The lost-and-found gospel (Luke 2.41-52) [Sermon 12-27-2015 Christmas 1c]


December 29, 2015 by jmar198013


William Holman Hunt, “Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,” 1854-60.

Manuscript of my sermon from this past Sunday, 12/27/2015. Christmas 1c.


1 Samuel 2.18-20, 26

Psalm 148

Colossians 3.12-17

Luke 2.41-52

“Home Alone” and the Gospel of Luke

You ever see the movie “Home Alone”? It’s become sort of a Christmas staple. Well, I was watching it with Megan the other night. And I was thinking about my sermon today. Knowing I’d be preaching Luke’s story about Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem. And all of a sudden, it dawned on me: “Home Alone” and Jesus being left in the temple share the same basic plot.

In both stories, an extended family goes to a faraway place to celebrate a holiday. And because of a miscommunication, a boy is left behind. No one notices for a while, because everyone assumes he’s with other relatives. When they realize their son is not with them, his parents freak out and spend days frantically trying to get back to him. And when they find him, it turns out he’s taken care of himself just fine. In fact, he’s capable of holding his own with even the most wily of adults. The boy Kevin in “Home Alone” proves this by going toe-to-toe with two career burglars. Jesus proves it by going head-to-head with the Bible scholars in the temple.

And that’s where Mary and Joseph find Jesus. In the temple, talking shop with the Torah experts. You have to understand, back then biblical interpretation was a spectator sport. It was competitive exhibition. Those guys wrestled with the text. More than that, they verbally wrestled with each other. And Jesus was fully engaged in the process. Like he belonged there or something. Luke tells it like this: He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. And it wasn’t like he was out of his depth, either. Twelve-year-old Jesus was no rookie when it came to interpreting the sacred words. Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers, Luke says. He was holding his own.

And no one was more amazed by his skill at rightly dividing the word of truth than his parents. When Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus in the temple, going tit-for-tat with the seasoned veterans of the law and the prophets and the psalms, Luke makes sure to let us know that: they were shocked.

Of course, Mary did what any parent would do upon discovering that their twelve-year-old child had intentionally gotten himself left in a strange city to argue with a bunch of old men. She hollered at him. Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!

And that’s when Luke lets us in on this tender moment of embarrassingly ordinary ‘tweener surliness on Jesus’ part. Only Luke reports this, and I can sort of see why many in the early church would rather keep this moment on the down-low. Because it sounds a lot like backtalk. In fact, it’s the closest Jesus ever came to saying: You’re not my real father! to Joseph. Jesus asks his parents: Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?

You know, I always wonder if that my Father’s house business stung Joseph. But Luke doesn’t go there, so I guess I won’t either.

Here’s where Luke does go. Luke reports that Joseph and Mary didn’t understand what he said to them.

Jesus was never lost. To his parents, he was missing. But he was never lost. He knew exactly where he was. And he knew why he was there. Jesus was right where he was supposed to be, doing just what his Father God put him here to do.

But Luke says that his parents didn’t understand.

From Luke’s perspective, if anyone was lost that day, it was Mary and Joseph. They didn’t know where Jesus was. They were confused. They didn’t know what was going on.

Sometimes who is lost and who is found is completely a matter of perspective.

Lost and found

I don’t think that it would be too much of a stretch to call Luke “the lost and found Gospel.”

After all, it’s in Luke’s Gospel—the 15th chapter—where Jesus tells those three classic lost-and-found stories back-to-back.

One sheep out of 99 is lost. The shepherd leaves the 99, and goes out to rescue the one. When he finds it, he calls all his friends and neighbors to celebrate. What was lost has been found.

A woman loses one of her ten coins. She frantically searches the entire house for it. Looks under the cushions, behind the refrigerator. In the lint trap. Pulls out her flashlight, combs through all the nooks and crannies. And when she finds her lost coin, she calls all her friends and neighbors to celebrate. What was lost has been found.

A man has two sons. The younger one takes off and blows his inheritance in some Ancient Near Eastern Big Easy. One day, the entire region turns into a dustbowl. The kid ends up feeding pigs while his stomach rumbles, and comes to his senses. Even the day laborers back at the homestead always have plenty to eat. He decides to go home and hire himself out to his father. Instead, his father runs to embrace him. Has new clothes put on the boy. And hosts a BBQ for the entire village. His lost son has been found!

The older son comes home from work to find the block party in full swing. When he’s told the party is in honor of his lost-and-found brother, he stays outside and pouts. It’s so unfair!

Now he’s the one who’s lost and needs to be found.

And his father goes outside to find him . . .

Luke’s Gospel is the lost-and-found Gospel. In fact, God’s Good News—the Good News of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection and glorification—it’s all about being lost and being found.

God’s Good News envelopes all human history. Transforming the tragic human story of being lost into a hope-filled story about being found.

We can see it from the beginning now. God created humanity in God’s image and likeness. God placed us in a good creation. In community. With a life-giving vocation: to nurture his good world. To tend and keep the garden and animals.

But our ancestors took a wrong turn. Eve listened to the serpent—another created being. And Adam listened to his wife instead of God. And they did the one thing that God told them not to do. And they got lost.

And that’s how it’s gone on. That’s how our history has unfolded. Like Eve and Adam, we have listened to each other instead of God. And we’ve all gotten lost.

The story of Adam and Eve isn’t just a story about two people way back then and their sin. Their wrong turn. Their lostness.

It’s everyone’s story that has lived since then. It’s about your lostness, and mine, and the way the whole word has gotten lost.

When Adam and Eve went the wrong way and got themselves lost, God went and found them, naked and hiding behind the trees.

God called out to his lost children: Where are you?

And when God found them—lost and naked and vulnerable—God clothed them. Genesis tells us that: The Lord God made the man and his wife leather clothes and dressed them (Gen. 3.21).

You know, that makes me think of one of Luke’s lost-and-found stories. Remember that story about the lost son? When the father found his lost son, he said: Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! (Luke 15.22). He clothed his lost-and-found son.

And in Jesus, that’s what God does for all of us. All humanity. We have all listened to each other, instead of God. We have all gotten lost. We have all been naked—vulnerable and afraid and hiding. And Jesus is how God goes out looking for us, and how God finds us. The life, the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus is how lost humanity has been found. And God clothes us in Christ, just like Adam and Eve. Just like the father did his lost son in the story Jesus told.

We heard it in our lesson from Colossians this morning, too: put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3.12). We put them on like a garment. They’re the new clothes God has woven for us in Christ.

Jesus has come to us and found us in our lostness. He has undone the first wrong turn we took—he listened to God instead of the serpent. He always listened to his Father’s voice first. He shows us how to be the people God made us to be before we lost our way. He shows us the way home.

The human story—my story, your story, our story—is as simple as being lost and being found.

Lost and found on the road

In our Gospel lesson today, we heard a story about people thinking that Jesus had been lost in Jerusalem. But when they found him three days later, it turned out Jesus wasn’t lost at all. They were.

Mary and Joseph had been lost—not Jesus. They were the ones who were confused. Who didn’t understand. Who needed to be shown the way.

It’s foreshadowing. A tech rehearsal. A backwards echo.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel—the 24th chapter—once again, Luke shows us a couple of people who thought they’d lost Jesus in Jerusalem. Who thought they’d left him behind.

Jesus’ parents thought they had lost him in the holiday crowds. The two disciples we meet at the end of Luke’s Gospel also thought they had lost him on a holy day. But not in a crowd. On a Roman cross.

Luke says that two disciples were slouching toward Emmaus. Their home town. About seven miles out of Jerusalem.

That’s when the risen Jesus showed up. They didn’t recognize him yet. They didn’t understand.

Jesus himself acted lost that day. Like he didn’t understand. Like he needed to be shown the way.

The disciples were shocked that someone could be as lost, as clueless, as not-with-it as this stranger seemed to be.

Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days? they asked. They just couldn’t believe how lost this stranger was! Jesus of Nazareth . . . was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago (Luke 24.19-21).

And once again—we’ve heard this story before!—Jesus lets these two people who thought they’d lost him know that he was never lost. Jesus was right where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was meant to do. These two disciples were the ones who were lost, and needed to be shown the way.

Just as he had his parents twenty some-odd years before, he showed these two disciples just how lost they were: Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets (Luke 24.25-27).

Just like he had done with the teachers in the temple all those years ago, Jesus argued and clarified the scriptures with these disciples. I wonder what that Bible study on the road was like?

Maybe he took them back to Genesis. The story of how we all have gotten ourselves lost. And how God had to send us a new Adam, to show us the way to be the humans we were meant to be. To show us in the life of Jesus what community with God looks like. What it means to live in God’s image. For surely the image of God is a relationship we live out more than just a quality we possess. How he had to come to put straight every wrong turn we had made. Even to offer his life to God and for others, when the human tendency has been to cling so tenaciously to our lives.

Then again, maybe he led them from Genesis to Malachi, pointing out all the times those God sent to show the way back home had been murdered. He’d done that before. In Luke 11.51, Jesus spoke of the murder of every prophet—from Abel to Zechariah—who was killed between the altar and the holy place. Maybe Jesus explained that his death was inevitable. That’s just how it had always gone. But maybe he also explained how his blood spoke a better word than Abel’s or Zechariah’s. Because while their blood called out for vengeance, his cried for mercy and reconciliation. And that God had said—no more of this!—and raised him. That God wasn’t going to have death have the final word. Jesus had said that the only way to find your life was to lose it. And he was living that truth out.

However that Bible study went, Luke lets us know that before the day was over, the disciples recognized Jesus for who he was. And they knew the truth about Jesus and themselves: They had been lost that day, slouching back to Emmaus. But Jesus had come and found them.

That’s your story. That’s my story. That’s everyone’s story.

It’s the lost-and-found gospel.

The story that we are invited to find our lives in, and live out.

Just like the lost-and-found prodigal son, we are welcomed home by our father. Clothed with Christ in baptism. And fed at his communion table.

That’s our story, church. It’s as simple as being lost and being found.



One thought on “The lost-and-found gospel (Luke 2.41-52) [Sermon 12-27-2015 Christmas 1c]

  1. […] old. In the meantime, Luke has only told one other story about Jesus. How twelve-year-old Jesus snuck off from his parents for several days to talk shop with the theologians in the temple. We have no record of Jesus’ […]

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