Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fresh Starts: A New Authority

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28
February 1, 2015
© 2015

Alyce McKenzie, who teaches at Perkins School of Theology, remembers her days as a soccer mom. Some parents would try to out coach the coach, yelling at their children to score when the coach was telling them to pass. Embarrassed players would shake their heads at their parents to say, “You’re not the authority here. Be quiet so I can hear my coach.” The interim between pastors is an opportunity to consider spiritual authority for both clergy and lay leaders. The Church’s leaders are given authority by the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer.
The starting place is getting to know Jesus by regular Gospel encounter. This leads to building a comprehensive grasp of the totality of Scripture, avoiding invoking proof-texts as evidence for preconceived and isolated ideas.
This intimacy with Jesus goes beyond information. It grows from a deep prayer life in tune with the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual authority is exercised with humility that comes from an awareness of the best current scholarship and the thinking of those who have come before us, without getting locked into a particular school of thought.
In the way Jesus began his public ministry we can see why and how the Church’s leaders are given authority by the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer. Mark 1:21-28 comes after Jesus had called Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow him. At this point, Jesus seems to have just these four disciples.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
God told Moses he would send a prophet to speak his word to his people. The priests and kings held hereditary offices, from which God sometimes displaced unfaithful leaders. However, God called prophets from anyone in Israel at any time a special word was needed. This line of prophets pointed ahead to a single great prophet, whom the New Testament identifies as Jesus. (Acts 3:22; 7:37)
Mark contrasted Jesus’ teaching with the scribes. They made their points by quoting other scholars who quoted scholars who came before them. As dogmatic as they could be at times, none of them ever spoke with confident authority. Their discussions and debates tended to degenerate into hurling quotes at each other.
By contrast, Jesus would refer to the Hebrew prophets, but he taught with his own words and stories. We see this most clearly in the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you,” six times. (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44)
Jesus not only taught with astounding authority, he acted with amazing authority when he cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue. Today’s Church needs leaders who will not only speak but act with authority. So they must receive authority from the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer.
Jesus was not just demonstrating his spiritual authority. He was liberating a suffering man from spiritual oppression, and in turn liberating that congregation from evil control. Authentic spiritual authority is redemptive, addressing human suffering with hope and love.
If in our post-Enlightenment world, we haggle over the reality of “unclean spirits” as though we are sophisticated enough to explain them one way or another, we miss the point of this challenge to Jesus’ authority. It is as though the unclean spirit was taunting Jesus, “Na-na-na-na-na-na! I know who you really are!” It is not about doctrine but control, just as are most church fights.
By silencing the unclean spirit, Jesus refused to get into a shouting match. Jesus’ authority flowed from his connection with his Heavenly Father, not by arguments or heavy-handed power plays.
Both lay leaders and clergy are given authority by the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer. During a search for a new pastor we become acutely aware of how critical spiritual authority is for new pastors and the congregations they serve.
The Search and Call process is not like hiring executive staff but is about prayerfully discerning God’s choice of a pastor who knows Jesus intimately through the Gospels and the totality of Scripture, whose prayer life is alert to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, who does responsible scholarship on the congregation’s behalf.
As an interim pastor, I can tell you what is harder for called pastors to say. Hebrews 13:7, 17 urges you to imitate the faith and obey the teaching of those who “are keeping watch over your souls …, so they can do it with joy and not with sighing, for that would be harmful to you.” When your new pastor comes, don’t hold back waiting to see how it goes, jump in immediately to help start strong.
Eugene Peterson, who did The Message Bible paraphrase, wrote that pastors “are abandoning their posts, their calling.” … They “have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. … Religious shopkeeping, to be sure but shopkeeping all the same. … The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners. …The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. … Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.” Working the Angles, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids,1987, pp. 1-3

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fresh Starts: A New Life

Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20
January 25, 2015
 © 2015

A man who was a high school industrial arts teacher came to church for special occasions with his wife who was a deacon in a church I served. He was pleasant but clear he was not a believer. Our high school youth went on summer mission-work trips. One year he came to me and offered to go with the group saying, “I’ve got tools and skills for this kind of work, and I’d like to help. You know I’m not a believer, but I promise I won’t do or say anything to undermine anyone’s faith. When you have study and worship, I’ll just go in another room.” After three years of going on the youth mission trips he joined the church. He said, “As I sat in another room listening, I was impressed with how real and important Jesus was to these young people, and I wanted to follow Jesus too.” A couple of years later he became a deacon.
He heard Jesus: “Good news! Your time to turn around and come home is here. Nothing can stop God from welcoming you to a new life of exuberant confidence.”
God’s good news is not just for those whom Jesus is calling for the first time. As we see in Mark 1:14-20, Jesus’ call is good news for all of us.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
John the Baptist introduced Jesus and his ministry, which Jesus kicked into high gear after John was arrested. This shocked Herod Antipas who thought he had eliminated John’s troubling preaching only to hear that Jesus preached the same message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Like the game Whack a Mole, Herod got caught in a game of Whack a Prophet.
Many sermons on this passage focus on the pairs of fisherman brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. But it also invites us to see, understand and respond to God’s good news.
God’s good news is that “the time is fulfilled.” The start of Jesus’ ministry was the turning point in God’s plan to redeem humanity. Jesus’ preaching invited people to an unprecedented opportunity to participate in God’s redemptive plan. Whatever they might have been waiting for, the decisive moment had arrived. The rest of the New Testament extends the propitious moment even to us.
All through Hebrew history God’s people had been waiting for the Kingdom of God to dawn. They saw a few brief glimmers such as the good years of David and Solomon, but from Moses to Nehemiah and Ezra they mostly experienced yearning and disappointment. Jesus preached that heaven had come to earth for those who would believe in and live in it. For us too, God’s good news is to live in the exuberant confidence of the Kingdom of God regardless of our circumstances.
Repent just means to turn around. Repentance is not about feeling miserable or wallowing in guilt, shame and regret. Repentance is God’s good news that we are no longer captives of our past but welcome to turn toward home.
In our time people say they “believe in” God meaning they believe God exists. About 25 times the New Testament speaks of believing in Christ in the sense of trusting Christ for the totality of life, but only a couple of times affirming God’s existence. Mark 1:15 is the only place the New Testament says to “believe in” the Gospel. This is living daily as a resident the Kingdom of God.
Though Jonah preached to Nineveh in a spirit of judgment and hostility rising out of ethnic, cultural and religious prejudice and hatred, his message was God’s good news to the people of Nineveh. They turned around, and God was merciful.
John the Baptist had introduced the four fishermen to Jesus so when Jesus called, they received and followed God’s good news! It was their time to turn around. God welcomed them to a new life of unlimited exuberant confidence.
You may feel that Highlands Christian Church is marking time on this interim journey between pastors. However, I tell you with considerable confidence the time is fulfilled! Now is God’s time of Kingdom opportunity for you! You are not waiting for a new pastor. God is preparing you for a new pastor, whom God is also preparing for you. The spiritual fervor and hunger of people in this congregation is readily apparent. God is among you! So Jesus’s call to repent is a call to leave behind your limitations. Believe in God’s future for Highlands Christian Church by living now what you believe God’s future is for you.
You may feel your life is in a holding pattern. That tug deep inside that wants more is the Holy Spirit saying, “Now is your time! The circumstances you think are hindrances are God’s opportunity.” The Kingdom of God may seem obscure, but Jesus wants you to know that it has come near, not at an exotic, unattainable distance but in your small daily details. So let go of your regrets and inhibitions, your uncertainties and inadequacies. God is welcoming you to exuberant confidence as a resident of the Kingdom of God, which while hidden from ordinary folk is your most enduring and substantial reality.
Joe was a developmentally disabled man who came to the lunch with worship the church I served in NJ had for street people. He helped set and clear the table and played a hymn on his harmonica as part of our worship. One day he said, “I’ve been working on something special for today,” and played Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. A dozen or so unlikely people got a taste of the Kingdom of God!
Good News! Your time to turn around and come home is now. God welcomes you to a new life of exuberant confidence as people of the Kingdom of God.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fresh Starts: A New Calling

1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51
January 18, 2015
© 2015

Between now and Lent we will be considering God’s fresh starts in the New Year and on your interim journey between pastors by examining how Jesus started his ministry. John’s Gospel sets up today’s story in 1:43-51 with a sequence of four consecutive days that is as much literary as chronological.
John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan River between Galilee and Jerusalem. Temple leaders questioned who he thought he was and what he thought he was doing. He was clear that he was not the Messiah but Messiah was coming soon. The second day he was preaching and baptizing again, and Jesus came along. John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The third day was chatting with a few of his disciples when Jesus came by again. John said, “Look the Lamb of God,” and two of his disciples followed Jesus. One was Andrew who found his brother Peter and told him he had found the Messiah. The repeated word “found” points out how intentional Jesus, Andrew and Philip were.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
This story and the call of the young Samuel we read earlier prompt us to expect, listen for, recognize and follow Jesus’ call to a fresh encounter from God.
As a congregation on the interim journey between pastors, Highlands Christian Church is naturally concerned about programs and plans for the future, but if we will listen for the voice of God, we will get much more than we expect.
For Eli the word of the Lord was rare. For us cacophony of noise can make discerning the voice of God difficult. However, when we expect, listen for, recognize and follow Jesus’ call we are met with a fresh encounter from God.
Though Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli, “the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Eli had given up expecting to hear God’s voice, and not until the third try did he recognize God was calling Samuel.
Eli knew the right response was, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” With it, Samuel became the model for over three millennia of God’s obedient followers.
Yesterday a number of us listened to each other, sharing our hopes and dreams for the future of Highlands Christian Church. Believing the Holy Spirit lives and works in each of us and among us together, we listened for the voice of God behind our human words. Like Eli and Samuel, for us recognizing the voice of God is challenging. God speaks more in whispers than shouts.
Philip did not say to Nathanael, “I heard a dynamic preacher who could be the Messiah with enough followers.” No, Philip said that Jesus was the one Moses and the Prophets wrote about. Scripture, not intuition, led him to conclude Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus described Nathanael as “an Israelite in whom there is not deceit,” he paid him a high compliment, affirming his integrity as a spiritual role model. Nathanael’s experience encourages us to expect, listen for, recognize and follow Jesus’ call to a fresh encounter from God.
Nathanael’s deep faith sprang from skepticism. He questioned whether Messiah could come from Nazareth. He questioned how Jesus knew about his character.
But Nathanael was spiritual not cynical. Sitting under the fig tree was not just where he was when Philip called him. The fig tree was where devout Israelites studied and meditated on Scripture and engaged God in prayer.
Highland Christian Church’s interim journey between pastors calls for intense spiritual discernment. Finding a new pastor goes way beyond educational and professional qualifications. Moving the congregation into the future goes way beyond effective plans and programs. Only acute sensitivity to the nudges of the Holy Spirit will match the pastor and plan with congregation’s mission.
For all of his depth, Nathanael was ready to settle for too little. He was satisfied that Jesus knew where he was, what he was doing, the integrity of his character and his spiritual passion. But Jesus told him not to stop there; He would see greater things than these. Expect, listen for, recognize and follow Jesus’ call to a fresh encounter from God.
Suppose within your new pastor’s first five years you have to start a second service because worship is overflowing. Suppose the budget committee’s big problem is finding enough worthwhile ministries for all the money coming in. Don’t settle! This is not enough!
Jesus told Nathanael he would “see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Ministry effectiveness is wonderful and important, but don’t settle! God wants greater things for Highlands Christian Church. God wants a fresh encounter with you individually and as a congregation, that comes from discerning and following God’s call.

Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” God answered “I am about to do something that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:25 when outsiders come into authentic worship they will say, “God is really among you.” My prayer is that you will know God is really among you, and your new pastor will recognize that God is really among you, and that outsiders will come into Highlands Christian Church because God is really among you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Recognizing God Incognito: Hidden by Fear, Discovered for Joy

Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
January 11, 2015
© 2015

From the cluster of earthquakes near Dallas to the terrorist attack in Paris, the unsettling events of this week have knocked many people off balance. Reacting out of fear and anger almost always leads to the wrong course of action. From the account of the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Matthew 2:1-12 we learn that to receive joy when unsettling events knock us off balance, listen for the voice of God behind circumstances and unexpected people through Scripture.
Most people seem to know that Matthew did not say there were Three Magi but the tradition comes from their three gifts. Matthew also did not say they were kings or came with camels. That comes from Isaiah 60:1-6 which the Church has long associated with the Magi, but the New Testament never refers to in that connection.
To keep this story straight with the rest of the New Testament, we need to know that Herod is a family name used by five different rulers in the New Testament. Herod the Great here at Jesus’ birth. Herod Archelaus caused the Holy Family to go to Nazareth when they returned from Egypt. Herod Antipas disrupted the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. Herod Agrippa I opposed the Apostles James and Peter. Herod Agrippa II tried the Apostle Paul.
Listen carefully to the familiar story in Matthew 2:1-12.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Herod was an old man at the time Jesus was born. He was paranoid and murderously violent. His fear prevented him from receiving the wholeness Messiah came to bring.
Apparently Herod learned of the Magi seeking a child born King of the Jews from the buzz on the streets. In his fear he only spoke with the Magi secretly after consulting with the Chief Priests and Scribes.
Herod knew enough of the Hebrew Scriptures to realize this child born King of the Jews was likely the Messiah, and he believed the Scriptures could name his birthplace.
But Herod was so arrogant and paranoid he thought that he could stop the Messiah by killing Bethlehem’s babies.
The Chief Priests and Scribes had taught the hope of Messiah since the return from exile in Babylon, but their spiritual insensitivity prevented them from welcoming this hope.
They must have been aware of the buzz on the streets prompted by the Magi. Whether they made the Messianic connection before Herod asked, his question should have awakened the hope they might welcome the Messiah.
These scholars knew and agreed on the Scripture’s answer: the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
However, their academic arrogance and indifference was so deeply engrained they couldn’t hear God’s voice in the very Scripture they knew and taught.
In contrast, the Magi heard and responded to the voice of God that came through unconventional means and received joy!
Not only were the Magi foreigners, they were pagan astrologers. The Hebrew Scriptures mock (Isaiah 47:13-15; Daniel 1:20; 2:27; 4:7; 5:7) and forbid (Jeremiah 10:1-2) the practice of astrology.
The Magi seem not to have much if any access to the Hebrew Scriptures. The star that prompted their journey was some astrological sign at it rising in the east, but not a beacon guiding them west to Jerusalem. How it reappeared to guide them south to Bethlehem is unclear. Mystical dreams were also familiar in their culture, and God spoke to them through a dream, as God sometimes did with the Hebrew prophets.
Unlike Herod or the Chief Priests and Scribes, the Magi heard and heeded the voice of God and were transformed. They did not prevent Herod’s fear driven slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem or break through the indifference of the Chief Priests and Scribes. But they received joy that they carried with them for the rest of their lives.
To receive joy when unsettling events knock us off balance, listen for the voice of God behind circumstances and unexpected people through Scripture.
While the news may keep us informed about unsettling events, we must listen more deeply to hear God’s voice.
Herod rightly recognized the child born King of the Jews was the Messiah, but he reacted out of fear. The Chief Priests and Scribes rightly identified Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah, but they reacted with arrogance. If we listen deeply enough we can hear the voice of God scrambled with unlikely people.
While we correctly affirm Scripture as the inspired, reliable, authoritative Word of God, as we read we must listen expecting not only to hear the voice of God in the pages of the Bible, but also expecting Scripture to enable us to discern God’s voice behind unlikely circumstances and people. Following God’s voice will take us on unfamiliar paths that lead us to deep, abiding joy.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Recognizing God Incognito: Hidden in a Twelve Year Old

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Luke 2:41-52
January 4, 2015
© 2015
The Boy Jesus with the Doctors in the Temple
Heinrich Hofmann
(1824 - 1911)
The New Testament Gospels are not biographies in the sense of recounting the whole life of Jesus. They focus on his three years of redemptive ministry. Only Matthew and Luke say anything about his birth, and only Luke reports the one growing up story as a 12 year old in the Temple. A couple of centuries after the time of the Apostles as the Gospel spread into pagan cultures, imaginary legends of Jesus’ childhood were invented that made him seem more like the pagan gods they were used to. They had powers something like those Elsa can’t control in the movie Frozen. The so-called Gospel of Thomas (that is neither a Gospel nor by Thomas) is the best known collection of these legends. A boy bumped Jesus from behind and fell down dead. Another boy fell from the roof where they were playing and died. Jesus jumped down to bring him back to life and say that Jesus didn’t push him. Perhaps best known is young Jesus making birds out of mud by a stream that came to life when he breathed on them.

By comparison, the account of 12 year old Jesus in the Temple from Luke 2:41-52 is quite ordinary. Rather than fanciful tales of Jesus’ power, Luke tells us that when we recognize God incognito in the ordinary 12 year old Jesus, we join him as siblings in our Father’s house.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 
46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
50But they did not understand what he said to them.51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 
52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Luke doesn’t say how the relatives and friends responded when Joseph and Mary came looking for Jesus a whole day’s journey out from Jerusalem, but I imagine them thinking, “They have their hands full with that boy.”
Luke did say those who heard him in the Temple were amazed at his understanding and answers, but gave no hint they recognized God incognito among them. (v. 47)
Luke does show us Jesus’ parents, especially his mother, wrestling with what it means to raise a son who is God incognito, with whom they are siblings in their Father’s house.
Matthew and Luke are clear that Joseph and Mary knew the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ virgin birth, but that does not mean they understood it. Orthodox nativity icons show Joseph distant from Mary being tempted to doubt and Mary praying for him to have strong faith.
Both Joseph and Mary were visited by the Angel Gabriel at the time of Jesus’ conception. Mary had received a prophetic word from Elizabeth before Jesus was born, and both Joseph and Mary heard the prophetic words of Anna and Simeon when 40 day old Jesus was dedicated. Since Jesus’ birth Joseph and Mary had an ordinary family life, which this event caused them reexamine.
When Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents, Mary treasured these things in her heart (v. 51) along with the visit of the shepherds (v. 19) where she also treasured the angelic and prophetic words spoken about Jesus. I’m sure she pondered them when she stood at the cross in John 19:25 and prayed with the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 1:14. Not understanding 12 year old Jesus’ words about being in his Father’s house was not a failure of faith but trying to make sense of all she treasured in her heart.
At the end of the infancy narrative, Luke wrote, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (v. 40) As an infant in the manger, Jesus was not consciously aware of his unique divine and human nature. Luke shows that Jesus at 12 he was becoming aware of being God incognito who would bring many siblings into his Father’s house. Luke suggests that awareness kept growing when he wrote that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.” (v. 52)
The voice of the Father and the coming of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism confirmed this as he began his ministry.
Despite some pious art, at 12 Jesus was not teaching in the Temple. He was listening and asking questions. The amazement of those who heard him was at how well he entered into the rabbinic model of answering questions with deeper questions. Jesus was learning and growing.
When Jesus said, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49) he was an ordinary 12 year old oblivious to his parents’ anxiety, and at the same time affirming his awareness of his relationship with God.
How can we in the 21st century recognize God incognito in Jesus as his siblings in our Father’s house?
As we meet Jesus in the Gospels, we can easily be amazed at his miraculous power and think of him as the big brother who gets our Father to indulge us.
But as we ponder more deeply God incognito hidden in the ordinariness of Jesus, we will necessarily puzzle and wrestle with the implications of the creator of the universe entering our entirely ordinary lives in Jesus.
“In my Father’s house” is broad and sometimes translated “about my Father’s business.” By being about our Father’s business as the obvious, consuming reality of our lives and recognizing God incognito in our elder brother Jesus, we affirm that we are Jesus’ siblings, comfortable at home with him in our Father’s house.