Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas 2C: "Where else would I be?"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 3, 2009.

Jesus said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

This morning’s Gospel reading is the only glimpse we get in the whole Bible of Jesus between birth and adulthood. That means there’s this huge gap between when he was presented at the temple at 40 days old and this story that happens when he was twelve years old. That’s a big gap.

What makes it worse is that Jesus in this story seems less like a child and more like a little adult. In fact , when you see this portrayed in movies about Jesus’ life, the boy Jesus, who always for some reason seems to have a British accent, seems kind of creepy and otherworldly in the face of his frantic parents.

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

It’s a little better when we read it like most 12 year olds I know:

“Pfffft! Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I was going to be in my Father’s house? DUH!”

But still there’s something missing. How did we get here?

It’s an important question for each of us, because this 12 year old knows something wonderful and remarkable. He knows where he belongs. He knows where home is for him. “Of course, I’m here, where else would I be? This is my home!”

Some of us spend our whole lives trying to find that for ourselves. Trying to find that place where we feel we can absolutely be ourselves. Where we are held and loved and challenged and can flourish. The place where we can say, “Of course I’m here. Where else would I be? Where else would I ever want to be?”

If Jesus is fully human and fully divine, it doesn’t seem right that he didn’t have even a little bit of this search. And so we look at that gap between 40 days and 12 years and ask of the boy Jesus at the Temple. “How did you get here?”

And believe it or not, there are some answers. You won’t find them in the Bible, but you will find them in some ancient scriptures that never made the cut .One of these is a second century Syrian text called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the Bible for any number of reasons. The process of deciding which texts made it and which didn’t was not only a theological but a political process. But what we do know is that it tries to answer our question. What happened to Jesus growing up? And because of that, the story of Jesus at the temple that we heard this morning is not at its beginning but its end.

The picture this Gospel paints is of a Jesus who is at once the Son of God, with all the powers that means – but is still a kid.

Think of it, you’re five years old and you can do things that no one else on earth can do … but you’re still five years old! Take this story. Jesus is playing by the side of a stream. He made a dam and collected a bunch of the water in a pool and then started making clay sparrows on the bank out of the mud from the pool. Pretty standard five year old stuff. But then Joseph comes and yells at him because he’s not supposed to be doing this on the Sabbath, so Jesus claps his hands and the mud sparrows turn into real birds and fly off. Pretty cool.

But then the son of a scribe who was with Jesus takes a branch and destroys the dam Jesus had made. And Jesus gets mad at him and starts yelling at him … again, pretty standard five year old stuff. But this isn’t any ordinary five year old. So when Jesus gets mad he curses the other boy and the other boy immediately wrinkles and ages and becomes like an old man. Not so cool.

This gospel is full of stories like this of Jesus coming to grips with who he is and with the power he has. There’s a story of him walking through the village and a boy bumps into him and Jesus curses him and the boy falls down dead. But there’s also the story of when he was eight and he was out with his father sowing seed in their field. And Jesus takes a single seed of grain, plants it, reaps it, threshes it and turns it into about 650 bushels of wheat and calls all of the poor of the village together and gives it to them.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a story we can relate to. It’s the story of a child who is struggling growing up. A child whose teachers are afraid of him not just because of what he can do but because he knows more than they do. A child who is continually getting into trouble because he doesn’t know how to control himself. But even more than that it is the story of a child who just doesn’t fit in. Who feels different, who knows he is different and just doesn’t feel like anyone ever really understands him. Because whether people are praising God because of him or fleeing from him in fear one message is clear. You’re not one of us.

And it is after 12 years of that that Jesus goes to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover and we have the scene we have heard today. But the Infancy Gospel of Thomas paints an even more detailed picture. Here’s how it tells the story:
And after the third day they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing the law and asking them questions. And they were all attending to Him, and wondering that He, being a child, was shutting the mouths of the elders and teachers of the people, explaining the main points of the law and the parables of the prophets. And His mother Mary coming up, said to Him: Why have you done this to us, child? Behold, we have been seeking for you in great trouble. And Jesus said to them: Why do you seek me? Do you not know that I must be about my Father's business?
And here’s the different part:
And the scribes and the Pharisees said: Are you the mother of this child? And she said: I am. And they said to her: Blessed are you among women, for God has blessed the fruit of your womb; for such glory, and such virtue and wisdom, we have neither seen nor heard ever. And Jesus rose up, and followed His mother, and was subject to His parents. And His mother observed all these things that had happened. And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and stature, and grace. End of Gospel.
The entire infancy Gospel of Thomas puts this event into context and describes why it was really important. You have this child who no matter how hard he tries can’t fit in, can’t find a place where he is appreciated and accepted, who even when he is doing good things makes people afraid and anxious and uncomfortable. And suddenly, he finds this place, this community, these people, who accept him. Unlke Luke’s version this Gospel goes out of its way to let us know that the scribes and Pharisees in the Temple, even though Jesus is challenging them in difficult ways accept him and see him as a gift and a blessing.

Jesus has found a home. And because he has finally found a place, found a community that praises God for him just as he is, he is able to do from then on what he had never been able to do before – go back home and be obedient to his parents until his coming of age. Because he knew there was this place, this community that saw him as he was, appreciated, loved and even needed him, he could find the strength to go out into the world and live his life.

This is our story! This is our search! Because we have all been that child Jesus. I’m not saying that we could make clay sparrows fly or strike people dead by looking at them. But we all have pieces of ourselves that we learned growing up or that we are learning growing up that people don’t understand, or make other people anxious or afraid. And so we learn, often through much trial and error, what to show and what to conceal. But we long in our hearts for that place, that community, that person, where we don’t need to censor and closet, where we can just be fully ourselves and know that the only response is going to be “Praise God for the blessing that is you!”

And when we are so fortunate, so blessed to find such a place, to find such a community or such a person, and someone asks us why we are going there or why we are with that person, sometimes we can’t help but answer like that 12 year old Jesus. “Where else would I be? DUH!”

And when we are so fortunate, so blessed to find such a place, to find such a community or such a person, it gives us strength to be out in the world and live the rest of our lives.

This was all brought home for me in the past week by the life and death of our dear brother, Dennis Engelhard. Dennis was as kind a soul as ever walked this earth. And like so many of us, he struggled to find a place where he was accepted, where he was rejoiced in for who he was. But he was also so blessed to find that in three places.

He was blessed to find that in the Missouri State Highway Patrol, where he died doing what he loved to do so much … helping people in need. When we ask the question, “Why did he have to be at the side of that road helping that motorist that icy Christmas morning,” I think Dennis would give us the same answer Jesus did at the temple. “Where else would I be but helping people?” Being a trooper and helping others was home for Dennis.

He was blessed to find that in this Cathedral community. My lasting memory of Dennis will always be him kneeling at the altar rail with the look of great humility and grace in his eyes as he received the Body of Christ. He found here a community that embraced him as who he was and certainly rejoiced in it. And we know that by how keenly we feel his departure from us.

But perhaps most of all, he found it in Kelly, his partner and soulmate for nearly 15 years. In each other’s eyes and arms they found the joy of Adam crying “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” They found the joy of knowing and being known and being rejoiced in fully … a joy that like the boy Jesus at the temple gave them the strength to live in a world that often didn’t understand them and out of ignorance feared who they are and what they share.

But this Gospel is reflected in more than just in Dennis’ life. It’s reflected in this community’s commitment to one another. In the group of Cathedral folks who made the journey across the state to Brookfield to be with Kelly for Dennis’ funeral service. And I know if you’d asked any one of them why they did it, their answer would have been the same, “Where else would I be but here for each other? Where else would I be but with the ones in whom I rejoice? Where else would I be but with the ones who rejoice in me?”

Jesus said to his parents, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" For him, those words were both the ending of one journey and the beginning of another. And the same is true for us. Because we all know the pain of the search. Of trying to find the place, the community where we don’t have to hide. And if God can continue to create that place in us around Christ’s table. If we can say more and more, “of course I’m going to Christ Church Cathedral … where else would I be? … why don’t you come, too?”

If we can truly be a home for all people, if in this place we can break down our own walls of judgment against each other and build up the bonds of rejoicing in each other, then just as in the Gospels a new story will begin to be written. A story that isn’t about what happens in here, but what happens out there. A story where we all increase not only in years but in wisdom, and in human and divine favor. A story where we know so well that we are loved in here that we can leave this place and love out there. Amen.

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