Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas 12/27/2015

Here we are, a couple of days after Christmas, and Jesus is already 12 years old. Kids grow up so quickly and I guess Jesus was no exception.

Of course we really know very little about Jesus’ childhood; there are some apocryphal childhood stories about him doing things like making birds out of mud, then clapping his hands and making them fly away, but today’s story of Jesus in the temple is the only “Jesus as a child” story in the Bible and even this one is probably not meant to be historical but is more likely an effort on the part of Luke to convey Jesus’ identity, to explain who he believes Jesus to be. We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, but still, it is possible to speculate on what Jesus would have learned as child growing up.

To start with, he would have learned about the tradition he was part of. He would have learned about the Hebrew Scriptures which spoke of one God who made heaven and earth, a God who gave existence to all things, who sustained all things and who gave them meaning.

Jesus would also have learned about the people of Israel being the chosen people, the fact that it would be through this unlikely and imperfect group of people that the story of God would be told. Importantly, Jesus would have learned the story of the exodus, God’s deliverance of these people from slavery in Egypt so that they could live more fully as the people of God, modeling a different way to be in the world, called to be an example of peace and justice and holiness to the nations.

That different way of life would be centered around the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. At the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus would have heard readings from the Torah. He would have learned that these readings were what provided his people with an identity and with a way to be in the world. Jesus would have participated in the festivals that marked out the year, festivals during which the people would remember who they were as they remembered and told the stories of their history and as they gathered to praise God.

But Jesus also would have learned that things didn’t always go well. His people complained, they disobeyed not wanting to be different but wanting to be like everyone else. In addition to readings from the Torah he would have heard readings from the prophets who tried to warn the people and guide them but the people didn’t listen; they strayed and as a result, foreign powers conquered them and many were taken into exile to live as strangers in a strange land.

From that though, he would have learned that despite their disobedience and despite the consequences, God never gave up on the people. The exile ended and the people of Israel held on to the promise of a Messiah, a king who would be the true Anointed one, the ruler who would finally set things right for them and for all people.

Now it’s impossible to get inside Jesus’ head in order to know exactly what he thought as he learned about the various aspects of his tradition, impossible to know how he internalized where and how he fit into things. One would think though, that in his humanity, like any of us, he went through some kind of developmental process as he sorted out and came to terms with his identity. Another thing Jesus would have learned about though, was the Temple.

At that time there were local synagogues where Jewish people would normally gather to hear scripture read and interpreted, for example in the gospels you get the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. The Temple in Jerusalem was different though. It was a massive structure and for Jews it represented the dwelling place of the Lord and it was there that devout Jews would go when they could, to celebrate the seasonal festivals and to make the appropriate sacrifices. You can imagine though, the impact a trip to the Temple could have had on Jesus or any other Jewish child.

If you’ve ever been in a huge cathedral you have some sense of how Jesus might have felt. One can criticize the excess that such structures represent, that the money could have been better spent on helping those in need; it can be argued that you can worship God just as well in a little country church as you can in a massive cathedral and that’s true. But there is a majesty about such buildings that evoke the presence of God in ways that touch us in unique ways, leaving us in awe and wonder. You get the idea that this is what Jesus might have experienced.

All that he had learned up until that point became, not just stuff that he had been taught, but in the awesome atmosphere of the Temple it became reality; the presence of God became a reality to Jesus in what you sense was a new way. The way Luke tells the story, this trip to the Temple was a pivotal moment for Jesus in discerning who he was and what he was called to do. It was pivotal in his understanding the fact that this was his Father’s house.

In a slightly different way, this is something we can relate to. Similar to Jesus, those of us who grew up in the church learned about our tradition which actually includes a lot of the same things Jesus learned. We learned Bible stories from the Old and New Testaments; those of us who grew up Lutheran learned the catechism; we learned about the festivals and seasons that mark the church year for us. Maybe for a long time it is just stuff that we’ve been taught, part of who we are and we accept it as such without thinking about it too much.

At some point though, you hope there’s a moment where it becomes real or at least it starts to become real and God isn’t just an idea but a reality. The truth that these are the stories that define who we are and tell us about God becomes clear. It’s not just intellectual assent I’m talking about although that might be part of it; what I’m talking about are those affective, other side of the brain moments that reveal a different kind of truth, in some ways, a deeper truth.

The majesty of a great temple or cathedral might be part of evoking the reality of God’s presence as seems to have been the case for Jesus. Maybe it happens during a Christmas Eve service, maybe just on an ordinary Sunday. What’s important though in this story, is that Jesus was in a place where worship of God and the rituals around that worship were why people were there. Understood to be the dwelling place of God, the Temple at its best was intended to make known the presence of God and that’s what Jesus experienced.

A “religious high” if you will, can happen anywhere, but don’t you think it’s more likely in a place where the words and music and rituals are intended to evoke God’s presence? You don’t come here to be entertained, or at least I hope you don’t. You might come here to learn, to grow in your understanding of the faith. But I hope you come here to worship God, to open yourself to experience God’s presence in word and sacrament, and probably not all the time, but maybe sometimes you have a moment when God’s reality becomes your reality.

It’s not that God can’t be experienced in other ways and in other places, but engaging in worship and prayer and other devotional practices where you intentionally set aside time for God make such an experience more likely. When things get too busy and you don’t have time for those things, you miss an important dimension of life, an important part of what is to be human, part of which is being in relationship with God but that busy-ness happens; it happens to pastors too.

The end of a calendar year is a time to think about New Year’s resolutions and for any of us resolving to be more intentional about worship and prayer, about opening yourself to the mystery of God’s word would be a good place to start. It’s always a discipline in process, almost always an incomplete process; but then…there are those moments, moments when it’s not just a discipline, it’s an experience…an experience of the divine.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

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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