Friday, January 13, 2017

In My Father’s House (Luke 2:41-52) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Are there ever conflicts or misunderstandings between children and parents?  Is the Pope Catholic?   A frustrated father said to his teenage son: “When George Washington was your age, he had surveyed half of Virginia.”   His son replied, “And when Washington was your age, he was president of the country.”  Sam Levenson once said, “Childhood is a time of rapid changes.  Between the ages of 12 and 17, a parent can age thirty years.”  Robert Orben put it this way: “Sound travels slowly. Sometimes the things you say when your kids are teen-agers don’t reach them till they’re in their 40’s.”  My wife Nancy says: “God made teenagers so that parent’s will be ready when they leave home and go off to college.”

A mother was tearfully saying goodbye to her son who was returning to college after spring vacation, she pleaded with him to write often.  Another woman standing nearby gave this advice.  “The surest way to get your son to write home is to send him a letter saying, ‘Here’s $50.00 spend it any way you like.’  “And that will make my son write home the first woman replied?”  “Yes, indeed, you just forget to enclose the money.”

We are all concerned that our children and grandchildren grow up to be kind, mature, responsible, and moral individuals, with a strong work ethic, a clear sense of who they are, and with values and a Christian faith that shapes their character and their soul.

Our story from the Gospel of Luke is about Jesus and his family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  It’s the only story in the New Testament that tells us about an incident in Jesus’ early life.  Jewish law stated that every adult male Jew who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem was obligated to attend the annual Passover Festival.  Luke tells us that every year Jesus’ family traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  This presumably was Jesus’ twelfth trip to Jerusalem.  By now he was becoming more comfortable with visiting this imposing city teeming with people from around the Mediterranean world at Passover.  In Judaism, a boy becomes a man when he reaches the age of 12.  He was expected to assume his religious obligations.  So this was a very special trip for Jesus and his family.  The distance from Jerusalem to Nazareth is about 100 miles.  That’s not far, except that your feet were the only mode of transportation, everyone walked.

When the religious festival is over, the family sets out on their journey homeward to Nazareth, but somehow Jesus is left behind.  Apparently the movie “Home Alone,” wasn’t about the only family who forgot one of their children. But it wasn’t through the parent’s carelessness.

In that day, such trips involved risks and dangers, so people traveled in large extended family groups.  Mary and Joseph were part of a large caravan composed of many relatives and friends.  The tradition was that the women, who watched out for the babies and children, started out early in the morning.  The men set out later because they walked faster and usually caught up with the women and children sometime in the evening.

As the late Scottish scholar William Barclay explains:  “No doubt Joseph thought Jesus was with Mary and Mary thought that Jesus was with Joseph, and they didn’t realize he was missing until it was evening.”    Perhaps you can identify a time when a similar situation occurred in your family.

Upon making this shocking discovery his parents immediately head back to Jerusalem.  Mary and Joseph search for 3 days.  Can you imagine how horrible that would be?  Finally, they locate Jesus in the temple.  They see him sitting among the learned rabbi’s and scribes, listening to them and asking questions.  This was clearly no ordinary twelve year-old boy.  Luke tells us that all who heard Jesus were astounded at his intellectual understanding and the insightfulness of his questions.

Mary, frantic by now, worried sick, asks what any frazzled mother would, “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you.”  Some parents would have expressed it a little more graphically.  Jesus rather non-chalantly replies:  “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  I can imagine his parent’s reaction to that reply.  “Why would he say that?”  You might expect Jesus to say: “Well, I looked all over for you, but when I couldn’t find you,” Or “I’m sorry, I just needed some time by myself,” or “Well I am 12, you know, I’m old enough to take care of myself.”

No, Jesus instead spoke about being in his Father’s house.  At that moment, his parents didn’t understand what Jesus’ meant.  But, we read, Mary treasured all these things in her heart.  I suspect there are some mothers here this morning who can readily identify with Mary.

What does this story say to you?  What does this story tell us?  First this story is about identity.   Now identity is a complex concept. It’s multi-dimensional, it’s about the character, it’s about personality, it’s about having a sense of self, knowing ourselves, it’s that inner core of a person which is consistent over time amidst a world of constant change. Was finding the answer to the question, Who Am I, difficult for you?    Identity is a complex process which is central to our personal, moral, spiritual and social development.

The late Dr. Erik H. Erikson, professor of Human Development at Harvard, writes about the six stages of Human Identify development, from infancy to adulthood.  He states that in adolescence the identity challenge is trust, trust in people and trust in ideas.  Developing trust in oneself and trust in others is key.  So the adolescent looks fervently for people, parents, other adults, peers, to trust in and also for ideas that he or she can believe in, and wrap one’s mind around.

In our story Jesus comes to an incredible realization.   He says to his parents: “Did you not know that you would find me in my Father’s house?”  Now that’s a typical teenager’s reaction, why are you questioning me, don’t you trust me?  Our initial reaction is to see Jesus’ words as an impertinent, the insolent remarks of a twelve-year-old adolescent to his parents.  In looking back as a father of two sons, I remember some of those times.

But in reflecting upon Jesus’ words, we see something much deeper, Jesus has found his true identity.  He gently but directly says God was his father.  “My Father’s House.” Here in the temple, at Passover, at the age of 12, when a boy became a man according to Judaism, Jesus publicly stated for the first time, his self-understanding, he was truly the Son of God.  He was declaring his unique and intimate relationship to God.   In a sudden blaze of realization, he was telling his parents who he was.  Jesus, this boy, this human being, was also one with God.

Luke says that his parents did not understand what he said to them.  And as a parent I totally get where they were coming from.  If one of our sons had said this, I might have said, “Really, and I’m Elvis, you need some rest and if this continues, we’re going to see a doctor.”

Second, this story is about family.  It’s about God’s affirmation of the family, of the role and promise of the family, and the place the family plays in the plan of God.  In this story God has sanctified the family.  It affirms that God uses normal, ordinary, fallible families to form and shape and raise children.   Mary and Joseph immersed Jesus in the traditions of Passover and their faith.

Raising, providing for and protecting our family is a constant challenge.  When asked how he will handle his 12-year-old daughter's future boyfriends, NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley responded, "I figure if I kill the first one, word will get out."

As one writer said: “Families do not have to be picture perfect to be used of God.  Family life is at risk of being relegated to a low priority in our society.  The church needs to pray for and support families, inside and outside the church.  Families are not add-ons to other things in life; they are foundational, growing us into what we become.”  Parents and grandparents: never forget this, always remember it.

Even though Jesus knew he was the unique son of God, rather than going off on his own, he returned to Nazareth with his family.  We can imagine his life growing up in Nazareth.  His parents would have provided for his religious education.  We can imagine a home filled with love.  We can imagine Jesus as a boy working alongside his father Joseph in the carpenter shop, learning a trade.  Luke says: “Then Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was obedient to them.”  Jesus, the son of God, grew up in a family.

As an individual and as a part of a family, God seeks to bring you into a life-giving relationship and to shape your identity.  The story concludes: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.  That is God’s desire you and for me.  Amen.

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