July 31, 2016
Here we are at week 5 of 10 in this sermon series on our stained glass windows. Last week’s window was dedicated to the memory of the organizer of this congregation, Dr. John D. Currie. The one right beside it, and the one responsible for this week’s theme was presented by the family to the glory of God and in the memory of the Honorable Charles J. Burchill and his wife E. Gertrude Burchill who was Dr. Currie’s daughter. As we take a look at the scripture that inspired this beautiful window, we remember them and are thankful for their contributions to this church and this community.
As we heard earlier, the scripture reading is from Luke 2. From part of a longer story, verse 47 says this, “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” I have spoken to a few of you about how I decided the order to preach your windows in and how that has so wonderfully lined up with something special week after week. For a couple of weeks it lined up with the lectionary and somehow with what was happening in the world. This week it lines up with something happening in my world.
After the service today, I am heading to Berwick United Church camp in the Valley. I have been going to this camp for over thirty years. I started attending when I was 8 or 9 years old. Before I tell you how this is relevant, let’s take a look at the passage I chose to share with you today. This passage begins at chapter 2, verse 40. In Luke 1, we have just heard the story of the conception of Jesus, and of the birth of John the Baptist. That chapter ends when he goes into the wilderness. Luke 2 begins with story of the birth of Jesus. Then we are privy to few stories about Jesus as a baby, a boy and a young man. There we are told of his birth, of the visit to the shepherds by angels, of his circumcision and naming, of his purification at the temple in the presence of a man named Simeon. A man who was moved by the Spirit to visit the child at the purification, proclaim his destiny in salvation, and bless his family in the name of God. And then there was the story of the prophet Anna who at 84 years old recognized who Jesus was and spoke to anyone who would listen of Jesus as the redemption of Israel. After this, Mary and Joseph and their child left Jerusalem and returned to their home in Galilee.
Then the story skips ahead and Luke uses these beautiful words, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favour of God was upon him.” The writer of Luke was the most eloquent writers of the synoptic gospels. He used words so carefully and his descriptions of events and moments were often framed by poetic language such as this. Listen to that. The child – Jesus Christ – he grew, he was becoming a man, he was filled with wisdom and knowledge and Gods favour was on him. Luke reveals the humanity of Jesus Christ in this story, he reminds us that Jesus was born like us, he was a child like us, and he had to learn like us. He was a human being, like us. And yet so often we forget that he was a child once, just like you and me. A child that needed to be nurtured as he grew.
There is no doubt that he was a special child, but even his parents were surprised about what others had to say about him and he was their child! Even though angels come to Mary and to the shepherds and declared that he was the Messiah, the one sent to redeem Israel, and even though those shepherds delivered this message to his parents after his birth and all were amazed… to his mother and father he was still their child. Even though at his purification, the scripture says that “the child’s mother and father were amazed” at what Simeon was saying about him. – he was still their child. Our story today begins when Jesus is 12 years old.
Sometimes the pictures and stained glass windows depict Jesus as a much younger child almost infant-like, but 12 years old in the time of Jesus was a young man directly bordering on adulthood. He was becoming a man and it would have been expected that he would be studying the law of his religion and would be familiar with the scriptures. It was also expected that Jesus could take care of himself and was responsible enough to be where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. So his family travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, as was their tradition and the tradition of all the Jews in Israel. And when the festival was over his family, which would have included all his cousins and aunts and in-laws etc. etc. This was not a family trip of just 3 people. This was a large community of people travelling together and Jesus’ mother and father assumed that he was with them because obedience was expected of him and all Jewish children, as is the case with most cultures. If the parent says it is time to go home then it is time to go home. I don’t know about you, but, for the most part, what I say goes. If I say it is time to go home, my kids say, “yes, m’aam”.
This is how I expect that Jesus’ parents were used to him behaving. So, when they stopped after one day of travelling home and looked for their son among the travellers and didn’t find him they must freaked out. The story tells us that they headed back to Jerusalem to find their lost son. He was lost for three days to them –Imagine! His parents finally found him sitting calmly among the rabbis, the teachers in the temple. You can imagine their relief and their exasperation.
I remember visiting Victoria. BC when I was about 12 years old and my little brother would have been 10. He went missing while my family was in the wax museum. I remember at one point, about an hour in when my mother said, “when I find him I’m going to kill him.” She was terrified. And then I remember when he came wandering out of the underwater aquarium houseboat next door the museum behind another family as if he didn’t have a care in the world and my mother grabbing him with all her might sighing with tears of joy streaming down her face. She didn’t want to kill him at all, at least not until he said, “I wasn’t lost at all I knew where I was the whole time!” – This story makes me think of that moment. It puts the faces of people I know on these characters. Can you picture it? It is such a universally human moment.
The story tells us that all who heard Jesus were amazed at how well he understood the teaching and how adept he was at answering the questions that the teachers posed to him. But not his parents – for he was still their child. They were shocked to find him there – they may have even been angry enough to kill him in the metaphorical sense of the phrase. His mother doesn’t understand how he could have done something like this to them. He has disobeyed his mother and father and caused them great stress and anxiety – he was still their child – and they thought they had lost him. But just like my little brother – Jesus responds that he wasn’t lost at all. In fact, it is he that is surprised that they wouldn’t know that he was at the temple. This is the first time that Jesus refers to God as Father.
In Luke 1 we are told that Mary’s baby will be called the Son of God, but still the scripture here says that his parents didn’t understand what he meant because Jesus was still their child. This is the first time that Jesus shifts his obedience from his earthly family to his heavenly one. Imagine the fear in his mother’s heart to be reminded again and again that the child she has carried and raised is not her child alone. The scripture says she doesn’t understand what he is saying.
But, I don’t think this meant that they were ignorant to what he had said, but I do think they didn’t understand the magnitude of his declaration. How could they? For 12 years he was their child and he was still. So, Jesus, the obedient son, went home with his parents – his mother knowing more in her heart than she was ready to admit to herself maybe because she knew it meant letting him go – but he was still her child.
The story ends like this: “And Jesus increased in wisdom, and in years, and in divine AND human favour”. This is Luke’s poetry creating a frame with the beginning of this story, Jesus grew up, he got wiser and he gained more favour, but this time his favour was both divine and Human. Jesus had begun to attract people to him as a young man in that temple. He was beginning to become the hope that maybe the things that were said about him as an infant were coming true. Was this young man really going to redeem Israel? Was he really the Son of God, the messiah sent to save them? The people sure hoped so.
We don’t hear anymore about Jesus for another 18 years when he returns to be baptized by his cousin John. We do not know how his life proceeded in that time, but it is likely that he was obedient to his earthly mother and father –
That he continued to be a good son to the people that raised him and nurtured him until he was ready to do God’s work. Luke says that this work began at 30. I think Jesus’ work actually began at 12. At only 12 years old he was showing the people who he was going to become. He was already feeding their hearts with hope.
I remember being a child at Berwick Camp. At Berwick camp I was welcomed and invited to be a part of a community. I wasn’t treated different because I was a child. There were people there that were genuinely interested in what I had to say, who I was and what I thought about important things. On one porch or another someone older than I would inevitably ask about the year that had passed and ask really interesting questions like “what was the most important thing that happened to you this year” and then they would lean in and wait because they really cared about the answer. I knew those people care about me because they were amazed at my understanding and at my answers to their questions. I also know that as much as they inspired me by caring about me, I inspired them to have confidence in the future of the church by my openness to be with them. And they made that easy because the saw me as child of God, just like them. Our ages didn’t matter there.
At Berwick Camp I have always felt like I was in God’s house and it has always felt like home. I’m lucky to say that I also found this in my church home, but so many of my friends felt very differently about their church environments than they did about camp.
Often at church there is a sense of us and them. There are children and there are adults and the line between who is who is VERY wide. For example, I work with 18-45 year olds in another church and in my research for a needs assessment I performed when I asked the question “what is the church doing for this age group of people” one minister responded to me sadly, “waiting for them to come back”. I think this story in Luke is a lesson for our us all — as a faith community and as parents we need to pay more attention to what our young people have to contribute to the conversation. Jesus’ mother may have been so mad that he seemed to disobey her, but she also treasured all the things she was learning about him in her heart.
As I head off to Berwick Camp this afternoon, I am prepared to step into my week as a member of the leadership team. I am tasked with the great responsibility to nurture and lead the youth there. I am looking forward to leading them, but more than anything I am looking forward to learning from them.
We have a lot to learn from those younger than us. And we teach our young people a lot about themselves when we listen to them like the people listened to Jesus in the temple. When you listen to a young person, when you include them in the conversation, when you are genuinely interested in what they have to contribute, you are teaching them the most important thing that they will ever learn. You are teaching them that they matter. When Jesus’ parents were angry with him for wandering away, they still went looking for their lost son because he was their child. They taught him how to go look for those who were lost. His parents and his community taught Jesus about LOVE by showing him that they loved him. And when Jesus became a man, he knew how to love because of what he was taught when he was young – that what he said mattered, that he was important and that he was unconditionally loved.
As a representative of God’s house, as an obedient servant of Christ, can you think of a young person that might need you to listen to them? If you don’t know any personally can you think of a way that you could become involved with young people in your community? This week, I’m going to give you some homework. Don’t worry, there is not book report due and you never have to tell me what you came up with, but I would like you to really think about how you could make a difference in a young person’s life. How could you give them the confidence and the courage to live God’s will for their lives. Not what you think that might be, but rather to help them discover this on their own. This is about more that giving money for someone else to do that work, although that is important too, especially if you are helping to feed and clothe and shelter young people at risk. But, I wonder if, instead of practicing that children should be seen and not heard in church, or simply sitting back and waiting for young people to “come back” to fill the pews, if we, as a church could go to them like Jesus and Mary went looking for their lost son? Maybe it is your own children and grandchildren that need you to do this for them? Could you find the time and the desire to listen and learn from them wherever they are?
As church, as representatives for God here on earth, we are not only God’s hands and feet but it is our job to express the very heart of Christ. I think that when we are willing to share our community with everyone regardless of their age and actually practice what we preach that we are doing our part to nurture and raise our children to become faithful and obedient witnesses for God.
Showing young people that God cares about them, about who they are and what they have to say through our actions makes them care about who God is in their lives and who the people are that taught them about this kind of love. Show me a church doing this kind of work in the world and I will show you a church increasing in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour.
Thanks be to God. Amen.