Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Whose Are You?

Luke 2:41-52

 Many years ago I read a statement that went something like this:  “There was a time in Jesus’ life when he did not know his true identity or his true purpose.”  

 What do you think of that?  Do you think that’s true?  

 I can tell you that when I first read it, I thought, “No way.”  I figured Jesus always knew who he was and what he was to do.  But more and more now, I find myself agreeing with that statement.  After all, if Jesus was truly human, then he shared in our human experience.  And part of the human experience is that when we become an adolescent or a young adult, we begin to question our identity and our place in the universe.  We ask, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”  Is it too much to think that Jesus shared in that human experience?  

 This story is unique in the Gospels.  Two of the Gospels tell us about the events surrounding his birth.  And all four of the Gospels tell us a lot about his public ministry.  But only in one place, and only for 12 verses, do we get any kind of a picture of Jesus’ life between the ages of two and thirty-ish.  Why here?  

 The best answer is that Luke wrote his Gospel while Paul was in prison in Caesarea Philippi, a city in Judea.  Luke was a Gentile.  He never met Jesus in person.  He was the only of the Gospel writers who had no personal contact with Jesus.  He became a co-worker with Paul.  And we know that for several years, Paul was imprisoned in Judea, first in Jerusalem, then Caesarea Philippi.  And we know that Luke wrote his Gospel before he wrote Acts.  And we know he wrote Acts around the time that Paul left Judea.  So it seems very reasonable that he wrote his Gospel during this time.  

 And since Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, he went to those who were eyewitnesses:  The Twelve Disciples and Mary.  This is Mary’s story.  And she may have been the only one alive at the time who knew it.  And if she hadn’t told it to Luke, we might not know it today.

 For some reason, this event stood out to Mary.  And maybe the best explanation is that it stood out because this was the first time that Jesus claimed his identity as the Son of God.  Let’s look at the story.

 First, we find out that every year, Mary and Joseph went to the Passover Festival in Jerusalem.  That tells us that they were very sincere in their faithfulness.  According to

the customs, only Jews who lived within a day’s journey of Jerusalem were required to go every single year.  All Jews would make at least one pilgrimage during their life, but only those close by had to go every year.  And even though Mary and Joseph lived more than a day away, they were still faithful to attend yearly.

 And Jesus was with them this time at the age of 12.  That would be a significant age in Judaism because it was about the age of accountability, the age at which a son was no longer considered a child but had become an adult.  Today they celebrate that with a Bar Mitzvah, becoming a “Son of the Covenant.”  In the first century they didn’t have that ceremony as it is today, but it was still at about that age that a child became accountable for their own actions, an adult.  This may have been Jesus’ first trip to the Festival.  It was common practice that children were not required to go to the Festivals until or about the age of accountability.  

 And when it was over, Jesus stayed behind.  And for the time being, Mary and Joseph were unaware of that.  All travel at this time was done by caravan, if it could be helped.  Roads were not the safest places, and travelers going alone ran the risk of being overwhelmed by highway robbers.  And in this case, the caravan would be made up of people from Nazareth, or possibly from some surrounding villages as well.

 By the custom of the day, men and women traveled separately, and children traveled with the women.  And Jesus, at 12 years old, could potentially have fit in with either group.  So it wasn’t until the caravan stopped for the night that Mary and Joseph became aware that he was not “with the other one.”  

 Even still, it was not yet time to panic.  There were lots of neighbors and friends and relatives among the caravan, surely he was with one of them!  But he wasn’t.  And about this time, I’m sure, the panic began to rise.  Those of you who are parents have probably experienced this at some point when you “misplaced” a child in a store or someplace like that!  And I’m sure Mary and Joseph were very concerned.  It’s bad enough to lose a child, but they’ve lost the Messiah!  They’ve lost God’s chosen one!

 So back to Jerusalem they go, continuing their frantic search.  And finally, on the third day, they find him.  He’s in the Temple.  Of all the places for a boy to go when he’s alone in the big city, he went to the Temple, specifically the Temple courtyards.

 You see, the Temple courtyards were the “seminary” or the “Sunday School” of first century Judaism.  Every day, but especially at the Festival times, many rabbis would

gather in the Temple courts to teach anyone who wanted to come and listen.  They would debate and discuss for hours on end the finer points of the Law.  Two of the most famous rabbis, Shammai and Hillel, were both alive and active at about this time.  Maybe Jesus listened to them.  Maybe they listened to him.

 The typical method of teaching was a back-and-forth question and answer session, with both teacher and students asking and answering questions.  And Jesus was a full participant in this.  He wasn’t simply asking childish questions.  He was participating in the asking and answering such that he amazed all those who heard him.  

 Mary and Joseph were amazed.  Before they could even be anxious, they were first amazed.  It’s a both sweet and painful experience to see children grow up and mature.  On the one hand, you are glad to see them gain new abilities, but you also mourn the loss of their childhood.  

 But for the moment, there is the matter of all the anxiety they’ve been feeling for the past three days.  “Why have you done this to us?  Do you know how anxious your father and I have been?”  

 And then Jesus says something remarkable:  “Why did you need to search?  You should have known I’d be in my Father’s house.”  There is a deliberate contrast between Mary saying, “your father,” referring to Joseph, and Jesus saying, “my Father,” referring to God.  Jesus is laying claim to his true identity and acknowledging the claim God has placed on his life.  He knows that he has to be about his Father’s business.  

 And that’s what it means for us to be children of God, as well.  We claim our true identity, children of God born again through faith in Christ.  And we acknowledge God’s claim on our lives to be about his business.  To be a child of God means we must participate actively in what God is doing in this world, and that is a work of restoration:  Restoring right relationships between human beings and God and right relationships with each other.  To be a child of God means we acknowledge this claim on our lives.

 But not to the exclusion of other legitimate claims on our lives.  Jesus was also still the son of Mary and Joseph.  While he was fully divine, the Son of God, he was also still fully human, the son of Mary and Joseph.  And he had a responsibility to obey and honor them.  

 Faithfulness to God is not an excuse to be unfaithful to family or community or other legitimate claim on our lives.  Rather, it means that we live out all the claims on our lives in a peculiar way because of who we are and whose we are.  We strive as Christians to be a Christian parent, or a Christian child, or a Christian spouse, or a Christian employee, or a Christian citizen.  

 That was the example Jesus left for us.  He went home and was faithful to Mary and Joseph for the next 20 or so years until he began his public ministry.  One of the interesting notes here is that this is the last time Joseph appears in the story.  When Jesus begins his ministry, Joseph has disappeared.  Most likely, he died between this event and Jesus’ ministry.  And that may be the very reason that Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was about 30.  He may have waited till his younger siblings were grown up before he left home.  

 The last line of the story is that Jesus grew in four ways:  He grew physically, in wisdom, and in favor with God and other people.  These are the four basic ways in which each of us grows: Physically, intellectually, relationally, and spiritually.

 It might seem strange to think of Jesus, God in human flesh, growing spiritually and intellectually.  But one of the things we’re told about the Incarnation is that Jesus laid aside the full use of his divine nature.  To participate in the human experience, he had to grow, just as we grow.

 I believe that’s also a calling on us.  We are called to grow.  At some point we stop growing physically.  Well, to be technically correct, we stop growing vertically and about then begin to grow horizontally.  But I believe that growing in our wisdom and our relationships with God and each other is a lifelong calling.  We have a long way to grow before we become the fullness that God intends for us.  

 What I want you to take away from this story is that Jesus found his identity, he found who he was, in the context of whose he was.  Whose are you?  To whom do you belong?  Do you find your identity, your value, and your purpose in belonging to God?

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