SERMON 1-5-20 Christmas 2A St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Scam Calls vs Jesus’ Call
Have you received one of those new scam calls? You know the ones where the person on the line says, “I am with the IRS and you owe $4,000, to avoid charges being pressed upon you, please go purchase a gift card at Walgreen’s and you can pay it off today.” How about the one where you can save interest on your credit cards. There is another one out there claiming to be the Social Security Administration telling you that your social security number has been compromised. These are people call relentlessly, trying to scam you, trying get you to do something you do not want to do.
More clearly, they hope you will fall for the scam and give up your time, your talent, or your treasure for their ill-gotten gains. We all receive calls we do not want to answer. They are annoying, illegal, and they can be destructive. Some of us have a spam filter app installed on our phone and we can ignore the call. Some of us, when we see the “Unknown Caller” identifier on our phone, we just hit the red “Decline” call button. Scam calls are an incredible annoyance.
There is another kind of call many of us receive each day, but we either allow our spiritual spam filter to catch it, or we ignore it totally. What do you do when Jesus calls? Do you answer the call, listen to the request and then respond, or is it just as easy to hit the little red “decline” button. Maybe you say, “Eric, Jesus is not calling me.” Well, you better check your spiritual cell phone more often, because this is not a scam, Jesus is calling you.
Today’s gospel reading gives us a glimpse into the earliest stirrings in Jesus, when he like all of us, started to get a sense of God’s call on his life. “The writer of Luke’s gospel takes us from Jesus’ miraculous birth in Bethlehem, to his dedication and naming in the temple soon after, and then 12 years later, he is back in the temple again as a young adult, ready to embark on his newfound identity. Now we hear this story in its pristine form, and like the birth narrative, it is all “cleaned up.” I cannot imagine if we were in Mary and Joseph’s shoes it would have gone down line Luke depicts the situation.
Imagine you were to take your 12-year old daughter to New York City to explore her sense of vocational call to work on Wall Street. On the way back to the airport, you discover your daughter is no longer with you in the security line. You frantically call the police, go searching back at the hotel, and then you remember that you last saw her at the Morgan Stanley building tour at 1 New York Plaza. You rush there in an Uber, angry and saying, “wait until I see her. She will be grounded for life.” You rush in and the receptionist says, “your daughter is in the boardroom with the partners discussing the downfall of the subprime mortgage crisis.” I do not think you would have calmly walked in like Mary did now would you? No, you would have grounded her, forbid her to ever travel alone, and then you would have felt guilty for allowing your child to experience a “Home Alone” moment in New York City. Even so, this moment of vocational exploration was pivotal for your daughter, and she needed that moment to formulate who she was to become. The experience will change her, and it will help her to understand what her vocational call will be in the future.
Divine and Human
The problem is we listen to this gospel story of Jesus coming of age, through our 21st century ears and it all sounds so surreal. Mary and Joseph happened to notice after a day’s journey the boy was missing? They go back to Jerusalem and after three days finally find him in the temple. They do not go completely ballistic on the boy when the find him? It is a little cleaned up don’t you think, but the story is told to us, not because it is a nice little story about Jesus. This story was a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus, who was not your typical 12-year old in the first century, nor today in the 21st century. This is the only recorded history of Jesus’ childhood anywhere in scripture. Luke “records this event along with the birth narrative to tell us that the Jesus whose story he is telling is not only the son of earthly parents, but the Son of God.” (c)
“Jesus at age twelve was now a ‘son of the law’ and expected to attend. A routine trip in fulfillment of the Law: His active obedience also was a shadow of things to come.” (c) This story has two purposes. First, the story records Jesus in his indisputable humanity coming to know that he is more than human, because he realizes his Father is God and he is about his father’s work. Second, the story records Jesus’ coming to know that he has a special call on his life that will be very different from any other 12-year old his own age.
The story serves as the bridge between Jesus’ miraculous childhood and his miraculous adulthood *the ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension) which was yet to come. Peter Storey writes, “We do not know when the first intimations and stirrings of divinity within his humanness made themselves felt, but given who Jesus was, and what he would have to give his life to, it is inevitable that such moments would come.” (a) The temple story is the first time the holy vocational call from his heavenly Father manifested itself, and it happened in the time and place where Jesus was able to find his voice and answer the call. He not only answered, but he risked good graces with his earthly parents, and stayed on the line, listening for further instructions. Jesus was modeling how we discern our calls as well. “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Jesus was sitting at the theological elder’s feet, listening and learning and preparing for the call that would become even more clearer in about 20 years.
When confronted by his anxious, frightened, and possibly angry parents, Jesus, said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus suddenly speaks, and his words of self-identity are made clear. Shirley Guthrie writes, “Jesus does what no pious Jew of his time would ever dream of doing: He calls Yahweh, the God of Israel and Master of the universe, ‘my Father.’ Not only that, he claims to have such an intimate relationship and unquestionable obligation to this heavenly Father that he seems simply to deny his relationship and obligation to his earthly parents.” (c) Jesus realizes who he is and his unique call.
Later though, Jesus realizes he is still a human 12-year old young man and he leaves his Father’s house, and returns to his mother and earthly father’s house, and as Guthrie asserts, “Now he is a normal boy who grows up and matures with willing respect for the guidance and authority of his parents.” (c) Human and divine Jesus discovers who he is and who it is he will become. Divinity stirring in him makes him realize that his business will not be carpentry like Joseph, but the work of divine presence in a temple made not with hands, but in flesh. Jesus understood even at 12- years old, he had a holy vocation.
What about us? Do you believe you have a holy vocation? Do you believe that you are the bearer of the Holy Spirit and there is a call on your life as well? Peter Storey asserts that “The most important discovery we can make is to find that our identity is bound up with the one whom Jesus called “Father.” (a) We followers of Jesus must follow Jesus and that means we have to be willing to seek out what God has uniquely gifted us to do. Well, you better check your spiritual cell phone more often, because this is not a scam, Jesus is calling you.
Your Vocation and Answering the Call
Guthrie confirms that you have a call on your life. He writes, “the same Jesus who had the unique right to call God my Father invited his followers to call God our Father.” (c) Now if you call God Father, then you have to know that God is calling you son or daughter. We Christians have a unique summons on our lives. First, we are through our daily actions, living icons and stained-glass window whose are reflections of the gospel in our very existence. The way we live each day represents the gospel in words and in actions. That is a big responsibility because “God is not just the God and Father of me and my family, but the God and Father of all other families too, a God who loves and cares for all those people outside our little family circle as much as for us, who wills their welfare and happiness just as much as ours.” (c)
Second, we are co-missioners of God’s love in the world and that means we act through more than mere words, it means we get up and move our feet, and our hands. For example, most of us here are gifted to teach, to lead, to discern, to care for others, to read, to sing, to bear holy gifts, or any other number of ministries. You may say, “Well, I don’t know what my ministry is Fr. Eric” If you are unsure what your ministry call might be, go to our website under “Ministries” and download the Spiritual Gift Assessment, and just complete it, then call me and we can discern your ministry call together.
The question is not whether you are summoned to ministry in God’s church and in God’s world. The question is to what are you being called to? We Christians cannot for long remain mere fans of the Babe in the manger or the little 12-year old boy theological genius in the temple. Karen Chakoian writes, “It is easier to keep him (Jesus) in the cradle. But this story (we hear today) forces us to move with Jesus out of the cradle, out of the loving, sheltering arms of his parents, into the world, a world that will be filled with sin and death and great need, with powerful people who oppose Jesus and with desperate people who turn to him for life.” (d)
It is easy and comfortable for us to remain in our seats in the loving, sheltering familiarity of the pew chairs, but we are called into a world filled with sin and death and great need, with powerful people who oppose the church, and with desperate people who turn to us for life. We find our calling when Jesus’ “sacrifice of love claims us and calls us to follow him, out into the world, into demands and needs and confrontations; out into the world, away from this safe and gentle place, to the call that claims our own lives.” (d) So, if we truly follow the one who said at only 12-years old, “I must be about my Father’s business,” then we need to take heed, because Jesus’ business is our business too. Do you hear it? Please check your spiritual cell phone because this is not a scam, Jesus is calling you.
Storey, Peter. “Stirrings of Divinity.” The Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 35, Dec. 2000, p. 1299.
Klotz, John W.(John William). “1St Sunday after Christmas.” Concordia Journal, vol. 11, no. 6, Nov. 1985, pp. 229–230.
Guthrie, Shirley C.(Shirley Caperton). “Jesus’ Family and Ours.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 11, no. 1, Advent 1987, pp. 24–28.
Chakoian, Karen. “Luke 2:41-52.” Interpretation, vol. 52, no. 2, Apr. 1998, pp. 185–190.