Sermon 01-05-14: “My Father’s Business”

January 13, 2014
Here I am on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem back in 2011. The Holy Family made an annual pilgrimage here during Passover, as we see in today's scripture.

Here I am on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem back in 2011. The Holy Family made an annual pilgrimage here during Passover, as we see in today’s scripture.

In today’s scripture, Jesus does something unexpected, causes a lot of stress in the lives of people who love him, and tells them something that they don’t understand. When it comes to following Jesus, what else is new?

We want the Lord to fit into our plans, to operate according to our calendars, and to follow us. Fortunately for us, the Lord gives us what we need, not what we want. His way is always much better!

Sermon Text: Luke 2:41-52

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Back in 2008, a newspaper columnist in New York made national headlines after telling her readers that she left her nine-year-old son alone at the original Bloomingdale’s department store in New York City. She gave him nothing but a subway map, a transit card, a twenty dollar bill, and some quarters in case he needed to use a pay phone. She didn’t even give him a cellphone. And she said, “Have fun. See you later.” And she went home and left him there. The child wanted to be left alone. He’d made this same trip across town with his mom dozens of times, and he assured her that he knew his way home.

Besides, if he got lost, she said she trusted him to ask a stranger for help. “And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, ‘Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.’”

Long story short, she said, he got home safely, “ecstatic with independence.”

Parents, how does that make you feel? Uneasy? Nervous? Angry? She said some of her critics wanted to turn her in for child abuse!

I can relate to their concerns. Is there anything more frightening than having your child get lost? Not being able to find your child? I’ve only had fleeting moments when I was separated from one of my children in a public place and it was scary! My heart dropped.

So we can probably all relate to the panic and fear that Mary and Joseph felt when they realized, at the end of the first day of a three-day journey from Jerusalem to Nazareth, that Jesus wasn’t with them! Imagine how they felt for the next couple of days, frantically retracing their steps searching for him.

Our first reaction might be, “How could Mary and Joseph let this happen?” Well, things were different back then. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were traveling with a large group of extended family, friends, and neighbors. They didn’t worry about Jesus because if he wasn’t with them, then he would have been with other family, with aunts and uncles, with neighbors, with cousins and friends.

Ugh. I could easily see this happening… Just like I can see Mary and Joseph being angry at Jesus: “Why have you treated us like this? Don’t you know we’ve been looking for you? We’ve been worried sick!” My children will happily tell you that my particular parenting style is more like, yell first and then ask questions later.

Regardless, Jesus responds to his parents in a very strange way: Instead of running up to them with tears in his eyes, hugging them, telling them how much he missed them and how sorry he was, Jesus says something very confusing: “Why were you looking for me? Don’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Or, the King James translates it better: “I must be about my Father’s business.” It says in verse 50, that they didn’t understand what he was talking about.”

So… Jesus does something unexpected, he causes a lot of stress in the lives of people who love him, and he tells them something that they don’t understand.

When it comes to following Jesus, what else is new?

See, Jesus never fits very neatly into any category, or any box, in which we try to place him. For example, among people of other faiths, among people of no faith at all, among skeptics and atheists, and even among nominal Christians who haven’t darkened the doors of church in years, Jesus is often placed into the category of “great moral teacher,” or the the category of “religious leader,” alongside Buddha or Muhammad, or—my favorite—the category of first-century hippie who went around preaching peace, love, freedom, and, yes, tolerance. You can read all about that kind of Jesus in the Christianity section of the “Huffington Post” online.

The point is, we all want to make Jesus into our image, instead of letting Jesus make us into his. I hate to say this but we see this same problem even in our United Methodist slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Jesus was not open-minded. At all. Having an open mind when it comes to God’s Word, for instance, is only a virtue when we’re unclear what God’s Word is telling us. As soon as we figure out what our Lord is telling us in his Word, then we’re supposed to close our minds. Honestly, let’s follow Mary’s example in today’s scripture. She didn’t necessarily like what Jesus told her, but she “treasured it up in her heart.” She didn’t necessarily agree with what he said, but she treasured it up in her heart. It didn’t make perfect sense to her, but she still treasured it up in her heart.

We Methodists need to be a people who treasure up God’s Word in our hearts whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, or whether it makes sense to us or not. When given a choice between siding with our culture and siding with this very counter-cultural book called the Bible, we choose the Bible!

The trouble is when you actually read what Jesus—the real Jesus—says, well… He’s often not what we expect him to be. He’s confounding and bothersome and difficult and meddling: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Huh? “I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze!” Say what? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Are you kidding, Jesus?

Recently, I read an atheist critic of Christianity who said he didn’t think Jesus was a great teacher at all: he thought Jesus’ teaching was downright offensive. And I give this skeptic credit for taking seriously what Jesus actually said. Because Jesus talks about sin a lot. He talks about God’s judgment a lot. He talks about hell a lot. And far from being one way to God among many ways, Jesus says that he is the only way… And far from being merely the way to God, Jesus says that he is God.

Who is this Jesus? He’s not what the world expects him to be.

And even among us disciples, who love him and follow him, Jesus is someone who will defy our expectations, confound us, say things we don’t understand, and cause us a great deal of stress.

I used to think that following Jesus was especially difficult for people like me—who answered God’s call into ministry. “If you answer God’s call ministry, look out! It’s going to be tough. Satan is going to bring out the big guns, and you’re going to have a giant target on your back.” And I still believe that, but not so fast: you see, all of us who’ve placed our faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord have answered God’s call into ministryor at least that’s what we’re supposed to have done. Whether we’re called to be pastors or not, we’re all called to be ministers.

My point is, following our Lord… going where he sends us… doing what he wants us to do—that’s for all of us, not merely the chosen few. And being obedient in this way is hard.

It was hard that night when Jesus told his disciples that they needed to cross the Sea of Galilee to the opposite shore. So they got in the boat and started sailing to the other side when a storm comes up. Their little fishing boat is getting swamped. They’re fighting wind and wave, bailing water, afraid for their lives. They just know they’re going to drown. Meanwhile, what is the Lord doing? He’s asleep in the stern of the boat. It doesn’t seem right! Why is he sleeping? And like Mary and Joseph in today’s scripture, the disciples are angry at him: They woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And how does Jesus respond? After calming the storm, he says, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have faith yet?”

In the face of his disciples’ fear, and in the face of his parents’ fear, Jesus basically says, “Why were you afraid? I know what I’m doing. Trust me.”

After all, who was in charge in both of these situations—both in the Temple with Mary and Joseph and on the stormy sea with his disciples? Not Mary and Joseph… Not the disciples… Not the great teachers to whom Jesus was listening and asking questions of. Not the threatening wind and waves of this seemingly random storm…

No, in both situations, Jesus Christ was completely in charge!

And he’s in charge today, and he has everything under his control, and he knows what’s best for us, and he’s taking care of us, and he’s always loving us, and he’s not going to abandon us, and he’s not going to give up on us. Ever, ever, ever! So we don’t have to worry! Can I get an Amen?

See, the disciples asked an interesting question: “Don’t you care that we’re perishing here?” Or, in the case of Mary and Joseph: “Don’t you care that we were worried sick? Don’t you care about us, Jesus? Don’t you love us?” As if they were really saying, “Jesus… Let me explain something to you. I know that you’re God; I know that I’m supposed to let you be the Lord of my life; I know that you’re supposed to call the shots in my life; I know that I’m supposed to follow you; I know that when you say, ‘Do this,’ I’m supposed to do it, and when you say, ‘Don’t do that,’ I’m not supposed to do it, and when you say, ‘Go there,’ I’m supposed to go.

“And I know that when I went through confirmation class or when I got baptized, I stood up and told you and the church that I was agreeing to do all that. But the truth is, Lord, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea it was going to be this hard! Can’t you just do things my way? Can’t you just operate according to my schedule? Can’t you just follow my plans? Can’t you just go where I go? And no matter where I go, can’t you just always be there for me, right where I expect you to be—in that little corner of my life that I’ve marked off especially for you? Not 20 miles away back in Jerusalem in the Temple… Not sleeping in the back of the boat when I’m in the midst of a huge crisis.

“If you loved me, Lord, you would do all of that for me… If you loved me.”

To which our Lord might say: “You don’t get it… If I’m 20 miles away from you, or I’m sleeping in the midst of this terrifying storm, or I’m letting you go through all of this and experience all of that, it’s only because I love you. It’s not in spite of the fact that I love you that I’m letting you suffer or struggle, it’s because I love you. It’s for your own good!” Mary and Joseph had something to learn that was good for them; the disciples on the boat had something to learn that was good for them. They didn’t have to understand why this was happening, only that it was for their good, if they could only trust the Lord.

C.S. Lewis wrote about the unpopular but very biblical idea that God disciplines or even punishes his children. He said,

I used to think it was a “cruel” doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were “punishments” [or discipline]. But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a “punishment,” it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.[1]

I think he’s exactly right. This little bit of pain that Mary and Joseph experienced with their 12-year-old boy was just the beginning of their painful and difficult journey of discipleship, especially for Mary, who, unlike Joseph, lived to see Jesus’ adult ministry, his Passion, and his death on the cross.

But I’m sure Joseph experienced his share of pain as well: When Jesus told his parents, “I must be in my Father’s house,” or “I must be about my Father’s business,” I wonder if that didn’t hurt Joseph’s feelings a little? I wonder if it reminded Joseph again that he wasn’t Jesus’ true father; that he was only his adoptive father?

I hope it didn’t hurt his feelings because I know, as a child who was adopted myself, that there is no such thing as being “only” an adoptive father. In fact, notice that Luke tells us here that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” There’s much mystery here, but think about this: When the Word became flesh, when God the Son became human, he was still fully God. But as God, he accepted all the limitations that go along with being human—except he was without sin. So when Jesus was born a baby, he didn’t have the mind of the adult Jesus we see later in the gospels; he wasn’t lying in the manger, biding his time, thinking to himself, “I’ll pretend to be a baby right now, but just wait until I get older, and I can show the world who I really am!” No, he was really a baby, and he had to grow and mature just like any other child, as Luke tells us here.

Since that’s the case, consider this: Jesus was the kind of man he was, in part, because Joseph was the kind of man that Joseph was, and Mary was the kind of woman that Mary was. God the Father chose these two human beings to be Jesus’ earthly parents because he knew that they could help shape and mold Jesus into the kind of man that he would later become. Think about that awesome responsibility that they had in God’s salvation story.

Brothers and sisters, if you’re a parent, think about this: if even our Lord—who came into the world having the closest possible connection with his heavenly Father—if even healso needed godly parents to mold him and shape him into the man that he would become, what does that say about what our own children need? I mean, I have a 12-year-old boy, and he’s the apple of my eye and I love him, and I’d gladly lay down my life for him, but he ain’t Jesus!

But I promise you, I sure would like to be a father like Joseph, because I’m sure that Jesus was a chip off the old block! Dads, wouldn’t you like to be a dad like Joseph? Isn’t that a worthy goal?

God has entrusted us parents with an awesome responsibility. God has given us our children so that we can mold and shape them. Being followers of Jesus means that, like Jesus, we must also be about our Father’s business. And, brothers and sisters, the most important part of that business is raising Christian children, who will one day answer the call for themselves to give their lives to Jesus Christ. Amen? The most important work of evangelism, therefore, is the work that we do at home.

So how are we doing as parents?

And this church must also be “about our Father’s business.” So let’s not get too comfortable where we are now. Let’s not get complacent. Let’s not take for granted, like Mary and Joseph, that just because we’re here, well, the Lord must also be around here somewhere. No, we’re supposed to be following the Lord, and he might be out there, waiting for us to catch up with him!

Waiting for us to join him in going about his Father’s business. That’s why we’re here. Amen?

[1] C.S. Lewis, “Money Trouble,” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1123.

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