The Sermon Mall



Sermon Briefs Luke 2:41-52 Part 3

Phillips Brooks1 preaches an imaginative sermon built around the question Jesus asks Mary when she and Joseph find him in the temple in conversation with the doctors of the law. She asks, "Son why have you thus dealt with us?" Jesus' response is that he must be about his Father's business. Brooks suggests that the dynamic of the situation for Mary revolves around her previous care of Jesus as a young boy. Now he begins to take himself into his own keeping, which will only increase, until he does so completely, with the climax of the cross.
These things, which Mary keeps in her heart, reveal issues that are a common human experience, especially in the "best hearts which feel their responsibility the most," Brooks says. He is especially interested in those times when we have identified some great cause (sacred interest), claimed it as our own, and given ourselves to it with great devotions and faithfulness. He is, more exactly, interested in those situations when the cause takes on a life of its own, when it outgrows us and resolves itself in ways larger than us. He believes that we, like Mary, have "realized our responsibility more than we have realized God."
He illustrates the point by suggesting that all parents and children come to a point in their relationship when the child must begin to take the initiative for its own life, and the parent must let go. The child is no longer just our own child, but in its assertion of its own life and responsibility is seen as a child of God. So it is with our lives and our great causes: Our question becomes, Brooks says, "What does God want this soul of mine to be?"
We find out he says, by finding God. Understanding comes from love. Love comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Christ gives his blessing; we respond in gratitude, and thus discover the love of God. Knowing this our soul can become a deep source of communication with God. God's wisdom becomes evident within us, and we may work together with God in the most divine of all works, the perfecting of our souls.
"How rightly to seek Christ and how He may be found?" are questions Martin Luther 2 opens his sermon on this text with. There are, he says, benefits to finding Christ, such as, comfort, for a troubled conscience, taking away anxiety, and finding joy for the heart, among others. All of this is available, according to Luther, when we give ourselves, surrendering all human comfort, to the Word alone
Mary (and Joseph) did not understand what Jesus was saying when he spoke of the necessity of being about his Father's business. While this should quiet the "vain babblers" who overly exalt the "Holy Virgin" (she doesn't need such false praise), it is enough for her that God "guided and sustained her by his grace." Mary had far greater gifts from God than others, yet she like others had to learn daily and grow in grace.
Indeed, saints and apostles alike, also have faults and sin, great sins through weakness or ignorance (not intention). All of this that we might learn (ultimately?) not to depend on other people—but on the Word of God alone.
"In a word," this text is a rebuke to false saints and critics, to the writings of the Fathers, the decrees of the church, councils, and popes, all of which would divert us from the one place where Christ may be found—in the scriptures.
While this sermon in several places includes anti-Catholic sentiments which we might largely reject today, we can perhaps understand Luther's thinking in his circumstance. Most importantly, he makes a powerful statement of the role of scripture in the faith of many.
Paul Bosch3 sees answers in this text for our frailty, pain, and limitations as human beings. His interests seem to focus overall on issues in human relationships, although he preaches with specific reference to family life today.
He asserts that the first of the Ten Commandments, "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me," provides a foundation for all others (including honoring one's father and mother). Remembering and honoring this, Mary and Joseph go to Jerusalem to keep Passover. We can't keep any of the commandments unless we honor "God alone as Lord of Life."
Next Bosch suggests that Jesus is able to stay behind in the temple because his parents have begun to give him some independence. They have manifested the kind of mutual respect and trust that provides a solid framework for all parent-child relationships. Bosch then asserts that both Jesus and his parents acted responsibly. Many interpreters, he notes, seek to fix blame. Was Jesus wrong to stay behind without thought for his parents; were Joseph and Mary wrong not to have kept a closer watch over Jesus?
Neither, says Bosch. Both acted according to the highest love and responsibility. Just here, Bosch reaches his point: Many situations and issues in life leave us with honest misunderstandings and conflicts in values with others. "Usually," he says, "life isn't a case of true or false, good or bad…. It is moral compromise and ethical ambiguity." The good news of the Christmas gospel has not left us alone in a world of ambiguity and uncertainty—God has come to us and shares our life. "God-with-us," is worthy of our worship.
Gerald Harper
1. Phillips Brooks, The Christian Year, George W. Forell, editor (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1964), p. 11 ff. 2. Martin Luther, Ibid, p.107 ff. 3. Paul Bosch, Homilies for the Christian People, Gail Ramshaw, editor (Collegville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 384 ff.