(Luke 2: 41-52; Ezekiel 36: 24-28)
With a sermon title like the one we have today, the one-liners are a-plenty, aren’t they?
- If Jesus were in your confirmation class, the confession he’d study would begin, “I believe in me.”
- If Jesus were in your confirmation class, when John Parker came to talk about church history, he’d say, “What, only 60 years??”
- If Jesus were in your confirmation class, you’d want to cheat off his paper, but that’d kinda defeat the whole purpose, wouldn’t it?
- If Jesus were in your confirmation class, you couldn’t get an excused absence for being sick, because he’d heal you when you showed up.
- If Jesus were in your confirmation class, no one would want to play Judas during the re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper.
- If Jesus were in your confirmation class, he’d keep his mentor happy by turning water into wine.
Today is a special day in the life of our church as we welcome four new confirmands into our family of faith – none of whom are named Jesus, by the way. Their names are Caroline, Peter, Lanie, Duncan. Children of this church, now members of the church. But what if there really were one more person in this group, the son of a Jewish carpenter from first-century Palestine? What if Jesus really were part of this confirmation class?
It’s an odd thought, I understand. We don’t think of Jesus all that much as a kid. In our 21st-century mindset he pretty much goes from being a baby in the manger to a full-grown man in a matter of verses. In the four gospels of our New Testament there simply aren’t many accounts of Jesus’ childhood and teenage years – except one, the passage I read just a minute ago.
It’s quite a scene to imagine, isn’t it? There is Jesus, all of twelve years old, right around confirmation age. I see Jesus standing in the entrance hall to the grand temple in Jerusalem. He is one of many there, tens of thousands perhaps, as it was Passover and everyone headed off to Jerusalem when Passover came around. I imagine him blending in with the crowd, not standing out in any noticeable way; except for the fact that he was all alone. His parents weren’t there. They had left town a few days before, heading back home. They’d assumed their son Jesus was somewhere in the entourage with them, and he’d surface at some point.
Now, let’s put aside for a minute our urge to get all on Mary and Joseph for their lame parenting skills – I mean, seriously, two days?! Let’s put that aside and focus instead on Jesus. He’s not all that different from our typical 12, 13, 14-year old, is he? He wants to venture out on his own, do his own thing, apart from his parents. He’s searching for something – something he couldn’t find back home in Nazareth. He’s trying to learn more about himself in this huge temple.
After all, that is the ultimate quest we all face – discovering who we are? We spend the better part of our lives sorting it out, gaining a sense of how our life has meaning and purpose. It’s the one question that defines our very existence.
So maybe that is what motivated Jesus to hang out at the temple for a few extra days. That’s a long time to be in church. But we get that, don’t we? I mean, when we ask those big questions of ourselves, we almost always encounter conflicting answers. Some tell us that we are what our job is, or who our family is. Others tell us we are how many digits we have in our paycheck, or what college we get into. Some tell us we are what we wear. Everywhere we turn, we encounter all kinds of answers to the question of who we are. And the more we ask it, the more different answers we seem get.
Who am I? There’s a powerful scene in the epic movie Roots where Kunta Kinte, a young African man, is captured by slave traders and taken across the Atlantic. When he arrives on American soil, he’s put through the typical ritual of being made into a slave and sold to plantation owners. It was brutal. The slave trader takes Kunta Kinte aside and beats him mercilessly with a belt. And as he’s hitting him over and over again, he’s yelling, “Your name is not Kunta anymore, your name is Toby! Toby is your name now!” After a while he stops and asks him what his name is. The man defiantly answers, “My name is Kunta Kinte!” More whips from the belt, all the time telling him that his name is Toby. He stops. “What’s your name, boy?” Weaker this time: “Kunta Kinte.”
This goes on and on, until finally, with his life hanging in the balance, he relents. “What’s your name, boy? What’s your name?” He looks at his captor, defeated. “My name is Toby.”
Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes – not to that extreme, of course, thanks be to God. But doesn’t it feel like the world just beats our name right out of us? We try to search for the answer to that all-important question who are we, but the world just won’t let us get there. It tells us that we are someone different and gives us a new name that is strange to our ears. But we hold on to it anyway, because often it’s all we’ve got. And so we walk this earth, not really sure who we are, but certain it’s not what the world tells us. Because that name just doesn’t sound right.
If Jesus were in your confirmation class, I think he’d want us to deal with this very thing. The right way, of course. I mean, it’s no wonder that we struggle with the whole “who am I” question. Because think about it – when you ask it that way, the task of discovery, of searching for and finding one’s identity, rests solely on the shoulders of the one asking the question. Who am I? The journey of self-awareness begins and ends with the exact same person.
And see, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s not looking within himself for the answer. He’s looking outside. Which leads me to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we’ve been asking the wrong question all along. Maybe the real question is not “who am I” but “whose am I.” Do you see the difference? We don’t have to create something out of nothing. The journey that leads us to who we are is intimately tied to someone else – the one to whom we belong.
And you know, the more I think about it, the more I believe that’s what Jesus was busy doing at the temple those three days– asking himself, whose am I. His parents hightailed it back to the city when they discovered, to their horror, that he was not with their entourage as thought. They made their way to the temple only because they didn’t know where else to go – and there he was, twelve-year old Jesus, sitting in the portico talking it up with the rabbis. They ran to him, not sure if they wanted to hug or choke him. And it was his Mom who spoke first, asking Jesus why he had put her and Joseph through this nightmare.
And the words that came out of Jesus’ mouth were surely not what they were expecting to hear. With every bit of seriousness, and even the slightest tinge of surprise that they would ask such a thing, Jesus answered their question with a question of his own: Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house? Did you catch that? His “father’s house” – not the house of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all his forebears. Not even God’s house. His Father’s house. Jesus had found his identity those three days not by asking “who am I” but ”whose am I.” He was God’s son, he was God’s child. And that temple was his Father’s house. Jesus had been searching to discover who he belonged to, and now he knew – he belonged to God.
Today in worship we are going to witness four wonderful young people as they make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and join our church family. We’re also celebrating some of our young people who are preparing to cross the major milestone of graduation. And a large part of the journey that has led both of them to this day, and the even more important journey that is yet to come, a large part of all of that is forever intertwined in that single truth Jesus discovered long ago. We belong to God. It is who we are at the very core of our being; the foundation of everything we believe in and everything we do. Before we are a father or a mother or a son or daughter; before we are a lawyer or banker or teacher or student or whoever we are, before all of that, we are God’s.
And yet sometimes I have to wonder if we know that. I mean, really know that. We may know it here (point to head). But do we know it here (point to heart)? Do we really know whose we are? When we wake up every morning and head out into our day, whatever that day brings, do we truly know whom we belong to? That we do not belong to our jobs or our schools or our social clubs? That we do not belong to our past sins or the mistakes we’ve made or the guilt that grabs hold of us? That we do not belong to each other; that we certainly do not belong to ourselves? Do we know, with every conviction in our heart, that ultimately we belong to God; and are now, and always will be, a child of God?
Do we really know that? Jesus did. And not because he’s Jesus and he’s perfect and all that. Jesus knew whose he was because he grounded himself in the faith of his parents, the faith of his community, the faith of his people. He asked questions. He built relationships. And he followed his calling, living out that faith in real life for everyone to see.
All of which, by the way, is not something reserved for just the Prince of Peace.
Truth be told, if Jesus really were in your confirmation class, I’m not so sure he’d look or act all that different from you; a 12, 13, 14 year old. Because what he had going in his life at that age is the same thing you all have going on in yours. Caroline and Peter and Duncan, Lanie and graduates. You, too, are called by God, claimed by God, baptized into God and into the family of faith. And that sort of thing stays with you for a long, long, long time.
Which is a good to know, right? Because sometimes the world will try to tell you who you are. Sometimes the world wants you to believe that you are defined by things which bear little meaning to what really matters. Sometimes they’ll try to convince you that you may belong to a lot of things, but you certainly don’t belong to God.
But you know differently, don’t you? You know there’s something else that makes you who you are. You may forget it from time to time; we all do.
But God doesn’t. You are God’s child. You belong to God. In everything we do in life, with every day we walk this earth, may we never, ever forget whose we are. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN.