Sermon from January 2nd, 2022
January 2, 2022
Pilgrim Church, Harwich Port
Rev. Dr. Helen Nablo
The passage makes me wistful.
I wish we had more.
Stories of Jesus as a child…you know, things like his first discovering the wonders
of nature, how he related to birds, small animals, flowers, trees
or how about a story about when he first began to talk and
what astonishing things or funny things he said in those very early years..
Alas, this is all we have and it is Jesus at twelve years old.
A man-boy who is awakening to who he is to be.
He is putting childish things away,
He is beginning, just beginning
to come into the fullness of himself.
“Growing Up” Becky Suliivan said when she heard the sermon title.
“I don’t want to grow up.”
That’s from Peter Pan right?
Growing up is about so many things.
Taking on more responsibility, becoming someone others can
count on…but it shouldn’t mean an end to playfulness.
That’s why people say they don’t want to grow up --
cause growing up has come to be understood as no fun.
I think of my husband and his remote control sailing buddies.
They have such a good time playing together, having sailing
boat mishaps and laughing about it, outdoing each other in
outlandish bad weather gear.
Mike has a new umbrella hat, a Christmas present, for those
slightly drizzly sailing days.
This story of Jesus at twelve is not a story of Jesus at play.
It does however show us how Jesus knew something.
He knew he was needing to be steeped in religion,
the religion that had had such meaning in his famlly for generations.
We might say Jesus was precocious, and this story was told,
shared, to emphasize that, but I think it more fitting to say that
Jesus had a heart that rose to eternal matters, to spiritual things.
He is in the temple because at this point in his life,
that is where he believes he belongs.
He is there to learn. He is there to be steeped in
stories, laws, customs, tradition.
Because that is a good place to begin, a good foundation for
his journey that was yet to unfold.
We who hear this story do not take it as a frozen moment.
We cannot hear this story without thinking about who Jesus
the man grew up to be.
Jesus wasn’t someone who went on to do the bulk of his teaching
within the synagogue.
He was always out on the road, meeting people, healing people,
dining with tax collectors and sinners,
and, in short, turning much of the temple religion on its head.
The Sabbath he had learned about, he said well and good
but was Sabbath made for man or man for the Sabbath?
He paid little attention to notions of purity and impurity.
He touched blind people, healed lepers, something that you could
Interpret as an act of resistance to temple laws
that said that such folks were not worthy of entrance to holy spaces.
To Jesus the whole earth was holy
All people were holy
and he was going to challenge
any custom, any practice
that set up a barrier where he believed God held no barriers.
On a new year this story does form a kind of beginning.
Jesus from an early age had a strong desire to learn.
That desire was so strong it was greater than his loyalty
to his immediate family, though the story does assert
that after this whole left behind in Jerusalem Incident,
Jesus did return home and obey his parents.
Still when this all happened, he seems incredulous that they,
his parents, wouldn’t have known where he should be.
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be
in my Father’s House?”
Such a sense of direction and focus at an early age.
I believe I have lifted this up before, how a seminarian professor, a professor
of Christian Education who was a member in my previous church
spoke of discipleship as being “lifelong learners”. Or Lifelong Pupils.
Jesus learning was an ongoing thing,
and it didn’t all happen at the feet of the church elders.
But it did begin there.
When I was in seminary, I took a class on preaching Jesus Christ.
The professor gave us tough texts, such as the one where Jesus speaks
rather harshly to the Samaritan woman, speaking to her of throwing
food to the dogs, as she is not Jewish.
Yes, but even the dogs eat crumbs under the table! she says.
We wondered in that class if Jesus wasn’t subject to the mores and attitudes
of his time, just as we can be, and how this encounter with this bold woman
was a chance for him to think again, or reconsider some of the attitudes
that had been passed down to him.
Maybe it was that meeting with that woman that was the first dawning if you will that God’s love and justice were for all people,
and not just those who claimed the Jewish faith.
If Jesus was human, like us, was Jesus himself a lifelong learner?
I wonder if we don’t do Jesus, and ourselves, a disservice
when we insist on Jesus being prefect.
Perfect suggests knowing everything there is to know.
Wbo is perfect? Only God alone, Jesus says.
Our goal in life, what we search for, is not to be perfect, but
to be open, open to new learnings, about ourselves and our world.
Perhaps it is that very quality of openness we might call faith
more than what specifically we say we believe.
It is faith to let things unfold, to be willing to rethink how we hold our life.
We are all of us a work in progress, just as Jesus was.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
So we enter 2022.
We can’t help but be aware that it may not be starting in the most shining
or spectacular way.
The Covid numbers are very bad.
Christmas 2021 had as many changed plans and frustrations as last year,
maybe more because of the new variants showing up just when they did.
I don’t want to pile up here, but Washington hasn’t moved towards
much greater harmony from what we can see
and our planet is undeniably in peril.
This past Thursday night we had our neighbor Linda over.
Linda’s husband Jim died just before Christmas, and we knew she was
something special because twenty some years ago Jim had a huge
stroke, and all this time she has been his loyal caregiver.
He nearly died about once a year in the five years we’ve been neighbors.
And then, it finally happened.
And we had a simple dinner together this past Thursday night
because we cannot go to his service as its coming during the time we are away
and we wanted to convey our concern.
When Linda went on home, Mike said
“That is one remarkable woman.
I would like to have her over regularly.
I could learn some things about how to live from her.”
Look around you, in neighbors in fellow church members
just about everywhere in fact
there are people who can teach you something about how to live.
We are never too old for this kind of learning.
Which leads me to the stars.
When our offering takes place, the first offering plate passed will
not be for the offering, for you to give, but for you to receive
a star gift.
Take a star from the basket, without looking simply draw one out.
They are just simple printed stars and they each have a word printed on them.
Hope. Resilience. Generosity. Compassion.
This is your star gift to begin 2022.
It is a word that can guide you in the year to come.
The deacons let me know you had done this one year.
I have done it in my previous church.
And sometimes it is funny, what people get.
One year a man who was about to get married got the word “obedience”.
A woman in the church who had served on nearly every committee, who was always volunteering to do so much got the word “responsibility”.
At first she said, I think I got the wrong word!
But then she thought maybe I have some thinking, some reprioritizing to do
around what I take responsibility for.
Some people hang their word from their rear view mirror, or place it on their
bathroom mirror – somewhere they will see it each day.
There’s nothing magic here…remember the word came to you in a sort of random way…..but perhaps you will find that living with this spiritual quality, with this word, it will truly become a gift to you.
You will find it enters more deeply into your heart, your thoughts
and your behavior.
Maybe it comes to give you pause, or brings you new understandings,
Maybe in some small way it helps you be a lifelong learner too.
Remember the gift isn’t just yours.
You may draw Perseverence and think, my life is okay, not that much to work through….but maybe it is for you this year to help others find their own strength and resilience in the midst of challenging circumstances.
We are gifted, and we share our gifts.
This is so much of what a church is.
Thus we are all graced.
Happy near year to you all,
and may this new year bring new hopes, new insights,
new ways of living and loving and learning to us all.