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The Reverend John Leedy
December 30, 2018
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A reading from the Gospel of Luke
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. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.
When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 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.’
He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
So, I’ve got a three year old now. (Let us pray.) Our little Christmas Eve baby turned three years old a few days ago and, on behalf of the Leedy family, I would like to thank the Congregational Connections Committee for hosting what Lorelai called her “Big Christmas Birthday Cookie Party”. You know what, fair enough. Because I know that sharing a birthday weekend with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can’t be an easy thing for a kid, especially a double pastor’s kid. But in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the day, we found a few moments that morning to blow out candles on cupcakes, to sing her birthday song, and to celebrate our smart, funny, and beautiful little girl.
A couple weeks ago, a kind church member asked me what Lorelai was getting for her birthday. I replied, “Lorelai is getting whatever grandma and grandpa are getting her ‘cuz mom and dad are out of time.” Gifts, man. Gifts are tricky. We’re trying to do the half birthday thing and to celebrate with gifts in the summer, but it’s hard not to lump birthday in with Christmas and call it a day. We’re trying though – we’re trying for her sake to keep the two separate – to make sure that her special day is given its due, even if we do mark the occasion six months later.
Lorelai has gotten some great gifts from friends and family for birthdays and Christmas, but there’s one gift in particular that has to be my favorite. A year ago, Lorelai got this pair of shoes that have squeakers in the bottom of the soles. Every time she takes a step, her shoes emit a high-pitched squeak. Sounds annoying, but I am a firm believer that the US government should mail a pair of these shoes to every parent of toddlers across the country.
And here’s the reason: these shoes are able to relay a lot of information very quickly. For example, let’s say you’re in Target and suddenly you look around, and you can’t find your kid. Normally, this would be a panic inducing moment. Not with squeakers! All you have to do is stand still and listen, and sure enough, those little shoes will tell you exactly where she is, what direction she’s running in, and how fast she’s moving. Global positioning, speedometer, and velocity tracking all in one and Velcro-ed to the feet of our kid. Brilliant!
When Lorelai is wearing her squeakers, I find that I am much less anxious about her getting lost. And I think it’s safe to say, Jesus did not own a pair of squeakers. I’m not even sure what the first century equivalent of that would be? A cow bell?
Last week, we welcomed the Christ child into our midst as a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
This week, we’ve fast-forwarded twelve years to pre-teen Jesus (snap) just like that. Isn’t the liturgical year fun? So much of the Christian year, and the Gospels for that matter, are spent on the adult life and ministry of Jesus, and this brief glimpse into the boyhood and family life of Christ is a rare treasure. I love this story. It’s such a humanizing story… well, mostly. Here we see Mary and Joseph, once again, tired from a long journey – with a hormonal Christ in tow.
They’re leaving the busy city during rush hour traffic on Mo-Pac and get about to San Antonio before they realize there’s no one in the back seat of the family donkey. Ugh. Jesus! As a parent, this is a totally humanizing story – and one that fills me to the brim with anxiety. My goodness, the Holy Family went an entire day before realizing that the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace was not dragging his sandals behind them?
On top of that, it was another three days before they found him in the temple! I mean, what was Jesus doing for food? Was he sleeping somewhere? Did he find a place to brush his teeth? Whew, I have got to turn off my parent brain when I read this story. As anxiety producing as loosing track of a kid can be, this story is not meant to be a cautionary tale to parents.
This strange little story, this window into the childhood of Christ, sets up for us a major theme that we see repeated time and time again throughout the Gospels.
From the very beginning, people are trying to find Jesus. They are searching for him in the wilderness, asking John the Baptist if he is the one the prophets spoke of. King Herod searches for Jesus, as do the shepherds and the magi from the east. Later on, Jesus needs some solitude and wanders off from the crowd and the disciples go looking for him. Still later, Jesus needs a break to recharge, and he is found by the Syro-Phoenician woman. The Roman authorities search for Jesus and find him in the Garden of Gethsemane. The tomb is empty and the women find him in the garden.
Finding Jesus seems to be part of the work of discipleship. If you’re going to be a follower of Jesus, there will be times when it will feel more like a game of hide and seek than follow the leader. Jesus has a knack for showing up in places where nobody expects him to be. We expect Jesus to be born in glorious and comfortable circumstances. We expect Jesus to be safe and sound with his parents on the road. We expect Jesus to be working the crowds 24-7. We expect Jesus to be eating with movers and shakers of society and networking with the powerful and well connected to get his message out there.
It is clear from the get go that God does not care about our expectations of where Jesus should or shouldn’t be. If God did care about our expectations, and Jesus stayed exactly where we thought he should be, then none of this would exist today. None of it. None of this would exist because at the end of the day, we expect the dead to stay dead. God does not care about our expectations of where Jesus should or shouldn’t be.
In fact, it seems that Jesus works overtime to subvert our expectations, to blow them out of the water, to stand up and point and say, “That’s it! That’s the reason you don’t get it. Can’t you see? Can’t you see that this is what the kingdom of God looks like? Can’t you see that this is where I was meant to be all along? Forget what you think power should look like. Forget where you think God should or shouldn’t be. Forget what you think about who I should or shouldn’t be spending time with. Forget what you think you know about following me and actually follow me.”
This little story tucked into the Gospel of Luke invites us into the wild and surprising journey of finding Jesus. And as the life of Jesus unfolds over the course of the year, we’re sure to find Jesus in places and with people we’d never expect: with tax collectors and prostitutes, with sinners and lepers and refugees, with blue collar farmers and no collar fisherman, strolling through slums and walking across waters, sleeping in boats and standing next to an empty tomb. Such is life with Christ on the road.
I was in second grade when I got kicked out of Vacation Bible School. True story. Me and a dozen of my fellow second graders were sitting in our little VBS classroom at the church where my family attended. We were all sitting on the floor listening to our VBS teacher read us the Bible story of the day when two boys behind me started whispering and giggling. Annoyed, I turned and gave them the stink eye.
The laughing and whispering continued. I turned again and gave them a “Shh!” Still, the boys continued to be disrespectful of the Bible story. So, I did next what any future pastor would do… I turned and punched one of them in the face. Yep. Punched him right in his sacrilegious little kisser.
Now kids, the story that Pastor John is telling right now sounds funny, but violence is never the way to solve your problems. So I get hauled out of the classroom and get sent home from VBS for the summer. While I regret what I did, I love that that story exists as a part of my childhood, because it’s a great way to introduce yourself as an adult chaperone at a youth event.
“Listen y’all, I’ve already punched a kid in the face for Jesus once… and don’t you think for a second…” I’m just kidding. Please don’t fire me.
The scriptures tell us of two comings of Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus comes into the world as the baby, born in Bethlehem. And, one day, Jesus will come again into the world in glory, and we shall abide in the light and love of God forever. But St. Cyprian, the third century Bishop of Carthage, believed that there are actually three comings of Christ into the world. The first is on Christmas, the third is at the end of all things when Christ comes in glory, and the one in between is when Christ comes into the hearts of those who find him. When we search for Jesus and we find him, our hearts are opened to let the truth of Christ come in and change us. When we search for Jesus and find him in the unexpected places of life, the heavy chains of expectation fall away and our hearts are open to the new way of life Jesus calls us into.
Now, I know that it can be hard to read these ancient stories in scripture and feel surprised about where Jesus shows up. I get it. It can be hard to experience the same sense of shock that the first followers of Jesus felt when Jesus defied their expectations. I’ve been there too.
But I ran across a quote the other day from CS Lewis that helped me see yet another set of my own expectations that needed defying. CS Lewis writes, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” And just like that, Jesus showed up somewhere I wasn’t expecting to find him. Not in the pages of the Bible in stories from long ago, not in the writings of theologians nor in the preaching of sermons, but in the person sitting to my left and the person sitting to my right.
Take just a moment and become aware of those sitting around you. If you’re trying to find Jesus, if you’re trying to find the body of Christ here in the world, right here and right now, here it is. We are the only body Christ has on this earth, and each of us is made in the image of God. God in Jesus Christ became like us so that we might know God face to face – image of God to image of God. Being in community with the person sitting in front of you, to the side of you, and behind you, is the closest you’ll get in this life to being in community with the living, breathing Jesus.
Together, we are the body of Christ, and when we find Jesus in one another, our hearts are open to the wondrous journey of love God has in store for us. Makes me kinda bummed that I punched that kid that one time. But I wonder… I wonder how that day would have been different if instead of expecting to find Jesus in the VBS story, I had found Jesus in the kid sitting behind me – the human kid who has good days and bad days, just like me. The human kid who gets distracted and bored and antsy, just like me. The human kid who knew pain and joy, fear and wonder, just like me – and just like Jesus. I wonder how I would have treated him if I had found Jesus in a place and in a person I never expected.
As we look to the New Year ahead, let us, together, seek to find Jesus anew, in one another and in those we will meet on the road. Let us bear this body of Christ out into the world, finding ourselves lost in holy moments, beautiful and unexpected. For as our twelve year old Savior reminds us, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ Let the finding of Jesus begin here, in this house of God.