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First Sunday after Epiphany--Jan. 9, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: Romans 12:1-5 and Luke 2:41-52 
"Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them." 

My friends, in years past it was a relatively easy thing for a preacher to use this morning's Gospel as an instruction for little children. After all, here we have Jesus going down to Nazareth and being obedient to Mary and Joseph, His parents. It was an easy instruction to give. However, this morning as I look on our congregation, now that our little ones are downstairs having their own instruction, apparently there is no one present under the age of twelve. Therefore, we should say something else about this Gospel. And there is so much we can say. 

St. Luke is concluding his infancy narrative. You recall that it began with the Annunciation to Mary. Today it concludes with the story of Jesus lost in the temple. He really wasn't lost, was He? His parents lost Him. He knew where He was. He had to be in His Father's house. 

Jesus was twelve years old. He was not yet bar mitzvah. He was still a child. At thirteen, He would be bar mitzvah and He would be considered a young man. But here He is still a child and it was the habit of this Holy Family to make the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover, a distance of about 75 miles. Walking all the way. it took them three days. 

It was not only custom; it was considered to be the rule in Jewish society that all people would gather in Jerusalem for three festivals: Passover, the Feast of Booths, and Pentecost. (Cf. Dent. 16:16) They could be excused from Booths and Pentecost, but most would be able to make it at Passover time, so the city would be teeming with people. Caravans would be arriving and leaving all of the time. Jesus and Mary and Joseph would fulfill the prescriptions of the Book of Deuteronomy by being present, to offer sacrifice at the temple for Passover, then return home. 

It was easy in the turmoil for them to loose Jesus. They would go a day's journey before they would discover that He wasn't with them. He wasn't with the relatives. He wasn't with any acquaintances. They would have to spend an anxious night wondering where He was before making the journey back to Jerusalem to look for Him. They would look all day and not find Him. Finally, the next day, they came upon Him sitting in the temple, with another group of young boys, probably at the feet of a rabbi-teacher listening to him and asking him questions: not in a smart-aleck way. but in a respectful way, because this child, this young boy, had to be in His Father's house. 

It strikes us at this point that here is the break between the child and Joseph and Mary, His mother. Something momentous is about to happen. It would be recounted in Luke's Gospel. The next event in Luke happens many years later. It is the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John, the beginning of Jesus' public life. 

What do we know about Jesus and Mary and Joseph during that hidden life at Nazareth? Almost nothing. And yet we know a great deal. What we know is summed up by St. Luke in those words that I began with this morning. "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them." It was His obedience to Mary and Joseph that would signify that hidden life, in their home in Nazareth. Obedience. This is why He came into the world: to offset the disobedience of Adam, to offset the disobedience of the people of Israel who continually broke the Covenant. He would offset it by His obedience, not only to Mary and Joseph, but most especially, by His obedience to His heavenly Father. "Christ became obedient for us unto death, even death on the cross. 

For this reason, God raised Him up and gave Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and all proclaim to the honor and glory of God, 'Jesus Christ is Lord'" 

Those words are from Paul's letter to the Philippians, the second chapter. 

Christ became obedient. It was by His obedience to His heavenly Father that would redeem us. It was this obedience in His hidden life in Nazareth that would give to us an example that you and I can follow. We too are called to be obedient to God and to His law. 

It is almost a cliche to say that we must be obedient to God's law. And yet we live at a time and in a society where God and his law are so often denied. If not pointedly denied, He is denied by being ignored. We remind ourselves that we live in a secular society, not in a religious society. But in this society, the law of God must take precedence. The law of God is more important than the law of man. 

A case in point: abortion. Our church teaches that it's wrong. It's sinful. Following God's law, we say that it is wrong and sinful. God's law. It makes no difference to us who is president or who the arbiters of this law are that sit on the Supreme Court. It is still wrong. It is still a sin. It may be the law of the land, but it is still a sin. 

A case in point: We have a secular society that lionizes sin. Homosexual activity is sinful. The activity - and we must separate the activity from the person - is wrong. It is contrary to God's law. You don't have to look only at the Old Testament and say, "Well, these were primitive people way back there, 3000 years before Christ." Read the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. It will take you about five minutes. It will also curl your hair! Paul says it exactly the way it is. He gives it to you with a bark on. It is wrong. It is a sin. The individual whose orientation is that way, that is a different story. There may be a genetic cause for that orientation. But another person may have a genetic orientation to alcoholism, but we don't hand him a bottle. We treat that person with respect and understanding and love, as Christ would have it. But we do not embrace the activity as we would embrace the sinner. We cannot do that. 

God's law is higher than man's law. Terribly narrow? No. It is what God wants us to do. We are called to be obedient to what God has revealed to us, what His plan for us is. We are called to understand and know and follow His sovereign law, a law above all other laws. He gave us these laws for good reason, not only for the good order of society, but in order that you and I may not be so encumbered by sin that we would forget that we were made for God and not for anything else. 

Hard words spoken to you this morning in a world that says, "Well, let us make allowances; let us tolerate some of these activities." So homosexual activity is rampant, and an accompanying fatal disease, AIDS. And the innocent unborn continue to be slaughtered. Could you imagine the angel announcing to Joseph: "Fear not, Joseph, for what Mary is carrying within her is nonviable tissue mass!" This is a child she carried in her womb; the Son of God, Christ our Lord! 

In our first reading this morning, from the twelfth chapter of Romans, Paul says this to us: "Do not conform yourselves to this age. but be transformed by the renewal of your minds so that you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect." No matter what might be the whim of society, we believe in God's Word and in His teaching. And we hold fast to it. We are not to be conformed to this age. We pray God that some clergymen would understand those words and adopt them. 

Paul wrote a letter to Timothy, a young bishop. Paul was a wizened old missionary giving some good, sound, solid advice to young bishop Timothy. And he tells it like it is. (I pray God that every pretender to an episcopal throne would memorize First and Second Timothy!) In Second Timothy, chapter four, Paul says, "The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but following their own desires, will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears." He wrote that 1900 years ago, but isn't that line contemporary? Rather than embracing the sound doctrine of God's revelation, they would rather listen to the ephemeral teaching of social scientists. So much of it is not of God. It is not His word. It is not the revealed teaching of God. If we conform our minds to the world's thinking, no wonder we can become so confused! If we deny the existence and the sovereignty of God in our world, no wonder that we look about the society and say, "It is coming apart at the seams." Why? Because God is not sovereign. But He is the Lord of life. He is the Lord of each of us, body and soul and spirit. At least He ought to be. 

Jesus came down to Nazareth, was subject to them; obedient to Mary and Joseph, giving us an example of how you and I are to live. He followed the Torah, the law. You and I are to follow the law as well. When we hear that law, we can ask, "Is this of God or not?" If it is not of God, we don't have to follow it. But if it is of God, we had better follow it - for our own sake and for the sake of this society. This is the hard word of the Scriptures. This is the hard word that you and I must grasp today: to be obedient to our God, to be one with Him as members of His Body, as Paul says, in that first reading this morning. Can we be anything else but obedient to our heavenly Father, as Christ our Head is? We can offer this to our Father today: our loyal obedience as His adopted sons and daughters, kneeling before His altar. We say to our Father, "From this day forward, we too will be obedient to You." 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.