Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas 12/27

          My how you’ve grown!  I never like it very much when people said that to me.  I don’t know why.  Now I do it to kids if I haven’t seen them for awhile because, of course, one of the main things kids do is grow.  Well, we could say that to Jesus today.  A couple of days ago he was a baby in the manger, today he’s 12 years old!  My how you’ve grown!

          This is the only Bible story we have with Jesus as a young boy.    Matthew and Luke both have narratives that include events from Jesus’ infancy, but apart from this story of 12 year old Jesus in the temple, both Matthew and Luke then jump right to Jesus as an adult.  What’s kind of funny, I think, is that this Sunday is often called Holy Family Sunday with Jesus, Mary and Joseph seen as the ideal family unit.  The reason it’s funny is because that is not how they are portrayed in this story in part because what we think of as the nuclear family or the perfect American family wasn’t really the norm in that culture. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph would have been traveling as part of an extended group of family and friends, a pretty large group in other words, resulting in the fact that when they headed for home, no one even noticed that Jesus wasn’t with them for three days.  These days that would make Mary and Joseph awful parents, but in those days the assumption would have been that he was there somewhere and someone was keeping an eye on him much like for many of us our parents didn’t worry about us as long as we were in the neighborhood because they knew somebody’s mother or father was watching.

In Jesus’ time the understanding of family was different and in his teachings as an adult, Jesus would push those family boundaries even further.  It may be that part of what Luke was doing in this story was to introduce the idea that Jesus’ teaching would wind up pushing lots of boundaries, not just those having to do with family.

Lest we think Mary and Joseph were negligent parents, it should be emphasized that this story indicates that they were raising Jesus as faithful Jews were supposed to raise their children.  Passover was one of the main pilgrimage feasts for faithful Jews and Mary and Joseph had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem with Jesus so he was being raised in the discipline of the faith.  Mary and Joseph made sure that the traditions and rituals of Judaism and the temple were important in Jesus growth and development, providing him with a grounding and a foundation.

So regarding raising a child in the faith Mary and Joseph and Jesus do provide an ideal family model; really though it’s a model not just for parents raising children, but the importance of being grounded in the faith is a good model for all of us.  Churches can become rigid and doctrinaire, excessively so sometimes, but they do provide a grounding.  You have to start somewhere, you have to have some kind of framework and the traditional teachings of the church, the creeds and the doctrines and the confessions and the catechisms provide that.  I feel bad that there are a lot of kids and adults these days who are not being provided with that grounding, because without it life becomes too relativistic; there’s no place to start so it’s like operating in a vacuum and most people don’t do very well with that.  Children need a foundation and no matter how old we are, we need to continue to visit and be reminded of the foundation.  Otherwise, things can fall apart on you.    

But then also note what Jesus was doing when his parents found him.  He was in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  To me that is about as good a description of what the church should be as we get anywhere in the Bible.  We come to church as Jesus went to the temple and we immerse ourselves in the teaching and the tradition, to get the foundation.   But just as Jesus did, we can also ask questions; we let the tradition guide us, but we are free to explore where that leads with our own experience suggesting questions and possible interpretations.

In Judaism, that was expected.  Jesus wasn’t being disrespectful toward his elders in this story.  In Judaism there have always been different interpretive traditions with the understanding that there is no one answer, but that there are many possible answers and sometimes you just have to live with the tension.  The teachers in the temple were surprised by the depth of understanding Jesus showed at such a young age, but he wasn’t being disrespectful, just following in their footsteps. 

I think that we as Christians can learn from this more open interpretive approach that Judaism takes to faith.  I think that we should be respectful of the tradition; we should respect the work and thought of the early church fathers, we should respect the reforming work of Luther and others, we should respect the work and thinking of more recent scholars and theologians. We can learn from all those who came before us without feeling like we have to believe that they had the final answers and there’s no more thinking to be done.  We can be respectful of the tradition without regarding the creeds and confessions as believe it or else statements but instead seeing them as part of a foundation that guides us.  Like the boy Jesus did, we can ask questions and suggest our own answers, always with humility, always understanding that we don’t presume to have it all figured out either, always understanding that new insights may bring us to different answers.  But we also recognize the need to come back to the tradition we’ve been raised with and the discipline of being in church in order to remain grounded.

In this story, young Jesus provides a pretty good example of an honest journey of faith.  Even for him it was a process as the last verse says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.”  Even for Jesus, there was a process.  He was on the journey, but significantly, he was growing from his religious roots, not in spite of them.  The rabbis, representing the tradition were his teachers; but his questions were his teachers too. 

This story also provides pretty good evidence that faith isn’t simply accepting a bunch of doctrine; faith is being engaged with that doctrine, not so we can recite the “right answers,” but so that we ask questions that keep us in an honest, faithful relationship with God.  In such a relationship, you could hope that at some point, Jesus might say to you, “My how you’ve grown!”
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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