Those Who Dream… ponder in their hearts
You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Those Who Dream… ponder in their hearts, HERE.
In today’s Bible reading, there is a tugging and pulling, a wondering and an answering, which reveals God to us in a radically new way. Here Jesus (a preteen)… and Mary (a young adult)… and a wider faith community (the elders)… demonstrating for us the ways in which our faith journeys are disarmingly simple in all of life’s complexities.
This cross-generational narrative includes the necessity of repeating faith practices over and over, as “every year” Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem. They returned home, and went back again. Jesus as a youth “asks significant questions and makes propound statements,” and elders encourage him. How might we identify these moments as faith practices which lead us to listen, ponder, and repeat this story in our own lives?
For this is the fourth time in recent weeks Luke has referenced Mary’s wondering. She has gone from an initial response of “how can this be?” (Luke 1:34) to the revelation from an angel God was about to be born in the flesh; to “treasuring and pondering” what strangers (the shepherds) have said to her soon after Jesus was born (Luke 2:19); to receiving Simeon’s both/and blessing at the Temple—recognizing both the joy and distress that lay ahead for them and the tender infant (Luke 2:34-35). Now, 12 years later, Mary is once again “treasuring all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51b).
This is also the only story we have of Jesus as a youth. So today Luke provides us with a glimpse of Jesus the “tween.” Jesus in the liminal space between childhood and being an adult. And we know a bit about life stages, right? In her book, The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers, Wendy Mogel uses the image of a swimming pool to describe child development. How many of you have taken your children to swimming lessons when they were young? We took our kids to the east Madison YMCA. I remember watching our daughter being wildly uncomfortable as we tried to lower into the pool when she was 2-years old. Eventually, she began to dip her head in the water. Of course, it wasn’t just us teaching her how to swim, but there were skilled instructors too. Over time, gaining confidence in her own abilities, our daughter was able to swim farther and farther away from us.
As a tweens, our children begin to push away from the edge, and our parenting, a little harder. They stay away longer, pushing us to our limits again and again. This is all a part of normal human development in mind, body, and spirit. Mogel notes, “A cornerstone of Jewish thought is that God created each of us to fulfill a specific purpose during life in this world. Each person is responsible for discovering and carrying out their divinely intended purpose.” For those of us who identify as Christian, Luke is documenting the development Jesus’ life purpose. We are witnesses to one moment in the unfolding of Jesus—divine and human. Jesus, the almost-teen sitting with his faith community listening, asking questions, and sharing his understanding of Torah.
Let’s take a moment to expand that revelation to us. We often reflect on Jesus’ divine purpose, but what about ours? What is the unique purpose for which God created you? Me? And as we gather as the Body of Christ, what is the purpose of this congregation?
These are wonderful questions to ask at the beginning of a new year. The past few weeks the hoped-for vaccines have started to be distributed. We have an unprecedented opportunity to sit with these questions: as adults and youth. What has this past year taught us? What is our faith… what is God… calling us into NOW? In the waters of uncertainty, how can we trust letting go of the edge of the pool and discover the divinely intended purpose for which God has created each of us?
I like the title of Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” Not unlike Jesus hanging out in the Temple with the Jewish leaders, Dean emphasizes the glorious danger of embracing the good news through the words of our youth words saying, “If we say we want to translate the gospel with young people, this is what we are saying: we are willing to put the very power of the gospel itself—the very power of the Word of God—into the hands of teenagers, people who do not view culture the way we view culture, who do not hear God the way we hear God, who will not worship the way we worship, who will not “do church” the way we want them to simply because they will be listening to Jesus and not to us.”
Listening to Jesus. THAT is a statement full of Great Hope.
What hope are you treasuring in your heart?
We know that building a faith that sticks with us throughout life’s losses and laments, joys and celebrations requires us to both regularly gather for worship, and to Take Faith Home. To live into the Body of Christ means living into God’s love with us day-by-day at home, school, work, and in our community.
Before we move to this morning’s community prayer and communion, I want to share with you 8 faith practices. As we swim in relationship with God and each other, which of these do you already “grab onto” each day—and which practices might you consider purposely strengthening in 2021? I offer you these as practices, from the Abbey of the Arts that I practice and personally strive for:
- Find “moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.”
- “Commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the strange both without and within…recognize that when (you) make space inside (your) heart for the unclaimed parts of (yourself, you) cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.”
- “Commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom (you) can share (your) deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.”
- “Commit to cultivating awareness of (your) kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning (your) use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.”
- “Commit to bringing (yourself) fully present to the work (you) do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express (your) gifts in the world in meaningful ways.”
- “Commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures (your) worth by what you do.”
- “Commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that (you) are always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.”
- “Commit to… cultivating creative joy and letting (your) body and ‘heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love.’”
We are all living in a liminal space, a time of betweenness. We are not where we were at the beginning of 2020, nor are we at where we will be in 12 months from now. Take a look at this sanctuary (i.e., computer screen) in front of you. Take a deep breath. If you are in gallery view, or if you can see the names of those gathered here in the comments or chat, can you name a person or two who is before you whom might be a kindred spirit? Someone you might reach out to and seek guidance in the months ahead? Or in another part of your life, do you have a soul friend, someone with whom you can share your faith? If not, how might this faith community support you in that journey? Let us know. Let me know. Pray about it. Taste it as we break bread together. And then watch for God to be revealed once again.
Reflection on Luke 2:41-52 offered January 3, 2021
 Wendy Mogel, The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers (New York: Scribner, 2011).
 Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), pg 3 Kindle edition.
 Christine Valters Paintner, “Monk Manifesto,” Abbey of the Arts, July 7, 2020, https://abbeyofthearts.com/about/monk-manifesto/.