Misplacing Jesus

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
December 30, 2018
Scripture: Luke 2:41-52
Sermon: “Misplacing Jesus”

Every year Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn’t know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.
The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.
His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”
He said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” But they had no idea what he was talking about.
So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

Lawton, Oklahoma, 1990— I was stationed at Ft. Sill and voluntold to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army at the nearby mall. Life offers a totally different perspective one as the bell ringer— you attempt to make eye contact with every passerby, jumping in their path if needed, and as a last resort, gaining the passer-by’s attention by belting out, “Merry Christmas.” It could get really lonely at times, standing there, people walking out of their way to avoid you. So when a person begins talking to you, no matter what they say, you welcome the company.

I remember the fellow well— upon his head was a John Deere cap. My first impression was that he must be an auto mechanic-he wore heavy grayish coveralls and his nametag indicated his name was James. He had just seen a movie at the mall and decided that I wanted to hear all about it.

“So there’s this family with all these kids and they go to Paris for Christmas and the mom freaks out on the plane because she realizes she left one of her kids at home.” I try to imagine the scene in my mind and ask: “How do you forgot one of your kids?”

James explained how the drama unfolded of a movie that had just come out in theaters that would go on to be one of the biggest Christmas movies of all time, Home Alone. I couldn’t get how a mom could just forget her child, so I found a friend who was around during the Thanksgiving Holidays— he was an exchange officer from Djibouti and shared my disbelief about how a family could just forget their kid.

I think it takes seeing the movie to truly understand the chaos that can lead to a child being overlooked and left at home…alone.

We remember from our own child-hoods a time we got lost, or as adults, when we’ve lost kids. Middletown, NY–a town not too far away from New York City, I was a very tired mom— Luke just turned one, Carly was five, Vince was deployed and I was taking care of my mom who lived with us. It was October and she had moved from Houston and needed a warm coat. So we ventured to Burlington Coat Factory…. Luke was what I call a very speedy fearless toddler. At some point, distracted by trying to find a warm coat, I realized Luke was nowhere to be found. Thinking he may have sprinted out of the store to the nearby Chuck E Cheese’s, I asked the guy smoking a cigarette outside if a little boy wearing a Cookie Monster sweatshirt raced out of the store, but he said no. By this time security had been called. After what seemed like an eternity, Carly found her brother. He was buried in the display of hundreds of Curious George stuffed animals fast asleep, clutching this exact one.

Chaos. Christmas. Kids. Twelve years after the holy night of the birth of Jesus, which involved angels and shepherds and travelers from the East in the crowded town of Bethlehem, nothing is known about the childhood of Jesus except this story told by the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is now twelve and Mary and Joseph can’t find him. For three days, they search.

What if the story told by Luke metaphorically aims to communicate that it is not Jesus who is lost, but the parents, Mary and Joseph?

We lost Carly when she was ten in, ironically, The Lost City of Atlantis. Losing your daughter in the Bahamas by the ocean definitely results in a frantic search. Yet she was where she was supposed to be— waiting for us in our room. That led to a Lindenmeyer family rule— always return to the last place you remember being together . A year later, we lost Luke, again, when he was seven years old at Universal Studios in Orlando. After 30 minutes of frantic running all over looking for him, Carly calmly reminded us of the Lindenmeyer family rule and Luke was exactly where he was supposed to be— the last place we were all together, the Information Center.

After three days of looking for Jesus, Mary and Joseph return to the Temple, the last place they were all together, and there is Jesus.

His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”

Jesus said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?”

Jesus was home at his Spiritual Father’s House, the Temple, right where he was supposed to be… but Mary and Joseph had no idea what he was talking about.

And sometimes I wonder if we are like Mary and Joseph— and have no idea what Jesus is talking about. We think we know, we think we have found Jesus, and then at some point on our journey we lose Jesus. Tuesday we celebrated his birth, Emmanuel God With Us, and today we have misplaced Jesus.
I’ve lost Jesus many times in my life. I thought I was following Jesus— obeying all the commandments and laws, telling people that if they didn’t follow Jesus they would get lost too, only to realize that the Jesus I thought I was following was an imposter: It was the Jesus of Saving People From Their Sins. It was the Jesus of judgment and exclusion. It was the Jesus that Helps the American Economy. It was the Jesus of Patriarchal Paradigms. Too many times I get lost following “Made in America” Jesus.

Who is the Jesus that you follow?

Losing and finding Jesus can be a huge foundational theme in our lives. So many opportunities to worship and follow jealousy, anger, hurt, competition, success, and that often leads to falling in love with money or prescriptions or cynicism. And then comes that moment when, like the mom in Home Alone, the emotion of realizing the distance between us and the one whom our heart craves is quite far. Jesus is still there in the Temple— Jesus is faithful to the energy force of Love, but it is an energy that is far from predictable, which is why we may assume that once we understand Jesus, Jesus will be there like a security blanket for us, but when we treat Jesus like a puppy dog that will follow us everywhere, then we go on the road of spiritual stagnation before realizing we are the ones lost, far from home.

I relate to frantic Mary and Joseph and their emotional upheaval. Parents don’t get lost, the kids do… at least that is what seems logical.

But our world is not logical, otherwise children would not locked in cages separated from families. Our justice system is not logical, otherwise thinking harm will bring transformation would not fuel our concept of reform. Our treatment of the environment is not logical, otherwise we would consider the scientific evidence published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And sometimes I wonder how lost the Christian church is— have we misplaced Jesus?

We know all about the birth of Jesus, a few years of his life and the last week of his life, but this story in Luke is all we know about him between birth and baptism at age 30. The Lost Years of Jesus fascinate my imagination, and one of the theories I love— that the wise men from the East were Buddhists monks sent out to look for the reincarnation of the Buddha, known as the Dalai Lama. So when the star led them to Jesus, thinking he was the new Dalai Lama, Jesus was raised as a Buddhist.

Even if that story seems way too implausible, what is plausible is that Jesus was raised in Nazareth along a major travel route between the East and Jerusalem, and could have learned quite a bit about Buddhist teachings from travelers.

In his book, Jesus and Buddha, Marcus Borg explores how many of the sayings of Jesus echo those of the Buddha, who lived some 600 years earlier. When we let go of following Jesus imposters, we discover a Jesus who teaches ideas and concepts that would have impressed teachers at the Temple, for Jesus taught about non-dual consciousness and unity. Anytime division enters the church, know the church has misplaced Jesus.

The next sermon series explores the teachings of the Buddha to help us stay connected to the spiritual realm amidst our environment of online shopping and streaming entertainment; to help ease the frantic frenzy when experiencing separation from Jesus…..
Probably one of the most heartwarming scenes in Home Alone occurs when eight-year-old Kevin encounters imposter Santa. Kevin knows he isn’t the real Santa, and he just says “Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year, I just want my family back.”

I think it takes seeing Home Alone to truly understand why an eight-year-old would come to the point of such a profound statement. And I think it takes stillness and contemplation to fully find Jesus, for first we have to find ourselves. So to begin 2019, instead of New Year’s
Resolutions and guilt trips about losing Jesus, we no longer want to be lost. We just want our family back.