This Sunday there were three Gospel stories from which to choose; I think many came to church expecting the “wise men” Gospel from Matthew but instead I chose the story from Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus is separated from his parents without their knowledge. Eventually he is found… but, amazingly, in the Temple in deep conversation with religious and theological leaders. Quite a few “aha” moments flying around.
The basic text for the sermon is underneath the sermon audio.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, RI; Sunday January 5th 2020 The Reverend Alan Neale; “‘Aha’”
It is our Greek friend Archimedes whose name is linked forever with moments of sudden discovery; sometimes called “aha” moments. The story goes that the king wanted Archimedes to discern whether his crown was made of gold. For many days Archimedes fretted about an answer until one famous day when, while taking a bath, he realizes the solution and then, allegedly, leaps from his bath and runs through the streets naked shouting “Eureka – I’ve found it”. Truly a quintessential “aha” moment.
Our minds but more especially our spirits (because they are eternal) can be laboratories for such discoveries though running around wet and naked are not crucial to the task, rarely required.
I think one “aha” moment occurred for the world to see when, a few days ago, there was a papal “hand swat” when Pope Francis (jerked backwards by an ardent fan) slapped a woman’s hand and clearly looked either in pain or disgruntled or both. This was an “aha” moment as we recognized, what we really should already know to be true, that the Pope (any Pope) is human and subject to human failings. Thank God, the “aha” moment continued the next day when the Pope made public apology to the woman. In a few hours we were propelled into seeing the humanity but also the Christian nature of the man.
I believe that today’s Gospel from Luke 2 shows evidence of “aha” moments both for Jesus and for his parents.
Verse 42 sets the scene for these crucial revelations: “42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.” There is much to be said for us to develop habits of worship, of prayer, of meditation, of service, of giving… to do such things “as usual”. The habitual does not war against the spontaneous, the known does not dampen the revelatory… a regular practice, “as usual”, is the good soil for us to discover and receive new truths about ourselves, about God and about our relationship with God.
And so the twelve year old boy, traveling as usual to Jerusalem, loses track of time and purpose; I feel confident that it was not Jesus’ intent to cause his parents distress and alarm but something happened, maybe something like an “aha” moment, that led him back to the temple… but not only that, led him into the center of theological discussion “46 He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Here surely was an “aha” moment that was going to shape the life and thinking and purpose of Jesus!
Mary and Joseph were subject to two “aha” moments in this precious Gospel story. Listen to Luke: “43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.” “When they did not find him” – here is surely one of the most poignant “aha” moments; when our assumptions that God is with us, on our side, defending our prejudices are shaken and we realize “we have left Him behind”. Or when we come to realize that years of faithful church attendance have somehow left us without a vital and authentic experience of God and assurance of God’s love and grace.
The second revelation for the parents was when they entered the temple and observed this miraculous, strange scene of their twelve year old son in deep and fruitful conversation with religious leaders. Their first reaction was more than understandable: “48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” But then comes the “aha” moment as Jesus tries to help them understand, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house, doing my Father’s business.”
We are told the parents did not really understand but nevertheless the family was reunited, Jesus leaves the temple willingly and resumes his dutiful relationship with Mary and Joseph.
And Luke concludes the story with these words, “52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” What we see in the temple is not a fait accomplait, it is not a completed work, a done deed… what we see in the Temple gives strength and energy to continue to work of growth in wisdom and stature.
This Gospel story urges me to renew a commitment to regularity in prayer, worship, reading, service and giving; this Gospel story encourages me to look for those moments of revelation when I see/experience more deeply God’s love and grace for me and for others.
At the end of the story of the wise men (Matthew 2:12) we read that they returned home a different way, maybe indicating in part they returned home different people.
We can be sure that Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned home to Nazareth a different way, a different people. What they had seen and heard would help to begin changes in their lives that would affect them so very deeply.
Let us be bold and expect, ask the Lord to offer us moments of new revelation and deep understanding so that we will return to work, to family, to living… “by a different way”.