Weekly Words of Wisdom 1-6-21

Sermon 1-3-21      The Rev Jen Van Zandt 

Luke 2:40-45

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.  Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.  When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  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.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  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. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.  His mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.”

Under God’s Care

In this unique and singular account of Jesus’ early years, we get a brief look at Jesus in all of his humanity as a teenager.  It is the only glimpse that we have of him between his birth and the beginning of his adult life as a future prophet, priest and king. People often ask me why we don’t know much about his life; or really anything at all before he begins his journey.  The fact is that besides knowing that he was a carpenter by trade, the answer, in short, is it really doesn’t matter all that much. I’ll come back to this later.

But here, Luke doesgive a helpful bridge at least between infancy and adulthood and there’s a bit of humor, I think, in seeing his humanity in his adolescence.  There’s also perhaps some comfort for us as parents, as well as the teenager in all of us, when we see and hear these classic struggles and dynamics between a parent and child; the parents going in one direction and the teen making his own different and separate choice.  And then the tension ensues.  I’m sure that was the case in my family, and it may have been in yours as well.

At first blush, this story pulls at one’s heartstrings with both compassion for the frantic parents, who have just realized their son is not among them and the poor child who has been forgotten or left behind in the chaos of the holiday caravan.  It has all the great makings of a movie.  Oh, wait a second… there wasa movie about this.  You know what I’m talking about.  Yes, my friends, this is the story of Home Alone.  

Although it’s not an exact replica, there are some striking similarities.  Catherine O’Hara, who plays the mother in Home Alone, shows us the utter hysteria and guilt that a parent feels when separation is realized.  And John Heard, who plays the father, typically, is downplaying the mother’s anxiety and trying to calm her down through logic.  

Where the plot separates between the story in Luke and Home Aloneis that unlike the adorable Macaulay Culkin, who plays the forgotten child, Jesus is a teenager or what we would call a ‘tween’ now.  And it’s unclear from Biblical historians whether Jesus was formally bar mitzvahed at this point or not.  But clearly, he is wise beyond his years and has chosen to be among the priests and the religious leaders.  While we can appreciate the dialogue between the frantic and angry parent and a snarky teen (which comes out clearly in this text), it also points to a far more important message.  Jesus, at the age of 12 is fullyaware who his father is… and it’s notJoseph.

Mary exclaims, “Son, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And Jesus’ retort can be seen as snark coming from a teenager.  But, more deeply, he’s saying, “Why don’t you getthe fact that I mustbe in my Father’s house?” His parents are utterly confounded and Jesus is left feeling and being misunderstood.  Ultimately, Jesus complies and leaves with his parents and they return to their home while Mary, for a second time, is pondering these things in her heart.  I bet she pondered.  You know the real reason why we don’t hear about Jesus again until he’s thirty? It’s because she groundedhim for about twenty years!  

But seriously, this story, even though it’s not in the lectionary, must not be glossed over.  In this story, we have a crucial glimpse into Jesus’ full humanity as well as his remarkable wisdom and understanding of who God was to him and to the rest of humanity. Further it’s a helpful bridge between an infant king and what comes next literally–next week is his baptism as an adult.  Most importantly, this is a story that sets in motion God’s story and God’s activity.

In the story of the world, here is a story of the beginning of God’s redemption. Now, more than ever, as we wait with increasing fear and impatience to be set free from the prison of Covid and all that has been put on hold and cancelled and lost; as people around the world wait and pray and try to sustain one another as our lives continue to be forever changed and lost; this is a message of God ‘on the way’. This message of us being under and in God’s care,needs to be highlighted.

I happened to see Home Aloneon the television maybe three or four months ago and I decided to watch it all the way through. The part of the story that I forgot was the redemption in the plot.  Macaulay Culkin, who is terrified by his next-door neighbor who looks like an old creepy, dangerous man, ends up bumping into him when Macaulay Culkin goes off to church, seeking comfort, seeking peace.  And in the church is that very scary next-door neighbor. It takes a while for them to connect and they end up sitting together.  And in that moment, Macaulay Culkin sees the humanity, the brokenness, and the loneliness of this man, because he’s all alone for Christmas, just like Macaulay Culkin.  And, in that moment, we see the story of hope and redemption.  

You’ve all seen this movie, so it’s not a spoiler alert, but go back and watch it, because on a very snowy day, as Macaulay Culkin’s parents and family return home and embrace him; so, too, the next-door neighbor’s family comes from far away and surprises him to give him strength and courage.  My friends, God’s story of redemption starts now and we need this message now more than ever.  So go back to the text and look at it again for yourself and know that hope and help really is on the way.

Newton Presbytery: A Story of Peace

On World Communion Sunday, back in October, a handful of congregations in Newton Presbytery participated in the special offering for Peace and Global Witness.  From the PCUSA website: “Through the Peace & Global Witness Offering, congregations are encouraged and equipped to find and address the anxiety and discord that is prevalent throughout this broken and sinful world.”  Although this offering occurs in October, it is relevant to this season of Advent as we light the second candle, the Candle of Peace.

Here is how one particular congregation in Newton Presbytery is seeking to bring Peace into this broken world as they address suicide in their local community.  The Deacons, at the First Presbyterian Church of Boonton, saw a crisis in their local community.  “Sadly, and tragically, our community has lost more people to suicide in 2020 then it has to COVID-19.  In addition, suicides have been increasing in general due to the challenges the past 8+ months have created on so many of us.”  

Therefore, the Board of Deacons thought it was only appropriate to support the NJ Chapter of AFSP (American Foundation of Suicide Prevention) by designating their local 25% of this special offering to them with the hope that they can spread peacemaking of not just our physical self, but our mental self as well.  For more information on AFSP go to their website:    https://afsp.org/

With tremendous support from the Board of Deacons, FPCB raised a total of $2,130 during the peacemaking offering/Peace and Global Witness campaign, with 25% ($532.50) being sent to the AFSP and the remaining to the PCUSA.  This is an amazing feat during these times of financial strain for so many.

Take This Bread And Eat

Dear Saints,

Before the year’s end, I had to get bloodwork drawn for my annual physical. To expedite the process, I pre-registered through the portal so I could ‘zoom in and out’. Funny (or not so,) how the word Zoom has taken on a new meaning in 2020! However evidently, my pre-registration, through the portal, didn’t take. So, there I was at a kiosk having to go through the entire process again. Even after telling the service rep (twice) that I had pre-registered she said “Huh, it didn’t seem to take. Sorry! we’ll have to start again. It won’t take long”. She was professional. She was kind. She was calming.

By the way….this was on top of having been there yesterday but was turned away because the phlebotomist would not draw my blood after hearing I had had a V8 before coming. “This is a fasting test,” she said.  “Huh,” said I. “It’s never been that way before”. “Yeah, with the tests your Dr. ordered, it needs to be a fasting test”. Again “Huh,” I said. “I specifically ask my Doc every year if it has to be fasting, and every year he says ‘Nah, no fasting needed’ ”. So why this year? Why didn’t he tell me? Does he secretly think my numbers are going to be severely different than years before? (Which have always been in the normal range even if I am NOT the picture of health. But…given the year I’ve had personally on top of Covid (and we’ve all had, on top of Covid) perhaps too many of the intended good habits were ignored. Maybe my Doc is trying to subtly tell me this is the year to be more aware of my future predictors.


So, I wait, as the service rep repeats all the questions, reviews all my personal data; insurance, etc., none of which has changed in 5 years or when I visited the portal last night!

While I’m waiting, I look around. I’m watching all the staff scamper to figure out their lunch order while I try to drown out the soap opera on the flatscreen in the background. And then it hit me. I realized why the service rep was so professional, so kind and so calm.

On the walls of her station are sayings she has taped up for patients like me to read while she’s ‘finishing up the paperwork’.  And this is the one that hit me: It was a banner top to bottom of “Three Things”. It read:  Three things in life you should never lose: Hope, Peace, Honesty. Three things in life that destroy a person: Anger, Pride, Unforgiveness. Three things in life that never come back: Time, Words, Opportunity. Three things in life most valuable: Love, Family and Friends and Kindness”.

In that moment, without her saying a thing, I was ministered to by her. Although clearly all of these things are biblically rooted and grounded, she didn’t have to say a word. God was speaking to me through her wall hangings.

Saints, I continually want to scoop you all up and give a specific deeply hopeful vision for when we can gather, worship, and minister together again. I can’t and it frustrates and drains me more than I care to admit.

What I can tell you is that even when we are completely pre-occupied by our life’s struggles, sufferings, and even mundane activities, God is still seeking us out to give us bread for the journey. That bread will sustain us if we let it until we can meet again in the promised land of milk and honey and lower cholesterol. Don’t give up the journey. Stay in community, even though it’s apart, especially as we break bread together.

Seeking a healthier future with you, in and because of Christ,