January 31, 2021
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 favour.
Today we read one of my favorite stories about Jesus and his parents. If you’re ever wondering if you’re doing a good enough job parenting, just tuck this story away. You probably haven’t lost your child for an entire day and taken three days to find them. If you have, well, Jesus turned out pretty great, and his parents are still revered, so count yourself in good company.
But beyond the humor of this story, I love that at 12, we get to see Jesus stepping into himself, who he is. When he follows his curiosity and passion, he ends up surprising and confusing his family. And I imagine, there were times that discovering himself, and where he felt like he was at home, must have come as a surprise to a fully human twelve-year-old, who is also God.
Many of us find ourselves surprising our families and friends, when we step more fully into ourselves. We might not disappear for days, but I imagine we’ve done something, or felt at home somewhere, that doesn’t quite fit with other’s expectations of ourselves. But if we let ourselves linger in those moments, those movements, the discussions we don’t want to move on past, there is an invitation to return to our daily lives changed.
I’ve been thinking the past few weeks about one of my heroes, the Rev. Charlie Brown. Charlie died recently, and his stories keep coming back to me. As a young adult, Charlie was something of a legend. He and his wife, Edda, retired, and worshipped at the congregation that raised me. He was full of stories. There was a fire for justice that burned within him with such intensity, that when I read the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, calling out injustice, I sometimes hear their words in Charlies’ voice. But with that intensity, there was also a sparkle in his eye, a wry smile. His love for people and God was so evident. You wanted to stay with Charlie, and his long stories gave you ample room to find yourself. When I entered the process of becoming a Pastor, Charlie wanted to talk. I couldn’t resist getting a cup of coffee with him. He warned me that, if I was going to enter this life of Ministry, I was going to find myself in places and situations that might surprise me, and that others were going to look at me oddly. We were having this conversation at a Starbucks in Sherwood, the small suburban farm town I grew up in, and I told him that after years of being one of the few progressive queer kids in this town, I was used to that. He laughed, and shared about his first call as the Pastor for Campus Ministry at First Presbyterian of Berkley, California in the 1960’s. The free speech movement and the call for Racial Justice led the community to feel like a powder keg ready to explode at any moment, as the Status Quo and calls for revolution filled your ears. Part of Charlie’s job was to be a near constant presence on the streets of Berkley, holding space for those protesting, leading public liturgies and memorials, being a physical presence that signified the Holy’s presence in the work of the people. Other times, he would be part counselor, part negotiator, being a go-between with the authorities and activists. But Charlie didn’t really know what he was getting into when he started. He told me that on his first day at the Church, the Senior Pastor told him to meet him at a protest. Before Charlie had a chance to take in the scene, full of signs and chanting, a palpable anger and call for change, he spotted the senior pastor jumping on top of a cop cruiser. Charlie was astonished to see that, under his robes, he was in combat boots, that at that moment were engaged in destroying the lights on the car. To Charlie’s eyes, having grown up in the South in a small town, this was chaos. To him, this didn’t feel like the work of a Pastor, a follower of Jesus. That very afternoon he wrote up a letter of resignation and met with the pastoral search committee. They smiled at him, and said, “give it a few weeks Charlie. We think you’ll find that God is at work here in the streets, not the quiet of the sanctuary.” And as Charlie got to know the activists on campus, and the residents of the town, as he learned more about segregation and systemic racism, Charlie found that he was exactly where God was. It didn’t feel like home right away, but soon enough he was as much a part of the scene of Berkley as his Senior Pastor. Charlie began to preach about what he was hearing and seeing, and got involved in calls for Racial Justice, getting to know the Black Panthers in the community, creating de-segregated spaces that caught the attention of folks from all walks of life, including the entertainer Dick Van Dike. Charlie let himself linger in the discomfort, the surprise, the odd looks he received from activists and those who wanted everyone to just be quiet and go back to the way life had been. In not going back to the way his life had been, Charlie found himself in what God was up to.
For Mary and Joseph, I imagine coming to Jerusalem for Passover must have felt a little like showing up in Berkley did for Charlie. Jerusalem probably felt like a place so heavy with Tension, that it was hard to experience God’s peace. Nazareth is North of the Holy City, west of the Galilee. It’s a beautiful place. The hillsides collect rainwater that eventually flow into the Sea of Galilee, and on the hillsides life is abundant, a great place to grow food in a landscape that is full of deserts. Nazareth was a small village, fed by a well of rainwater, that never grew very large in Jesus’ time. Close to their home village was the town of Zippori, a town that became known as the jewel in the crown of the Galilee. It was a place that offered an alternative to the conflicts of Jerusalem. Scholars wonder if Joseph and Jesus worked rebuilding it, after it had been destroyed in an uprising against Roman occupation. It was a center of Jewish religious thought and culture, as it encountered the pressures of the Romans and Greek culture. Over time, there was a tension between Jewish communities in the hill country and in Jerusalem around religious practice. Synagogues up North began to wonder if going to Jerusalem was really necessary for religious festivals like the Passover. It could be dangerous, and expensive, and there was tension around if these folks from the country really knew what God was up to. And yet the city of Jerusalem would more than double in size for these Holidays, with folks traveling from all over to worship. I wonder if Jesus’ parents, who scripture tells us made sure to fulfill the temple statutes for Jesus, ever wondered if they really needed to travel all that way just to be in God’s presence. Jesus was growing up in the midst of all this, and at twelve, he finds himself in the heart of it all. Given the context of his childhood, and now stepping into adulthood, no wonder he would want to stay behind and ask questions about where God is to be found, and how to respond. We find in this reading a young person who is at once God and Human, on the cusp of being recognized as an adult in his religious tradition, pondering how to live a faithful life, in a world swirling with ideas, possibility, and danger.
It’s a question I imagine many of us are wondering these days. Where is God to be found in our world today, when so much is shifting? How are we called to respond to God’s grace? What does a faithful life look like in the midst of such chaos? For the not quite a child, not yet adult Jesus, and for us, the question remains. We might be surprised by the answers we find, and surprise those who know us best. Just like Charlie, we can find ourselves in the churn of our culture, in the midst of the struggle in our streets and our national life, wondering if Spirit is calling us into movements for justice. We might find ourselves like the adolescent Christ, questioning our religious traditions, while so much invitation opens new horizons.
The invitation I hear through this text this week is to linger in the questions, in the midst of others, and speak the truths we’re beginning to grasp. It might surprise folks, but there’s something happening.
I have had two weeks away, a time of renewal, and digging deep into what God is calling me into during this year ahead. My sense of Call to ministry has always been full of questions about where in my life and our world God is to be found, and what my part is in the Revolution of God-with-Us. I’ve found God around tables, eating with the hungry in Philadelphia, while also being in coffee shops in the struggles of educated young adults discerning how to transform an unjust world to be just a little closer to the vision of the reign of God, we hear echoes of at the Lord’s Table. I see Her answering the doors of our neighbors in Woodbourne-McCabe, as we deliver food, while also being in meetings seeking to dismantle white supremacy and its impacts on housing, employment, healthcare, and education. I hear Spirit In our woods, in the memorial garden, as we see the legacy of the past, and ponder how to care for the corner of creation we cherish, while also seeing signs of climate change and invading non-native species, and a need to work globally to stave off catastrophe. I have no doubt the Holy One will be with us this afternoon as we prepare to lobby the Maryland General Assembly to enact justice through and within our transportation system, shift from using coal for electricity while also providing well-paying jobs for coal workers in our state, and seek to enshrine a healthy environment to our state Constitution. God is speaking, inviting so many into action, in so many places. Our lives move us from task to task, cause to cause. But today, our text invites us to linger, to ask questions, and go deeper into the parts of our lives, our world, that seem to shimmer with that quality of hope that maybe, just maybe, we are at home with God in these moments.
The Holy One calls out to us in so many different ways. I hope that this community can be a place that equips us to be able to be with our people, who similarly find connection to the divine, through engaging in our world, and lingering in the questions that give us hearts to sense God’s transforming, adapting call. For many of us its caring for creation, or seeking food justice, or standing in solidarity with the poor. For myself these past two weeks, I’ve found that I feel drawn towards being with our children and young people, creating space for them to know they are loved, to linger in their questions with them, and share the practices that connect us to the Holy One. I have lots of questions about how to do this. But instead of returning to life as usual, I’m challenging myself to dig deeper, to find myself exploring what this call means for my life, and our community. For some of us, having a Senior Pastor who wants to teach Sunday School, before returning to preach, might be surprising. For others, it might feel like the most natural extension of what God is up to in this place. But when we linger where we find ourselves at home with God, surprise is part of the experience.
I invite you this week to let yourself dream, and linger, and ask questions. Because just like Jesus’ family, our spiritual life often gets shuffled aside once Worship is over, once we leave Church, or sign off, because there is just so much to do. Where do you find yourself wanting to stay, just for a little while, and go deeper? May this be a week where you allow yourself to stay, for just a little bit more, with the questions and truths bubbling up within you. I might just ask that you let others know if you’re going to stay for a while. No one needs three days of not knowing where you are.