Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sharing Stories

 Sharing Stories (Given at Sun Valley Presbyterian Church)  

Psalm 148
148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!
148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

This past couple weeks, with all the hoopla over the new Star Wars movie, a couple of pastors' websites suggested that Christmas sermons could be titled "Long Ago in a Galilee, Far Far Away" 

Psalm of praise –don't you just love the imagery? When God is glorified, ALL of creation celebrates! All the heavens, all the creatures, in the oceans and in the mountains...and the mountains themselves will praise the Lord! And in that final verse....
14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

The Horn of an animal is a symbol of strength and confidence! Horn instruments are also symbolic of strength, as they are powerful and can be heard a long way! A horn was used as a call to worship! This could also be a play on words...God has raised a horn, he has raised a powerful leader....for all his faithful.

This song of praise tells a story, of all of creation praising God. From the highest heavens, to the earth itself and all her creatures, and all God's people.

Stories help us remember, help us figure out things and ideas, help us identify with one another, to find our common bonds. They help us laugh and cry together and learn together. Stories help us build community. Everyone has a story, everyone needs to be able to share their stories.

Luke 2:41-52
2:41 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.

This Gospel lesson seems to be one of those family stories that gets told often, maybe every year as the family is again on the road home from Jerusalem.

Luke says at the beginning of his Gospel that he set out to write “an orderly account” and that he “carefully investigated these things” So he isn't just repeating tales that were floating around 30 years after Jesus’ life. He talked to the sources as much as he could. Scholars believe that Luke personally spoke with Mary, mother of Jesus. This is the only story we have in the Scripture from Jesus’ life from the time between his infancy and the beginning of his ministry. Maybe this was one of those family stories that got told every so often. And it gives us some insight into Jesus’ formative years.

The family had gone to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. This was, and is, the most important of holidays for Jewish people. The Passover commemorates the escape from enslavement in Egypt. Going to Jerusalem for the Passover was one of the things that a devout Jewish family did every year. So we see from this story that Mary and Joseph followed their faith, raising Jesus in their traditions.

In Biblical times, traveling could be a challenge. Ordinary people walked most places. And when making a lengthy trip, they traveled in groups.-extended families, neighbors. A trip like this, going to Jerusalem for Passover, would have had a lot of people going at the same time, so there could have been quite a contingent of people together. Women and children traveled together, the men together. So we can see that Mary and Joseph were not bad parents for losing him! Each would have assumed that Jesus was with the other group. Mary perhaps thinking Jesus, a young man of 12, was traveling with the men. Joseph, possibly thinking Jesus still a kid at only 12, thought he was with the women and children, helping out with younger kids. Families traveled during the daylight hours and made camp at night so they didn’t discover Jesus missing until then.

So - the Passover festival was done, at the end of a day's travel towards home, they realized that Jesus was not with them at all. He was lost. Knowing, as a parent myself, how anxious they must have been, they probably slept out of the exhaustion of travel, but wouldn’t have slept well! So the next morning they hurried back . And on the 3rd day, searching through the city of Jerusalem, finally they find him at the Temple! He is talking with the rabbis. The rabbis, teachers of the Jewish faith, would welcome men to join them in the Temple courtyard. The rabbi would sit to teach, the men could stand and ask questions and discuss points of doctrine. So here is Jesus, 12 years old, sitting with the rabbis, discussing and answering! And they were all astonished at the depth of his knowledge. I think this point is one of the main reasons we have this story in Luke’s Gospel. The next piece is why scholars believe that Luke got this story right from Mary. We see her reaction is very much the parent of an adolescent! “Why have you treated us like this?! Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” And Jesus' reply is, “Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"

This is an interesting family story isn't it?

We all have stories to tell....each of us individually, and our families...

our churches have a story too. We have the stories of our origins, and of things we have done with other churches. We tell of projects we have undertaken, such as building renovations!

it's important to tell our stories, and to tell them well. It's important to hear stories, to listen well when someone is telling their story! For it is only when we really listen to another that we can connect. Psychologists have found that our brains respond in certain ways we tell or listen to a story. They've used MRI scans to find that there is activity in certain areas of the brain of the story teller, and when people listen, they have activity in those same areas of their own brains! The emotions of the story teller are transferred in a sense, to the listeners.

It is in listening to each other that we connect, we find commonalities, and that we recognize that we all have 'stuff' inside-our emotions- and 'stuff' that we have gone through, that makes us who we are. As individuals, as families, and as churches :) it's in listening to one another, in those connections, that we the literal sense of the bring to mind again, to again be members together! Sharing stories builds community.

When we hear a good story, we want to do 2 things. We want to tell one of our good stories too! And we want to tell somebody else the new story we just heard. When we share stories, when we tell a bit about ourselves, we are helping to know each other and understand where we've been and where we are going. We learn what we have in common. And how to work through whatever differences there are to embrace the commonalities. This is how we learn to truly love one another, as Jesus taught.

Going back to our Gospel lesson...

As I said, this story is the only one in the Bible from Jesus’ formative years. And this story of Jesus’ life is the last mention of Joseph in the Gospels. Throughout the Gospels we see several mentions of Mary, but no more mention of Joseph. The traditional belief is that he died some time before Jesus began his ministry. And since this was a typical family of the times, most likely Joseph was at least a few years older than Mary. In this time, men followed their father’s trade and generally would not marry until they were able to support a family. Women married soon after reaching child bearing age, so generally the husband was older than the wife.

So we learn from this story that Jesus grew up in a typical family. They followed the customs of their faith. They were parents who were anxious about their son. And after this, Luke writes that “as Jesus grew up, he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and people” This shows that Jesus grew intellectually, spiritually, and socially. So this was overall a healthy family for him to grow to adulthood.

Hearing this story, most of us who are parents or spend lots of time with kids, may find ourselves thinking about it from Joseph or Mary’s perspective. As a mom I certainly could relate to Mary's feelings!

Don't you think Mary would have remembered this incident, maybe each year as they traveled again to Jerusalem for the Passover, certainly on the way home from there! “Jesus, are you with us?” “Yes Mother!” She would remember the terrible anxiety of believing her son was lost, and how lost she felt as well!

And I am positive she remembered this incident many years later, after another trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. Another morning when she had to go to look for Jesus, on the 3rd day, for a much different purpose. This time the women were going to a borrowed tomb, to anoint his lifeless crucified body. What anguish must have been in her heart that morning.

The baby Jesus, whose story we told just a few days ago, with our songs and readings, Jesus the adolescent who worried his mother, was born to go to the Cross. That was His story, His purpose.

But it's not the end of the story.

Because of course when the women went to the tomb, they found it empty!
Jesus had risen! The birth, death and resurrection is THE story, the greatest story.

so when we hear a great story? we want to share it! Share that story today. Tell others about the incomparable love of Jesus Christ. Tell them about the love that is here in Sun Valley Presbyterian, and in United Church of Beloit, and all over Beloit, and tell how we are looking ahead to the New Year together, to reach out in His Love.

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