Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Growing Pains

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
The Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 14, 2017)
Luke 2:41-52 – “Growing Pains”

When I was planning this service, “Celebrate the Gifts of Children and Youth Sunday,” along with Barbara and Katie, I asked them if they wanted to go with the Scripture reading that’s on the Narrative Lectionary calendar or if they wanted to pick something else. We landed on this story from Luke’s gospel about what some people call—and by some people, I mean me—call “Teenage Jesus.” Even though lectionaries give us this story right after Christmas, it’s not a bad choice for Children and Youth Sunday or Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, is it?

This is the only episode we have in the gospels about Jesus’ childhood. Texts that didn’t make into the New Testament canon (like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas) have stories about him resuscitating childhood friends and making clay birds come to life, but this is what we’re left with on the official list. It’s still an interesting story that people of all ages can learn from. Let’s listen for God’s wisdom and word…

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom. After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple. He 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. When his parents saw him, they were shocked.

His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand what he said to them.

Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart. He matured in wisdom and years, in favor with God and with people.

It’s hard to pick up on the tone of conversation through the written word, so it can be kind of fun to imagine what that dialogue between Mary and Jesus sounded like.

Mary: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”

Jesus: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”

What did that sound like? Is Mary shouting at the top of her lungs? “WHAT IN THE WORLD HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU, SON?!”

Or is she speaking in that slow, steady, eerily soft-spoken tone of voice? “We’ve been in a panic, searching all over Jerusalem for you?

Is Joseph red hot? Is that vein bulging out of his forehead, steam coming out of his ears?

I mean… missing for three whole days; four if you count the day they were headed back to Nazareth from Jerusalem, the one day it took them to realize he was missing. Can you imagine? I tried when I was thinking about this story during the week. My Mom and Dad headed back to Macon from Atlanta and, when they’re halfway down I-75, discovering I wasn’t in the caravan.

“He was back there at Central Presbyterian Church at their homeless shelter the whole time!”

“What has gotten into you?!” I can imagine Suzann Smith hollerin’ at me.

“But Mom… God has called me to this. Didn’t you know I’m supposed to grow up to be a Presbyterian minister with a passion for urban outreach?”

Let me tell you: I wouldn’t have survived the trip back home…

Maybe you can relate to this story, too. Maybe you can imagine yourself in the sandals of one or all of the characters in it. The parent scared to death that their child has gone missing. The headstrong kid who feels like he’s misunderstood. The elders in the faith community who are genuinely interested in what this young person has to say, wowed by her wisdom. There’s room for all of us in this text. And thus you can choose any number of angles to explore its meaning.

Consider one angle in particular, though. This is a story about the growing pains of faith.

Luke tries really hard to convey that this is a very observant, First Century Jewish family. “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.” They’re very devout. In that culture, the age of manhood was 13, so Jesus is still a child at this point, yet steeped in his faith.

Son of God considerations aside, it’s clear that, even though Jesus’ family and culture had shared with him the inheritance of their faith—rearing him in it, guiding him in how to pray, showing him how to observe the rituals, telling and retelling him the sacred stories—this young person has his own relationship with the Holy One. It’s bound up with his family and tradition and probably his synagogue back home, but it’s still his own connection with God. And that can be hard for some parents and children. Children go off on their own spiritual path, one that their parents might not have chosen for them.

An Episcopal priest friend of mine said he used to tell the parents of children who were agreeing to the promises of Baptism—to raise their child in the church, to teach them to follow Jesus—that, “You know, your kid might grow up to be a different kind of Christian than an Episcopalian, say one of those people who stands with a sandwich board that say, ‘Repent! The end is near!’ Are you prepared for that?”

Or maybe you’re from a family that never grew up in church. You feel lost that you don’t know the songs, or understand the insider terminology. You’re really drawn to faith, almost like it’s a tug at the heart or an instinct in your gut, but you don’t know what to make of it. You have no frame of reference from childhood and it just feels “off.”

Or maybe you grew up in a fundamentalist household. You’re passionate about a Christianity grounded in acceptance of all people and aimed at the common good, but you still hear your Sunday school teacher in the back of your mind, injecting doubt into the faith of your adulthood.

Or maybe you’re sitting here Sunday after Sunday, wishing your kids saw the same value you do in being part of a faith community. You felt like you did everything right– you brought them to church, got them to sign up for Confirmation classes, prayed at meals, or whatever, yet it didn’t “stick,” as they say. They’re wonderful people who are trying to live as ethical human beings, but there’s a missing ingredient, or so you feel. Or maybe not, maybe that’s fine with you.

Or maybe you’re a young person now. You like being here with your friends. Maybe you even like coming with your family to church. You are drawn to the stories about Jesus, or you can really feel God when you’re out in nature, or prayer actually helps you calm down when you do it your way. Or maybe you don’t even think about these things during the week, but when you come to St. Mark’s, you feel loved and cherished just as you are.

Or maybe all of the above, or none of the above.

The point is that what we see here in this frantic and tense episode from Jesus life is true for all our lives. We belong to God, each of us individually and all of us together. That’s the core truth of Baptism: as children of God of whatever age, God is at work in all of our lives, even we can’t see or feel or know it. God is with us in the growing pains of faith, working out God’s good purposes, whether we are fully committed to faith, revelling in our time in the Temple, or not.

And another truth: we all have a role to play in these growing pains. The anxious, frustrated parents and the proud ones who see their children living into their own created identities. The kids who are adopt the faith of their parents and those who go their own way. The teachers in the Temple, those who say Sunday after Sunday, with gusto, “God loves you… and so do we” and mean it, those who give of their time in Sunday school and at intergenerational events. You never know how God might use you, in big or small ways, to shape the life of young person.

And younger people, that’s a two-way street, by the way: you have a role to play in who these adults are becoming. They learn from you, too.

“Jesus Christ calls us to be joyful community that celebrates God’s love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.” That’s what our purpose statement says. We help one another other hear and follow Christ’s call as a community—in everything from our homebound members who smile when the kids make them cookies and cards at Christmas to when one of our young adult former members said he’s still could hear those words recited Sunday after Sunday in his childhood, “Go out into the world in peace… support the weak, honor everyone…” while working at an orphanage in Nepal. We all have a role to play in living into who God has called each of us to be.

If you’re a youth or child, let me hear you say to all the older adults in the room:

“God’s loves you, and so do we!”

If you’re an adult, let me hear you say to all the youth and children in the room:

“God’s loves you, and so do we!”

May it be so…