Thursday, January 3, 2013

God Is in the Church Too?

This is a parent’s worst nightmare losing your child while on vacation.
Jesus and his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover an obligation of every religious person.
On the way home they noticed that Jesus was missing.
If you are parent and have lost your child even for a moment at the mall you know that sickening feeling that comes over you when you can’t find your child.
Then you know also first the relief and then the anger when you find them.
It is no surprise that Mary and Joseph are upset with Jesus.
But even if you don’t have a child you still know the feeling.
You know what it feels like to lose something important.
We all have lost things in our lives.
I know that I feel like I lose my mind at least once a day.
We know that feeling of loosing things.

What happens when what we lose is our faith?
What happens when we lose faith in God, in our fellow human beings, in each other, in the world?
First of all it is not hard to imagine losing our faith.
So many horrible things happen all the time that it is amazing any of us still has faith.
But I think what happens to us spiritually is that we become that frantic person running around like crazy trying to find something.
We begin to become unhinged and unmoored.
Faith is important to our lives.
Faith is what gets us up in the morning.
It is what makes us work hard for our children’s future.
It is what makes this world go around.
If we have no faith then we won’t believe that things will get better or that there is a greater purpose to our lives.
In many ways without faith we simply don’t have a reason to live.
And so it is no wonder that we search for it so frantically.
It is no wonder we become like Mary and Joseph in today’s Gospel searching with “great anxiety”.

Luke is the only Gospel writer to give us this picture of Jesus when he was 12 years old.
Luke tells this story for many reasons.
He tells it to show Jesus understanding his own calling and mission, he does it to show that Jesus kept all the rituals and practices of his Jewish faith, he does it to connect the story of Jesus back to the Old Testament story of Samuel.
All of the things would be correct interpretations of the story.
But something struck me this time I read the story.
It is in Jesus smart-alecky remark back to his parents, “Why were you searching for me? Did you now know that I must be in father’s house?”

In the New York Times I was reading an article this week about how the next generation (often referred to as the “nones”) is leaving the institutional religion
It sparked a debate online about the future of the Church.
One thing I agree with is that the Church is going through a massive change in the next 10 years.
In this shift it is often popular to talk about God existing outside the walls of the Church.
One of the people in the article said, “We felt like Jesus didn’t hang out at the synagogue, he hung out at wells,”
But I was thinking about Jesus words to Mary and Joseph, so today I want us to think about God existing inside of these walls.
God existing within the confines of what people call “organized religion.”
In fact Jesus did hang out at the synagogue.

Luke in writing his Gospel is very careful to make sure we know that Jesus grew up within the confines of organized religion.
Jesus went through all the proscribed rituals of his day.
In Luke’s Gospel he marks the important religious observances in Jesus life, circumcision at eight days, dedicated or presented to God at six weeks, bar mitzvah at age twelve, public life at age thirty.
These are the same religious observances of every firstborn male child.
And in our Gospel he is traveling to temple with his parents, “as they did every year”.
We sometimes talk about Jesus as if he is a wondering person out on the streets searching for lost souls, not connected to the religious institutions of his day.
And certainly this is part of what Jesus ministry looked like.
But we forget that Jesus is also brought up in the confines of a religious home.
In his family Jesus would follow all the rituals of the temple and synagogue.

The reason this is important for us is because perhaps if we have lost our faith the place to find it is in the church.
This is where Jesus said he would be.
If we want to find Jesus he is in his Father’s house teaching and preaching.
Jesus is here for us.
And we should not be surprised to find Jesus here.

When Jesus gave us his holy meal he told his disciples that it would be here at the table that we would come together to remember him, and have our sins forgiven.
Jesus told us that were two or three gather in his name that is where he would be.
Martin Luther once said, Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?”
Faith is nurtured and brought out in us by being together, by hearing God’s word, by receiving Jesus in bread and wine.

I know that many people have been burnt by the Church over the years.
I know in many cases it is because the people sitting in the pews, and the preachers behind the pulpit, have been in tolerant that it has chased many people away.
I once was at this conference about community organizing.
I met a woman there who grew up going to Catholic school.
She told me that she didn’t go to church anymore because when she was a kid her parents got divorced.
Because of this her parents were not permitted to come to parent’s day because they had committed a sin.
So when the other kids had their parents come for that day she had to stay behind and do extra work.
My heart broke for her, because she desperately wanted to be part of Church that part of her history was too painful.
And I know that there are many other stories out there of the Church’s intolerance that turned people off.
However, I also feel that the Church has come a long way.
We are much more tolerant and open then we have ever been.
In fact, we are so tolerant that some people criticize us for being too tolerant.
Not only that, but there are so many different types of Churches out there that you can find what you are looking for.
If you want a conservative church it is there for you.
If you want an open and affirming church it is there for you.
But what I hope our congregation is more than anything is a place to belong.
We want this to be a place to ask questions and explore our faith together.
It is a place of great spiritual care that allows everyone to see Jesus and know of his compassion and mercy.
To me that is the heart of the Gospel.
It is not about being tolerant or not, it is about a God who loves and cares for all people.
It is about a God who leaves the ninety-nine and comes searching for the one.
It is about a God waiting for us to return home so we can have a great big party.
It is about a God who does not reside in the heavens, but right here next to us.
A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.”
In Jesus this is what God does.
He comes into our chaos.
Jesus comes into our searching with anxiety for him.
Jesus taught us about this God in word and deed.
Jesus continues to go to the temple to teach.

So if you ever feel like you have lost your faith.
If you are searching frantically for God and just can’t seem to find God.
If you are going through great anxiety about what you believe.
Know that Jesus is in his Father’s house waiting for you.

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