Since our Sunday School youth and teachers set the beautiful stepping stones in our lovely new part behind the church on Rally Day, we’ve been thinking together about the steps we take along the journey of faith. The first step we talked about was Baptism, which is for many people the initial encounter with God’s grace and love. Last week we focused on what is for most of us the next step – learning the story of God and humanity in the pages of the Bible – Holy Scripture – the Book. This week we are going to look at the step we take in faith when we spend time with God’s people in corporate worship.
Listen with me for the Word of God as it comes from the Gospel of Luke.
You may have looked at the sermon title and thought – “Oh, Pastor Cindy is going to talk about the car show yesterday at the Philo Fall Festival. “Body work” is what we call it when our cars get fixed up after a little run in with a light post, or something.” Or maybe you thought “body work” was going to be about building our spiritual muscles. But the truth of the matter is, Body in this case refers to the church – the Body of Christ. And “Work” refers to what we do when we get together to worship. The service - our prayers, and songs, our responses and our reading of holy scripture – has a theological term – Liturgy. And liturgy means “The work of the People”
Joining in “the work of the people” is one way that young Christians grow in faith. For this reason, I welcome and encourage children’s participation in the worship service. I don’t mind a crying baby. Or a rambunctious toddler. Or a teenager scribbling notes on the bulletin. I think I’ve confessed before that as a teenager, I slept through about 4 years of sermons. And it wasn’t all my fault! But, looking back, I got so much from other parts of the liturgy! Taking a nap during the sermon wasn’t a bad solution.
The work of the people - the language of church, the stories of church, the worldview of those who profess to put Jesus Christ at the head of their lives – this is almost like a foreign language. It’s possible to learn Italian as an adult. But learning a language, absorbing it into your bones and being able to use it – this happens much more easily and naturally when the human mind and heart are young. Worship is like that.
The story of Jesus’ trip to the temple at age twelve reinforces the importance of including young people in worship. But it does more than that. Let’s look at it again:
The first thing the text tells us is that worship and devotion to God are a habit. I have to tell you, I’m indebted to Brian Stoeffergen, whose commentaries I read weekly – for much of what I am about to tell you:
Our text not only tells us about the young Jesus, but also a lot about his parents -- they were very devout in keeping the Jewish Law.
Eight days after Jesus' birth, he is circumcised (2:21).
Five times in the account of the purification of Mary & presentation of Jesus in the temple, we are told that his parents act according to the "law" (2:22, 23, 24, 27, 39).
Our text begins by telling us that "every year" his parents go to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. When Jesus is 12, they go up "as usual" [ethos in Greek -- more on this word later] for the festival.
Luke stresses the fact in this chapter that Mary and Joseph were very devout Jews. We might wonder how much of Jesus' knowledge and self-identity came from the way he was raised in this pious household.
The word ethos is particularly important to notice. The English word "ethics" comes from this word. It refers to "a pattern of behavior that is more or less fixed by tradition and generally sanctioned by the society" [Lowe & Nida]. The word is frequently translated "custom" or "habit."
Of the 12 times this word is used in the NT, 10 of those are in Luke/Acts. The only occurrence of the verbal form (ethizo) is in Luke 2:27, where it indicates that Mary and Joseph do for Jesus what is customary under the law. Even though there is nothing else written about young Jesus in scriptures, we know that he grew up with parents who made it a habit of obeying the Law. I'm certain that young Jesus was encouraged to obey it when it applied to him. Young Jesus was learning some good religious habits from his parents.
The noun is used of Jesus in Luke 22:39 where we are told that it was his custom (or habit) to go to the Mount of Olives. He goes there to pray.
What "customs" or "habits" are being handed down by parents today? Some have made it a habit of attending church every week. Some have made it a habit of attending church on Christmas and Easter. Some encourage their children give an offering every week. Others give almost nothing themselves.
It is interesting to me that the Greek word ethos is never used in scripture to refer to what we would usually consider ethical or moral behaviors -- like "don't tell lies, don't steal, help other people, don't be immoral, don't hurt or kill other people, be generous." When ethos is used in the New Testament, it almost always refers to religious behaviors -- mostly about attending church!
For example: And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:25).
Another word with the same meaning [eiotha] is used of Jesus when he goes to the synagogue on the sabbath as was his custom (Lu 4:16); and of Paul (Ac 17:2). Do we need to promote regular church as an "ethic" that believers should practice? When we make lists of ethical behavior, is church attendance or taking time to pray on the lists?
If Jesus made it a habit to attend church (synagogue) and to go off on a mountain to pray, how much more do we need to make it a habit if we are to keep a constant walk with God?
(I want to be completely clear here: I lifted that entire section from Brian Stoeffergen. The whole thing. I didn't preach it in exactly those words but he deserves all the credit for that whole section. I am plagarism-phobic. So I want to make that perfectly clear before I post this thing!!! )
The second thing this passage tells us is that :
The Work of the People is give and take with God
In the passage it says that Jesus was there asking questions and listening. Then the next verse says that he was speaking and giving answers as well. It’s verses like that that make me believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. What was he doing? Listening or speaking? What was he doing? Asking questions or giving answers. Thank goodness for the scriptures that tell us that in the house of the God, our Lord was doing both. There is a rhythm to worship. A rhythm like breathing in and breathing out. That was the first song the Praise Band played this morning – “like breathing in and breathing out”. There is a give and take to what we do in worship, too.
We give God praise
We receive a sense of the divine presence.
We give God an accounting of ourselves.
We receive an assurance of his forgiveness.
We give God prayer in the Psalm.
There is plenty of give and take in the Children’s sermon.
We receive God’s Word in scripture – we read scripture and scripture reads us
We respond in faith
We receive the sacraments
We share them with one another
We receive God’s blessing and out we go, to live in faith.
The work of the body is give and take. How fully we can participate in that give and take depends on a lot of things. Age is only one. Our openness, our preparation, our need, our desire. What parts of the worship service are most gratefully received? Which parts are most joyfully offered up to God?
Jesus shows us that the give and take is part of God’s plan and pattern for our lives. In worship we act out that conversational pattern with each other’s help.
Third thing this passage can tell us about corporate worship is discerned by looking at vs. 46-47. At the beginning of the story, Jesus’ parents take him up to the Temple.
At the end of the story, Jesus goes back with them to Nazareth. There’s a real subtle shift in who’s in charge.
Worship is a step toward helping us put Jesus in charge.
Letting him chart our path and decide on our destination. Beginning to trust him with our steps and our lives. Did you ever hear the Christian life likened to a tandem bicycle? I think the original version came out of the 12 step AA program. Lots of good things do. But basically it says becoming a Christian is like riding a bicycle built for two. At first you realize that life is a little bit easier, with Jesus in the back there, helping you pedal. But then, one day, you hear him say, OK. Let’s switch places. And that’s when the fun really begins! Where we tend to take the quickest, most boring and predictable route between two points, Jesus steers us on some incredible, breath taking long cuts. He pilots through tough mountain passes, and down long stretches of twists and turns. Sometimes you travel at breakneck speeds. With Jesus in charge of the itinerary, you meet strange and wonderful people who give priceless gifts of acceptance, and healing and love. And sometimes Jesus brings us you to a place to give those gifts away, to lighten the load. The life of faith is a great adventure. And all you have to do is pedal.
I like that image.
But the scripture gives us one I like even more: It says that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in divine and human favor. Isn’t that our goal as Christians? Isn’t that why we come to church and participate in worship? In order to grow in wisdom – to understand more clearly the ways of God and the world? To grow in stature – that means to grow physically – and it is a joy to watch some of the young people grow up in front of our eyes. But I think even adults, who won’t grow “up” and try hard not to grow “out” – grow in health, or in strength to handle physical challenges. And to grow in divine and human favor. To grow in close and loving relationships with God and with one another – this is the natural outcome of taking the step of corporate worship, of joining with your brothers and sisters in taking the this important step in the life of faith.
Shall we take the next step – together?