August 20, 2017

 

First United Methodist Church — Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
August 20, 2017
Scripture: Luke 2:41-47

I just returned from a week in Denver Colorado—before you hate me, I was engaged in classes at the center for Pastoral effectiveness. It’s about family systems theory—and how family systems impacts the church. It’s based on behaviors that are passed from one generation to the next. As clergy hoping to lead healthy congregations, we are working on becoming a non-anxious presence—It is a life-long challenge to replace reactionary behaviors with self-differentiated ones—not taking on the anxieties of others—allowing the anxious people to deal with their own stuff and not get sucked into it. Hard stuff to do. You know that from your own work, family, and relationships.

It’s hard to be non-anxious when conflict and chaos is lapping at your feet like flames in a bonfire. It’s hard to be non-anxious when people are gossiping about you at work. Hard to be non-anxious when family gatherings bring together the Hatfields and McCoys in your family table. Hard to be non-anxious when you read the headlines.

Particularly hard to be non-anxious when you are worried about your children—whether they are 2-months-old…12-years-old…50-years-old…Our children are our children—our beloved are our beloved—and we get anxious…

We meet Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the infancy story. She is shown to us four weeks before Christmas as a young woman receiving some startling news from the stork angel. Guess what? You are with child. Even though that diagnosis could have resulted in her death—we are told that Mary quickly moved to a calm response by singing. Let it Be. Then we see her on our Christmas cards shortly after given birth looking radiant and beautiful, not sweating exhausted scared or angry. She is quite peacefully looking upon a bundle of joy with no clue as to the troubles ahead.

Today’s image of Mary is quite different. Today, she has not labored to birth new life—rather she has spent the last three days panic-stricken. She is emotionally spent, her anxiety is through the roof. It appears that she has grown quite fond of that baby boy she delivered 12 years ago. He has now been missing for 3 days—3 nights—72 hours. At wits end, she dashes into the Temple, or the portico where the teaching was taking place. Maybe she entered there to pray for help, to beg God to spare her child—to hope her angelic visitor of past years would meet her and guide her to her child. She runs into the Temple—the last place she has to go—with tears welled up in her eyes and panic written across her face. She enters and there she sees—Jesus!

If any of you have ever lost a child, even for a moment, you know how Mary feels at that moment. Relief and anger collide in her heart and rise in her throat—she wants to envelop him in an embrace of love for being found—while at the same time, she wants to throttle him in anger that he was lost in the first place.

Mary runs to her boy shouting, “Look what you’ve done to us! We’ve been worried sick! Why would you treat us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety! Jesus Christ, you scared me to death!”

Jesus turns and looks at his parents. “Oh, hi,” he calmly responds, “why are you searching for me? Three days? Has it been three days? What took you three days to find me? Didn’t you know this is where I’d be? Why wasn’t the temple the first place you looked not the last?”

What parent today would not desire that answer of their teenager gone missing for three days? Why are you looking at all my friend’s houses? Other relative houses? The mall? The playground or soccer field? Why wouldn’t you know that I’d be at the church?

It might sound like Jesus is a bit of a smarty pants in his reply to his parents, but what it is, Jesus doesn’t take on their anxiety—hey if you guys are worried—that’s your stuff—I’m right where I must be. Right where, if you knew me, you’d know where to find me. Jesus wasn’t being a smart aleck or disrespectful—he was being a non-anxious presence.

He didn’t respond to their anxiety with more anxiety. When an anxious person isn’t able to provoke you to join their anxiety, they are left alone to stew in it—they get more anxious—the text said,
“his parents did not understand what he said to them.”
It also said that,
“he returned home with them and was obedient to them.”

His anxious parents found Jesus in the temple—every year they went to the temple… Mary and Joseph and their relatives—aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, all the extended family did this every year. Jesus had done this for the last 12 years; they all travel together to the Passover festival.

The countryside alive with people on the move – it’s a family reunion— all the little ones playing together – the teenage cousins getting away from the others — running ahead and hiding behind bushes and rocks, jumping out and scaring others. Laughing and running off again. It was a festival — it was family — it was whole villages traveling — Mary and Joseph had traveled all day without a worry about Jesus because he was with the village, the aunts and uncles, the neighbors and friends. And the annual trip to Jerusalem was a time these country kids got to see the Temple of God—majestic, larger than any building in their peasant villages. It was a thin place where God and man encountered one another. It was the place of the most learned priests and scribes and prophets gathered.

Jesus went this year and it was different—he was more than just another year older—he was 12, the age in which young Jewish boys entered an adult realm of faith. His parents found him in the temple—siting amongst the teachers—listening to the teachers and asking questions, and all who heard him were amazed.

If you have children or are around children—if you have a teenager or are around many teenagers—you know that is a true statement.

Young people can ask the most amazing questions, especially when it comes to theology. I’ll tell you, a 4-year-old can stump a preacher almost every time with theology questions. It’s amazing. Our youth can listen to a bible story or a news story—they can sniff around in it—they can turn it upside down and inside out—they can ask some amazing questions of depth and challenge applying beliefs to practice. Applying abstract to everyday life.

That’s the way we learn. That’s how our faith develops and spiritual development deepens, by exploring, asking, listening, in community with one another.

The previous reference to Jesus was at his circumcision, 8-days-old, the passage ends: “and the child grew in wisdom and in stature.”

Here we meet him 12 years later, he has heard the stories of his faith recited around the family gatherings, told at meal times, taught by parents and teachers—he knows the teachings of his faith—because he has been taught them—he has been given a chance to mature his faith and his connection to the Holy God of Israel through faith practices of studying scripture, and prayers and going to temple.

This section ends with those same words his infancy story ended—he returns to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph—and he increased in wisdom and in years…

It would be another 18 years or so before Jesus began his public ministry. Some say he underwent great travels to wisdom teachers in far—away lands in those years; maybe he stayed close to home learning and working his trade, we do not know. But we know that he increased in wisdom as those years passed—he didn’t stay with his 3-year-old faith teachings, or his 12-year-old understandings, he continued to mature his faith.

Eighteen or so years later he stepped into the River Jordan, experienced the Holy Spirit, wrestled with his calling, and returned to his hometown to proclaim the Good news of God’s justice. And there he was met with a lot of anxious people—who didn’t understand him or particularly like what he was saying about the poor getting good news (cause that’s usually bad news for the rich). Or about the captives being released (because the owners liked owning). Or the oppressed going free…

As a matter of fact, after Jesus’ first sermon, the people were so anxious they were filled with rage and they tried to hurl him off a cliff. He calmly walked away.

He spent maybe 3 more years after that on these yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem. He spent time transitioning from pupil to teacher, storyteller, healer, community organizer, prophet—he spent time in prayer and scripture…

His ministry is full of conflict and challenge. Anxiety swirled about him as those teachers, priests and religious leaders who were once amazed by his questions and answers became fearful of him.

Jesus garnered support, drew people to him with astounding charisma (of the Spirit), taught lessons of grace and mercy, challenged people to live out more love than was ever comfortable. Turned the society, cultural norms upside down and inside out. He knew his teachings against greed and pride and revenge and violence would make the authorities unsettled.

Finally, he knew that his ministry would so threatened the folks in power that they would kill him. Even then, he remained the non-anxious presence—calming going on teaching and healing, feeding and loving, including the outcasts, and caring for the marginalized. Knowing that the world would kill him for it, he continued and he grew in wisdom and in stature.

You see, you can’t face the crucifixions in this world with a kindergarten faith.

It’s hard to be a non-anxious, peaceful presence in the face of fearful anxious people if you haven’t spent years developing, strengthening, deepening ones connection to the holy… It’s hard to face the tough times of life and death, conflict and confrontation, violence and threats, gossip and vengeance seekers, without deep roots to draw from.

Faith education is how we sink our roots deep to carry us through conflict and struggle. Worshiping together is how we nourish and grow in days of joy and in those of sorrow. Small groups to sit with teachers and one another, to practice deep listening and asking amazing questions—from 3-years-old to 103—that’s how we survive and live in this world. Intentional and mindful. Peaceful and calm.

Jesus grew his faith—from gathered community, from prayer, from study, from experience with God… if Jesus grew—the way of Jesus requires us to do the same.

Let it be so.