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Growing Up With God

Sermon - 12/30/12
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

 

1 Samuel 2:18-21

In the midst of all this, Samuel, a boy dressed in a priestly linen tunic, served God. Additionally, every year his mother would make him a little robe cut to his size and bring it to him when she and her husband came for the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “God give you children to replace this child you have dedicated to God.” Then they would go home.

God was most especially kind to Hannah. She had three more sons and two daughters! The boy Samuel stayed at the sanctuary and grew up with God.

 

Luke 2:41-52

Every year Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn’t know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.

The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.

 

His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”

 

He said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” But they had no idea what he was talking about.

 

So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

We have two stories this morning about remarkable children.  Dan preached on their mothers last week – Hannah and Mary, noting how Hannah was barren yet not so with God’s help.  And Mary, just an at risk teenager, finds joy and peace with her circumstances and sees her life and role as a blessing to God.  This week we have nearly identical stories of Samuel and Jesus.  Young, gifted children, lives dedicated to God.    

But not just gifted, for we can all think of remarkable children we know – picture one or two in your mind right now! 

Samuel was brought up knowing that he had a special purpose in life. In fact, God was preparing Samuel to be one of the pivotal leaders of Israel. The text says that, “Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people” (v. 26).

Something similar was said about Jesus. And it’s hard to think of another person with a greater purpose than Jesus. In preparation for it, he too “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). From the get go these kids were immersed in learning and prayer and had great things ahead of them – memorable lives to lead.

Growing up with God – I chose this title deliberately, not just because I read Eugene Peterson’s The Message where he says that Samuel “grew up with God.”  Yes, these boys had a purpose in life, it is a part of their birthright, a life dedicated to God. 

But I also have been imagining what it must have been like to grow up alongside Jesus and Samuel, be one of the kids in the neighborhood.   What must it have been like to know these boys, and not understand the fullness of what lie before them as men?  Were they really extraordinarily special? Or just kids, like our remarkable children?

Well much is left to the imagination, for this one story of a 12 year old is all we get in the gospels. 

So maybe Jesus' early life was insignificant, and so secluded in obscure Nazareth that there was nothing relevant to report, maybe 90% of his life history is lost to us, hidden from us.   Most of us live hidden and unheralded lives.

But I’m not the only one hungry to know Jesus as a young child, a boy growing into a man.  There were others, in those 2nd and 3rd centuries who wrote other stories. There is the Infancy Gospel of Matthew.  The Arabic Infancy Gospel from a later, more like 6th century date, where Mary has a much larger role as Jesus is just a baby. As they travel from place to place the family encounters lepers, the terminally ill, the outcasts, and the water that Jesus is bathed in is used by others and they are healed. There’s even a story in which the baby’s linens, or as we know it the diaper, is used to heal a woman.  That’s one magic diaper, people. 

Then one narrative you may have heard of before, Infancy Gospel of Thomas.  Different from the Gospel of Thomas which is the collection of sayings of Jesus.  In this gospel Jesus plays with the other children down by a creek and molds bird like shapes out of clay and breathes them to life.  Well of course he did, he’s Jesus.

Well, what about this?

3 1 While he was going from there with his father Joseph, a child running tore into his shoulder. And Jesus said to him, “You shall no longer go our way.” And instantly he died. At once the people, seeing that he was dead, cried out and said, “Where was this boy born that his word becomes a deed?”
  2 When they saw what had happened the parents of the dead boy blamed his father Joseph, saying, “Because you have this boy you cannot live with us in this village. If you wish to be here, teach him to bless and not to curse.”

Not what you were picturing when I said use your imagination to think of his childhood.

First thing I hear when I share this story with others:  “Oh!  I can see why this one didn’t make it into the gospel!” Oh but I wish it did!  Because this shows EXACTLY how ordinary Jesus was.    Children disobey.  They run away.  They hurt others with their words and their bodies.  They struggle to know how they are really feeling and act out when they cannot express themselves appropriately.  They snap at their parents in front of their teachers.  It’s happening all over my house these days. 

Jesus was just a boy too.  We don’t like to think of Jesus in these terms though.  It’s sometimes easier to see him as the perfect one, from beginning to end.  Fully human and fully divine.  And though some part of ourselves can admit that Jesus had a human side we keep that image of perfection in our minds and we can never achieve that.  We didn’t start perfect.  It’s a major problem – keeping people from church, instigating the leave of many from the church, confusing the rest of us. 

Another one of the great human moments for Jesus as an adult is in his private time of prayer he laments his purpose in life, wishes there was some other way to do God’s work.  That story alone has been a significant connection point for my own life when life becomes too much, too painful, too heartbreaking, and too much work.  It is human to wrestle with giving up.  But it is the divine within that urges us to keep going and keep growing.

My time to speak is short so I must get to the point.  You and I are also sons and daughters of God.  I know we say that Jesus is THE son of God but confession – to me you are too.  Just as blessed.  With just as much purpose.  Your mother may not have promised to leave you in the temple should she be blessed to have a baby (as Hannah did), but nonetheless you are a child of God.  Your mother may not have been visited by an angel who announced your coming (most angels today are named EPT) but God is fully invested in your future, needs you to bring this world into greater harmony, and knows that you have divine abilities to do the work.  The early Christian teacher Iranaeus proclaimed, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.”  Meaning that incarnation is not just for one guy born thousands of years ago.  Incarnation is here and now.   You are a son of God.  You are a daughter of God.  You have a purpose in life and are still growing into it.

I mean let’s face it - we are never "grown-up" but are always facing new tasks, accepting new responsibilities that call us to grow even more. Yes, yes, when we are young perhaps we felt it more – milestones like learning to read, being a big brother or sister, making friends, to graduation, your first job, becoming a parent. 

But what about the deeper stuff that we get a taste of as children but only really grasp as adults?  Resolving conflict appropriately, Admitting fault, saying you are sorry, making amends.  Learning to live alone after losing a loved one. Learning to Forgive others and Forgive ourselves.  Doing Laundry.  Wait, scratch that last one.  Jesus had these same growing edges. 

But there is more – for even as adults, Samuel and Jesus struggled to stay connected to their divine purpose.  We all have Gethsemane moments!

Think back to that remarkable child that so quickly came to your mind a moment ago – it was easy to see the light of God alive in that child, and you wouldn’t hesitate to be a guiding force, a helpful big brother or sister or grandparent to him or her on their journey of life.

But what about you, O Sons and Daughters? 

Do you have people in your life, wise and discerning persons who remind you of God’s investment in your life? 

What would it mean for you to make growing in wisdom, growing with God a bigger priority in your life?  What is it going to take for you to respond to God’s call in your life?

It’s happening already. 

The internal struggles you face everyday and the ordinary day to day responsibilities you have are not lost to God.  The person who celebrates 100 years of living and the child who dies at birth are both remembered by God.  And When you hold all the remarkable children of God in your life up in prayer, you are growing.  When you look out at the world and breathe deeply before just jumping into the madness, you are growing.  When you see the light of Jesus in yourself or in someone else, God is calling you, and you are taking a step forward. When you ask challenging questions, of your God or your government, not just to win, but to raise awareness, you are being the light of God in this world.  When you tell someone else they are loved by God and help them to understand that faults and all they are divine, you are building God’s kingdom.  If you can allow yourself to keep dreaming, keep growing, you will fulfill God’s purpose for you in this world.  

And if we are all as individuals growing, and not at all forgotten by God, this means the entire creation is growing. 

Congo, and Darfur are not hidden to God, even though the world ignores them.  We look at the Sandy Hook and we see tragedy.  We are sick, we are heartbroken, but all is not lost.  We can be better.  Honest dialogue about mental illness, prayers abound, volunteers are everywhere, offering hope, counseling, support. 

And all of us are part of the current, the flowing river of the purposeful movement of God – always going.  Always growing. 

May we be Incarnation in this new Year.  May we be more fully alive, and step forward in faith.

 


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