You’re going to get sick of me saying this, but it has fascinated me for years, so I will say it again. Jesus almost never answers the questions people ask him. I know I started my sermon a few weeks ago with this same thought, but it’s so important for understanding how Jesus related to people in the Gospel. Jesus responds to questions, but he rarely answers them. When we take the time to compare his response to the thing the questioner was looking for, we see more clearly the path Jesus invites us to walk.
Sermon for Sunday, January 3, 2016 || Christmas 2 || Luke 2:41-52
Well, here we are in 2016. Another year has come and gone, and oh so quickly. Years are short and not necessarily memorable unless we take the time to remember them, to stitch them into our living tapestries. I love that today’s Gospel mentions that Mary “treasures all these things in her heart.” Mary treasures both the painful memories, like losing Jesus in the caravan, and the happy memories, like finding him again in the temple. Mary treasures her memories, and they become the warp and weft of her life. They become the story of her walk with God.
At the last Confirmation class, we discussed how hard it can be to notice God’s movement in our lives because of how constant God’s presence is. We are hard-wired to notice change, not constancy. So to improve our awareness of God’s movement – and thus improve our chances of responding to that movement – I have a homework assignment for you. I want you to treasure things in your hearts.
Specifically, as we begin another new year, I invite each of you to look back over the past decade. For each year since January 2006, choose one event or theme that crystallizes for you what that year meant for your life. The event or theme doesn’t have to deal overtly with God’s movement, but I suspect that as you stitch these ten important moments together, you might start to see the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing in your life in unexpected ways. For the rest of this sermon, I’d like to present for you a personal example of this homework assignment. So, starting ten years ago:
It’s spring 2006, and my first year of seminary is coming to a close. I refuse to notice that love has already eroded into convenience and is well on its way to indifference. In mid-May, my girlfriend of two years initiates the end of our relationship. I push away the abyss threatening to engulf me because I need to focus on my chaplaincy at the children’s hospital. Back at seminary, I fall into despair. I isolate myself, presumptuously assuming that none of my friends has ever felt this way. I escape into the fantasy world of an online video game. I don’t surface again for many months.
It’s December 2007, and I ask my spiritual director to hear my confession in preparation for my first ordination. We enter the sanctuary. I kneel at the altar rail. I have written some notes on yellow legal sheets. The tears begin to flow as I confess the big things like my arrogant reliance on myself above everything else. I also confess the little things like cheating on that math quiz in fifth grade (sorry Mrs. Goldberg!). I am utterly exhausted when I finish. I feel empty, but in a good way, like there is more space in me for God to fill.
It’s June 2008 and blisteringly hot outside. There’s no A/C at the church, so I’m glad to be wearing seersucker. I kneel before my bishop and his hands are gripping my head firmly. The rest of the priests touch me lightly. I can feel my father’s hand on my shoulder. At the end of the service, people come to me for the customary blessing from the new priest. I don’t know what to say, but the words come just the same.
It’s late 2009, and some situations are just so brutal or hit so close to home that reliance on God is a requirement and not the fallback position. I get a call that a parishioner’s daughter has died suddenly in the night. God finds me cowering on the front stoop. I take a deep breath and enter the house. Every day for a week and a half, I spend time with the grieving parents, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that my normal strength is unequal to the task. I officiate at her funeral, my first for someone my own age. And God is there.
It’s the beginning of 2010, and I’m looking for a new position. I email my former spiritual director about a job on the day after she mentions off-handedly to her husband that she’d like an “Adam Thomas clone” to be her assistant rector. We don’t believe in coincidences, but in the weaving power of God’s movement. I start my new job in Massachusetts six weeks later. Four weeks after that, I meet Leah.
It’s February 2011, and I’m standing at the top of the steps in my church with my father by my side. Leah walks towards me wearing a beautiful white dress. We vow in the name of God to have and to hold each other until we are parted by death. She is my future, and you couldn’t stuff any more gratitude to God in my heart if you tried.
It’s July 2012, and I rush Leah to the hospital. She’s at a ten on the pain scale, and it takes the ER doctors all day to figure out why. The reason is connected to the fact that every month we hope and hope and hope for a positive pregnancy test, and every month our hopes are dashed. We cry a lot. We wonder what’s wrong with us that we can’t seem to do what our bodies are designed to do. The future we planned together dims.
It’s November 2013, and I get off the phone with Chris Barnes, who has just invited me to be your rector. I have to wait patiently for him to stop talking so I could say, “YES!” I feel the same sense of glowing rightness in my chest that I had felt about going to Massachusetts and marrying Leah. The next day, Leah and I have a special medical procedure, and two weeks later we see two tiny heartbeats on the ultrasound monitor.
It’s July 2014, and I watch as first a tiny baby girl and then a slightly less tiny baby boy enter the world. I look in awe at their solemn little faces and their fingers and their miniscule fingernails. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I hold them and whisper to them and change their diapers, and those seem to be the right things to do. I am overwhelmed, and my gratitude comes in kisses, not in words.
It’s the end of 2015, and I’m writing this sermon. I only cry twice (maybe three times) while writing it. It takes me a long time to figure out what to say about this last year. It has been a year of ups and downs, of complete joy and utter exhaustion. It has also been a year of first words and first steps and lots of food dropped purposefully on the kitchen floor. But as I look back, the one word that captures this past year for me is “home.” In all my life, I’ve never felt at home until now – until my children started crawling up the stairs and knowing which room is theirs, until I started walking in the back door and knowing that a pair of sticky hugs was in my immediate future. I am home.
This is what I treasure in my heart today. These are the events from the last decade that have woven themselves into the tapestry of my life. These are the moments – both happy and painful – that have helped sink the moorings of my faith deeper and deeper. As we begin 2016, I invite you to take some time to treasure the last decade in your heart. View your own living tapestry and see how the golden thread of God’s movement weaves through it. If you’d like to write yours down like I did, I would love to read it. Above all, in this new year, I pray that you may find treasure to hold in your hearts, and I pray that you may be the treasure, which others hold in theirs.