Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 16, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 52:1-10+Psalm 36:5-10+(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)+Luke 2:41-51

One summer when my children were very small, my sister and her boys came to visit us in our home in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Of course, with this house full of children under ten, we had to take a day-trip to Hersheypark, one of myall-time favorite amusement parks. We arrived as the park opened, took the obligatory Chocolate World tour, and then set out on a full and exhausting day riding all the rides, eating all the sweets, getting a little sunburned, and watching these young cousins enjoying each other’s company.

We were still there catching a few more rides as darkness fell, and at some point we paused to figure out which direction to go, what last ride or two we wanted to catch. Once decided, we headed that way, not realizing that the youngest child, my son Seth, missed the cue and was busy looking at something else when we moved on.

Now, Seth was between three and four that summer, and it was a decade when the kidnapping of children by strangers was movie-of-the-week fodder. There had been a couple of tragic high-profile cases, so every parent’s worst nightmare was that they would turn their head for a minute, and someone would snatch their child.

Our group had not gone very far when I looked around and realized that Seth was not with us. I asked the others if they knew where he was, and we quickly retraced our steps. In a sea of children, he was nowhere to be found. We searched his favorite games and rides near where we had last seen him, asked others if they had seen a little boy in blue shorts and a red and white shirt (every child seemed to be wearing blue shorts and a red and white shirt), and found a park security person for help. At about that time, I heard his voice. “Mama!” Here came Seth, riding on one of those little maintenance vehicles with the open sides, happy as you please. An alert park employee noticed that he was wandering by himself and invited him to go for a ride to find us.

I am guessing that all of this took no more than 15-20 minutes. It felt like an eternity.

It felt like three days.

“Your father and I have been tormented in searching for you,” Mary said to 12-year-old Jesus (Luke 2:48).

I know that feeling.

Jesus and his family and neighbors had traveled the 60-some-odd miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover, one of the three yearly festivals that required faithful Jews who were able to make the journey to the temple in Jerusalem. There could have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of pilgrims from Nazareth in that crowd. 1st century Palestine was a different place from 20th century Pennsylvania, so assuming that the young Jesus was with others in the caravan would not have been unusual. But after a day into the journey, Mary started to look for him and, not finding him among the travelers, returned to Jerusalem and searched for three days.

I don’t know about you, but if I had been searching for Seth in a city rather than an amusement park, a church would not have been the first place I checked. It clearly wasn’t the first place Mary checked, either. Yet, there he was, sitting among the learned men studying Torah, acting surprised that his parents were so frantic. “Where else would I be?” he asks (2:49).

This is the only place in the gospels where we get a glimpse of Jesus as a child. Matthew has the family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod at some point when Jesus was under two. Luke has him presented in the temple at 40 days as was the custom. The next time we encounter him in the synoptic gospels is at his baptism. Scholars generally agree he was about 30 then. So, we know nothing about his childhood.

Now, I have spoken to you about some of the writings that did not make it into the bible, and there are a couple of sources attributed to James and Thomas that tell what seem to be fanciful tales about Jesus as a child – miracles and special, supernatural abilities like the time he cursed a child that made him mad and the child died or clay birds that he brought to life. Interestingly, these texts also tell us that Jesus was unteachable and, in fact, became the teacher of the rabbis.

Luke’s 12-year-old Jesus is not teaching but is curious, precocious, listening and questioning. They are amazed at this child, that he spent three days with them rather than being off doing the things that 12-year-old boys do. They wondered at his questions and the answers he gave to them.

Why would his parents expect him to be anywhere else? Did they not know him? Did anyone?

Anyone who has raised children can tell you that parenting is hard. For Mary and Joseph, it must have been particularly so. But notice that they do the things that parents of their time did. They went to the festivals, they observed the religious law, they raised him as an observant Jew.

Those who study these things will tell you that children will follow the path their parents’ model. If you want your children to have faith, you show them what that looks like. You study scripture, come to church, show them that praying and singing and worshipping are all part of the life of faith. How you live that faith in the world models a Christ-centered life for your children. And if you have no children or they are grown, how you live your life models that for others.

A young woman I encountered tells the story of feeling lost and alone, seeking meaning in her life. She decided to try church, and after a couple of Sundays trying different ones where she felt like an outsider and was embarrassed that she didn’t know what she was supposed to do during the service, she decided to try one last time. This time, an older woman sitting alone slid in next to her, handed her a service leaflet, pointed out where they were in the prayer book, opened a hymnal to the right page, and at the end of the service said to her, “It was good to worship with you. I’ll see you here next week.”

That was all it took. She was hooked.

There are so many theories of evangelism and church growth and how do we turn things around when the answers are really right in front of us.

Raise children up in the way they should go, as the book of Proverbs tells us (22:6).

Welcome the stranger, the newcomer.

Invite people to come and invite them back again.

We live in perilous times. I can’t imagine trying to navigate it alone, without all of you. Without God who brought us together.

I doubt that Mary ever got over her worry for Jesus, right up until she watched from the foot of the cross. But in that death, that resurrection, that giving of the Spirit, we became a community, the Church.

This is a gift we have for the world. No one needs to be lost. No one needs to be alone. No one needs to be afraid. Let them know that God loves them, and there is a place here for them.

Where else would we be but in God’s house?

ASEPSermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 16, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas