Friday, January 22, 2010

An Obedient Child? - A Sermon

I remember – well mostly through being told by my family – the one time when I got left behind at a store. I’m sure this sort of thing happens to people all the time, but in my case I was about five, and we were at a Ben Franklin dime store. I had started out in the toy aisle with my brother but at some point he slipped away without me noticing.

Now, there are six kids in my family, so the folks always did roll call in the station wagon before going anywhere but this time my brother apparently got it into his head to answer for me when my name got called, so they didn’t notice I was missing until they got home. As the story goes, by the time the rushed back into the store, they found me still in the toy aisle virtually unmoved. If you’ve ever been with me to a museum, you know what I’m talking about.

I bring this up because this Gospel passage struck a chord with me when I see Jesus left behind. The similarities are striking. I mean, there he was on a trip with his family – and a whole crowd of family and friends traveling together as they did. When it was time to go, it was easy to think twelve-year-old Jesus was off with one of his cousins or friends. So it’s only when they get a day’s journey out of Jerusalem that they notice he’s gone.

In a panic, they rush back and find him where? Where they left him? Possibly since they were there for the Passover, it would make sense that this was their last stop before heading home. He could have simply been caught up in conversation – for three days.

There are differences, of course, aside from the obvious fact that Jesus is the Son of God. He was twelve and while still a child also approaching manhood – which in Israel at the time officially started at thirteen. He was also missing for three days, not a matter of maybe a half hour. If I had noticed my family was gone, I would have freaked out. Jesus knew where he was and who was there.

But perhaps the biggest difference is in his response. I believe my response was something like, “Look at this toy car!” Jesus’ response to his parents was “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” That probably would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap, especially if I was twelve. I mean that’s attitude.

Which leaves us a question of why Luke would show us this story of adolescent Jesus in the first place. I mean, there were the wonderful birth stories which leave you feeling all warm and gooey. There are also some really fun stories about Jesus’ childhood that did not make it into scripture but were out there at the time: There was one when Jesus formed birds out of clay and then breathed life into them so they would fly away. There was another when a playmate died, and he raised him.

But Luke picks one where Jesus not only causes his parents anguish but doesn’t even say he’s sorry. And while it’s true that Luke says he went home and was obedient afterwards, have you ever looked at Jesus and Mary’s interactions after this?

Aside from when he’s on the cross in John’s gospel, they are not pleasant. At the wedding in Cana when Mary asks Jesus to do something about the wine, Jesus says, “Woman, what is that to you?” Calling her “woman” by the way, is intentionally sharp. Or when he is preaching near his home, and his family including Mary come to “collect” him because they think he is out of his mind – and he says, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters but those who do the will of my Father?”

He is starting to pull away from them. Luke – who is the only evangelist to tell this story – is showing how Jesus is already pulling away from his earthly family. He is on a mission, and in Luke’s gospel that mission always includes Jerusalem. Look at the arc of this story: Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover. He is gone for three days. He is recovered. Then there is obedience.

That’s the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. This little story is a prelude to the entire gospel. And remember that Luke’s gospel does not end with the resurrection but is continued uninterrupted with Acts and the stories of the apostles. That part about being “Obedient,” certainly applied to Jesus in that he was obedient to his father in heaven, but in Luke’s scheme, the obedience applies to us as well. We are the rest of that story – called to the same obedience to God that Jesus was.

I’m not sure this is really a comforting story. Not only does it show us yet again that Jesus’ family values essentially consisted of doing whatever God asked regardless of the earthly family’s feelings, but it points to us. If this is Jesus’ approach to life, then it is to be ours as well.

Can we do this? Can you or I get so completely wrapped up in God that we just let everyone else slip by? Can we become so focused on doing God’s will that the protests of those we love fall on deaf ears? Can you or I find our primary obedience in God’s will?

I don’t know. All we can do is sit and listen to him and see where it takes us. And trust that not only is God loving and forgiving, but that everyone around you is on the same journey – and we can support each other as we try to figure out what it means to be that obedient child of God. Amen.