Sermon December 27, 2015
I can’t imagine anyone sitting here who hasn’t lost something in your life. You know that frantic feeling that says, “I must find it.” Suddenly everything else disappears as you retrace your steps and look everywhere you can think to look. It’s tough to lose something. It’s worse to lose a person. How many of you know that feeling? Anyone ever lost a person? Most parents have a story of losing a child somewhere – usually a busy, crowded place. One of ours is at the Balloon Fiesta Park. I’m guessing most of us have stories of lost loved ones and it doesn’t take much for us to recall our feelings as we bargained with God while we searched. If we are looking to the Bible to help us navigate family life, we don’t get many stories to show us the way. We have the birth story from a few days ago and now Jesus is a twelve year old. That leaves a lot to the imagination…
What were Jesus’ first words?
What did he like to eat?
Did he have a favorite lullaby?
What was his favorite subject in school?
Did he like sports, art, music, reading, video games?
It’s a big bummer that we go from birth to this to adulthood. This is the only story in the New Testament that refers to Jesus youth. This is it! It’s a little odd for most of us. Jesus has gone with his family and community to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. The community sets out for home and they have gone a whole day when Mary and Joseph realize Jesus is not with them. It is likely that there was a large group traveling together and many of the kids were together. The kids didn’t want to walk near the adults so it would take them awhile to notice that Jesus was nowhere to be found. They begin retracing their steps and go all the way to the temple where they find Jesus calmly talking with the teachers. They say, “Don’t you know we were worried about you?” Jesus says, “Why? I’m just talking with the teachers.” His tone isn’t clear here. We don’t know if he rolled his eyes at them or if he looked at them confused that they didn’t know that he had to be in the temple. I’m guessing my own teenagers often feel confused that I don’t get why they are doing what they do. I’m also guessing they just get used to adults who don’t get it.
So perhaps one of our growing pains as human beings is to pay attention to one another long enough to get what is behind the words and behind the actions. That takes more patience that many of us have. Yet it seems important to stick with one another long enough to get there. How many misunderstandings could be avoided if we just listened a bit more instead of jumping to our own conclusions?
Can we choose to be compassionate even when we don’t understand? I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a parent to a kid like Jesus. You know from the beginning that he isn’t just any kid. One of the tasks we have as humans is finding a way to honor each person in our path and learning from them. It seems clear in this story that the elders are learning from Jesus as he learns from them. I have always enjoyed seeing the world through the eyes of children and youth.
You have heard me talk about Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Lutheran pastor from Denver who is covered in tattoos and is super strong because she is devoted to Crossfit. She doesn’t censor her language at all and she connects with people because she is real. Nadia was asked to speak at a massive youth gathering in the Superdome. She said no until they twisted her arm enough that she gave in, but she knew that the teenagers weren’t going to think she was cool. She got on the plane sleep deprived from fear fantasizing about becoming deathly ill so she could get out of this gig. A teenager with pink bangs sat down next to her and pulled out her Anime comic and sketchpad. She glanced toward Nadia and said, “Nice tattoos.” Nadia asked what she was drawing and then told her that her daughter Harper also likes to draw. The girl asked if her tattoos hurt. Nadia asked what kind of tattoo she would get if she could.
The girl named Chloe began to tell Nadia about her life – not knowing who her dad was, the restraining order against her sister who hurt her badly. Nadia finally asked if she was going to the Lutheran gathering. Surprised, she said yes and explained that she didn’t want to come on this trip because she doesn’t fit. Nadia said she understood because she doesn’t either. They hugged as they got off the plane and Chloe gave her a drawing she had done of Nadia.
When she got up to speak, she couldn’t see anything because the lights were so bright, but she said she knew who she was talking to because before she walked onto the stage, she looked at the drawing that Chloe had done of her. She knew she was talking to a bunch of teens who might understand her story of how she didn’t fit. She told them about her sordid past and that many of their parents didn’t want her talking to them. She said she shouldn’t be allowed to talk to them and then she said, “That’s the God we are dealing with…the God who has always used the wrong people.” She went on to say that “God will use you, all of you, not just your strengths, but your failures and your failings.” (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, pp. 34-38)
As I hear that story, I think that if God wants to use our failings and our failures, perhaps we should find a way to accept them as well. It’s funny that we work so hard to cover up and hide our vulnerability and mistakes. The thing is that those can be the places where we really connect with one another. Every once in a while in a group discussion, someone will say something piercingly honest. When that happens, I feel the collective intake of breath and then the relief that we really can be real here. I am always grateful for the one who is willing to open the door because it makes space for others to do the same. Church should be the place where we can be real and know that we will be embraced.
Today is the last Sunday of the year. The next time we gather in this sanctuary, it will be 2016. Today is the day to gather up all of 2015 – those beautiful moments that you want to last forever and those painful moments that you wish you could erase from your memory – and offer it to God who will use it all in some way. It is not our job to decide what God can use. It is our job to open ourselves to God’s goodness, which is always more than we can fathom. It is our job to embrace the goodness and brokenness of those around us and to know that it is all something God can use. Remember who this kid named Jesus grew up to be…someone who inspired us with his wisdom and healing ability, but someone who touches us deeply in his brokenness. Becoming human was the way God showed us how all of our lives could be used. God takes it all and makes something beautiful and life giving of it.