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Monday, January 7, 2013

In My Father's House (Luke 2.41-52)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
January 6, 2013
Some Music Used
Prelude: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" (Joseph Martin)
Hymn of Praise: "Better is One Day" (Redman)
Hymn of Praise: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" (RESIGNATION)
Offering of Music: "Cantad al Senor (Sing to the Lord) (arr. Youngblood)
Hymn of Sending: "Come All Christians, Be Committed" (traditional)
Postlude: "O God Beyond All Praising" (Bedford)

"In My Father's House"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Luke 2:41-52; Psalm 84:1,8-12

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This story has been a long-time favorite of mine.  It is the only story that gives us a glimpse into the life of Jesus between his birth and his public ministry.  It gives the briefest hint of an answer to questions like:

    What was Jesus like as a teenager?
    Did Jesus do miracles as a child? (Did he have to clean his room?)
    Did Jesus always know he was the Son of God?
While this story doesn’t answer every question we might like to ask, it does give us a wonderful snapshot of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the context of parents, religious life, and relationship to God.

Today, we are only going to focus on one part of this wonderful and fascinating story – the part that is the main point.  That main point is that Jesus, even as a young boy, prioritized and emphasized serving God and being in His presence.  And if our goal as Christians is to be imitators and followers of Jesus Christ (which scripture says it is!), then we are to seek to have the same mind and heart that would say, “I had to be in my Father’s house.”

The Customary Visit

It was religious law for adult, Jewish men (aged 13 and up) to travel to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Feast.  It had become customary for Jewish women and families to travel with the men, and at twelve, Jesus was almost old enough to observe the law himself.  Yet, at twelve, he came to the Passover under the authority of Joseph, his earthly father.

While we are quite distanced from the practice of an annual pilgrimage and religious feast, we do know something about a “customary visit” to church.  For many of us, particularly in the South, it is expected that we will attend church on Sunday.  Though much of that expectation has eroded in the last 40 years, it is still socially acceptable and even expected that one attend a Sunday church service, even if infrequently.  Perhaps a closer parallel to the annual Passover pilgrimage is demonstrated at Christmas and Easter, when even the most non-religious person is drawn to that one Christmas Eve or Easter morning service with family or friends.  It’s just part of the culture, part of the religion.

Jesus’ Surprising Expectation

What stands out in Luke’s story as very unusual (even for modern Christians reading with full knowledge of who Jesus is), is that the boy Jesus did something so seemingly unexpected, and did so with complete confidence that he was doing the expected thing.  We relate much more with Mary and Joseph, who ask, “Why have you treated us this way?… [we] have been anxiously looking for you.”  Even knowing who Jesus is – as Mary and Joseph did – we are a taken off guard a little by his answer: “Why is it that you were looking for me?  Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

They did not understand.  You HAD to be?  In your FATHER’S house?  Yes, yes, we understand that God is our Father, and particularly Jesus’ Father.  Yes, we understand that love and service to God are the most important thing there is.  But what of normal expectations?  Surely one is expected to leave when it is time to leave.  Surely a boy is expected to leave when it is time to leave.

I remember one of you recently sharing a frustration with not being able to locate one of your children when it was time to leave after church… and then finding him in the nursery holding one of the babies.  Everything flipped on its head in that moment.

What is additionally surprising is that Jesus’ action is no act of childish rebellion.  He immediately leaves with his parents and the Bible says that he “continued in subjection to them.”  He was an obedient and faithful child.  And that’s exactly what led him to stay in his Father’s house.  To him, it was the most natural place in the world to be – listening and asking questions of the teachers.  It was Jesus’ expectation and priority to be in his Father’s house seeking and serving God.  Though the natural expectation was otherwise, his heart was so attuned to his Heavenly Father that his full expectation was to be there in the temple among the teachers.

Our Surprising Expectation

What is the point of all this, other than to say that Jesus was clearly a very special twelve year old?  I’ll just say it outright, then tell you why:

I believe the point of this story is to challenge us to spend our time, attention, money, talents, gifts, and energy generously (if not extravagantly) in our Father’s house and in His service.

I believe that being a true follower of Jesus Christ will so transform our heart, priorities, expectations, and our “world” that we will understand what it means to say, “I have to be in my Father’s house.”  We will seek every opportunity to gather, pray, worship, serve, ask questions, and offer ourselves in worship and service to God. 

I’ve heard ones of you express this often… “My week isn’t the same without coming to church… I wish I could be there all the time… I look forward to Tuesday mornings… to Wednesday nights.”

Here’s why: Following Jesus Christ often, if not always, puts us at odds with the expectations of this world.  I fully expect the “normal reaction” to these statements to be, “You want me to do what?”  We have jobs, families, commitments, hobbies… things to do, places to go, people to see.  Surely, coming to church and maybe an occasional special program is enough to be a “good Christian.”  But I’m not talking about being a “good Christian.”  That’s a misnomer. 

Christianity isn’t about a checklist of activities or memberships.  And I realize there is possibility for confusion on this.  I am not talking about a checklist.  You don’t have to be in choir to be a Christian.  I am talking about a not-of-this-world desire to be near God and be a part of what God is doing.  And that heart-transforming desire WILL cause us to be drawn to our Father’s house and work in surprising ways.

God IS here.  God IS at work here – through this church and through you. 

The Heart of Christ

Where will your Heavenly Father fit into your priorities, goals, and decisions in 2013?  That’s God’s challenging question to us today.

This is an appropriate challenge to consider as we begin a new year together at Good Shepherd.  I’m not asking you to sign up for a certain number of activities to qualify as a “good member.”  I am asking much more!  Hear and respond to God’s challenge from the Bible: follow Christ; imitate Jesus; seek the Lord’s will and work until you understand what it means to say, “I have to be in my Father’s house… I have to be about my Father’s work.”  Press forward toward the Father until following and serving Jesus Christ is your first priority, your highest goal, and your surprising expectation.  Amen.

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