Let Us Be About Our Father’s Business
December 31, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Happy New Year! There is a light that shines from the gospel this morning that is absolutely wonderful. It is like a beacon in the night. It’s like a lighthouse shining in the darkness, leading us into the new year. Jesus is giving us a word of advice, an example to follow, as we begin the new year together. So in this, the last of our sermons for 2006, I’d like to lift up these words of Jesus as we prepare to go bravely into the brand new year ahead.
The title and the topic of our sermon is simply this: Let Us Be About Our Father’s Business. It is highlighted in this morning’s gospel, and it is the very center of it. Let’s take a good look at the gospel and enjoy the feast of spiritual ideas that it has for us. I’d like us to study this gospel together; let it inspire you for the week.
The gospel says, “Now every year Jesus’s parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” Every adult male Jew living within a certain radius of Jerusalem was obligated to go to the holy city at the Passover time each year. If you were farther away, the hope was that at least once in your lifetime you’d make it to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. But Jesus and His family went every year, and it was a wonderful trip for them. Now this year was special and different. Let’s find out why.
“And He was twelve years old, and they went up as usual for the festival.” Twelve years old – confirmation age, bar mitzvah age. This was the year that Jesus would be, in the eyes of the community, a man. So this was the year of transition for that. What a happy time! They probably had a party, the best party they could manage, in Jerusalem, when Jesus received His bar mitzvah. This was an extra-special Passover. But then let’s see what happened.
When the festival was over and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents did not know it.” Trouble is on the horizon. It looks like we have a problem here. One of the things I wonder about is why the Lord didn’t tell at least one of His parents. Well, He was probably caught up in the enthusiasm and He just didn’t. But let’s see what happened.
“Assuming that He was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. They started to look for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him.” That’s a mildly-phrased narrative for some very anxious and tense moments. What happened? How could they lose Him? What was He doing in Jerusalem? Where were Mary and Joseph? How could this happen?
Let me tell you. First of all, when you traveled in the Holy Land, you never traveled alone. That was very important. Let me take a side-step here. Remember the story about a certain man who went down to Jerusalem from Jericho? When Jesus told that story, as soon as He said those words, everybody who heard Him went, “Oh, no!” because the man was traveling alone. You never traveled alone. For safety’s sake, you traveled in numbers.
But back to this story. The men traveled separately, and the women and children traveled separately. The men made a vanguard for the women and children, and they traveled by themselves. This was for safety’s sake as well. The Middle East was a dangerous place, as it is today. There were robbers and vandals in the hills. All kinds of precautions needed to be taken.
So, what happened? Jesus was in Jerusalem. He received His bar mitzvah, and He became a man. So Mary assumed He was traveling back with Joseph. And Joseph assumed He was only a boy, only 12, and He was probably traveling with His mom. You get the picture. The men went off; the women went off. Joseph and Mary, in separate camps, assumed Jesus was with the other, and He was with neither. Then they met up on the road, and Mary said, “Where’s the boy?” And Joseph said, “I don’t know. I thought He was with you.”
The Holy Family is always pictured as very peaceful and serene. I wonder what it was like that day. We don’t know. The scripture hides that from our eyes. But we know that they high-tailed it back from Jerusalem, and they were frantically looking for the boy Jesus. Could you imagine how frantic they were, how worried they were? What could be worse than having your child lost in the Middle East? It was a dangerous place! I’m sure you can imagine what the anxiety of the heart was like for Mary and Joseph. They went running back to Jerusalem, and let’s see what happened.
“When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him. After three days” – three incredibly anguished days – “they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” In the temple, the teachers would have open conversations with each other, and they would take questions from anyone who was sitting around. It was like watching a talk show of an expert panel in dialogue, and Jesus was part of it.
Now, here’s the thing I don’t want you to miss. This experience was thrilling for Jesus. Jesus was thrilled. He was firing on twelve cylinders. Have you ever been involved in something that you were so excited about that you said, inside your heart, ‘for this I was born!’? I’ve been blessed in my lifetime to have those experiences. That’s what it was like for the Lord. He was at the top of His form. He was thrilled to be where He was.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and He had two teachers. We can be quite sure of that. One was the rabbi of Nazareth, and His other religious teacher was His mom. Clearly, His mom was a deeply religious person. Jesus had been thinking about all these ideas all His life, and now He was in Jerusalem, talking to the top teachers, the people who really knew their Bible. They were asking each other questions, and they were amazed at His insights. He was thrilled. And we can lose that in the story, because we’re focused on the anxiety of His parents, and you’ll find out why in a moment. This was mountaintop for Jesus. Let’s see what happened.
“When His parents saw Him, they were astonished.” That word, astonished, is difficult to translate. Some translations say, “They didn’t know what to think.” It was probably a combination of feeling furious outrage and total relief. Any parents feel that ever? Yes, I see nods around the room. Well, that’s translated by the word astonished here, but we can imagine what they felt. And His mother said to Him, “Child! Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” How beautifully polite for the Virgin Mary! I’m sure she said something like that.
And Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Other translations read, “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” Now, with all due respect for the Lord Jesus, and I have nothing but respect for the Lord, I still read that line over and think that maybe it was a little bit sassy. When I get to heaven, one of the things I want to ask Jesus is, “Why, Lord? Why didn’t you offer just a little apology? I wonder why not.” But perhaps the Lord would say, “What do you want? I was twelve years old.” And that’s a good thing, too, because He was like us in every way. I’ve made mistakes, and maybe you have. But this is what He said.
Let’s not lose the meaning inside the sassiness. He said, “Why were you searching for me? Have faith, and know that I was okay. I’ll always be okay.” But He also said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The better translation is “that I must be about my Father’s business.”
So, when Jesus was firing on all twelve cylinders, when He was at the top of his form, when He was expressing Himself and expressing His inside heart at its ultimate, He was doing His Father’s business. That’s the cue for you and for me. And that’s the light that guides us into 2007. Beyond any resolution, beyond any single suggestion I could ever bring to you, I offer you this gospel. This year, let’s be about our Father’s business. Let’s make that our beacon and our guide and our goal for the year 2007.
In 2007, I’m going to be about my Father’s business. Would you say that aloud? In 2007, I’m going to be about my Father’s business. What does that mean? That means letting that light that He’s put in you, those talents, those skills, those abilities that are uniquely yours, shine. Let them out. Let this be the year when you can do it boldly as Jesus did, so that unnecessary worry and unnecessary fear and unnecessary hesitation won’t hold you down this year. Let your light shine. Let the talents that are uniquely in your heart shine for the world. If not now, when? If not you, who?
I had a very dear friend named Professor Walter Reinhold. You’ve heard me speak of him. He was a very, very brilliant man. He died around Valentine’s Day this year. I miss him very much. He was a great, great teacher. He shared with me so much about his faith, about music, about the organ, about God. He left the world a beautiful gift of a computer program called Culture 101. It is a time line that compares religion, history, music, architecture, and literature throughout the history of western civilization. It’s absolutely brilliant work. He let his light shine. He didn’t hold back. He blessed us in so many ways.
How about you? How about me? What greater honor can we give God than letting the talent that He’s put in your heart shine forth, whatever it may be? You may be a mom. Be the best mom you can be. You may be a grandma. Let the light of your love and your faith shine. You may be a father. You may be a provider. You may be one who cares for another person. You may be a doctor or a student. Whatever you are, listen within your heart and say, “What does the Lord want me to express?” and express it boldly. That’s what Jesus was excited about, and that’s what you and I can be excited about in 2007. And that’s my prayer for all of us, that we would be about our Father’s business.
Be true to your gift – your gift of talent, the gift of your body. Let us be true to exercising it, feeding it well, taking good care of it, loving it the way God has given us to do. Be true to your gift. Be true to your God, as Jesus was true to His heavenly Father. Pray every day. Worship every week. Read and grow. Give as you are given. Help wherever you can. Be true to the Lord.
And the last part – be true to your loved ones. Be true to those who are true to you. Watch what happened. “They did not understand what Jesus said to them. But He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” Jesus loved His parents. And so, let us be extra-mindful of those who care for us and take care of us and support us. Their voices may be gentle, but let us be very mindful to love them and to care for them and to be aware of their needs, even as we express our gift.
Now, watch this – two surprises in closing. “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Aha! It’s a clue. What does this mean? It means that we get this story through the pen of St. Luke the gospel-writer, who received it from Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary told this story. Otherwise, how would we know it? She treasured these things in her heart, told St. Luke, and that’s how we got this story. And therefore you understand now the focus on the anxiety of the parent.
In closing, this is a story that comes with a promise. It comes with a beautiful bow tying the whole thing together. It’s a promise that tells us what happened to Jesus and what can happen for us. Here is it: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Don’t lose that! If it’s so for Jesus, then it is so for us, as we put God first in our lives. A year from today, God grant us to be together again. We will be increased a year, but guess what? We’ll be increased in wisdom! Isn’t that wonderful? We’ll know things. We’ll grow in ways we can’t imagine right now. Let’s be enthusiastic about that. And we will increase in divine and human favor. That means God was blessing Jesus in supernatural ways, and will bless you and help you, too. And as we put God first, we’ll also increase in human favor. People will like you. People will want to help you. People will want to do favors for you and to help you along, as you let your light and your love shine into the world.
It’s my hope and my prayer for you. Follow the light that is Jesus Christ, that is His word and His example. Let us go into 2007 doing the business of our heavenly Father, and favor and blessings will come our way, sure as the sun rises in the morning, because God loves you. I do, too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski