Readings: Isaiah 43: 1 – 7, 16 – 21, and Luke 2: 41 – 52
As you are gathering us now into your loving arms, we pray that we may yearn to lean on you, learn from you, and grow fully into the people you made us to be. By the power of your Holy Spirit, attune our ears to your voice, so that we may be strengthened from the inside out, to serve you in the year that you have in store for us. Now may my words be your words and our thoughts your thoughts, we pray in the strong Name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Friend,
Do you sometimes have a flashback sensation when you’re in a certain place, and remember back to other occasions with the same scenery, people, or smells even? Perhaps at a favourite beach or camping spot where you and your family return year after year? Or a special bush walk which restores you in the same way with its familiar landmarks every time you walk it? Maybe at Christmas time you reflected on previous family gatherings, with some joy, or perhaps with sorrow, remembering those who are not any longer with you physically….
Over the last seven weeks or so, as we celebrated Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in the Church Calendar, we’ve found ourselves in the Temple a couple of times in different but remarkable contexts–firstly in the startling conversation between Zechariah, a priest getting on in years, and an angel of the Lord, who informed Zechariah of his wife’s pregnancy, and even of the name they are to give this miraculous child.
And now here we are again, in the Temple, not so much lost in wonder, as searching frantically for a lost child, who really in is no sense lost but found, in his true home, in animated discussion about His true Father.
(ppt pic of Jesus in temple with scholars)
And here we are also, at the end of Luke’s account about the birth and infancy of Jesus. Now Luke makes the transition to introducing the ministry of John and Jesus, with this single incident from Jesus’ adolescence. The link between the two cousins is subtly but significantly made with verse 80 in Luke 1, rounding off Zechariah’s prophecy with the commentary about John’s progress “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1: 80).
This matches the commentary at the end of Luke chapter 2, about Jesus’ youth – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.”
After the host of witnesses to Jesus in Luke 1:5–2:40, shepherds, angels and temple worshippers, now Jesus speaks for himself for the first time. ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asks. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ This snapshot shows his sense of mission and self-awareness. Jesus has a unique relationship to God and a clear sense of his calling, one that transcends his relationship to his earthly parents.
Over the years when I’ve had the opportunity to baptise or confirm young people from around age 10 up, the questions I like to ask them go something like this:
‘Do you love God and want to grow deeper into His love and purpose for you?’ and
‘As you grow taller and older will you do all you can to grow also in God’s wisdom and love?’
We might not all be growing taller still, but the reality is we will be growing older, so let’s commit ourselves this year to growing in Christ.
Any growing experience begins with an intention and willingness to grow (except for our broccoli) which promptly went to seed as soon as it sprouted!).
When we grow as people we are acting on a desire, whether we know it or not, to be in a different place somehow, and to have a new dimension to us.
As people who belong to God and trust that God has a purpose for our lives which included sending Jesus to live and die and rise again for us so that we can flourish in freedom, we want to grow by rooting ourselves in God.
This desire to grow will determine whose voice we listen to, in the cacophony of daily life. Jesus, even as a 12 year old, was attuned to the voice of His heavenly Father. He had a hunger to know more of His God and Father, and an urgency stirring within him to listen to and obey his voice.
We have a delightful 12 year old boy who is committed to walking through life following Jesus. However it is clear that many voices are competing to be heard in his life, and I know, from experience that they may clamour more loudly for his attention as he grows older. Jesus was in no doubt about whose voice he was listening to and to whom he was obedient, and ultimately accountable.
The more we listen to the life-giving voice of the Holy Spirit, the more we will be able to discern those notes of hope which inspire us and lead us deeper into the presence of our living God. This is learning for life, learning and yearning to see the new opportunities that God is opening up for us – in this New Year, in Mornington, in our families. Isaiah’s prophecies again reach into that as yet unknown space, bringing hope and restitution – “Thus says the Lord, I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43: 19)
We want to get as close as we can to the source of all life and love. We want to nestle into God’s love, as a baby or toddler wriggles into their father’s or mothers’ arms.
For no-one else can nourish or nurture us as God does. We most certainly do not have the resources and abilities within us alone to help us negotiate the winding roads of life, as whole and centred people. Our own understanding is insufficient. Thankfully God’s relationship with us is deep, personal and restoring, as the prophet Isaiah has called out to us this morning “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43: 1)
(3rd slide, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart’)
As always the wisdom of Proverbs is trenchant, and rescues us from self-absorption– ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’(Proverbs 3: 5)
Verse 5 is a complementary pair of commands. We are told, positively, to trust the Lord and, negatively, not to trust our own understanding. Those two things are mutually exclusive. In other words, if we trust in the Lord, we cannot also depend upon our own ability to understand everything God is doing.
John 3: 30 John the Baptist when describing the greater glory that Jesus offers, asserted ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’
In this way we lean into God’s love and power, rather than struggling on, held back by our own limitations.
We can counter our culture of self – improvement and pulling ourselves up by own bootstraps , by letting go and letting God enthuse, heal and set us free.
Ppt slide “Cast all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you.”1 Peter 5: 7
This verse quotes from Psalm 55:22, possibly one of the most popular verses in the Bible.. We humble ourselves, as Peter instructs us to do in the previous verse, by casting our anxieties on God. God’s care comes when we humble ourselves and depend on His grace. Humbling ourselves means acknowledging by the way we live that in fact we are not self-sufficient – that indeed we are only whole when we depend upon our Creator for everything. Irenaeus turned that around to God’s perspective when he proclaimed that ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive.’
“Casting” means to throw upon and thus to deposit with. Conversational Greek used “casting” for someone who carried a heavy burden and threw it upon a camel’s back. “Casting” carries the idea of throw. It means to roll upon. God wants us to roll our burdens upon Him.
Many of us know young people who’ve found out just how much they learned at school this year when NCEA results came out last week. Fortunately our learning to trust God, and grow in Christ is a less stressful process. Our learning is to trust God in all situations, knowing that we are protected and uplifted as were the fledging Israelites in their journey to become a nation who worshipped and trusted Yahweh alone.
Ppt slide Deuteronomy 33: 27
The Israelites knew how to trust God – most of the time! They knew they had to – enemies were all around them, waiting to lure them off course.
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you saying ‘destroy them!”
No other nation had such a God as Israel. How blessed we are to have that same protection and salvation secured for us by the sacrifice of Jesus. However low are God’s people at any time, however tempted to give up, everlasting arms are underneath us, to keep our spirits from sinking, and our faith from failing. Divine grace is sufficient for us.
And so we can have confidence on this third Sunday of the year to face with courage and hope all that God has in store for us this year.
Final ppt in sermon 2 Peter 3: 18
As Jesus grew, becoming strong on the inside and outside, being filled with God’s wisdom and favour, we too can grow in God’s grace this year, listening for God’s voice in every part of our lives, leaning in to God’s protection and learning to trust God in every situation.
Prayer of response…