Rev. George Miller
Sept 6, 2015
Today for Family Sunday we explore the only story we have in the Bible featuring Jesus as a boy.
At first blush it sounds like a cute story, but as you know, we’ve been revisiting the narratives of Jesus to see what made him so provocative and why he was crucified.
It’s easy to say that since Jesus was without sin, he must have also been flawless. It’s easy to cast him in a halo’s glow in which he was practically perfect; a child unlike any other.
But what if we did an exercise of the imagination today? What if we replaced Jesus with the literary characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? It would go something like this:
“Now every year Tom and Huck’s parents went to St. Louis for 4th of July. When the festival ended, they returned home, but Tom and Huck decided to stay behind in the big city, but their parents did not know this.”
If anyone knows anything about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, you’d immediately know they were up to no good and be on some off-color adventure.
What if we were to replace Jesus with Dennis the Menace? It would go like this-
“Assuming that Dennis was in the group of travelers, his parents went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him, and when they did not, they returned to the big city to find him. After three days they found Dennis the Menace in the church, listening to the teachers and asking them questions.”
Could you imagine how worried Dennis’ parents would be? What kind of wacky, annoying questions do you think Dennis would have asked the teachers?
Let’s stretch your imagination again and make it about you. It would go like this-
“When you were 12 you stayed behind in the big city and three days later when your parents found you, your Momma said “Child, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I are a nervous wreck.”
Question- if you had done this, how many of you would have received:
-a stern talking too?
-the wooden spoon?
-a belt across your booty?
-to go and get your own switch?
Final moment of imagination: imagine you are Mary; imagine you are Joseph. Your child has been missing for three days in New York City during Christmas, and when you finally find them, your child says “Why did you even bother searching for me? It’s not my fault-you should’ve known I’d be here.”
How would you feel? How would you respond? A warm glow of the heart? Exasperation? Anger and frustration?
Jesus is just a 12 year old kid, not even a teenager or a man, and already he is provoking; already he is rocking the boat.
But there is something else going on. There is something Jesus says in verse 49 that caught my attention.
Mary asks why he has treated his parents this way. Jesus says “Why were you searching for me? You should’ve known that I must be in my Father’s house.”
-I must be in my Father’s house.
Such a powerful phrase for a little boy. Such a sense of direction and purpose for one so young.
This is not the only time Jesus says he “must” do something. In 4:43 he says he must proclaim the Kingdom of God.
In 9:22 he says the Son of God must undergo great suffering. In 13:33 he sends a message that he must be on his way.
Normally, I don’t like when people say they “must” do something, because often times that can be a sign of enabling or lack of control over one’s life.
But when Jesus says he “must” do something, I sense something else- that Jesus has an acute awareness of who he is and his calling to a higher purpose in life.
I sense that when Jesus says “I must” it’s because he’s done enough contemplating, praying and meditating to understand that his purpose in life is to make the Kingdom of God more real and to fulfill certain imperatives.
When Jesus says “I must”, he is indicating that he has a unique connection with God the Father and that he is always guided by this relationship.
As one scholar wrote, this story tells us that even as a pre-teen Jesus found his identity by affirming his relationship to God. It’s a relationship rich with goals to achieve and activities to perform.
Now let’s pause here for a moment, because as a teacher I need to be forthright with you- there is really no way to know if this story is 100% true and happened exactly as written, or if it’s a story that the author made up to express a theological understanding of Jesus.
We are the UCC, so I will not tell you what to believe, but I can encourage you to wonder about the factual nature of this verse.
If it is true, woe to any young person because Jesus has set the bar way high.
Think back to when you were 12. Think back to where you were in terms of forming an identity.
I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for me. 12 was a bad year. 7th grade was the worse. Not a boy, not a man, not even a teen.
In terms of identity, I think of things in way of music. At 12 I was a fan of Stevie Nicks, a blonde female rocker who dressed like a gypsy and sang with a scratchy voice.
Then there came “1999” by Prince and “Holiday” by Madonna and my taste in music changed. Then Tina Turner asked “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Teena Marie said she wanted to be my “Lovergirl”.
Forget rock-n-roll and Stevie Nicks; I was all about that bass and music that made you wanna dance.
Like other kids around that age, there were forays into other musical identities. The Cure? Too bleak. Susie and the Banshees? Too dark.
Then in the late 80’s Janet Jackson claimed “Control”, Jody Watley asked “Don’t You Want Me?”, Salt ‘n Peppa told us to “Push It.”
My musical identity was still rooted in r&b and things that made everybody dance now. By the 90’s the G-Funk era crept in with rap music sampling and blending into pop.
Then in my late 20’s something happened- the music I listened to became less about dance and more about romance. Luther Vandross, Keith Sweat, smooth jazz and quiet storms.
Now in my 40’s my musical identity has become a mix of showtunes, hip-hop and r&b. That’s alright with me.
Funny thing is- my Mom still identifies me as that little 12 year old boy. When there’s an article in the paper about Stevie Nicks or Prince, she cuts it out and sends it to me in the mail.
Funny thing is- the music I listened to in my 20 and 30’s, like Snoop Dogg, Ashanti and 2 Pac are now on the oldies station.
Funny thing is- as I watched last week’s MTV Awards with Demi Lavato dancing in front of a bunch of guys in neon-colored bathing suits, I wondered “Did my pastor watch the MTV Awards back when I was growing up?”
Because here I am watching them at 45 and back when I was a kid Rev. Baker seemed so old…
What is our identity and how do we form it?
I’m sure everyone here can look back to something they identify with and how it changed, evolved and informed them.
For some its sports, some it’s raising a family, some it’s working the land.
What is our identity, how do we have one, and how do we grow into it, because it’s not fun when we don’t have a semblance of self or a foundation in which to define ourselves.
That is what I believe Jesus had- a strong, clear foundation of who he was and how he was to act. As the Gospel of Luke presents it, it appears as if Jesus knew who he was even as young as age 12.
From there, Jesus was able to hold onto his identity even when encountering demons. He was able to hold onto his identity even when others disagreed. He was able to hold onto his identity even when the journey ahead was frightful.
His identity, rooted in God being his Father, gave him a reason to care about the Temple. His identity propelled him to preach the Word.
His identity, rooted in God the Father, allowed him to confront his own mortality and chronicity of life. His identity allowed him to say “I must be on my way.”
His identity, rooted in God the Father, allowed him to say “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
His identity allowed the resurrected Christ to say “Peace be with you” to some very scared disciples.
What is your identity? How are you willing to allow yourself to be indentified?
Is it by your age, your orientation, your sex? Is it by your culture, your nation, your tribe? Is it your sobriety, political party, economic bracket?
Do you identify by your family status, your job, your faith?
How do any of these indentify you?
How do they shape the way you live, the way you learn, and the way you show love for the world?
If we indentify as Christians, and Jesus referred to God as his Father, what does that mean for us, and how does it inform our own identity?
If we are indeed “Emmanuel UCC” and Emmanuel means “God is With Us” then what does that mean as we continue on our way?
What does that mean as we share the message? What does that mean as we care for and meet in our Father’s house?
How does Jesus’ sense of identify shape and inform ours?
What do we let go of and what do we embrace? What things do we develop and what things simply get in the way?
As we contemplate this, we can end by saying “amen” and “Amen.”