Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
Where Did That Kid Go? Luke 2:41-52
"Has anyone seen Jesus? I've seen all the other kids. Where is Jesus? I can't find him anywhere. Honey, is he with you? Elizabeth, have you seen Jesus? John, have you and Jesus been out playing. Where is that boy? It can be so hard to keep track of him with all the little ones under foot. He's twelve now. I expect him to be more responsible and to keep up. He thinks he's so grown up. He's still a kid though. He should be where we can find him. We are easily more than a day away from Jerusalem now. What do you mean he's not anywhere in the caravan? Have you checked with everyone? Oh, no. We must have left him back in the city. Oh, no. He could be anywhere by now. We have to go back to get him."
I imagine a conversation something like this happening right at the moment when Jesus' parents realized that he wasn't with them on the caravan back to Nazareth. I bet that they were terrified. Even though their parenting style was probably more free-range than your average American family, and even though kids were not quite as protected a class as they are in our culture, they were still beloved. And, it would have been awful to realize that you had left your child in a large, busy city that was more than a day and a half walk away. There are no cell-phones to call to ahead so that people can be looking for him, and no cars or trains that will help you move faster. It is only you and your husband and if you're lucky, a borrowed camel or donkey to help. You walk as fast as you can and pray as much as you can that you will find him before anything happens.
By the time you and your spouse get to Jerusalem, it has been three days since you have seen your child. You have shifted back and forth from terror to rage to hope. You are scared that something has happened. There are so many people in the city right now, with more than you average number of thieves and imperial soldiers around because of the festival. Your son would not be safe in either of their hands. Then, you are angry at him for running off. You have said more than once that, if he's not dead yet, you might have to kill him yourself. And, then, you hope... you hope that he has eaten... that he has found somewhere safe to sleep... that some kind stranger saw their own child in his brown eyes that they took him in and are watching over him. It is the Passover. People feel more generous at the holidays. Hopefully, someone is watching out for him.
You try to remember where you saw him last. You look at your spouse and you both say, "The temple." The whole devout family had traveled there to make the necessary sacrifices. You remember that he was fascinated. So, you run in that direction. You scramble up the steps and there he is. This is how poet Stephanie Crumpton described the scene:
"Determined not to be moved
Not from the moment, nor the matter at hand
He sits cross-legged
Beneath the old wrinkled toes of the “Old Men”
The Priests, Sadducees, and Big Brothers
The Pharisees, Uncles, and Fathers
His 12 years to their eons
Unaffected by the dissonance and distortions of age
His young voice (new, but full)
Wise (knowing, but seeking)
Moved with compassion, he asks the keepers of the Torah…
“Where has the love gone?”
With no answer to offer his suckling young mind
The sound of their own silence is asphyxiating
They, too, have missed it
They know that law only lives where love abides…
Their greying eyes fill with tears
Jesus (12 years old)
Moved by their tenderness
Empowered by their trust
In the House of the Fathers
At this, they sit astounded
The silence is interrupted
Panicky footsteps (Mary & Joseph) trample sacred ground
There is danger in being young
"Thank God, Jesus here you are! Boy, where have you been? Can't you just do what you're told and stay with the rest of the family? Don't you know that we have been worried sick? We haven't seen you for three days! Three days! You could have been lying somewhere dead in a ditch. We might never had been able to have found you. Why on earth didn't you stay with us when we left the city? Why have you treated us like this?"
Oh, this boy, you think, thank God he is safe... this boy just looks up at you with the kind of wisdom and confidence that only a 12 year-old can muster, and he says to you, "Why were you all looking so hard? Where else would I be? Obviously I'm going to be in God's house." You, his parents, at that moment, have no idea what he is talking about. There is nothing obvious about this. What kind of normal kid hides out at the temple and talks about the Torah with the scholars there. No. Obvious would have been you playing with your cousin John as we walked back home. Come on, now. We are three days behind. Let's get home. You know how lucky you were that the adults who saw him in the temple protected him, even as he misbehaved. You go home. You don't forget that first act of rebellion, though. You wonder if it won't be his last.
It is not lost on me that this week, when I choose to preach about this one fortunate twelve year old boy and his family, another 12 year old boy's family has been weeping. Tamir Rice's family was not as lucky as Jesus' was. From the dispatcher who did not pass on all of the necessary information to the responding officers to the police officer who chose to shoot only two seconds after arriving on the scene and then did not administer any first aid for at least four minutes after shooting him, Tamir Rice, was, at the very least, a victim of significant negligence and misconduct. Unlike Jesus, He had no kind adult who assumed he needed help and took a minute to ask. Instead, he is being blamed for being a kid with a toy gun who didn't do what the grownups told him to. His legacy is becoming a reputation as a boy who didn't do what he was told and died for it.
I once read this in a preaching book: if you come upon a terrible story that seems to have no good news, one way to talk about it is to imagine what would make the story better. How could Tamir's story have been better, more like Jesus'? The only reason that Jesus was able to go home safely with his parents was because adults around him, strangers who did not know him, took care of him. They saw him as a child to be protected. We have a responsibility to do that for the kids around us, too. Did you know that in Androscoggin County, youth of color are 3x more likely than white kids to be arrested. In York County, they are 2.5x more likely. In Kennebec County, youth of color are 2.5x more likely than white kids to be detained in a secure facility when arrested, as opposed to be sent home on their own recognizance. And, in Aroostock and Androscoggin Counties, white kids are twice as likely as youth of color to be allowed to resolve legal matters informally if they are arrested. Across Maine, youth of color are being arrested and detained more often than their white counterparts. Some might ask if black and brown kids are simply committing that many more crimes or worse crimes. When you actually look at the crime statistics, there is not so much of a difference in kinds of crimes committed so as to explain the vast discrepancy in arrest and detention rates. It simply looks like youth of color are being arrested more and treated more harshly. It sounds to me like these kids needs some Pharisees to watch over them just like that trouble-maker Jesus used to have.
That's right. In this one case, I think we're supposed to act like the Pharisees. They are the heroes of this story. So, what does being a Pharisee mean for us right now? How can we take care of the lost kids in our midst? Here's some things that the Muskie School of Public Policy recommends: Invite law enforcement, social science researchers, and people who have been arrested and their families to develop a racial equity program to be implemented across the Maine justice system; hire justice system employees from diverse backgrounds; train more people to recognize systemic and implicit bias; examine how the school system and justice system work together; and regularly evaluate our justice system to make sure that all people are being treated justly. It doesn't sound as much fun as hanging out with a kid at the temple talking about the Bible, but, I bet these our neighbors would be just as appreciative as Jesus' were. Let's do right by all the kids we meet. After all, we never know what they will grow up to teach us if we give them the chance.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
Ron Allen: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2708
Jim Kast-Keat: http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/looking-for-jesus-luke-241-52/
Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation- A Bible Commentary for teaching and preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990).
Fred Craddock, John Hayes, Carl Holladay, and Gene Tucker, Preaching the New Common Lectionary: Year C, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1985).
Stephanie M. Crumpton's spoken word piece Love and Rebellion : uccfiles.com/rtf/wwYouth122715.rtf
For data about youth of color and the justice system in Maine, please see the report, Disproportionate Contact: Youth of Color In Maine's Juvenile Justice System:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.