Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Mystery of Parenthood

Preached on Mothers' Day, Sunday, May 10, 2015
Scripture readings: Isaiah 49:14-16: Luke 2:40-52

A Sunday school class was performing a program during worship, and one little boy forgot his line. Well, his mother was the prompter, and she was sitting right there in the front row. At first she tried using gestures. Then she tried to mouth the words silently to give him a clue. He wasn’t getting it, so she whispered the words to him, “I am the light of the world”.
Walking along the Columbia River Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
May 2015
The little boy lit up, and he said, in a loud voice, “My Mom is the light of the world!” (From Eculaugh, from Ray Kerley, note # 7251)
Mary asked Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” There was more than astonishment in her voice. Her voice came from her gut; and there was fear, and desperation, and a loving-anger in her voice.
Jesus was the one who was astonished at this point. What on earth was wrong with his mom? The twelve-year-old wondered if she was crazy. “Why were you searching for me?”
We see, in this story, the holiness and the mystery of parenthood.
Luke is the only gospel that tells us anything about the childhood of Jesus, and Luke only tells us this one story, right on the edge of adolescence, right on the edge of becoming a teenager.
Actually Jesus was right on the edge of manhood, according to the customs of the people of Israel in his day. The age of twelve was the doorway and thirteen was the indoors where a Jewish boy carried an adult responsibility for his choices and actions.
Some people would like to know more about Jesus’ childhood and younger years, and so would I. But I believe that this one story, which Luke chose for us, tells us everything we need to know.
At first glance Luke seems to shows us that Jesus was no ordinary child, just as he grew up to be no ordinary grownup. At the same time, Luke shows us that even the ones who should have known better thought of Jesus as being perfectly ordinary and perfectly normal. Luke shows us that this was a complete misunderstanding. It was a mistake, but it was the normal mistake to make.
I don’t want to read too much into just a few words, but this picture of Jesus intrigues me. Here we see what the goodness of Jesus looked like in a classic children’s story.
Do you know that there is a kind of goodness that sucks the joy out of the room. There is a kind of goodness that is full of expectations and requirements for the behavior of others. The goodness of Jesus is not like that.
The boy in the temple was eager, and brave, and passionate, and wholehearted; and his kind of goodness says this to those who worry too much and have too many expectations: lighten up.
Jesus was the kind of kid that good parents want their kids to be. Jesus was the sort of grown-up that God intends us all to be. Jesus was and is what God favors and finds beautiful.
There is nothing smothering or life-sucking about the perfection of Jesus. The perfection of Jesus was, and is, liberating.
Luke tells us that the typical thing about Jesus, when he was growing up, was not that people were in awe of Jesus, or afraid of him. Luke tells us that people simply liked him. The more Jesus matured, the more he grew “in favor with God and with his fellow humans.”
The word favor, here, is actually the word for grace. But here grace is used in its humblest way. It means that there is something appealing here, there is an attraction going on. Jesus was appealing even when he was driving his parents crazy.
This story in Luke doesn’t tell us the mystery of problem children or problem parents. It does tell us good things about parents and children that should not seem strange to us. It tells us some things we need to know about being children and parents.
There is something in God that we call Father. A girl named Jenny went away to college and, after a few weeks, her father called her on the phone, her roommate answered the phone and the father asked to speak to Jenny. While he waited, the father overheard his daughter’s voice as she asked her roommate who was on the phone. He heard the roommate said, “I don’t know who he is, but he sounds parental.” There is something in God that is parental. God loves us with a father’s and a mother’s love.
God created us in his image, and the two most important things God has done have required parents. When God created the world, he created parents. When God set up his plan to save us and bring us back into his peace and wholeness, that plan included parents: Mary and Joseph (even though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father).
When God became human he did it with parents. The best child in the world needed parents. It is also interesting to notice that the best child, the most trustworthy child in the world, was not understood or fully appreciated by his parents, but Jesus was loved by them with the best and the highest love they could give. We can trust that Mary and Joseph wanted to do their best, and that they did it.
And Jesus obeyed them. He was subject to them. He recognized their authority. They were his parents and he was their child. But Jesus was the best kid and one of the best things about kids is that they are learners. Jesus was learning.
The perfect child could just as easily have said, “But you never told me that I couldn’t stay behind.” And he would have been right. I’m sure that they hadn’t thought of telling him not to stay behind. The perfect kid could have thought this way.
The truth is that the kid Jesus actually saw the right thing for him to do, and so he did it. I doubt if he ever stayed behind again, without telling his parents, because that was also the right thing to do.
Mary and Joseph learned the hazards of being the parents of a child who might do the right thing in an instant, without asking for permission, and without giving any warning.
Even the perfect child can be scary and this was true of Jesus. Telling us this, Luke has told us enough.
We can see that Jesus’ mother Mary, and his foster father Joseph, were not perfect parents. They didn’t know what their son was capable of.
They didn’t know that he was capable of holding his own in conversation with learned theologians. They didn’t know how much their son was capable of identifying with God as his Father. They didn’t know that Jesus, as a twelve-year-old, was capable of leaving them, as if he was ready to live on his own, almost a hundred miles from home (which was a very long way from home).
Mary and Joseph were proud of Jesus. It wasn’t easy to be his parents. He was special to them, and yet he was ordinary too, and he was twelve.
Mary and Joseph were not perfect parents, they made mistakes, but they were safe parents, they were faithful and caring. In the gospel, God gives his blessing to such parents by making sure we have their story.
What children need are not perfect parents, but parents who are safe, and faithfully consistent, and caring. Being able to depend on our parents is God’s first strategy for teaching us to depend on him. Without that first lesson God has to resort to other ways that are not so simple.
I think this is part of the grace of God to parents. It is the fact that what he looks for, even in his own family, is not perfection but faithfulness. This is part of the mystery of parenthood.
They used to call the birth of a baby a “blessed event” and it must be, in part because it teaches the necessity of faith. It takes faith to hold that little life in your arms for the first time without fearing that you will break it. It takes faith when you realize that you are responsible for caring for this young life even though it seems to require much more strength and wisdom than you think you have to give.
There was a pet owner who prayed, “Dear Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.”  The parent of a baby, or a four year old, or a ten year old must pray, “Lord make me the person my child thinks I am.” 
When the kids are older, I guess you have to pray, “Dear Lord help me not to be as embarrassing and irrational as my teenager thinks I am.” Even when the twelve-year-old thought his parents were being irrational, he still depended on them. He still needed something from them. He needed their faithfulness, and he was as obedient to them as much as the best twelve year old could be.
There is this connection that never entirely goes away, no matter how capable we may be of taking care of ourselves. While memory lives, a parent will always be a parent, and a child will always be a child. The relationship of parent and child has existed beyond time and space in the relationship between the Father and the Son.  When our lives move beyond time and space we will find those relationships there. It is a mystery.
One of the mysteries of parenthood is that it is not a right, it is a trust. God entrusts you with the care and nurture of a life, of an immortal soul that is not yours, except to be cared for in trust.
Here is a life that you will do a lot to shape, and yet that life has a mind of its own. Even in the mother’s womb your child has certain qualities. An experienced child bearer probably knows, deep within, when she is going to give birth to a hyperactive child. You have to begin with the child you have been given.
Parents and their children both play their part in a story whose author is God. The plot is God’s plot.
In God’s story, the children are working for God. They have no strength, but they have been given authority by God to change their parents’ lives; if only their parents will listen. A dad once told me that, the moment he held his first baby in his arms, he decided to the father that baby needed him to be.
In God’s story, the parents (just like their children) are working for God. They have the authority to make something happen, but they don’t know exactly what that will turn out to be.
God wants them to use their heads, and their authority, with faith. But God is in charge, and faith means entrusting your children to the Lord who knows what we do not know, and who can do what we can’t do. That is part of the plan and it belongs to the mystery of parenthood.
The Lord’s Supper is a reminder that we are all part of a family. Besides our own family circle, we all sit at a table where the Lord is the host, and the parent, and all of us are the children.
The Lord knows that grownups and children all need to be fed. We all need a place where we can come home to be refreshed and find rest, so that we can follow the Lord within our own families.
The Lord wants you to sit with him, whether you are a parent or a child, or whether you think you are neither. He wants to give you grace in your family as you learn to be part of his family.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Mothers and fathers lay down their lives for their children every day. They say goodbye to the lives they knew before they became parents. In that sense, parenthood is like marriage.
Jesus wants us to know that he is our friend, but of course he is much more. Mary held what Jesus said and did in her heart. By telling us this, Luke is warning us that this story points to the future. It points to something that Mary will see in the future that will explain everything.
The story points to the good news of the gospel. The story of the perfect kid leaving everything behind for the sake of a mission points to the cross.
Even as a kid, Jesus was willing to go places, and to leave things behind out of love for his Father: out of love for this world and for us. Jesus left his home in heaven, and he left life itself, on the cross.
In his life and his death, Jesus was willing to become something that he had not been before. He deliberately walked into the territory of experiences that were hell for him to go through. He became the carrier of the burden of sin for us on the cross. He became the carrier of the burden of death for us on the cross.
The people who lay themselves down for others, the people who carry such burdens for others, don’t just create friends. They create families.

This is the love of Jesus. We see a real glimpse of this love in the perfect kid. We see, in the boy Jesus, the mystery of parenthood. This love is the foundation of what the new life and the new creation will be, in the kingdom of God. The mysterious love that you find in parenthood is the foundation of the family called the church. This love is what we receive at the Lord’s Table.

1 comment:

  1. The perfection of Jesus IS liberating. What a wonderful sermon for Mother's Day.