Baptized as Holy Troublemakers

Sermon on Luke 2:46-49, 52

Psalm 84:1-3: How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Happy are they who dwell in your house! they will always be praising you.

Introduction

Have you thought about wisdom?–what it is as a concept and thing. Who oversees discerning if someone has it? I think we tend to confuse common sense for wisdom; those who choose the path of action or the line of thought most commensurate with what we would do are “wise”. But are they? Isn’t that like judging whether someone is a good driver on how you drive? Too fast, reckless jerks; too slow, ridiculous. Each of us has used “they say” when offering some random “wise” fact to a conversation; basing the inclusion of the sentiment on the hopes that the “they” who are doing the saying are wise. Who are “they”? I hope it would be a group of various voices, experiences, and bodies; however, I fear their selective and exclusive composition.

Wisdom is defined for us through the philosophy poured out over the ages. However, so much of it is written by the privileged and powerful group of people at the expense of the oppressed—in fact leaving out large groups of people when talking about things like labor and production and value. But even if they weren’t negating large swathes of human existence, what is the basis for determining what is moral and what is wise, what is good and what is beautiful? How does one group determine that for all the other groups?

Is wisdom of the silver generation who walk before us? There is wisdom in maturation, and I’m eager to learn. I’ve also seen those grown into the decades become calcified in archaic thoughts and actions refusing to change with the demand of context.

Maybe wisdom is something different than we’ve come to expect—especially from the perspective of one encountered by God in the event of faith. What if it looks more like a “little bit dangerous”[1] disturbing the status quo? What if Christian wisdom looks like Creative Disobedience?[2] What if Christian maturation based on The Christian Imagination[3] makes us look like fools to the world and stumbling blocks to politicians eager to count our votes?

Luke 2:46-49, 52

Now it happened after three days they found him in the temple having taken a seat in the midst of the teachers both listening to them and questioning them. And all of those who were listening to him were amazed on the basis of his understanding and replies. Now after seeing him they were shocked, and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why did you act like this to us? Behold, your father and me also were seeking for you tormented. And he said to them, “why were you looking for me? Did you not perceive that it is necessary for me to be in my father’s house? (Lk 2:46-49, translation mine)

Our gospel passage starts with a unique story: parents forgetting their kid. This parental gaff becomes a moment for divine revelation. Between chapters one and two, Luke emphasizes the link between Mary and Jesus and Hannah and Samuel in 1 Samuel 2.[4] Luke is a master storyteller, so I ask: why Samuel? The themes Luke is eager to connect Jesus to are twin: “kingdom of God” and “temple”. Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God and is the new temple.[5] There is movement here from the Kingdom of David to the Kingdom of God and movement to the locus of God: tent to tabernacle to temple to the body of Christ. For Luke, there’s a shift rupturing structures and systems built by humanity based on human “wisdom” and “assumption” about what God can and cannot do and where God can and cannot go.[6]

Jesus’s reply to his mother isn’t expected. Jesus prioritizes his posture and place in the temple over and against obedience to his parents; his dedication to the coming kingdom of God is of a higher priority than honoring father and mother.[7] Even the shift in recorded dialogue highlights the shift of perspective from that of humanity to God; this story is about God’s movement in the world and not about our wisdom and common sense and our status-quo and biased systems.[8] A reordering is happening in the relationship between the law and the person: the law was made for the person and not the person for the law. [9]

Scholar Justo Gonzalez does well highlighting Luke’s reach to the Hebrew Scriptures to make the correlation between Samuel and Hannah and Jesus and Mary in order to redefine familiar themes of “kingdom of God” and “temple”. This story is also the start to setting the groundwork for Jesus’s ministry culminating in radically redefining both what the kingdom of God is all about and the conception of what the temple is. I want to reach forward to Mary and Martha and Jesus when he visits in Luke 10. There, Mary and Martha are busy about their duties at home, then Jesus arrives. Mary stops what she is doing and seats herself[10] at his feet listening to his words. Martha “distracted by many things” confronts Jesus asking him to get Mary to help her. The story ends with Jesus drawing Martha’s attention to him away from what is causing her distraction and anxiety.[11]

The themes of Luke 2 are present in Luke 10. Jesus, the one favored by God, is in the position of the teacher, he is causing a disruption in expectation and assumed “wise” behavior, and the corresponding response of anxiety by the person holding to what is expected by tradition. Martha, burdened by much work, goes to Jesus and asks him if he cares that she is burdened by anxiety and expects him to tell Mary (her sister) to help her. Mary, Jesus’s mother, approaches him after “seeking for him in torment” and expects his reply to align with what a son should say based on tradition. In both cases, Jesus responds in an unexpected way and overhauls the status-quo. While the questions are different—(Luke 2) why are you doing this? and (Luke 10) why aren’t you doing this?—the communication is similar: what are you doing? Why aren’t you upholding tradition and expectation? Jesus’s answer is consistent in both cases: I’m not of the old age but the new; God is forging a new path for humanity. What came before will be reduced to the dust of death and what comes is life and light.

Now Jesus was progressing[12] in wisdom both maturity and grace in the sight [favor] of God and humanity. (Lk 2:52, translation mine)

Conclusion

So, to our opening question: what is the wisdom of the kingdom of God? It’s in opposition to the things we think are wise.[13] In two comparable stories we see Jesus’s actions and language are perplexing and causes anxiety because his actions and language challenge the expectations held by the people and society around him. Noting that at the end of Luke 2, Luke mentions Jesus has grown in maturity and wisdom as it pertains to God, we must see that by Luke 10, those actions are the working out of that wisdom and maturity influenced by God’s will and mission on earth. Jesus’s actions perpetuate the demand for questions which is hallmark of the divine encounter with God in the event of faith. When we are encountered by God in the scriptures telling of God’s divine incarnation at Christmas, we are pushed off balance and forced to ask questions because the answer that’s been given by God challenges and confronts what we have deemed as wise and mature. Thus, our questions in response to God become the bedrock of the questions we turn and ask ourselves, others, and our institutions and ideologies.

We are washed in the holy water of the divine answer that is Jesus of Nazareth the Christ and swept up in its movement. By baptism we’re grafted into the mission of God in the world trapped in death and darkness. By our baptism we are washed of death and brought into life. By our baptism we are made into holy troublemakers, wildcards, willing to imagine and be creatively disobedient by questioning things of the age of darkness and death and the kingdom of humanity. As the beloved of God and agents of light, we can challenge errant notions of heteronormativity, racism, sexism, classism, ageism and ableism–petrified, calcified, archaic, death-dealing ideologies and institutions having no place in the kingdom of God.

By our baptism we become responsive and active participants in the kingdom of God and the age of life and light, calling and pulling forth that which was and is being done by God in the world through the incarnation of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that as we stand at the beginning of 2021 we have the audacity to grow in the wisdom and maturity of God as Jesus did and that we would dare to drag the advent of the new age—Christmas—into our simple days in simple ways. By the power of the Holy Spirit in you, where you are there God is too, and there is the light of life; where you are, Beloved, there is God and there is love.


For an excellent discussion of the connection between the event of Baptism and the mission of God see W. Travis McMaken’s work, The Sign of the Gospel. I hosted Dr. McMaken on my podcast to talk about this text and the ideas contained within it, an episode which aired in two parts: here.

[1] Idea taken from W. Travis McMaken’s Our God Loves Justice: Introduction to Helmut Golwitzer. “What overcomes this ecclesiastical banality is encounter with the church’s resurrected Lord, with ‘the Easter story [that] broken into our world, bringing with it a power, a world-overcoming revolution, which makes everything different in our life, which forces the church into a totally different direction.’ This encounter delegitimizes the church’s banality and demands that the church become an agent in proclaiming this world-overcoming revolution through word and deed. Instead of leaving the church to its comfortable domestication, ‘the one thing that matters for the church is that she should be both a danger and a help to the world.’ Gollwitzer’s ecclesiology calls for a dangerous church because a church that is not dangerous is not help at all.” 150-1.

[2] Playing with Dorothee Sölle’s book on Christian “obedience”, Creative Disobedience. Eugen OR: Wipf and Stock, 1995. “”In traditional usage one speaks rather descriptively of ‘fulfilling’ obedience. The picture is that of a container of form which must be filled. So too with obedience. A previously existing order is postulate that must be maintained, defended, or fulfilled. But Jesus did not conceive of the world according to a model of completed order, which person were merely required to maintain. The world he enters had not yet reached perfection. It was alterable, in fact, it awaited transformation. Schemes of order are in Jesus’ words utterly destroyed–great and small, scholar and child, riches and poverty, knowledge of the Law and ignorance. Jesus did everything in his power to relativize these orders and set free the person caught up in these schemes. This process of liberation is called ‘Gospel.’ Out obedience then still be thought of as the Christian’s greatest glory? I detect that we need new words to describe the revolutionary nature of all relationships begun in Christ. At the very least it is problematic whether we can even continue to consider that which Jesus wanted under the term obedience. Pp. 27-28

[3] Playing with Willie James Jennings book on race The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. New Haven CT: YUP, 2010. From the introduction, “The work also joins the growing conversation regarding the possibilities of a truly cosmopolitan citizenship. Such a world citizenship imagines cultural transactions that signal the mergence of people who sense of agency and belonging breaks open not only geopolitical and nationalist confines but also the strictures of ethnic and racial identities. This is indeed a noble dream even if it is a moving target given the conceptual confusions and political struggles around multicultural discourse. Yet I hope to intervene helpfully in this conversation by returning precisely to the question of the constitution of such a people and such a citizenship.” Pp. 10-11

[4] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief Series Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. P. 43. “The story about the visit to the temple in Luke 2 has no parallel in the other canonical Gospels. Indeed, only Luke recounts an episode in the life of Jesus—this one—between his birth and the beginning of his ministry. In this particular case, Luke is again connection Jesus with Samuel—which he already did in Mary’s song, taken mostly from the song of Hannah—for the words in verse 52 are patterned after 1 Samuel 2:26…”

[5] Gonzalez Luke 43. “Here again there are typological connections: Samuel would bring in the kingdom of David, which pointed to the kingdom of God that Jesus would bring in. Furthermore, Samuel’s connection both with the temple and with Jesus hint at the typology that sees Jesus as the new and final temple of God.”

[6] Gonzalez Luke 44. “The temple and the tabernacle before it, were types of the incarnation that was to come. Elsewhere in the NT…Jesus refers to himself when he says that if the temple is destroyed, he will raise it up on three days. God can dwell with mortals on earth—even though the cross shows that mortals do when God does dwell with us.” And this was interesting, too: Gonzalez recounts a discussion about the idea of incarnation among some rabbis, here is the conclusion: “…the presence of God in the temple is perfectly compatible with the presence of God in a human being. There are many other important differences, he said, but to the questions, Can God indeed dwell with mortals on earth? Jews and Christians can both answer, Yes!”

[7] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke TNICNT Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. P.155. “But Luke introduces a surprising countermeasure as well. Jesus is being raised in a pious environment, but his commitment to God’s purpose transcends that piety and that environment. In this case at least, acting on behalf of God’s aim places Jesus’ behavior against parental expectation.” And, “Jesus is in the temple, the locus of God’s presence, but he is there under divine compulsion engaged in teaching. The point is that he must align himself with God’s purpose, even if this appears to compromise his relationship with his parents.” P. 157

[8] Green Luke 156. “In addition the movement of the story is not simply to Jerusalem and back to Nazareth; rather, one recognizes in these geographical markers a subtle deixic shift. As the scene opens, Mary and Joseph are the subjects of the action, but as it unfolds Jesus takes on an active role—for the first time in the Gospel.”

[9] Green Luke 156. “Finally, the pericope contrasts two sorts of piety, not in order to negate the one but to underscore the preeminence of the other. It is a good thing to keep the Passover, but the sort of pious environment to which Jesus has become accustomed at home serves and must serve the more fundamental purpose of God. Not even familial claims take precedent over aligning oneself uncompromisingly on the side of God’s purpose.”

[10] While the word used describing Mary’s action is παρακαθεσθεισα (first principle part: παρακαθιζω (to seat oneself, to sit down) it shares the root word used of Jesus seating himself in the midst of the teachers καθεζομενον(first principle part: καθιζομαι the ppi1s of καθιζω, to sit down, to take one’s seat). I believe this creates a link between the story in Luke 10 with the story in Luke 2. As a deponent the action is as if it was active and the two words overlap significantly in meaning and intentional action.

[11] The words here are different than the words used to describe Mary’s (and also Joseph’s) panic, but the emotional content is similar. Again another link between the structure of Luke 2 and Luke 10. Jesus’s presence and action inaugurate something new and there is anxiety in response by those familiar with what should be according to tradition.

[12] This word προεκοπτεν (impai3s, first principle part προκοπτω) carries with it the idea of a pioneer cutting a way through brushwood.

[13] Green Luke 157. “He returns under different circumstances than before. Now he is an active agent in the story, set on working within the contours of God’s aim irrespective of the consequences.”

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