April 25, 2010
With a sermon title like the one for today, the one-liners are a-plenty, aren't they?
- If Jesus was in your confirmation class, he'd already know the gospel of Luke before you read it.
- If Jesus was in your confirmation class, his statement of faith would read, “I believe in me.”
- If Jesus was in your confirmation class, when you talked about Death and Dying, he'd say: “Death – been there, done that.”
- If Jesus was in your confirmation class, you'd want to cheat off his paper, but that'd kinda defeat the whole purpose, wouldn't it?
- If Jesus was in your confirmation class, no one would want to play Judas during the re-enactment of the Lord's Supper.
- If Jesus was in your confirmation class, he'd keep his mentor happy by turning water into wine.
It's a strange thought, I know. We don't think of Jesus much as a kid. In our 21st-century mindset he pretty much goes from being a baby in the manger to a full-grown man in a matter of verses. In the four gospels of our New Testament there simply aren't many accounts of Jesus' childhood or teenage years – except one, the passage Bill read just a minute ago.It's quite a scene to envision. I imagine him there, all of twelve years old, the perfect confirmation age. I see him standing in the entrance hall to the grand temple in Jerusalem. He is one of many there, tens of thousands perhaps, as it was Passover and everyone went to Jerusalem when Passover came around. I imagine him blending in with the crowd, not standing out in any noticeable way; except for the fact that he was all alone. His parents weren’t with him. They had left town a few days before, heading back home. Apparently they had assumed their son Jesus was with their entourage somewhere and they’d come across him at some point in time.
But he wasn't with them. Jesus just had to be at the temple that day because he was searching for something – something he couldn't find back home in Nazareth. Maybe Jesus was trying to learn more about himself by being in this special place, this temple to the almighty God. I mean, that is the ultimate quest we each face, isn’t it – discovering who we are? We spend the better part of our lives sorting it out, gaining a sense of who we are and how our life has meaning and purpose. It is the single question that defines our very existence.So maybe that is what motivated Jesus to hang out at the temple for a few extra days. And we can understand that, can’t we? Because when we ask that question of ourselves, we almost always encounter conflicting answers. Some tell us that we are what our job is, or who our family is. Others tell us we are how many digits we have in our paycheck, or what college we get into. Some tell us we are what we wear. Everywhere we turn, we encounter all kinds of answers to the question of who we are. And the more we ask, it seems like the more answers we get. If we’re not careful, we can lose sight of things.
There's a powerful scene in the epic movie Roots where Kunta Kinte, a young African man, is captured by slave traders and taken across the Atlantic. When he arrives on American soil, he is put through the typical ritual of being made into a slave and sold to plantation owners. It was a brutal process. The slave trader takes Kunta Kinte aside and begins beating him mercilessly with a belt. And as he hits him over and over again, he yells, “Your name is not Kunta anymore, your name is Toby! Toby is your name!” After a while he stops and asks him what his name is. The African man defiantly answers, “My name is Kunta Kinte!” He begins beating him some more, all the time telling him that his name is Toby. He stops. “What’s your name, boy?” Weaker this time: “My name is Kunta Kinte.”This goes on and on, until finally, with his life hanging in the balance, he relents. “What’s your name, boy? What’s your name?” He looks at his captor, defeated. “My name is Toby.”
Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes – not to that extreme, of course, but doesn’t it feel like the world just beats our name right out of us? We try to search for the answer to that all-important question who are we, but the world just won’t let us get there. It tells us that we are someone different and gives us a new name that is strange to our ears. But we hold on to it anyway, because often it’s all we’ve got. And so we walk this earth, not really sure who we are, but certain it’s not what the world tells us. Because that name just doesn’t sound right.
If Jesus was in your confirmation class, I think he'd want you to deal with this. The right way, of course. I mean, it's no wonder that we struggle with the whole “who am I” question. Because when you ask it that way, the task of discovery, of searching for and finding one’s identity, rests solely on the shoulders of the one asking the question. The journey of self-awareness begins and ends with the same person. That's a pretty heavy burden for any individual to bear, don't you think?Which is why I think we should follow Jesus' lead. Maybe, just maybe, we've been asking the wrong question all along. Maybe the real question is not “who am I” but “whose am I.” Do you see the difference? It shifts the whole dynamic because we do not bear sole responsibility for coming up with the answer. We don't have to create something out of nothing. The journey that leads us to the answer is shared with someone else – the one to whom we belong.
And you know, the more I think about it, the more I believe that’s what Jesus was busy doing at the temple those three days– asking himself, whose am I. His parents hightailed it back to the city when they discovered he was not with their group of travelers, as they had thought. They made their way to the temple only because they didn’t know where else to go – and there he was, twelve-year old Jesus, sitting in the portico talking it up with the rabbis. They ran to him, not sure if they wanted to hug him or choke him. And it was his him Mom who spoke first, asking Jesus why he had put her and Joseph through this nightmare.What came out of Jesus’ mouth was surely not what they were expecting. With every bit of seriousness, and even the slightest tinge of surprise that they would ask such a thing, Jesus answered their question with a question of his own: Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house? Did you catch that? His “father’s house” – not the house of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all his forebears. Not even God’s house. His Father’s house. Jesus had found his identity those three days not by asking “who am I” but ”whose am I.” He was God’s son, he was God’s child. And that temple was his Father’s house. Jesus had been searching to discover who he belonged to, and now he knew – he belonged to God.
Today in this worship service we have witnessed six wonderful young people make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and join our church family. And a large part of the journey that has led them to this today, and the even more important journey that is yet to come, a large part of all of that is forever intertwined in that single truth Jesus discovered long ago. We belong to God. It is who we are at the very core of our being; the foundation of everything we believe in and everything we do.But sometimes I wonder to myself – do we really know that? We may know it here (point to head). But do we know it here (point to heart)? Do we really know whose we are? When we wake up every morning and head out into the day ahead of us, whatever that day brings, do we truly know who we belong to? That we do not belong to our job or our school or our social clubs? That we do not belong to our past sins or the mistakes we’ve made or the guilt that grabs hold of us? That we do not belong to each other; that we certainly do not belong to ourselves? Do we know, with every conviction in our heart, that ultimately we belong to God and are now, and always will be, a child of God?
Do we really know that? Jesus did. And not because he had some super-human powers being God's son and all. He knew whose he was because he grounded himself in the faith of his parents, the faith of his community, the faith of his people. He asked questions. He built relationships. And he followed his calling, living out that faith in real life for everyone to see.And that's not something that's just reserved for the Prince of Peace, you know. All joking aside, if Jesus really were in your confirmation class, I'm not so sure he'd look or act all that different. Later, maybe; but not at twelve. Because what he had going for him at that age is the same thing you have going for you. You, too, are called by God, claimed by God, baptized into God and into the family of faith. And that sort of thing stays with you for a long, long, long time.
Which is good to know, incidentally. Because sometimes the world will try to tell you who you are. Sometimes the world wants you to believe that you are defined by things which bear little meaning to what really matters. But you know differently, don't you? You know there’s something else that makes up who you are. You may forget it from time to time; we all do.But God doesn’t. You are God’s child. You belong to God. In everything we do in life, with every day we walk this earth, let us never, ever forget whose we are. Thanks be to God. AMEN.