Readings: 1 Samuel 2:18-26, Psalm 148, Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, December 30 2018
Luke is the only gospel author to grant us a glimpse of what happened during Jesus’ life from the time of His birth until He commenced His ministry in Galilee. He offers us a picture of a boy who is growing in wisdom and stature and who has a peculiar attachment to the temple in Jerusalem which He describes as "His Father's house."
By the age of 12 Jesus seemed to have an awareness of His identity that many people go through their whole lives never truly getting a hold of. Who He was could not be defined by the Family He belonged to, the job that He did, the company He kept or a whole host of other things. His life was defined by His relationship to God whom He knew was His heavenly Father.
Where do we find our true selves?
How do we define our identities?
Who are we?
We're here in a service of worship. The lights are on. But are we at home in our Father’s House? Is this a moment that is shaping who we are or, are we just sitting through another church service.
Let's think about some of the things that make us who we are.
One thing is our families. We are all somebody's son or daughter. We are defined by a family name. We are so-and-so's child or "Whatshisname’s" eldest or "Mr. Somebody's" youngest. When we're sitting in the waiting room and somebody calls out our name everybody knows who we are and in a small community like this also whose we are.
When we moved to the USA from Great Britain my kids only had to open their mouths and their accent gave them away. People knew they were mine. The way we look gives us away. I used to hate it when I was a kid and people would come up to me and say, "Oh you're just like your mother" and tap me on the head (in the way only great aunts can), but there isn't a thing anyone of us can do about it. As soon as we come into life we are defined by the families that we grow up in. Whether they are our natural parents, our adopted parents, our step-parents, whoever it is - they are part of the way other people see us.
We inherit certain gifts and characteristics and mannerisms from our physical parents. There's all that D.N.A. and chromosomes and genes that cause us to look and act in certain ways. We learn to live by imitation so our patterns of speech, our ways of looking at the world are all shaped by the home environment that we are reared in.
It is not just our homes that define us. It's also our occupations. "What do you do?" people will ask us. How we answer will often determine whether the conversation goes any further. At various times in my life, I have worked at different things. It's always been the same me, but I have observed how people have treated me in different ways, according to what they thought a person who did what I was doing at that time should be treated.
For a while I was the guy in the supermarket who put the boxes on the shelf and collected the karts that people had left out in the parking lot. Later I became the Assistant Warehouse manager which meant that the boss, who previously never spoke to me, would invite me for a drink on Christmas Eve. I worked for a while in an office. I was the voice on the other end of the telephone, "Hello, enquiries can I help you?" I commuted to the city on a train with thousands of others carrying a briefcase that had not a lot more in it than sandwiches and a flask of coffee.
For a while I worked on a government scheme out in the countryside doing conservation work. Some of the people I worked with then had been in a bit of trouble with the law. When I was with them, it was guilt by association. When I was in their company there were places I wasn't welcome.
When I lived on Merseyside, an employment blackspot, like so many others for a time I wore the label of being "Unemployed" and became a Welfare recipient, a social case to be investigated and in some people’s eyes a burden on their taxes. I played for a while in a Rock group. I went to college and became a student. People have their own images of how the unemployed or students or people who play in rock and roll bands behave.
Throughout it all it was still just little old me. I say "little old me" because there's another factor that can affect the way people see us. I don't mean size, (Though that is also a factor). I mean age. We hear about young people, old people, middle aged people, generation X'ers, Baby Boomers, Tots, Teens, Toddlers and so it goes. Yet it has been said that age is a state of mind. I've met ninety years old folk who have a child like twinkle in their eye that defies their years and I've come across eighteen year olds who treat themselves so seriously that you'd think they were ninety.
We are characterized by the things we see as desirable, what we aim for. Even our idea of "heaven" makes us who we are. By being here today there are those who will point the finger at us and say, "Oh, you're the religious sort!" I hate that. Particularly when the harshest words in the gospel are directed by Jesus at those who were the religious sort; the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Teachers of the law. Who wants to be associated with that bunch of hypocrites? I know in school many of our youth come up against negative peer pressure all the time. "Church?" It's just not cool.
I've come up with an answer to confound those who disapprovingly call me "The religious sort." I just look them in the eye and say, "Religious sort? I'll have you know that I belong to Presbyterians! The only denomination whose name is an anagram of “Britney Spears.” That's no kind of answer but it sure shuts them up for a while. How easy it is to label each other, even fellow Christians. He's Baptist. She's Catholic. They're Pentecostal and all of that.
Which all brings me right back to our Bible story about Jesus in the temple. The place He called "His Father's house." One of the most startling things about His life, is that by the age of twelve, He had a sense of identity that was rooted in who He was in God. The defining factor in His life was not that he was a teenager about to become a young adult when he reached the age of thirteen, not that He was an apprentice carpenter, nor that He was of the family of Joseph and Mary but that He was a child of His Father God.
Throughout His life He refused to be defined by family or occupation or age or religion or social class or nationality. The rich would invite him for dinner, the poor were equally at home in His company. The young thronged around Him and the old made Him welcome. He was a friend to the rich young ruler and the poorest leper, who made a prostitute feel as welcome as a sister, one recognized by both Samaritan and Jew as a wise teacher. He identified with none yet was identified by most as a friend.
That was one of the things that made Him such a threat. It wasn't such a great leap for everybody's friend to suddenly become everyone's enemy. The accusation "Of course He's not really one of us" was easily made against Him. When He refused to be labeled, to be classified, to be contained, then His presence became dangerous and subversive, something that those who held the keys of power recognized right from the start of His ministry.
Throughout His life, the times of blessing and the time of persecution, Jesus remained true to Himself as a Child of His Father God, at home with who He was. I gave this message the title of "Anybody Home?" because it's a question we need to ask ourselves. Are we at home with ourselves, with our God, with our life the way it is right now? Anybody home?
Ultimately we will depart this life in much the same way as we arrived. We brought nothing in with us and can't take anything out with us. So on the last day what is going to define who we are or what we become? Ultimately it has to be our relationship with God. Everything else is in transit. Everything else is like the flowers that today blossom and grow but tomorrow are faded and return to dust.
It's not a question of who we are, it's a question of whose we are. "I am in my Father's house" declared Jesus at the age of twelve. He states He is a child of God. His life will be defined, in all its changing seasons, by His relationship with God. The things He was asked to do by His Father were the things that His life displayed. Because He knew whose He was, He knew who He was. He was at home in the Father's love.
We too shall be restless until we discover our true selves in the love of Jesus Christ. We too must say to God, "Whoever I am, Wherever I am, Whatever I am, Lord… I am Yours." One of the hymns puts it this way:
"Take my life and Let it be
Consecrated Lord to thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise"
The parents of Jesus came to Him, anxiously, with a question. "Where have you been, what are you doing here?" Jesus replied that they should have expected to find Him in the place of God, after all, didn't they realize that was where He was at home? "This is my Father's house."
Our lives will be an empty, anxious search until our hearts find their home in God. It is said that home is where the heart is. Do you know where your heart is? Anybody home? May we, through faith, find our hearts are at home in our Father’s love, at home with the things of His Kingdom, at home with the ways of the Spirit and the grace and peace and wholeness of Jesus Christ. Any other home will never satisfy the deepest needs of our lives.
The home God offers is a home for people of all nations, a home of healing, a prosperous place, a safe place, a home filled with hope, a place where tears come to an end and grief turns into laughter. Sounds like the sort of place we would do well to be a part of. There really is no place like home!
"In my Father’s house,"says Jesus,
"There are many mansions.
I go there on purpose
to prepare a place for you."