My Father’s House
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them.
Paul Johnson is an English journalist, popular historian, speechwriter, and author. In 2010 he published a book titled Jesus: A Biography from a Believer. It is an excellent read. Johnson desire in writing the book is “to covey the joy and nourishment I receive in following Jesus’s footsteps and pondering his words.”
In the introduction Johnson endeavours to paint a picture of the wonder of his subject. “Jesus of Nazareth was, in terms of his influence, the most important human being in history. He is also the most written about and discussed. The earliest surviving document dealing with him, St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, was circulated (that is, copied and published) in the fifties of the first century AD, about twenty years after his death. By then, biographies of him written in the Aramaic tongue he normally spoke were circulating, but these have since disappeared. Within half a century of his death, however, four biographies, written in Greek, had been published, and all have come done to us. By the end of the century, forty-five authentic documents about him appeared, and these have also survived. Since then, first documents, then entire book about him have been published in growing quantity, and in all languages. Today, there are over one hundred thousand printed biographies of Jesus in English alone, and many more monographs. More than one hundred were issued in the first decade of the twenty-first century.”
1. Who commands this kind of attention? I invite you to reflect with me on the answer to this question that our gospel story holds before us. The wonder of the One who is the subject of the gospels is declared to us in these first recorded words of Jesus; the wonder is revealed in his response to his mother’s query about why he remained behind in Jerusalem and caused them so much anxiety—“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Underline the words, “my Father’s house.” I am sure there was both relief and frustration in Mary’s voice when she said, “Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus responds, “I thought that you would know where to find me—in “my Father’s house.” Notice how Jesus speaks of himself, “my Father’s house.”
Luke tells us that Jesus is twelve years old. In ancient Israel a child became an adult at twelve. Jesus and his parents have gone to Jerusalem for Passover services. The services over, his parents set out for home, Nazareth, only to find that their son is missing. Upon return to Jerusalem they finally find him in the temple astonishing the scholars with his questions and answers. The seeds which his parents have been sowing for twelve years have borne fruit. Surely they have spoken with Jesus regarding the details of his conception and birth; they want to prepare him for the day when Jesus may be confronted with the rumours others have surmised about his origin.
But here Jesus speaks about God as “my Father.” This is not a denial of Joseph’s role in his life but it does reveal how Jesus regards his relationship with God. And this brings us to the heart of the gospel that Jesus is the one who reveals the Father. This is the reason for which Jesus garners so much attention. Jesus is only able to speak about the Father in the way he does because he is the Son, because of his filial communion with the Father. The Christological dimension—in other words, the mystery of the Son as reveler of the Father—is present in everything Jesus does and says. And is present here in these first recorded words of Jesus.
2. But Mary and Joseph did not understand what he said to them. How could they? This is a ‘one-of-a-kind’ event; this amazing story of God coming among us in Jesus of Nazareth; this ‘nothing-like-what-we-would-anticipate’ story of God showing up in history in a no-account town of Nazareth as a Jewish man of a despised and marginalized people in the Roman Empire. Those closest to the story—even Mary and Joseph—did not understand as it was unfolding. People today do not easily come to understand and embrace this story. But it is the gospel declaration nonetheless.
In our pastoral prayers we speak of God as “great enough to embrace the universe yet close enough to enter our hearts.” Let us consider the greatness of the universe with the example of two stars—a neutron star and the Sun. A neutron star is a star that has, in essence, imploded on itself. From your recollections of science class you will remember that gravity bends light. The gravity pull of a neutron star is so powerful that the light from the star remains in its orb; it doesn’t travel away from it; we call this a black hole. In reality it is not a hole at all; the neutron star is so dense that a thimble full weighs more than the entire human population of the earth. The Sun—whose light and heat contributes so much to making the earth habitable for humanity is a ball of burning gases; a quart milk jug filled with these gases weighs approximately four hundred pounds; such is its density.
The gospel asserts that God created the universe including star and sun; it also affirms that God sustains their continuing existence. If God does this—is great enough to embrace the universe—then, how dense is God; if God leaned on you or me who would fall over? To use an anthropomorphic image, if God elbowed the universe which would give way? The imagery of things moving at God’s presence is expressed in many places in the Bible. “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness” and “causes the oaks to swirl,” declared the Psalmist (Psalm 29:8-9) Jesus cites the prophets when speaks of stars falling from heaven and the powers of heaven shaking at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:29)
And here at the temple is Mary and Joseph’s twelve-year-old son. There are struggling as all parents do with letting their children go—we school them in how to be independent and then are all surprised when they assert such independence. How could they know that when Jesus spoke of “my Father’s house” that he was speaking as the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth. How could they know that the God of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob who created and sustained the universe was now sitting before them studying the torah with the elders of Israel. And yet this is what Luke wants us to know—the one we meet in Jesus is our Creator. This is why so much has been written and said about him.
3. Luke tells us that “every year his (Jesus’) parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” The picture we have of our Lord’s family life is that of devout believers who would have instructed their son in the first command—You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Clearly this devotion prepared Jesus for his mission in life. Few things have the lasting impetus in a person’s life like the instruction of godly parents in the home.
On the dedication page of Paul Johnson’s biography of Jesus—the book I cited at the beginning of this sermon—Johnson writes, “To my mother, Anne Johnson, who first taught me about Jesus.” I was thinking that if I undertook to write such a book I too could dedicate it to my mother who first taught me about Jesus. Never underestimate how God will use your parental witness to Jesus Christ in your children. Even when our children do not follow in our footsteps of commitment to worship and church life know that God’s love for them is unrelenting as the extent to which he will go for our sakes knows no bounds.
Your witness to grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) will produce in their lives things beyond our knowing. Your faith-filled living points them to Jesus—the very One who is pursuing each of them. One day when some of our grandchildren were visiting our home one of then asked me why we said a prayer before every meal. I answered that it was because God gives us all our food and is present at every meal. I do not know how this practise of prayer will manifest itself in their lives but I know that the One who said “my Father’s house” would foster faith in them.
Consider the habit of reading with you children. The scriptures teach us to love God with all our minds. Learning to read is surely a correct response to the command to love God with our minds. We know that as their skill in reading grows so do their opportunities in life. Reading is a ground for much that God will call from them as they live life doing their own work, pursuing their own calling. So too prayer. Learning to pray as a child prepares us for a life of prayer. This is why we say the Lord’s Prayer with the children present in church—so they will learn the prayer.
4. The fact that Mary and Joseph went each year from Nazareth to the Passover festival in Jerusalem testifies to Joseph’s success in his trade; the expense of undertaking the trip suggest a comparative affluence. What is amazing is that by the age of 12 Jesus was able to take part in a learned discussion of the meaning of the scriptures; his questions and answers suggested a significant depth of knowledge. Virtually all clever Jewish children were instructed if circumstances permitted. Jesus’ engagement with these scholars reveals the Jesus was thus instructed. We know that Jesus could write though we have only one recorded occasion when he wrote out the sins of people in the sand who were about to stone to death a woman caught in adultery. That his writing was instantly read means that it was clear and readable, almost the hand of a professional scribe.
We also know, from the record of his sayings, that he was a civilized, cultured, educated man who chose his words with great care and precision, with delicacy, accuracy, and tact—all indications of wide reading in secular as well as religious literature. He knows Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew and likely can make his way around a Latin text as well. Luke tells us that the scholars were amazed at Jesus as were his parents.
It has been my experience that Christian faith does not denigrate intellectual development or skill. I have had the privilege to take courses of study from teachers who are great scholars and whose love for Jesus was evident. These are people who, it seems to me, have once-in-a-generation kind of talent. They have great minds. If they played a team sport they would be the franchise player. My experience in observing them and their work is that love for God inspires rather than impedes great scholarship.
5. 2018 is fast drawing to a close and 2019 lays before us. The Christmas we did all that planning for is a memory. Perhaps 2018 was a year that met your expectations and in which you reached your goals or aspirations. On the other hand, maybe it was a year when something beyond your control blindsided you; a cause of some unsettling and anxiety. For those whose 2018 was considered successful you look to 2019 hoping for a repeat. And for those carrying heavy things we may be hoping that 2019 will be a year of relief. Truth be told, we don’t know what will unfold for us in 2019. The gospel story tells us that we serve a wonderful saviour. The Son who could say “my Father’s house” in that way that only he could mean it, walks with us into this year.
Minnie Louise Haskins was a British poet and an academic in the field of sociology. She taught Sunday school in her church for many years. In 1903, she was working in Lambeth, London, for the Springfield Hall Wesleyan Methodist Mission. In 1907, she departed for Madras, India with the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to work in one of the Zenana missions to Women. In 1912, to raise funds for the mission, Haskins published a small volume of poetry titled The Desert, which included a poem she titled "God Knows."
This poem was made famous in 1939 when King George VI read it as part of his Christmas radio broadcast. Hawkins was by then 64 years of age; she hadn’t heard the Christmas day broadcast but the next day was interviewed by The Daily Telegraph and said “I heard the quotation read in a summary of the speech. I thought the words sounded familiar and suddenly it dawned on me that they were out of my little book." Her poem rang true in 1912 when she wrote it, in 1939 when the King cited it, and still today.
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year.
Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.
And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.'
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”