Engaged in Learning
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
We have all spent a lot of time and energy over the past nine months talking about and lamenting the things we are missing because of the Covid-19 pandemic and all the public health implications because of the pandemic.
It is incredibly easy to focus on what we are missing. I have done it. You have done it. It is an honest thing to do and like talking about the weather we cannot help ourselves. I think it was especially pronounced over the Christmas holiday. My goodness, I even preached about what I would miss at Christmas in our beloved Augustana community. The problem of only focusing on what we are missing is that we lose sight of what we are not missing, the things that are still present in our lives.
So, this morning I would like to focus on a different question. One I think we need to ask ourselves as the calendar flips into a new year. The question is this; what have you learned over the past nine months?
Instead of asking yourself, what have I missed, what would happen to your spiritual outlook, your emotional outlook and even your relational outlook if you asked these questions instead.
- What have I learned?
- What have I learned about myself?
- What have I learned about the world we live in?
- What I have learned about the key relationships in my life?
- What have I learned about my relationship with Christ?
An active, alive, engaged Christian faith asks these kinds of questions.
It is one of the key takeaways from our reading today.
Jesus asked questions. Jesus was engaged in learning. Even as a twelve-year-old.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are living in Nazareth and they travel to Jerusalem for the big festival of Passover.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
Imagine what it must have been like as a twelve-year-old to be going to Jerusalem to attend this great religious holiday that marks the freedom from slavery in Egypt for the Jewish people. During the festival of Passover up to 600,000 pilgrims would enter the city to worship, to make sacrifices at the temple and to celebrate the Passover.
Mary and Joseph were serious about practicing their faith. Every year they went to the festival. They wanted Jesus to know the stories of God’s people. They wanted Jesus to live out the ritual of a Passover meal and to understand in real time how God intervened and set the people free from slavery. Mary and Joseph were engaged in learning about their faith and they wanted Jesus to be engaged as well.
Think about who it was that taught you the faith?
What did they model for you and what have you taken from them and used in your own life as you engage in learning?
What are you currently doing to sustain, nurture and grow your relationship with God?
How does this happen in your life?
Do not assume that just because Jesus was God’s Son that he knew it all at 12 years of age. The story today makes is abundantly clear that he did not know it all and it also makes it clear that Jesus had a desire, an interest to learn and grow in his faith.
It is easy to focus in on the frantic parents searching for Jesus after they left Jerusalem. What parent could not relate to that feeling. Unfortunately, that part of the story obscures what is really going on.
When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.
44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Take note of where Jesus is and what he is doing.
He is in the temple. He is listening and he is asking questions.
He is engaged in learning.
Growing in faith is a life-long process. It requires a curiosity and an openness to listen, learn, and explore. It requires discipline and practice, just like playing a sport or learning to play an instrument.
It does not stop during a pandemic. It does not stop just because we are unable to gather for in person worship. It does not stop just because we cannot have Kid’s Kingdom in person or confirmation in person or bible study in person.
If you and I have a desire to be living stones in God’s kingdom, the kind of stone that creates ripples of love and change in this world, then one of the things we must be about is to be engaged in learning.
To be asking questions about who God is, right now at this very moment in our lives and asking ourselves what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Part of what Luke is doing by telling this story of Jesus as a twelve-year-old is to provide us a bridge from the child Jesus to the adult Jesus. The next big event in Jesus’ life is his baptism at the Jordan River and then he begins his ministry.
As Jesus is engaged in listening and asking questions about his faith and his relationship with God, he is preparing himself for what it is God sent him into the world to do.
The same thing is true for you and me.
Ongoing learning helps us better understand our own faith, beliefs, and actions. We stay active in our faith by asking questions and exploring what others have to say.
I cannot forget the email I received this summer from a parishioner, a senior, who was asking deep, personal questions about the history of racism in our country and what her response to it should be. She was not making political commentary about it but wanted to be engaged in learning, from a deeply faith filled perspective, of how she might respond as a Jesus follower. Do you know what she did? She started reading and asking questions. She was engaged in learning how faith meets life when confronted with matters of racial injustice.
This is just one of many examples we could name.
What have you learned about yourself, your core values, and your faith from the experience of this past year?
How was God at work in your life and more importantly, through your life over this past year?
- and what are the things you have learned,
- the strengths you might have discovered,
- the depth of faith you thought you did not have,
- the courage you found to keep moving forward
- and the resources you discovered that previously you were not aware of,
- that you can take into the new year.
When we ask questions. When we listen. When we engage in learning. Then, like the boy Jesus in the temple, we grow in faith, in understanding and in wisdom.
Then, then my friends, this is when God puts us to work.
This is when we become living stones.
This is the ripple we will be in 2021.
Thanks be to God. Amen