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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.