Sermon: And Yet We Learn

December 30, 2018
First Sunday of Christmas

Luke 2:41-52

They spent three days looking for him after discovering that Jesus wasn’t with their traveling group, wasn’t with one of the aunties heading back to Nazareth with them. They spent three days, and finally found him in the Temple. His relieved mother asked, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

Niveen Sarras writes: “I think that Mary reproached Jesus with an angry voice and face. I do not think that she was talking to him with a calm and soft voice.”

Which would I use? Angry voice or gentle voice?

Oh, yes. Angry. The relief at finding my child would not be nearly enough to change the anxiety and fear that would have washed through my system for three days.

Jesus had spent that time performing a minor miracle. I don’t think it’s the one most people seem to think of: that he was demonstrating the theological prowess of the Messiah to the priests and teachers in the Temple. I think that Jesus had engaged in an adult conversation about faith, life, and morals. They found him “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Listening to them. Asking them questions.

He had some thoughts of his own, because “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” And that, I think, is the minor miracle: that adults would listen to a twelve-year-old and give him credit for understanding.

The other minor miracle, of course, is that Jesus listened to his elders.

I did an internet search for “What’s wrong with young people” and I got a ton of answers: two billion, 130 million of them. They range from a commentary in The Guardian that the problem is that young people don’t get drunk any more to complaints that humor isn’t funny to assertions that millennials are disengaged to the notion that everybody wants a trophy.

The problem is, this was said of my generation. It was said of my parents’ generation. It was said of their parents’ generation. It was written by Dorothy Sayers in the 1930s about what we now call “the Greatest Generation.”

I’m pretty sure that those teachers and priests in the temple had had something to say about those ill-behaved monstrous children who think they should get the world on a silver platter.

But when Jesus spoke – at least, by the third day of Jesus’ speaking – they listened. And they learned.

They learned.

Mary also learned. Despite her anger over her fear, she learned. Neither she nor Joseph understood what Jesus said about being in his Father’s house, but Luke tells us that she “treasured all these things in her heart.” She did the same on the night of Jesus’ birth, after the visit of the shepherds.

As Karoline Lewis writes: “Mary is a thoughtful person. Nothing that is happening is getting past her attention. As such, her pondering, her treasuring, her keeping all of the words, considering all of these events, should tell us something, something very important about our own responses and reactions when it comes to major faith events.”

She learned. We, too, can learn.

It’s a curious thing about learning: it reshapes the world for us. It’s inconvenient that way, I’m afraid. Learning requires release of things we thought we knew. It requires a humility that can be very uncomfortable to wear. These are the shoes that pinch.

In an infinite universe, however, there is always more to learn. There is always more to discover. There is always more to try to understand.

Confucius is quoted as saying, “He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.”

Oh, my, yes.

H. L. Mencken wrote in his essay “Advice to Young Men” in 1922: “The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” He was writing, as it happened, about the United States Supreme Court.

If we’re going to learn, we’re going to have to learn from unlikely sources.

Jesus showed us that we can learn not just from young people but from children. I have praised the Parkland students from this pulpit before. Today I need to raise the names of two  children from whom we must learn: Felipe Gomez Alonzo and Jakelin Caal Maquin. They died in Border Patrol custody while they sought asylum in the United States with their families. Felipe was eight. Jakelin was seven.

We have to learn from these children how to prevent the deaths of those who follow them, who still seek refuge from the violence that has driven them from their unsafe homes in Guatemala onto the uncertain road to the United States. We have to learn from them that the way we treated them and their compatriots is wrong.

We have the examples before us. We can emulate the priests and teachers, treating the interloper child like an adult, asking and answering earnestly and seriously. This is the point where I include an invitation to our Bible studies: Wednesday at 9:30 and 6:30, the IYAA study on Wednesday at 7:30, and our study of Exodus on Sunday mornings at 8:30.

These are all opportunities to ask questions and to offer answers. So are other gatherings you have with family and friends. Ask: “What do you think about…” a question of right and wrong, a spiritual insight, the nature and purpose of reality? Ask, and offer your answers, and see what you learn.

We also have the example of Mary, who treasured these things in her heart. To quote Karoline Lewis again, “Mary invites us into that contemplative space, a space that is not so as to obtain answers, but a space to ponder God’s place in and purpose for our lives. Mary summons us to sit and wonder. And Mary asks us to keep her company.”

Contemplation. Silence. Thought. Karoline Lewis again: “Because none of what God is ever up to should be easy to get or at once understood.”

And we have the example of Jesus. He went to a place where he might not be expected, and he fully engaged with all his insight and wisdom. He went to a place where he might be rejected, and he sat there as if he belonged – which he did. He went to a place where the teachers expected him to be silent, and he spoke. And he went to a place where we, who know who he was and is, would expect him to speak with power and authority: and he listened. The incarnation of God asked them questions.

If Jesus could, we can.

We learn. And yet we learn. We might have our barriers up, but we learn. I encourage you to give some attention to your learning, even if you’re tired of learning, even if you think you’ve learned enough. Perhaps you have. Have you asked all the questions?

Probably not.

So put yourself in the way of learning. Come to a Bible Study. Read the Scriptures. Listen to a sermon. Watch my “What I’m Thinking” video early in the week and offer me some thoughts – it would be nice if I could learn something from you. Sit in silence and contemplate. Raise questions in prayer. Listen for answers.

Because we learn. We learn. And yet we learn.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Once again, the prepared text does not match the sermon as presented.

The image is a Russian icon from about 1800, artist unknown., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on December 30, 2018

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