Monday, December 28, 2015

What she treasured in her heart

Scripture Lesson: Luke 2: 41-52, NT page 59 Sermon Title: What she treasured in her heart It has been said that the first person enlisted in every war, regardless of nation or era, is God. We all, especially in times of great need, call on God to support our cause, and in a war, with desperation there are individuals and nations who not only call on God, but enlist God in supporting their cause. This tendency makes the words of Abraham Lincoln regarding the Civil War especially noteworthy: "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.” Many are not as wise as Lincoln, but assume that God just goes along with them to support them in whatever effort they so choose. Surely, God loves those whom I love, they say. Surely, the Lord also hates those who I hate, only pays attention to the sins that I pay attention to and ignores those sins that I deny. This kind of person deals with Scripture in the same way, reading the Bible not to be challenged but to be congratulated. Their Bible is short and focuses on those passages that justify their way of life, validates their self-righteousness, while ignoring those passages that call them to question what they already believe. You know the kind of people that I’m talking about. The great irony of the slaveholder in the south is not that he held men and women against their will, abused them and forced them to work without pay, but that the slaveholder committed such an atrocity while going to church every Sunday, while reading from Scripture each day, while pledging support to Missionary efforts in Africa and claiming, both outwardly and inwardly, that he was a dedicated Christian. The same is true of Nazi’s in Germany. They did not think of their cause as evil, but rooted in their interpretation of the Gospel of John, they sought to exterminate an entire race of people fueled by their warped reading of Scripture which blamed Christ’s crucifixion on the Jews. The one who murders the doctor providing abortions is the same. As is the member of the KKK. It is his faith and his reading of Scripture that fuels his evil, and Christ - well, in the same way, he and all those who are like him, they assume that Christ is right there with them, as though the Lord Almighty were something that they could slip into their pocket and take along for the ride to justify their cause, not realizing that they've been traveling in one direction for some time while having left Jesus behind back in Jerusalem. We read in our Second Scripture Lesson: "Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey." A day's journey feels like a very long time to go without realizing that your child is gone. But I won’t be too judgmental; just because I haven't done it yet doesn't mean that I won't. The premise of the Home Alone movie can seem pretty ridiculous, that a pair of responsible parents would make it half way to Paris before realizing that they left their 8-year-old son back at the house, but I’m telling you, now that I know how crazy life can get with two kids I’m not so judgmental. Dad goes one way in one car and Mom goes the other way in another car. Life moves fast. You think it won’t ever happen, but you hear those nightmare stories of the family going to a funeral and little Billy got left behind to spend the afternoon at the funeral home all by himself – it can happen. If it happened to Mary and Joseph, it can happen to you too. And the greater point of this story is not that his parents left him behind assuming he was with the other children or with an aunt or uncle whom they were traveling with, but that his parents assumed he would be going along with them. They assumed that he would be following their travel agenda. That he would just go along with them on their way – after all, they are the adults here, but Christ is so clearly exercising a mind and a will all his own, so he is not following close behind the rest of the group but decided to stay awhile back at the Temple. The Lord, you see, he’ll decide on his own. He is the incarnate son of the God of Moses. And you remember what happened when Moses asked the Lord in the burning bush, “who will I tell them has sent me?” and the Lord said, you tell them, “I am” has sent you. “I am who I am,” is the name of the Lord, and this is a very different name from, “I am whoever you want me to be.” God is not whoever we want him to be. God, the Great “I am,” will be whoever he decides to be so Mary had to learn early that God would also go where he wanted to go. And the truth of God’s independence takes on a new meaning when God is a 12-year-old boy. I don’t imagine that when Joseph and Mary looked around the caravan and noticed that he was missing that they understood. Instead I imagine that when Joseph and Mary finally found him, they were that mix of relief and anger that all parents feel after they find the child they lost sight of and then finally find again. You can see Mary running to him with tears in her eyes when she finally spots him. She rushes to him and wraps her arms around his neck in a hug, but it’s the kind of hug that gradually tightens into a strangle. “I thought I’d lost you!” she says, but then, “Do you know how scared we were? I’m going to ring your neck!” Jesus is independent, and with that independence comes all kinds of fear, all kinds of danger. When it comes to Mary and Joseph’s frustration with Jesus’ independence most parents can relate. Already I've noticed myself not really wanting to let our daughters become their own people or make their own choices, because I want them to either stay little or to like all the same things that I like and enjoy doing all the same things that I enjoy. At bedtime they pick their own bedtime stories, and I try not to manipulate their decision – but those Bernstein Bear books are so long. And Pinkalicious is so boring. So sometimes I’ll pretend that I just can’t find them on the bookshelf. I don’t have the power to change what they like and don’t like but I do have the power to hide some of those books under the bed. When they’re little it’s easy. They’ll mostly wear what you want them to. They’ll go where you take them, but more and more they make decisions on their own, more and more they are their own people with their own wills, and this is how it’s supposed to be. Our first pediatrician told us that as soon as the umbilical cord is cut it’s a parent’s job to help her children be functioning and independent – but that’s hard, especially when the child starts doing things his parent doesn't like – if he starts to grow up and becomes his own man before his parents are ready to let him go. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. "When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." Surely his parents must have known that this child would be no typical 12-year-old after his immaculate conception and everything else the angels told them, but none of that has kept any of us from making the same assumptions. Still, far too many Christians believe they are the ones who get to set Christ’s agenda. So the preacher gives a long and boring sermon whether the congregation likes it or not. And when some of them start to fall asleep he just talks louder and gets angrier, as though the problem were the congregation’s resistance to the message and not the one proclaiming the message. He just keeps on not realizing that he left Christ behind back in Jerusalem. The same is true of the teacher. She doesn’t know it but she started sounding to the children the way the adults sound in the Peanuts movies (wha wha wha). She has the choice of changing her tune, reaching their level, incorporating some new methods, but instead she just keeps on going with the same old stuff, moving in this other direction getting farther and farther from the source of joy and fulfillment. This is the human condition! We don’t want to be the ones who have to change, but we can’t control Jesus – so if you want a part of him it’s going to have to be you who turns around. He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" We should have known, but so often, We imagine that he rides with our caravan – after all, we’re his disciples. He supports our causes – after all, we’re his people. He votes with us – after all, we’re the Christians in this race. And maybe that’s sometimes true, but we must never be so bold as to assume that we set Christ’s agenda, for Christ, even as a 12-year-old boy had a mind of his own: He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" They were surprised to find him there, some place he went on his own, without their permission. But this is the case – he goes where he will – and if you want to know him, don’t ask him to ride along with you on your way. Do everything in your power to instead follow where he leads. Rather than assume that he’ll rubber stamp our bad habits, we must be bold to listen when he calls us to change. We ask him to preserve our way of life while ignoring his call to a completely new way of life. And we hope he is with us where we are, not realizing we may have left him behind. If you’ve realized this to be the case, don’t keep going. Turn around – for he’s waiting for you back at the temple. Don’t hold resentment tighter. Forgive! Don’t hate more deeply. Love. Don’t suffer anymore. Repent. Our call is to take him and to treasure him in our hearts, for it is there that he changes us and shapes us, not according to our agenda, but to his. So hear his teaching. Treasure it in your heart. And follow where he leads, for his is the way of life. Amen.

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