First Sunday of Epiphany
Delivered By
Pr. Lovett
Delivered On
January 8, 2012
Central Passage
Luke 2:41-52
+ Luke 2:41-52 +
In the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As is the way of all Scripture, this passage about the boy Jesus in Jerusalem does far more than just relay a story about Jesus when He was a boy.  The Bible is not just a book about God, simply relating data about the history of God and His people. It is God’s revelation about Himself.  Everything in the Bible is important and revealing of God. Nothing is incidental or accidental.  Not just what is said, but also the way things are said in the Bible is important.  We can read a thousand times over one passage from the holy authors and on the thousandth and one time be enlightened all the more about God.  For God is not like an object of science that can be studied and mastered and put back on the shelf for our use and pleasure.  God is greater than we are – far greater – and His revelation is without end even as He is without end.
The Bible, then, shouldn’t just be read like a novel or a textbook or any other book.  It should be submitted to.  It should be listened to with ears to hear, for in it and through it our Lord speaks to us and guides us into all truth.  It is the source for all teaching in the Church.  But again, the teaching is not just academic so that we can know a doctrine and check it off some laundry lists of do’s and don’t’s. The teaching is spiritual and revelatory about God.  The Scriptures open our minds to the will of God, to the life of God.  In it we find the Christ, who is the icon of God, and through it the Christ guides, instructs, enlightens, and re-creates us in His image.
Take, for example, Mary and Joseph in the gospel reading today.  Three days they looked for Jesus.  But He was hidden from them.  They were afraid and scared and filled with anger and indignation.  He was in His Father’s house.  After three days they found Him.  This reminds you of something.  By this gospel reading the Spirit leads you into all truth.  Fear. Jesus being hidden from people.  Three days.  His Father.  That’s right; it reminds you of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Scriptures teach us that even here when He was a boy of twelve, the is a pattern to Jesus’ life.  Nothing is accidental or incidental.  Let the Spirit show you in the pages and words of the Bible how great and majestic our God truly is.
When it seems that God is not with us, when we see that life ends in death and that before death is pain and suffering and all manner of evil, we begin to look for God just as Mary and Joseph looked for Jesus.  We begin to look for Him among our friends and relatives.  But He is not there – not for us.  So we move on to something holier, like Jerusalem, where we think it reasonable to find Him. We look for Him in religion, thinking we will find Him in our thoughts about God – even if those thoughts have nothing to do with Christ or the Scriptures.  We think we will find Him in our actions; that surely God is with us if we are kind and nice and good poeple.  But He is not in our thoughts and actions – not for us.  For us He is in His Father’s house.   We find Him here, risen from the dead and governing all things, Lord of heaven and earth.
His Father’s house is not a building made with hands, but is the Body of Christ, His Church.  The temple of the living God is made with living stones, not with stones of rock and mortar.  It is in Jerusalem, where there are saints of God.  But it is also in Washington DC, Mexico City, Afganistan, and even here in Hoisington.  Wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there He is in His Father’s house.  This is what the Bible teaches us. This is what God teaches us.
But so often we look for Jesus in places that He is not.   When we loose our way and we can’t find Him among us, we are apt to look for Him where He won’t be found. We find ourselves looking for Him in memories of when Sunday school was full, or when the church was filled.  But He is not in our memories.  We find ourselves looking for Him in pithy sayings and clichés like “God is love,” “live and let live” and “You just gotta have faith.” But God is not our love, which is broken and sinful. God doesn’t just let live, He invades and changes and redeems.  He is a consuming fire.  Often our faith is weak and puny, and is of little or no comfort.  But this is good because when our faith is weak and puny we cling all the more to Christ who is strong and mighty and of great comfort. In our weakness He is strong and our faith becomes great.
But these things – past memories and pithy clichés – these are really just us looking for God in our emotions; our feelings.  Mary was indignant, hurt, because Jesus had let her down. She was emotionally distraught.  Her emotions ruled her so that she rebuked Jesus when it was she that needed the rebuke: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” It is written, “Transform your minds,” not transform your emotions.
But we most often look for God in our emotions.  Consider how often we say to one another or think to ourselves, “It sure didn’t feel like God was in church today” or “When I worship there I just feel the presence of God.”  How many times do we tell the preacher that heart-felt and spontaneous sermons are better than written and read sermons? Why? Because they stir our emotions.  But I for one would rather the preacher preach the Word – even if dully – than simply preach what’s on his mind, no matter how energized and engaging he might be.  But most often we look to our emotions to find God or to be revitalized by Him.
The proof is in the pudding.  Consider how many churches and Christians “find” God when the emotional setting of a worship service is just right.  Consider the Christian pop music industry and how nine out of ten churches try to repeat it because of its effects. Emotions are strong, and elicit powerful responses.  You don’t have to know the words for a song to move you, which is why both believers and unbelievers can be moved by a great rock concert. So many churches and Christian groups spend countless hours and money trying to get the motion of Sunday morning right, with hardly a thought to the sacraments that Christ has ordained for us. As if our emotions are the chief sacrament by which the mercy and grace of God is given to us. As if He is made known to us through our emotions.  They become so concerned with people feeling like Jesus is present that they don’t bother to stop and ask if He has said He is actually present.  Instead of relying on the written word, the unshakable promises of the sacraments, they depend on the preparations of the minister or ministry team.
That’s why we like from-the-heart sermons. And tha’s why we don’t like children in church. We say we do, but we don’t.
Children disrupt us.  They cause unwanted emotions.  So we hide them in the back to diffuse their antics or we kick them out of the gathering completely, saying that it’s better so the adults can listen to the sermon.  Or we give them children’s sermons which simply teach them that they don’t need to pay attention to the rest of God’s Service, or learn the ways of the church.  How many kids who were so attentive in children’s sermons or active in Sunday School or otherwise catered to in some way in church are still in church as adults? Not many. Why should they be? Actions speak louder than words, and they learned from early on that if church doesn’t cater to them, then they don’t have to pay attention.
Why not instead of children’s church or children’s sermons, move the kids up front.  Involve them in the Service of our God which is for them as much as it is for us.  Explain what is going on.  This thing we call “church” is a gathering, a setting apart of God’s people so that we can be with God.  This isn’t the movies or a play or even an evening spent with friends.  This is family, God’s family. We should remember as much. The gospel reading is about a twelve year old Jesus.  Let the children come unto Him.  You will find that both you and they will grow in Christ far more by moving up front where eyes can see and ears can hear than by trying to hide among the crowd.  Besides which, if we all sit in the back, do you think our visitors will feel comfortable sitting in front of everyone?
Emotions are created by God and are good.  But they are not sacramental. They are not how we find Jesus. They are not the proof that God loves us.  They are, though, ]the quickest way to leave the straight and narrow path for the broad and easy one.  So the holy authors everywhere teach us to control our emotions and bring them in check, to not trust them but to trust the Word of the Lord.  Then you will know what the will of God is – your redemption.
Mary and Joseph looked for Jesus with their emotions.  They were afraid, scared they’d lost the Child of prophesy. They were hurt, thinking that Jesus had abandoned them. They were angry, wondering why this so-called Son of God would do this to them so that their friends would look down on them as bad parents.  They looked for Jesus based on emotion.  But the Lord, even at twelve, rebukes them.
“Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”  If you’d have listened to the Word of God you wouldn’t have had to search for me. You would have come straight to me.  You would not have been afraid that I abandoned you or that I was leavening you or that you had lost me.  You would have known and found comfort in the truth.
The truth is that Jesus is known to you in the breaking of the bread.  The bread that we break is a participation in Jesus. The cup that we bless is a participation in Jesus.  This sacred gathering is sacred because the Sacred One, the Holy One is here, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping us in Himself.  It is not sacred because of who we are and what we bring, but because of who Jesus is and what He brings.  He brings salvation and redemption, forgiveness and peace, obedience and life.  He brings the resurrection.  So that as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim His death until He comes in the future.
Now don’t mishear me. I’m not saying you can’t have emotions or that any emotion is automatically misleading.  I’m saying that if we look for Jesus according to our emotions, our feelings, then like Mary and Joseph, we will not find Him.  It is only when we begin to look for Him where He has promised to be, where He said He will be, that we find Him.  And He is made known to you in the breaking of the bread.
In Nomine Iesu
+ Amen +