Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Colossians 3:12-17 & Luke 2:41-52

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble at St Martin's on 30 December 2012
Well I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas. I’ve certainly had one of the loveliest Christmasses that I can recall for many years, with all the family gathered together and my daughter getting engaged -but it seems to have passed all too quickly.
And so it is with our reading today.
We have celebrated the birth of Jesus in the early part of Luke 2, then he is presented in the Temple for circumcision, as is customary amongst Jewish boys, and then we move on to the time when Jesus was about 12 years old.
In today's gospel we have a glimpse of Joseph's family. Joseph, Mary & Jesus would have been part of a larger group from their village including friends & family travelling together to Jerusalem for the great Jewish religious festival of the Passover. There was a large group of them for safety, company and support. They would have walked about 65 miles each way to and from Jerusalem. With a larger group and a variety of people, they would probably be walking for about 5 days. This is why it is understandable that they assumed that Jesus was with their group, especially at the age of 12.
The Jewish religious leaders were astonished at this boy's religious knowledge. Joseph and Mary are astonished for another reason. They could not believe that their son caused them such grief. In contrast Jesus is calm and he shows that already he has a knowledge of who he is and of his purpose in life.
One of the news stories of 2012 was when David Cameron left his eight-year-old daughter in the pub following a Sunday lunch, after a mix-up with his wife Samantha. The couple's daughter Nancy wandered off to the toilets while they were arranging lifts and they only realised she was not with them when they got home. The Prime Minister rushed back to the Plough Inn in Cadsden, Buckinghamshire, where he found his daughter with staff. We can only imagine the relief they must have felt – and so it would have been with Mary and Joseph.
Jesus honoured his earthly father, Joseph. I quote from verse 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. Yet, Jesus knew that His true identity was to be found in his heavenly father, God. In verse 49 he asked, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"
Jesus calling is to follow the will of God the Father and so it is natural for him to be in the temple, the centre of Jewish worship, discussing theology with the experts, developing his own understanding and also challenging the experts' knowledge of God. The reason why the young Jesus could astound the experts is that whilst they were older, had more experience and had read and studied more, He had a personal relationship with the one whom they were studying.
Everyone needs the opportunity to ask questions about the Christian faith, which is why we run Alpha and Start courses to help people who are thinking about baptism and/or confirmation to understand more about Christianity. We have run a number of these courses and have been encouraged by the way God uses them to bring people on in their faith. Sometimes difficult questions arise and it’s interesting to explore together.
There is, perhaps some tension between Jesus declaring who he is and what his mission is and his relationship with his parents, especially Joseph. At this stage Joseph and Mary do not understand. But this, and other things were retained by Mary who appreciated the full significance of them much later.
The other day a television program asked people if they had rowed during Christmas and what it was about. Most people said "Yes", they had rowed, and that it was about petty things like the tree, turkey and presents. An expert commented that this was understandable as people in families are thrown together for a time, tensions can be unearthed and expectations can be different.
Perhaps there were tensions for Joseph over his own identity. Joseph & Mary certainly didn't expect to find Jesus discussing theology in the temple, otherwise they wouldn't have taken three days to find him.
Jesus was setting the foundations for a new family. One built on a relationship with God the father, through His son, Jesus. This family will be founded on love, forgiveness, peace and thanksgiving. This family does not share blood or DNA but the Holy Spirit. This is what our Epistle reading talks about.
Paul starts by talking about how we are members of God's family, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
We are chosen by God. Our salvation is a free, undeserved gift from God, through Jesus, enabled by His Holy Spirit. We are holy, the word means set apart for and by God. We are to live for Him and through Him. We are dearly loved. Many people feel unloved and some are damaged psychologically. Yet no-one is unloved. God loves each and every person so much he sent His son Jesus to die in their place on the cross.
Christians have, by definition, received that wonderful, unconditional, free love and are called to live lives that reflect this. This is the only true proof that we have received God's love. That is where the "Therefore" at the start of verse 12 fits in. Therefore, because you have been unconditionally loved and chosen by God to be different, put on(as you would clothes), compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, (like an overcoat) which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Compassion is referring to the sharing of pity, mercy, sympathy that comes from within. Jesus showed this to the sick in an age when the sick, injured or elderly were left to fend for themselves, and many died as a result. We should be concerned about meeting people's needs.
Kindness is related to compassion, a graciousness that is not harsh. This is linked to humility which means thinking of other people before ourselves, epitomised by Jesus' example. Gentleness is also linked. It is not weakness but a willingness to suffer injury rather than inflict it. It is one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. We need to rely on God's Holy Spirit to grow these fruit.
Patience is another. A patient person does not get angry, is not resentful, does not seek revenge. One of the factors for the arguments at Christmas, according to the "experts" is long held resentments surfacing when people are close together. Patience is linked to bearing with one another and forgiving one another.
We all have our own faults. God has forgiven our faults and so, who are we, who have been forgiven, to withhold forgiveness from someone else? If we are unforgiving, it questions if we have really appreciated our own forgiveness. For this is based on God's choice and love for us and is completely undeserved.
The peace of Christ, which was freely given through the forgiveness He earned for us on the cross, is to rule in the hearts of God's people. We are to be thankful for what God has done for us in Jesus and this will put into perspective any problems that are, in the light of eternity, no more serious than a Christmas tree or turkey!
This isn’t to say that there should be no correction of conduct that is not God's will. Paul's teaching to put on these virtues is evidence of this. Also, he wrote in verse 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.
An ambassador represents a country in a foreign land. They bear the name of that country. This is what the final verse of our Colossians reading is about. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.
We are Christians. We bear the name of Christ our ruler. We should reflect his kingdom values in everything that we do. This especially refers to the way that we treat one another.
Many people have joined our church in the last year or so because they have felt loved, welcomed and accepted. This is very encouraging, but is not a cause for complacency. For 2013 my prayer is that our church family here at St Martin’s, especially as we re-order the church, will show even more compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We should bear with each other and forgive one another. We should put on love like an overcoat, and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. And as it says in our Colossians passage, let’s let the word of Christ dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God. And whatever we do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Let us be ambassadors for Christ.

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