Searching and Seeking
(Luke 2: 41-52)
I’ve done a lot of scary and exhilarating things in my life, especially as a police officer, searching dark buildings, foot chases with fleeing felons, high-speed pursuits, and looking down the business end of someone else’s gun. But none of that compared to standing, as an attorney, before an appellate court defending your position on a court case ruling you were appealing. I remember one time when the opposing attorney and I were sitting in the courtroom waiting for the judges to take the bench. We could hear low murmuring and conversation coming from chambers when all of a sudden, we heard one judge clearly proclaim: Well, if you’re ready, let’s go and I’ll lead the attack! I don’t if they knew we could hear them and were doing it to scare us, but it worked. Fortunately, it was the case before ours they were talking about and they really laid into one poor, unfortunate, ill-prepared attorney. The usual procedure was for you to state your point or points and then explain why they had merit or why the other attorney’s point or points were meritless. As you were making your case, the judges would interrupt you and ask you questions that, hopefully, you had anticipated. It can be quite intimidating to be up before a panel of judges who have been there and done that. No matter how hot it gets, you can’t let them see you sweat. I remember my first appellate argument. I had a strong case and felt very confident until one of the judges asked me why I hadn’t raised my client’s absence at trial as a point of appeal. I figured that because he had voluntarily absented himself on the day of trial there wasn’t much to argue. Seeing the trap, I just said I hadn’t even considered it. The judge appeared surprised at my honesty and allowed me to continue. The point is that these instances were teachable moments for me as a lawyer as I endeavored to get a better understanding of the law and, therefore, become a better trial lawyer.
This is where we find ourselves in today’s scripture reading, Jesus’ teachable moment. According to God’s law, every male was required to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals. The Feast of Passover was a celebration commemorating the night the Jews escaped from Egypt, when God had killed the Egyptian firstborn but had passed over the Israelite homes. We learn that each year Jesus, his parents and probably his other siblings went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When Jesus was 12, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom, and when the festival was over the family began the journey back to Nazareth. Unbeknownst to Joseph and Mary, Jesus stayed behind. They didn’t miss him, as they thought he was safe traveling with the large group of pilgrims. At the end of the first full day of traveling they began looking for him. When they couldn’t find him within the caravan, and nobody recalled seeing him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of looking, they found him in the temple. They were amazed at what they observed. Jesus was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. We are told that when his parents saw him, they were astonished.
To fully grasp the significance of this incident, you have to put it in its proper perspective. First, Jesus was 12 which is an awkward age. You’re somewhere between being a child and becoming an adult. It’s a transitional age for young Jewish boys. Second, the temple courts were famous throughout Judea as a place of learning and during Passover, the greatest rabbis of the land would assemble to teach and discuss great truths among themselves. The coming Messiah would no doubt have been a popular discussion topic, for everyone was expecting him soon. Jesus would have been eager to listen and ask probing questions. We learned in the reading that all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. You can just imagine these learned rabbis responding to the questions of Jesus and then asking him questions in return, marveling at his responses and understanding. I have no doubt that when he left with his mother and father, the rabbis asked who this young boy was and were amazed to learn he was the son of a simple carpenter from Nazareth and not the son of a prominent Jewish scholar or Pharisee. It wasn’t his youth, but the depth of his wisdom, that astounded these teachers. We learn that Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Regarding this passage, John Wesley, the founder of our denomination, observed: It plainly follows, that though a man were pure, even as Christ was pure, still he would have room to increase in holiness, and, in consequence thereof, to increase in the favor as well as in the love of God. Additionally, the writer of the Book of Hebrews in Chapter 5, verses 7-9, tells us that during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. The writer is describing the days of his flesh where he learned the ropes of his faith, deepening his understanding, learning his calling, and forming his faith.
This is what Bishop Robert Schnase, the author of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, calls Intentional Faith Development. He tells us that Christian disciples strive to develop faith and grow in Christ-likeness through study and learning, and God is best able to form disciples when people do this together. John Wesley realized that growth in faith does not come easily or automatically but, requires placing ourselves in community to learn the faith with others. By becoming part of a learning, listening, serving community, we place ourselves in circumstances that are most advantageous for growth in faith. We notice how God is at work in places and people beyond our own experience, and this inspires, motivates, and strengthens our faith, propelling us to learn and grow in still more new ways. Intentionally learning in community is our way of placing ourselves in the hands of God so that God can sculpt our souls and re-create us in the image of Christ.
So where do we start? Where’s the best place to intentionally develop our faith? Where was the last place Mary and Joseph looked for their child? Exactly! In church! Pastors hear it all the time. Excuses like, I had a bad experience with church once. Really? One bad experience and you wrote off church forever? I got a bad hamburger at a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant forty years ago but that didn’t stop me from trying other burger joints! Or, I’m taking a break from church. Really? How would you feel if God took a break from you? My favorite, I’m not into organized religion. Strange, the only problem Jesus had with organized religion was that it wasn’t doing for the people, God’s people, what it was intended to do. I tell these people that if God only wanted one church in a community, there’d only be one. If your church isn’t feeding you spiritually, or walking the talk, find out why and if you are not satisfied with the answer, either do something or shop other churches.
The point is, if we are going to do the work and will of God, we have to make the effort to learn about God and strive for a clearer understanding of what God wants for us and what God wants us to do for the least, the last and the lost. Ideas change people, and people change people; and God uses both together to work on our belief and to shape our lives in the image of Christ.
So, where’s a good place to start? John Wesley was big on small groups or, as he called them, classes. Do we have classes? Yes, we do, but we need more. We have our Sunday morning Learning Circle but there is no reason why we can’t have more. Interested in a topic or issue? Let us know and we’ll see what we can do to put a class together. Better yet, we have a class starting on Tuesday, January 8th, led by Rev. Dale Kelley, called United Methodism 101. Every Tuesday in January for four weeks the class will meet at noon to enjoy a home-cooked hot lunch and engage in lively, interactive discussions where you will learn more about John Wesley, the founder of our denomination. Materials will be provided at no cost and all are welcome to participate even if you can’t make every class.
The example Jesus set as a 12-year-old boy is an invitation for us to continue our own search for depth and greater maturity in our faith journey. Your church, your community of faith, is a place to ask questions, find answers, explore, discern, seek and search. A place of intentional faith development.
Please pray with me.
Loving and all-knowing God, move us to develop our faith and grow in Christ-likeness through studying your word and learning together in a faith community so that we may be inspired, motivated and strengthened in our faith which will propel us to learn and grow in still more ways. As we learn, listen and serve, place us in circumstances that create more opportunities for growth in our faith. Change us so we may work to change people so that we may all work together on our beliefs and to shape our lives in the image of your son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.