Monday, January 5, 2015

Sermon: Losing Track of Time

"Losing track of time" courtesy Pixabay
Sermon for January 4, 2015 5:30pm service
Second Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
Luke 2:41-52

I speak to you in the name of one God:
 Creating, Liberating, Sustaining. Amen

Listen to this sermon here.

When I was growing up, I was infatuated with horses. 
Loved them and everything about them
– riding, grooming, mucking. 
Often, I would lose track of time and
it was dinnertime before I realized the day had gone. 
Did this ever happen to you?

So we can empathize with Jesus’
“losing track of time” in the temple
at around 12 years old. 
Clearly, he loved the temple and
the “business” of the temple.

There’s an old country western song
now immortalized on YouTube. 
It captures the entrancing conversation
in which Jesus and the elders engaged,
causing him to lose track of time. 
Perhaps you know, it, it’s called
“On my Father’s side”:
Just a young boy / in the temple one day,
shared with the doctors / they were so amazed,
never had they seen one so young speak so swift /
they asked him many questions /  
the conversation went like this:

What’s your name son,
on my mother’s side my name is Jesus,
but on my father’s side they call me Emmanuel,
how old are you,
on my mother’s side now I’m twelve years,
but on my father’s side I’ve just always been,
where are you from,
on my mother’s side I’m from Bethlehem,
but on my father’s side it’s new Jerusalem,
what’s your plan,
on my mother’s side I’ll be crucified,
but on my father’s side in three days I’ll arise
and I’ll sit at my father’s side.

However the conversation actually went,
we can imagine Jesus
answering questions,
losing track of time, and
getting chewed out by his parents.

This gospel story sets the stage for his whole ministry,
including his own “first words,”
“why were you searching for me?”

Jesus’ parents were observant Jews
and fulfilled all that the Torah required. 
The family had been attending
an annual pilgrim festival in Jerusalem. 
Like most folks going long distances,
they did so in a large group, a caravan.
After the festival, the caravan left Jerusalem.

Jesus parents were already a day’s travel away
before they realized that Jesus was not with them. 
Can you imagine the panic of his parents? 
They had been
attentive and observant,
abiding to all the rules of the religion,
doing as they as prescribed,
and yet they had lost their first born son. 

I wonder if sometimes we, too,
feel like we are doing all that
religion asks and yet we can’t find Jesus. 
Sometimes, a spiritual sense of Jesus’ presence
is palpable, but on the other hand, it is so elusive. 

We wonder, where is Jesus?
We have been coming to church,
been kind to strangers,
participated in outreach,
contributed generously,
and we turn the other cheek when “enemies” strike. 
We wonder:
how will God, in Jesus, find us?

For over fifty years, Mother Teresa’s spiritual life
was characterized by
an experience of the absence of God.
In her spiritual memoir, Come Be My Light,
she reveals a hidden life in which she felt
the intense absence of Jesus –
a state that lasted until her death,
according to her journals. 

Theologian Dennis Hollinger wrote about this:
That Mother Teresa did not “feel” God
did not mean the absence of God.

We may never know why her feelings
failed to accord with her com­mitments. 
The fact that she continued
to believe and to share the love of Christ,
even without feeling divine presence, demonstrates
the depth of her love and
the perseverance of her faith. [1]

And Jesus’ parents deeply loved him
and persevered in their faith. 
So, although Jesus was “lost” to his parents,
he himself knew exactly where he was.  
Jesus knew that he was with God. 
Jesus engaged in a deep and
serious study of God’s work
with teachers other than his immediate  family,
and perhaps just lost track of time. 
Jesus replied to his parents,
“didn’t you know that I *must*
be in my Father’s house?” 
Or in the KJV,
“I must be about my Father’s business.”

While Jesus was “about” his Father’s business,
God had found him even in his losing track of time. 
Those around him seemed to know and to see in Jesus
a wisdom,
a knowledge,
a grace,

that perhaps his kin
could not necessarily see. 
Jesus found his identity
by affirming his relationship to God. 

Sometimes, although Jesus seems “lost” to us,
Jesus himself knows exactly where he is:
– with us, “Emmanuel.”

That’s the gift of Christmas! 

God finds us, 
when we “lose ourselves” in our vocational call
(especially in service,
such as teaching or feeding or helping).
God finds us,
when we “lose track of time”
(especially in beauty and art, or
hanging out with children, or
engaging strangers in conversation)
God finds us
when we “lose our agenda”
in service of God’s dream,
(in advocating for equal rights,
for legislation that supports human dignity,
in struggling through
pervasive misunderstandings)

In all these ways, God finds us.

John O’Donohue, a Celtic philosopher,
suggests that a way to experience the sacred,
(I would say God in Jesus) is in conversation. 
He describes a sacred conversation as,
”…[one] which [isn’t] just
two intersecting monologues,
…[but one] in which
you overhear yourself saying things
that you never knew you knew.
[one in which]
you heard yourself receiving from somebody
words that absolutely found places within you
that you thought you had lost
[one in which] you were brought
…to a different plane…that continue
to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards.”[2]

We can imagine
this kind of conversation is
how Jesus lost track of time.

This kind of conversation arises
when we lose ourselves as children of God,
loved by God, being “about” our Father’s business. 

This kind of conversation arises
from a vulnerability that invites growth and grace.  
When we are vulnerable, we allow ourselves
to be curious about a person,
arriving to a conversation with
a sense of wonder,
a sense of “not knowing,”
a sense of humility.

Being “about” our Father’s business
may mean that we lose track of time. 
But we are not lost to God. 
God knows exactly where we are.

Our baptismal covenant offers spiritual practices
to guide us toward affirming
our relationship with God:
1.     by praying and sharing Communion,
2.     by “repenting” and turning to see Jesus in the people before us,
3.     by telling about God’s love for all people,
4.     by seeking Christ in the face of others we meet,
5.     by respecting the dignity of every human being. 

Today, we hear the first words of Jesus,
“why were you searching for me?”
Today, we are called to respond.  For he has found us.

And, for Mother Teresa, while she rarely “felt”
the divine presence she longed for,
I believe that God was with her. 

God is with us, here, today. 
For our faith is not about our feelings –
but about the gracious God, found in Jesus,
who is really here, and will walk with us.

The good news today is that in Jesus,
the God we are seeking is also seeking us. 
We don’t have to do anything,
but affirm our life in God. 

*That* is Jesus’ Father’s business.
*That* is what Jesus is about.
*That* is how we live into love for God.

And, as we mature
in both body and spirit,
so we, too,
will increase in wisdom and in years,
and in divine and human favor. 


[1]  Dennis P. Hollinger, Ph.D, “Spirituality and Emotions: What We Can Learn from Mother Teresa’s Dark Nights of the Human Soul” as published in C.S. Lewis Institute’s Knowing and Doing, cited at

[2] Transcript for John O'Donohue, “The Inner Landscape of Beauty’” January 26, 2012, Krista Tippett, Host

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