Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas,
The Sunday before the Epiphany, January 3, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 2:40-52
Sermon Theme: “Question or Obey? It Depends . . .”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Seated among the learned rabbis in the Temple, the twelve-year-old Jesus shows a remarkable awareness of who He is. His parents should know who He is, considering what the angel said to them before His birth, and what Simeon and Anna and the Wise Men said after His birth, but obviously they didn’t, or maybe they just didn’t know how to act as parents of the Savior of the world.
In “The Prayer of the Frog,” Anthony de Mello tells a story of a grown woman who in a coma, near death, and lost the awareness of who she was. In the coma, she dreamed she was being taken up to heaven and standing before the Judgment Seat of God.
“Who are you?” a Voice says to her.
“I’m the wife of the mayor,” she replies.
“I did not ask you whose wife you are, but who you are.”
“I’m the mother of four children,” she replied.
“I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.”
“I’m a schoolteacher.”
“I did not ask you what your profession is, but who you are.”
And so it goes. No matter what she replies, she doesn’t seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“I did not ask what your religion is, but who you are.”
“I’m the one who went to church every day and always helped the poor and needy.”
“I did not ask you what you did, but who you are.”
She evidently fails the examination, for she is sent back to earth. When she comes out of the coma and recovers from her illness, she is determined to find out who she is.
I think all human beings are a little like that. During our lifetime, we are always asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Being both God and human, Jesus did not have that problem. He knew who He was. He was the Savior of the World come to rescue fallen humankind from sin and restore them to a right relationship with the Heavenly Father.
Our sermon text from St. Luke confuses us a bit, because it comes at an odd time. Here it is nine days after the birth of Christ, only three days into the New Year, and three days before the Wise Men visit on Epiphany, and Jesus is already 12 years old. On Epiphany, the Wise Men come to the house the Holy Family has moved into after leaving the animal shelter, but Jesus is still a baby. At this point, we too may not know who Jesus is, but He knows.
Luke, the well-educated medical doctor is the only gospel writer who tells us about Jesus’ visit to the Temple at age 12. According to Jewish Law, a 12 year old male was considered a man when he reached that age, and was required to worship at the Temple during the feast of Passover. This fact is reflected in our Lutheran traditions about junior Confirmation and getting confirmed.
When I was growing up in Trinity Lutheran Church, Dime Box, the men sat on the pulpit side of the church, and the women and children sat on the lectern side. All boys, after they were confirmed at about 12, 13, or 14 years old, would move across the aisle and sit with the men from that point on. You were also given your first razor as a confirmation gift, and women could no longer teach you in Sunday School.
I guess that helped you know who you were.
Because most folks traveled by foot or by donkey to the Temple for Passover, for safety’s sake, they traveled in groups, the men in one group and the women and children in another. That explains why Mary and Joseph could travel for a whole day without missing the boy. Mary probably thought Jesus was with Joseph and the other men, and Joseph probably thought he was with Mary and the other women and children, perhaps forgetting his boy turned 12 and now must travel with the men.
When Mary found Jesus and fussed at Him, saying, “Look, your father and I have been looking for you in great anxiety,” Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In so doing, Jesus identifies His father with God, not with Joseph. If they really knew their son, they would realize that the logical place to find Him would be in His Father’s House, the Temple.
In some ways this story about the Holy Family’s trip to the Temple in Jerusalem and back is bothersome. You may be, for example, concerned that Jesus is showing such seeming disobedience toward His earthly parents, especially in an era like ours wherein disobedience and questioning of authority make our schools marker-board jungles!
Today we live in a rebellious age that has led to institutions on the verge of anarchy, where the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother (and consequently all authority)”, is unknown. Will our teenagers use Jesus’ disobedience to challenge the authority of the Fourth Commandment?
Well, first of all, Jesus is, and always has been, God as well as man. As humans, we have no claim to being God.
In the text, we see the Son of God under two authorities – God and His earthly parents; one authority was Divine, the other human. As He was growing up, Jesus realized it was the Father’s will that He should be under the authority of his parents, but the day would come when He would forsake His home in obedience to a Higher Authority. Jesus learned to yield to the Heavenly Father’s authority through His study of God’s Word. This was the activity He was engaged in when His parents found Him in the Temple.
From God’s Word, all rightful authority flows. Martin Luther’s Explanation to the Fourth Commandment in the Catechism commands us to obey all who are in authority, whether teachers, Law Enforcement officers, or Government leaders. However, that does not mean we should never question authority. Luther encourages us to question and challenge authority when it commands us to do something contrary to the Law of God.
One recent example would be the Supreme Court decision to redefine “marriage,” to include same-sex couples. Here we have man’s Law and God’s Law in conflict. So if a Lutheran Pastor is asked to marry a same-sex couple, what does he do? He has three options: One, he can disobey God’s Law and marry them; Two, he can disobey man’s Law and be sued for everything he owns; Three, he can resign from the ministry and thereby neither break man’s Law nor God’s Law.
Which would you do if you were a pastor?
So the question, “Do you question authority, or do you obey?” is really a very complicated one. There is never a time when you should not obey God, but there are times when you have to question earthly authority. Thus the answer to the question, “Do you question authority, or do you obey,” is “It depends.”
The answer can never be, “I don’t know who I am.” We do know, we are the Lord’s. In answering, we have to consider five important things:
ONE, the world today is in turmoil because authority structures have broken down, such as in the family, in the church, and in government. TWO, we must distinguish between rightful authority and illegitimate authority. THREE, Jesus found His authority in His relationship with God and in God’s Word. FOUR, Jesus put Himself in subjection under His parents, until such a time when a Higher Authority would call Him to give His life for the world. And FIVE, we must place ourselves under the authority of God’s Word, written and Incarnate.
We have taken only a few steps into the New Year, 2016. What it will bring, we don’t know, — but God does.
One thing is certain though, and that is the truth expressed in today’s Epistle: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.