Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whose News?

Luke 4:14-21

The commercials that have started playing are getting me excited about the up-coming Olympic season. I love watching the coverage, not just for the athletic competitions themselves, but also for the stories. I LOVE a good story, and the Olympics are usually full of them. There are athletes from small towns and unimaginable circumstances. There are families and friends who have walked alongside them as they have trained and sacrificed to pursue their sport and their dream. There are proud high school teachers and coaches, aunts and uncles, parents and siblings who beam at the thought of their hometown hero bringing home the gold. Everyone loves a hometown hero!

Jesus came back to Nazareth such a hometown hero. NBC hadn’t been following him with a camera, letting the folks back home know what he was up to and how he was astounding the countryside with his preaching. The TV crews hadn’t been hanging out in the vineyards, the marketplace, and the synagogue to take interviews from his old buddies, other apprentices in the carpenter’s shop. Yet still, when he arrived back in Nazareth word had already gotten back to them about what he had been doing, what he had been preaching and teaching in the time the boy next door was gone. And they had heard he was GOOD!

Certainly they expected him to come to worship on the Sabbath; Jesus and his family never missed a week. Certainly they expected him to come to the synagogue as he always had, but with a reputation that had preceded him home they weren’t going to just let him sit back and worship. Jesus, the hometown hero, the boy-next- door turned respected preacher was certainly going to be invited to read and interpret when he walked through the door of First Synagogue of Nazareth. “Local boy makes good” the headlines would have read if they existed. “Come and hear him for yourself” the invitation would have beckoned to the whole town.

The scroll of Isaiah was the one handed to him, but Jesus got to pick the passage. He actually picked two passages and put them together, then claimed they were fulfilled even that day in the hearing and presence of the community. He claimed that the one of whom the prophet is speaking, the one to whom the Spirit of the Lord has come, is Jesus himself. The one who has been anointed to bring good news, proclaim release and recovery, let the oppressed go free, is Jesus, the hometown boy standing, well, now sitting right in front of them. The folks in Nazareth had heard he was good, but THIS good? Really? Jesus the carpenter’s son?

It’s not really the message they expected to hear. Maybe a sermon on the benefits of prayer. Maybe something about repentance and baptism. Maybe even something about battling your inner demons would have seemed appropriate after what they had heard of his recent experiences with the devil in the wilderness, but this year of the Lord’s favor stuff? All this talk about poor and captives, the blind and the oppressed, that isn’t what they expected at all.

The surprise starts as excitement. At first, the congregation spoke well of him and was amazed at his gracious words. You can imagine them beaming with pride like an Olympian’s hometown friends. “This one is one of ours! That’s our boy! That’s Joseph’s son!” They can hardly believe the one who has spoken seemingly wise words in front of them is Jesus who had always lived and worshiped among them. They are excited he has returned and with such a glowing reputation ahead of him.

Although they initially cut him some slack, the excitement doesn’t last too long once he continues. He begins equate himself with the great prophets of their faith, even Elijah. He talks about how Elijah and all the rest were rejected in their hometowns. He starts to get antagonistic with the congregation made up of the friends of his youth, the adults who knew him since he was a child, the elders who nurtured him in the faith he took so seriously. He challenges them, and his formerly tolerant friends and neighbors respond by rethinking what they have heard, questioning the words he has proclaimed and claimed in their presence.

It’s hard for the people of Nazareth to imagine this local man is quite as important as he seems to think he is. The Spirit anointed him? The fulfillment of Scripture? The year of the Lord’s favor? Really? All of this? As he continued to preach the tide began to change.

It’s understandable why the people of Nazareth started to get worried and upset. They saw the significance of what Jesus was saying about himself, his ministry, and even the love of God. What he was saying, it wasn’t hard to see, was going to define and guide the rest of his ministry. It was to be his mission statement, and, he was saying, it was a divine mission statement, too. In his preaching he tells who he has come to touch. He tells who it is God desires to approach. He tells who is included in the Lord’s favor, and who should be among God’s beloved community.

And, funny enough, it doesn’t really seem to be about the folks sitting in the synagogue before him. Or at least not obviously. Poor they might be and be willing to claim, but captives? Prisoners? No, that didn’t seem to fit the crowd that has come freely to worship on the Sabbath. Blind? Maybe a few in the crowd, but not all of them as a whole. None of them are slaves, oppressed and depressed by masters wielding power over them. No, none of these descriptions of those for whom there is good news seem to fit these faithful, religious people. None of what Jesus has said about the ones who will be released and free seems to include them in the picture.

No wonder their excitement quickly turned into rage. Here they were, strong people of faith, the people who knew Jesus and had taught him, the people who like him had come worship on the Sabbath week after week, month after month, year after year, the people who had kept the holy days fully and faithfully just as he had, and Jesus came to deliver the message that the good news, it’s really more for someone else. The year of the Lord’s favor, it will be shown to outsiders first.

It’s sort of the opposite of what we would call preaching to the choir, right? Preaching to the choir - - that’s when we say words that others probably need to hear to the ones who probably don’t need to hear them. What Jesus does is preach to the ones who probably do need to hear his word, but won’t WANT to hear what he has to say. This good news from God, this release and freedom, it’s not just for the ones who have been religiously waiting for it. In fact, it may not even be for them first. It may not be granted to those with perfect attendance like an award at the end of elementary school. It may not come because we got enough stickers on our church chore chart.

In fact, Jesus, he tells them, he tells us, came to bring it NOT to those on the inside who seem to deserve it, but to those on the outside who think they don’t. He came, he tells them and us, to carry the favor and love of God to the ones who feel like they’ve been forgotten, to those who struggle to see God’s grace, to those who are beaten down by people and systems that keep them from having any reason to have faith in God enough to walk through the doors of a church, or synagogue, or mosque, or temple every week, or even once a year. He came, he tells them and expects us to follow, to free those who are held captive by binding social rules and cultural expectations, by their own fear to follow and be loved, by those who are scared to know them, to help them, to walk on the same streets in the same neighborhoods with them. He came, we are called to understand and replicate, to include those who are usually excluded, to bring in those who are usually shut out, to lift up those who are usually tossed aside, and share the good news of God’s favor with them.

At our retreat last September, the session was bold to realize that we here at Medium Church Near the Big Woods do a REALLY good job at trying to foster a sense of community within our walls. We know how to cook a good pancake feed and enjoy it together. We can put up a potluck that will rival any church’s spread. We do a great job of sharing fellowship with one another and building our own relationships with one another and with Christ. We care for one another in crisis. We celebrate with one another in great joy. Our ministry in the Spirit of God within the walls of this building and the bounds of this congregation is up-lifting, loving, and inspiring, and that’s not to be taken lightly or tossed aside as frivolous and unnecessary.

However, it isn’t, the session discerned, our complete call from God. It isn’t, Jesus claimed from the prophecy of Isaiah, the first thing he came to do. He came to look beyond the walls that hold those who always show up, whose custom it is to worship on the Sabbath as he did. He came to walk outside of the place of worship and warm community into the dark dungeons of despair and hopelessness and faithlessness. He came to speak the good news of God’s love in places where good news hadn’t been heard in years, where good news was least likely to be believed.

I think the people in First Synagogue of Nazareth got more than a little upset because Jesus’ preaching to them turned everything they had held onto upside down. If we come here faithfully, if we believe and love with all our hearts, souls, and strength, if we follow the expectations of God and care for one another, we are right on track. But Jesus came back home to tell them that’s not all there is to it. Jesus walked in and told them Spirit of the Lord sent him out, sends them, sends us out from these walls in which our faith is nurtured and grown, sends us out of those doors the welcome us in, sends us out to the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed to proclaim God’s love for them, the year of the Lord’s favor for all.

In September the session of Medium Church Near the Big Woods began to notice this call is heard and obeyed by many of us in individual ways, but rarely all of us in a communal way. It is a place in our congregational life, in our ministry in the name of Jesus, where there is room for growth. We are fantastic at ministering to those in our midst; we have important steps that need to be taken to minister to those whom Jesus was sent to serve first.

You will hear me mention it more than once, probably even weekly until February 20 - - you are invited, encouraged, and downright BEGGED to join in a conversation about our ministry that will be held that morning, again February 20, here at Medium Church Near the Big Woods. We will speak openly and honestly about our ministries as a congregation. We will dream and discern and pray about what God has uniquely gifted us to do, not just in our care for one another, but especially in our mission to the community and beyond. We will plan for our future as people called by God to be sent outside of these walls, outside of our family faith, to share what we know, what we experience, what we celebrate with those who might never consider walking into this place, this faith home.

In the ministry and love of Jesus of Nazareth, the good news has come. The year of the Lord’s favor is here, and it is here for those who have never even considered it. May the scripture and call of Christ to share that good news be fulfilled in our hearing and in our life together. Amen.

Is it wrong?

Is it bad theology to interpret losing a game of Facebook dominoes as a sign that God wants you to GET OFF FACEBOOK AND FINISH YOUR SERMON?

If so, is it a sin to then not heed that sign?

Just wonderin'...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Five: Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

Songbird left us with a fun Friday Five as she hit the road on a trip of her own. Here's my play.

1) What was the mode of transit for your last trip?
The fam and I took a plane to FL to visit my side of the extended family in November.

2) Have you ever traveled by train?
When my family moved from Maryland to Florida when I was 7, we did it by train. I've taken other train trips when traveling, but that was the longest extended trip.

3) Do you live in a place with public transit, and if so, do you use it?
Not really. It exists in the larger cities nearby, but I would have to drive just as far to get to a stop as I usually need to drive to get where I'm going when I go in.

4) What's the most unusual vehicle in which you've ever traveled?
Well, maybe the vehicle itself wasn't too unusual, but it is definitely the mode of transportation that has been imprinted on my mind the deepest - - the matatus in Kenya. Holy cow. These little Nissan or Toyota mini-bus things, that are maybe built to hold 15-ish people cozily. I never rode one with any less than 18 people in it, not including the people hanging on the outside!
5) What's the next trip you're planning to take?
We're not too original. We're heading back to FL in March! This one isn't to visit my family, although I'm sure we'll see them at least once while there. We're meeting up with my husband's family this time to do the Mouse House.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Receiving Hospitality

An old high school classmate of mine (and now a FB "friend") posted this today while reflecting on the earthquake in Haiti. He has worked in various news media capacities in front of and behind the camera. There is a picture of him standing with two members of the US military:

Port Au Prince, Haiti, 2004. These are some US military guys helping UN peacekeepers - but what strikes me about my trip was some kind hearted missionaries allowing me to stay with them, and treating me LIKE FAMILY. I was a complete stranger. They made me feel so welcome.

Hospitality - - when we do it, it works!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mmmmmm... Good wine

It's a hard passage coming up this Sunday (John 2:1-11) for a pregnant woman who loves wine. I'm in the middle of 9 months of no wine and here I get to read and preach on Jesus making wine out of nothing! So unfair.

Not sure where I'm going yet. But with my newly clean office (see post below) and some so-far-succesful attempts at establishing (re-establishing) a general flow to my week, particularly my sermon writing, I'm going to try to hash a little bit of that out here. I need to end today with a Focus and Function and at least a tiny start at the bulletin. Then I get to leave with all my tasks for today checked off.

So anyway, back to the wine. Mmmmmmmm... the wine. A few thoughts and questions that came to me during my reading:

1. Even Jesus didn't seem to know when his hour had really come. I mean, he thought it wasn't here yet, but Mary thought different. Sometimes we have to respond to need at hand, even before we think we're ready.

2. With a little bit of insight from the Christian Century "Living the Word": What sanitizing jars do we need to use for other purposes? What rituals need new life?

3. To whom does Jesus reveal himself? Who gets the first glimpse of his glory?

4. Along the same lines, who knew what when (before and after the miracle)?

5. How does Jesus reveal himself?

6. What is revealed about Jesus? Is it just that he can do some pretty good magic?

7. What do they disciples believe?

Hmmmmm...not sure of any answers yet. Not sure of my preaching direction.

The theological perspective from Feasting on the Word is sort of another twist on question 1 that I raised. Jesus doesn't think it's his time, but Mary sees the need around him. Jesus' mother isn't as concerned with some larger divine plan as she is with the problem at hand, so she makes it her concern to get Jesus to do something.

I like this image of our responsibility to bring the world's needs to God's attention, to prod God into action, to change God's mind even.

My question for preaching and for the text, though, is this - - Does our responsibility end at just prodding God in action? Does our responsibility end at getting Jesus to do his magic? Or is there more we can do with our hands? Are these needs really out of our realm of assistance or is there another active role we can take IN ADDITION to prodding God? Does prodding God prod us, too?

OK. I give up working alone. Time to head to the RevGals to join a bigger conversation.

Keeping it together

I've noticed that the more cluttered my house gets, the cleaner my office gets. Up until Christmas Eve of this year I was living in the middle of immense clutter in both places. Horrible. Really really bad. I've been trying to a while to stay on top of the home clutter, but it has been frustratingly unsuccessful. Poo.

However, on Christmas Eve, when I was insanely prepared for two services, the following Sunday, and EVEN the Sunday after that, but still had time, I decided to clean my office.

It still looks awesome. That's the most abnormal part to me. I'm usually pretty good at getting a quick clean-up done, but maintaining it? HECK NO! However, I think the increased mess at home, which got worse with the new Christmas toys, is driving me to have control over my environment somewhere. The office is it.

I'm getting good at something I've always stunk at - - put it away when you're done using it. And another one - - make sure everything is packed up and tidy when you leave at the end of the day. So stupid. So easy. But it's making all the difference in the world. Maybe over time I'll get so used to doing it all here that it will finally become my habit at home. And then when it's my habit maybe others in the house will pick up on it, too.

Or maybe I'm just dreaming. Oh well. For now, I can handle it with even just one place staying in order. That's already a big enough change.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's Your Name?

Isaiah 43:1-7
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

What do you know about where your name came from? Or what special meaning does your name have for your family?

There is a story to every name. Even if your story is that your parents found the name in a baby name book, a movie, a song, or a TV character, your name has a story, because names are important. We name what is important to us with names that have been passed down from generation to generation, with names that have been selected carefully for their meaning, with names that remind us of strong people, important virtues, or important stories, with names that simply bring joy to us as we bestow them on the ones and the things we love.

We name the significant aspects of our lives, as a colleague of mine pointed out, even those that are full of devastation. The names Katrina and Rita with remind us of storms and injustice for generations. We have Pearl Harbor Day and D-Day and 9-11. They aren’t memories of joy or excited anticipation, but even those events and parts of our lives that are full of devastation and violence have names, names by which we remember these life-changing times. Names are important. We name what is important to us.

Isaiah knew something about naming. God had taught Isaiah well.

The passage we heard begins with “But now” which should make any hearer wonder, well, what was before? What we heard today was a divine love song, but that love song is only made stronger and more poignant when we think about what came before it. Before it the people of God are reminded of the fury of God they have felt in exile. They are reminded of anger and justice that has been executed upon THEM when they would not hear God, when they would not walk in God’s way, when they would not obey the law of God. They probably didn’t need too much reminding of THAT part of their relationship with God, experiencing it every day as they lived in exile in Babylon.

But that reminder certainly perks up the ears of anyone who hears the words “But now.” Change is on the way. Hope has not been in vain. Before we have suffered and longed for the relationship we have had. Before we have cried out for a second, third, or fourth chance. Before we wondered if we would ever feel like God’s people again, but now… But now… Those words tell us in our deepest darkest experiences of pain and loneliness and suffering and questioning that but now, we will experience something different.

The very first thing God does for the people Israel is remind them whose they are - - remind them to whom they belong. They belong to God who created them. God who created them individually, and God who pulled them together into community with a common history, common ancestors, a common story. They belong to God who, even in the midst of the worst experience of their lives, redeems them, makes them whole, buys them back from the pain they are feeling and gives them worth in divine and human eyes. God calls them by name and claims them for God’s self.

Names are important. We name what is important to us. GOD names what is important to God. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, God promises, and I know you by name. When the rivers threaten to cover over your head, I will call out your name and lead you through them. When you walk through fire you won’t be burned and the flame shall not consume you because I will personally, and tenderly, and lovingly lead you by your hand, speaking your name to you, out of the terror your face. God will call us by name because very personally, very intimately, we belong to God. Names are important. God names and calls by name what is important to God. Isaiah knows this.

The gospel writers, especially Luke and Matthew in their stories of Jesus’ birth, know it, too. Before the telling of his birth in these two gospels God gives Jesus his name, several names, in fact. “Emmanuel” the child is called, God with us. Son of the Most High. Jesus, he saves. The angels delivered the messages straight from God of what this child would be named, because his name would tell the world who he was.

But now, God says, now that he is grown, now that he is about to move from obscurity to a whole new kind of existence, now that he is ready to move around and about in the world where God placed him to do what God has called him to do, now it is time for a new name. It’s a world full of names. The opening of the chapter, the part that gives us the setting for John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism, starts like this:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” (Luke 3:1)

In that one verse no less than seven men are named. No less than seven men are called by their very important, very powerful names before Luke goes on to talk about how the word of God came to a virtual nobody, some John son of Zechariah, who was, of all places in the wilderness. And of all these people who are mentioned – emperors and governors and rulers and priest – of all these people of obvious importance to the world, the one to whom Jesus comes at the start of his ministry is John, the son of Zechariah.

Jesus has a pretty big name of his own – if not yet in renown at least in meaning. Jesus, “He saves” tells what he has come to do, but at that particular point in his ministry, at the very beginning, when he’s out in the middle of nowhere with John son of Zechariah, while the position and power and prestige of Tiberius and Pontius Pilate and Herod and Philip and Lysanias and Annas and Caiaphas are breathing down his neck, even “he saves,” from the middle of nowhere Galilee, needs a new name when he comes to the water.

Coming to John for baptism, not because he NEEDS the baptism of repentance, but because he wants to join with others, join with us in our need

Coming to John for baptism, not because his skin and his spirit need to be cleansed of his unrighteousness, but because God promised to be with us when we passed through the waters, even the waters of baptism

Coming to John for baptism, not because his submission was necessary, but because it was an act of solidarity with those of us for whom it is

Coming to John for baptism, Jesus, he saves, gets a new name. Jesus hears God’s voice as called out to him in his prayer. You are “My Son.” You are “The Beloved.” Tiberius and Pontius Pilate and Herod and all the rest may have the power of Rome behind them, but Jesus, God whispers in his still dripping ears, Jesus belongs to God. Jesus is God’s Son, the Beloved.

And so are we. So are we the sons and the daughters of God Most High. So are we, dripping with the waters of baptism, the waters that covered Jesus even when he didn’t need them, the waters that cover us because we do, so are we, dripping with these waters of his baptism, called and claimed and named by God. Because names are important. God names what is important to God.

The voice Jesus heard, that called out to him from heaven while he was praying at the side of the river, is the voice that speaks also to us. You are my child. You are my daughter, my son. You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased. When Jesus joined us in the water, when he waded out into the river, when he was covered by the water and the love and the voice of God, he brought us right out there with him.

But let’s not get too comfortable sitting here with our old, new names. Yes, they are important names. God gives us important names. But let’s not try to fool ourselves into thinking they are safe names. Remember into which waters, remember into what world Jesus’ name came. It came into this world of position, of which he had none. It came into this world of power, of which he shared none. It came into this world of prestige, of which he could claim none. It came into a world that would challenge him and ignore him and resist his wide love. It came, our baptismal names come, in a world that may very well do the same to us when we try to walk in his way and love as he loved.

But even now, but even when the world… no even when WE resist God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s way, but even now God’s promise is still true – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned. For I am the Lord your God, your Savior. You are precious in my sight, and I love you, my Beloved Daughters and Sons.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Five: Dreams

Sophia gave us this Friday Five over at Rev Gals. Having plenty of pregnancy kooky dreams, I thought I'd play. Although most of my kooky dreams are unbloggable. Even anonymously.

So let's take a few minutes on this (where I am at least) lovely snow-blanketed Friday morning and share about the many different dreams and visions in our lives.

1. Do you tend to daydream?
Tend? Are you kidding? How do you NOT daydream?

2. Do you usually remember your night dreams? Do you find them symbolic and meaningful or just quirky?
I remember many of my night dreams. Not all of them, but quite a few. Mostly they are just quirky although some from my childhood that I can still remember with great detail were very obviously the result of the stress I was feeling from the divorces and remarriages of my parents. I have had a few different recurring dreams, or I should say "had." They were all in those early years (ages 5-15ish) dealing with those same subjects. One had a mean man dressed up in a chicken suit. He did not correlate to my father or step-father for those trying to guess.

3. Have you ever had a life changing dream which you'll never forget?
Not in a positive way, and maybe not completely LIFE CHANGING, but those recurring ones would have been helpful for any of my therapists in that timeframe to hear. It never occurred to me to tell any of them, and it never occurred to any of them to ask. They shoulda. Even my amateur analyses 15-25 years later knows it would have saved us a lot of time and effort if they had.

4. Share a long term dream for one or more aspects of your life and work.
I don't know if it's as strong as it once was, but years ago I put on my "List of things to do before I die" (started in 8th grade, long before "Bucket List" was a shorter and catcher term for this) that I want to be the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA). I still would LOVE that position, but I don't know anymore if I care enough to do the work that is likely necessary to get to it someday.

5. Share a dream for 2010....How can we support you in prayer on both the short and long term dreams?
One dream is to increase the amount of sleep I get on Saturday nights! I know it will be hard to change my creative process, but I am really getting worried about writing sermons when I come back from maternity leave with a nursing baby who will still be waking up several times a night. I haven't had to preach weekly with that little of a little one before. Sort of nervous about how that's going to go. Also, later pregnancy this spring when sleep will be more precious. I have always had a hard time doing work of any importance during daylight hours. I waste a lot of time playing during the day because I am just more productive in the night. That's been fine for me for the last 15 years or so, but it's not just me and hasn't beeen for a little while. Making the jump from a family of 4 to 5, though, is driving me to try to make this change this year. I covet hearing about others' creative processes that are either spread out over the week or condensed into one (non-Saturday night/Sunday morning) writing period. Also helpful would be hearing about others' organization of ministry tasks during the week that help make sermon writing possible during the "work" hours. I am trying to reorganize what I do, learn to use my new (much more efficient) secretary, and reduce the amount of time I spend on tasks that others can and should do so that I can use my designated "work" hours for all of my work - - including writing my sermons. At this point I put in my 9-5 hours during the work week, but then also spend my writing time at home.

That was a long, not so inspirational answer, but it's my hope and dream this year - that I can continue to find ways to make my ministry and family calling meld better and better! Hey, I'll take prayers and ideas anyway I can!

Bonus: a poem, song, artwork, etc. that deals with dreams in general or one of your dreams.
Probably my favorite "dream" song would be the Les Mis song "I Dreamed a Dream." I couldn't go with Susan Boyle's singing for this, but found one I don't remember because I wasn't aware of the song at the time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Right Where He Belongs

Luke 2:41-52

Some of you may remember our Christmas Eve service last year. Maybe you were sitting toward the back and couldn’t see the young, uh, dancer who joined me up here for a scripture reading and Christmas sermon. Or maybe the memory isn’t burned into your memories quite as deeply as it is burned into mine. The quick version of the story is that for the final Scripture reading and the sermon my daughter, LadyPrincess, joined me on the chancel to give her own interpretation of sharing the good news of Jesus’ birth with her candle in gun mode and her twirling on the top step. She also made quite a vocal exit when my husband swooped her under his arm and carried her on out.

The only thing I could think to say as it was happening was, “Even Jesus turned 3 one day!” And he did. The Scriptures say that “the child grew and became strong.” After his birth in Bethlehem, his circumcision on his 8th day, his dedication in the temple at Jerusalem a little while later, Jesus grew and became strong. He even turned 3 and, eventually, as we heard today, he even turned twelve.

There were so many options for how to interpret that line in the Scripture when Jesus answers Mary’s frantic question, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” Every parent wishes he had said it something like, “(Sharp intake of breath, apologetic voice) Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But Luke has already given us enough information to know this couldn’t have possibly been the way Jesus answered the question. He has grown. He has become strong. He may even have wisdom, but he is still 12. It had to have been a little more like “(With LOTS of attitude) Duuuuhhhh. Why were you SEARCHING for me? Did you not KNOW that I must be in my Father’s house? (Complete with eyeroll)”

Or maybe I’m just projecting a little bit. We really don’t know much about Jesus between the ages of a few months and about 30 years. This is the only story of his adolescence that makes it into our biblical gospels. There are other gospels, mostly written several hundred years after the four we hold as scriptural, that contain all sorts of exciting stories about Jesus as a young boy.

Ann Rice used some of them from the Infancy Gospel of Thomasin her 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. A five year-old Jesus forms 12 live birds out of the clay from the edge of stream. Later another child bangs Jesus on the shoulder while running through the village and with one sentence from the lips of the young Jesus, “You shall go no further on your way,” the child drops dead in the street. After his family is practically run out of town for his use of power, Jesus raises the young boy from the dead. Joseph, furious about Jesus’ public use of his power, in a total Darrin Stephens’ Bewitched move, pulls hard on Jesus’ ear and scolds him.

But if we go with what we have in Scripture we really don’t know what Jesus knows about who Jesus is. We don’t know if Mary told him about the angel who announced her pregnancy. We don’t know if Joseph confided in his son about the Lord speaking to him in a dream. We don’t know if he has heard about the star that marked his birth, the shepherds who worshiped him in manger, the visitors from foreign lands who came to worship him, the king who tried to kill him. We don’t know what Jesus knows about who Jesus really is. But we know that apparently from a pretty early age he knew where he belonged.

We know that for 12 years Jesus has come with his family to Jerusalem to the temple. For 12 years Jesus has come with his family to the Passover in Jerusalem to celebrate in the very place where God dwells with humanity. For 12 years they have come, every single year. We don’t know what he was told about who he was or where he came from or what the miraculous circumstances were around his birth, but we know that after 12 years of visiting that temple, he knew where he belonged. He knew that he was connected God, the one whose presence filled that temple.

In fact, his connection was so strong that he thought NOTHING of staying behind in that 12th year, not to see what Jerusalem was really all about. Not to run around with new friends he had made at the festival. Not to experience a little freedom from his parents and test out almost-adulthood in the big city. His connection to God was so strong that he stayed behind not to play, but to be a disciple in the temple, to learn from the teachers, to TEACH the teachers in the temple of God out of his deep and persistent connection to God.

There is a natural desire in adolescents to know who they are. There is a nature desire in them, a longing for identity, in which they try to answer the question “Who am I?” and they are bombarded daily with competing voices who try to answer that question for them. You are what you wear. You are what you listen to. You are what grades you get. You are what school you get into. You are what church you go to. You are what instrument you play, what sport you try, what club you join.

We see and lament that competition for our young people’s attention and focus, but I believe it isn’t just the young people who feel that same pressure to belong, who long for that sense of identity, for understanding about who they really are in the world. That longing, that wondering, that questioning, that quest for understanding often chases many of us into adulthood. Even years after the trials of adolescence have passed we can find ourselves plagued by the nagging question “Who am I?” We can find ourselves trapped by the same kinds of competing answers.

Have you ever tried to answer the question “Who am I?” Try it. Think about it right now. Jot down a list of things, if you would like, that answer the question “Who am I?” More often than not as adults our list starts with our jobs or our family relationships. I’m a pastor. I’m a mother. Or for others, I’m a teacher. I’m a retired nurse. I’m an engineer. I’m a grandfather. I’m a brother. Next on the list are often hobbies or the groups to which we belong. I’m a knitter. I’m a woodworker. I’m a Rotarian. I’m a biker. I’m a runner. Or maybe our interests – I like classical music. I read mysteries. I like action movies. More often than not,adults as often as adolescents find their lists are filled with the things they do and the relationships they have created.

Probably the hardest thing for all of us to learn, for children, adolescents, and adults alike, is that our identity is not tied to who are friends are, what we do for a living or for enjoyment, what we make, what we are striving to become, what labels others put on us. Our identity is not wrapped up in our interests, our paycheck, or our educational degrees. Our identity is not even best discovered by asking the question “Who am I?” That question is not helpful or life-giving because the task of answering the question lies solely on the one who is asking it. It is always left up to us to fill in the blank.

The question of our identity should really be “Whose am I?” It is the question that leads us to answer not who am I trying to be or what am I trying to do, not what does the world think I am worth, not who do my friends or my family or complete strangers think I should be. It is the question that leads us to answer, “To whom do I belong?”

It is a mystery what Jesus, at 12 years of age, knew about who he was born to be. It is a mystery what Jesus, at 12 years of age, knew about from where he had come, and what angels had helped announced his coming. It is a mystery what Jesus knew from his parents, his grandparents, his friends in the village of Nazareth. But what we do know is that by the age of 12 he was very intimately aware of to whom he belonged.

Mary and Joseph, understandably, became worried when after a day of traveling home to Nazareth they could not find their son, the one entrusted to them by God. Certainly their anxiety was heightened when it took them three days more to finally find him in Jerusalem, in the temple, sitting among the teachers, dwelling in the presence of God, listening and learning. But to Jesus, his location seemed a no-brainer. “Did you not know that I MUST be in my Father’s house?”

He didn’t say he had to be in God’s house. He didn’t say he had to be in the house of our ancestors’ god. He didn’t say he had to be in the house of Yahweh. He said he had to be in “MY Father’s house.” No matter what else he knew or didn’t know about who he was, how he was born, what he was on this earth to be and to do, Jesus knew to whom he belonged. He was at the temple to get a better understanding of the one to whom he belongs.

What if we all had even just a touch of the wisdom of that 12 year old boy? What if we all had the instinct of that adolescent Jesus? What if we all had the impulse to run to the one who holds us and gives us hope, who loves us and perfects our humanity, who gives us joy in our belonging, who brings peace to our lives and the world? What if we all knew to whom we really belong?

I’m not usually one who makes New Years’ resolutions. I’m not against them; I usually just don’t think of one until it seems too late, and then I never seem to remember what they were a few weeks later. I’m pretty sure that’s not the best way for me to make lasting positive changes in my life. But this year, I’m tempted. I’m tempted not to make a resolution to do something new or be something different or quit some negative habit. I’m tempted to make the resolution to belong to God better.

I’m tempted to make the resolution to follow Jesus’ 12 year old lead and occasionally let myself run to the places where I know God’s presence best and dwell there sometimes, no matter what else is knocking on my door, no matter who else is searching for my attention. Maybe my resolution, the resolution I invite you to join me in making, is not to try to be a better mother or sister or even a better pastor, but maybe my resolution will be to know more fully, more intimately, more daily the one to whom I belong.

I may run sometimes to Scripture. I may run sometimes to prayer. I may run sometimes outside to see and breathe and hear the creation my Creator has formed all around me. I may run sometimes to my family and enjoy the life we share in Christ’s love. I sometimes may even run to the church – not our building, but our people. The people who have been called to live in this blessed community, the people who have committed to walking the same road of faith, the people who struggle live obediently and faithfully and joyfully in the presence of the one to whom we all belong. I have a feeling in discovering what it means to be a child of God, especially in discovering it together, in finding out about the one whose we are, we will come infinitely closer to being the people God created us to be.

For me and for all of us, may it be so.

I have to note here that my favorite sermon of all time is on this text and very much this topic. I did not intend to completely steal it and repreach it as my own, but after literally years of daily, then weekly, then simply regularly listening to it it has become a part of my being and my own hearing of this text. With a huge debt of gratitude I share with you this link to Reginald Blount's sermon "Longing for Identity" that I first heard at the Princeton Youth Forum in April 2004. Much of what I have written echoes what he said, and as hard as I tried I could not shake that Word from God from my mind.