in his Message translation has Jesus saying “Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?,” which is closer to the King James Version which reads: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” These various interpretations imply that Yes – we do need to spend time in God’s house, but then we are called to go beyond our worship, our learning, our reflection, our discernment, and to go out into the world to, in fact, deal with things of God, to do God’s business.
What sometimes happens, though, is that when we leave the church building, when we walk out the doors, we forget that we are to go about God’s business as we go about our own. And while we might not physically lose Jesus, like Mary and Joseph did in our story, I think we are often guilty of leaving Jesus behind in the church when we make our way home. While we might not look at another who came to church with us and say “Where’s Jesus? I thought he was with you!,” nevertheless, what happens too often is that we make a distinct separation between our life inside the church, and our life outside the church, and never the twain shall meet.
Church is about coming to worship God together, to pray together, to sing, to support each other, to learn and to be encouraged in our Christian journey. It is a time and place to be reminded about who we are and whose we are, and to remember that we are loved by God beyond our wildest dreaming. But as we take in that love and grace and mercy of God, as we take in the community spirit of our gathering, we are also to take in Jesus, to take Jesus into our hearts, and keep him there when we leave and go out into the world. As Nan C. Merrill in her book Psalms for Praying writes as part of Psalm 13 – “Come, O Beloved, make your home in my heart.”1 When the beloved makes a home in our hearts, then Jesus is always found within us.
But that is not the only place to find Jesus. The other places we find Jesus is in doing God’s business, in serving. Jesus made it quite clear that when we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked, care to the sick, make visits to the prisoners – we are doing those deeds of service for him and to him. Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-41). Or, as Dietrich Banhoeffer says, “He comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor…”2
Our bulletins remind us each week about what to do when we leave here. The phrase “departing to service” printed after the benediction has been in our bulletins since before I came here as minister. It reminds us that it is no coincidence that what we take part in here is a worship “service.”
Today we have a special opportunity to depart in service. We have the chance to go about God’s business in God’s house. We will shortly be going downstairs to put together hygiene kits for the homeless stand-down. The stand-down is an event where those who are facing homelessness can come for a day of respite, a day of hope, a day of help. According to the US Census there were nearly 230,000 people living in poverty in Cuyahoga County, which represent 18% of the population. An estimated 23,000 people, around 10 percent of those living in poverty, experience homelessness every year in the county. The Cleveland Public Schools saw over 2700 homeless students in 2017.3 1 Homelessness is a huge issue in this area, and today we have the opportunity to do something to help.
Here is a video that sums up beautifully what the Homeless Stand-down is all about: https://vimeo.com/152312910
Our service project today will support this event. We’ll be heading down to Fellowship Hall – where you will see tables set up with various products. We’ll gather them into bags – and make hygiene bags that look like this.
In this way, we will serve those who need our help as we remember that whatever we do for them, we are doing for Jesus.
Let us pray:
Holy One – Bless all those who generously contributed to our Homeless Stand-down project. As we assemble these bags, may we open our hearts to those who are in need of basic necessities that we so take for granted. Let this be the beginning of our service to you, the beginning of our care for those who are suffering. May all those who receive these bags, who receive love and care and support at the homeless stand-down also receive hope, compassion, inspiration and resources to move towards a safe, warm and secure life. May all the volunteers be uplifted and strengthened, and show your love and compassion to all they serve. Open our hearts to carry your son inside as we leave this service, and open our eyes to see the face of your holy child, O God, in the faces of those we serve so that we might not lose you, but find you in all the ways your come into our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus, who sends us out to serve. Amen.
I send you forth quoting Howard Thurman – who says-
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
May the love of God, the peace of Christ and the community of the holy spirit be with you now and forever more as we go forth to do the work of Christmas by heading downstairs into Fellowship Hall while singing our closing hymn.
1Merrill, Nan C. Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print