When Jesus Goes AWOL

. 6 min read

Dec 2018, Christ Mountain Top, Christmas 1
the Psalm, Jeremiah 29.11-14
Luke 15.8-10
Luke 2.41-52
Story: Three grandkids were playing at grandma’s, and grandma’s way
of watching them was to watch her soaps on TV and then check on the kids when
the show was over. Grandpa stopped by – the other grandpa – looked in on the
grandma, and told her he was taking the youngest with him. Off they went. When
the show was over, she did her regular thing and checked on the kids, only to
find that her headcount was off by one. She didn’t remember the other grandpa
stopping by – must have been a crucial scene in the show – and the other two
kids didn’t get the question right. So … police, fire company, all the
neighbors are called – and all are mobilizing to find this boy. Then, the
grandpa shows up with the boy, back from their adventure, only to discover the
whole community is in a uproar.
      Today, we are considering when Jesus goes
AWOL. How is it when it’s Jesus that we’re looking for? How systematic are we
in our search? What happens when our system fails and we still haven’t found
the child?
of the lost coin
The town’s orneriest boys who were finally taken to the preacher to put the
fear of God in them.  The preacher sits
down at his desk, across from the youngest boy, and asks, “Where is God?”  The boys eyes got big and he ran out to his
brother.  “We’re in real big trouble this
time.  God’s missin’ an’ they think we’ve
got something to do with it!”

initial impression of Luke’s story as a young person was always that here was a
story of Jesus as a precocious preadolescent young person – and that Jesus’
parents should have known better, shouldn’t they?  It’s easy to miss why Luke would include this
story – the only story between infancy and adulthood that makes the canon of Scripture.
It is easy to miss, even though Luke had important reasons for it beyond the
quaintness of the tale.
      As a parent, I notice that Luke seriously
understates the parental paranoia that would go into such a situation.  Travel a day and discover your child missing,
travel back another day’s trip and spend three days searching until you find
your son . . . .  Did they even sleep
over those three days?  All Mary says to
Jesus is, “Your father and I have been searching for you in great
anxiety.”  And one of the closing lines
informs us that Jesus went home with his parents and “was obedient to
them.”  Like he had any choice!
January of 1996, when I was in Palestine, I had the opportunity to worship at
St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem with the Palestinian congregation
while a guest speaker was present.  He
was preaching this very passage and cleared up one of my persistent
questions.  After the service, they held
their weekly feedback and discussion session, in which he said that Westerners
tend to blame Jesus’ mother and father for the fact that they lost track of him
for a whole day.  He said that the Jewish
families of time were a lot like Palestinian families today – and that it is
routine not to worry about where your children are when they are with the whole
group (the village, the extended family, etc.). 
He said that the only reason that they realized Jesus was missing so
early (rather than several days later) was that they had to pay the toll at the
checkpoint on the road – just like the checkpoints that exist in Palestine
      But this story is more than a story of
understated family dynamics.  Luke has
important theological reasons to tell this particular story.
in real big trouble this time.  God’s
missin’ an’ they think we’ve got something to do with it!”  It’s not necessarily that Jesus is lost, but
he is certainly lost to us.  And we
haven’t a clue where to look, no more than Jesus’ parents!  We can spend a lifetime on a noble spiritual
quest and still not discover Who’s missin’. 
And if Jesus is lost to us, we – like his parents in the story –  are just as much lost ourselves.
the end of Luke’s gospel, a similar story occurs.  Jesus disappears – he’s lost – for three
days, and three nights.  Some of his most
faithful friends search for him, and even on the third day they’re looking in
the wrong place.  They show up at the
tomb to anoint a dead body and are surprised with an angel announcement, this
time not of birth, but of new birth, of resurrection: “Why do you look for the
living among the dead?  He is not here,
he has risen” (24.5).
      “Why do you look for the living among the
dead?”  “Why were you looking for me?”  Is there an echo here, Luke, from the
beginning of the story to the end? 
“Three days”.  Is there an echo
      In Luke’s story, the first folks to find
Jesus after his death are folks who have given up looking for him. . . .
(Emmaus road story, to the breaking bread) – explanation of “all the prophets”
and recognition in “the breaking of the bread”, the observance of his death in
the context of resurrection and promise.
the middle of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a series of stories about looking for
lost things – a lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost son.  His message is clear – God has a habit of
looking for us and finding us, and God loves to do it.  But with this story, and with its match at
the end of the book, Luke reminds us that we have a habit of looking for God,
but looking in all the wrong places.
know the standard advice when you are looking for those keys, that pen, the
date book, that are missing – backtrack, retrace your steps, set up a system,
look in all the most likely places.  The
word that describes Mary and Joseph’s search for Jesus (and the same search in
Luke 24 for the living Lord Jesus among the dead) is just such a word – a
systematic search, moving from one place to another, in an effort to discover
where Jesus is.  You know, of course,
that they are only being systematic because it is sensible.  You know that Mary’s line, “Your father and I
have been searching for you with great anxiety” is a major understatement.  But, their search method was systematic,
diligent, determined.
      Like anything else we’re looking for,
however, we tend to find things where we least expect them.  Sometimes now, when I am missing something
that I don’t need immediately, I purposely refuse to look for it.  “It’ll turn up,” I say, and it does!  That’s what happens with Jesus.  Joseph and Mary “find” him – and the word
used for “find” is a word that includes a significant dose of surprise.  Maybe they were going to the temple not to
look for Jesus but because they needed to pray! 
And, here he is, where they least expect him.  It is as if they, like some lost coin, have
been found by Jesus, rather than the other way around.
have this promise of the prophet: You will seek me and find me when you seek
for me with all your heart.  But where,
where to look?  In Luke’s story, the
systematic search is accompanied by the surprise of discovery, a surprise that
takes place
“my Father’s house” – the gathering place, the people of God gathered for
worship and learning
the observance of Jesus’ death in the context of resurrection – the celebration
of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the rehearsal of salvation history given us
in the Scriptures
Luke, worship is at the center of Christian discipleship.  For Luke, it is in the gathering place and
among the gathered people that we find Jesus. 
For Luke, it is in the repetition and explanation of the Scriptures,
coupled with the breaking of the bread, that we find Jesus.  We talk about that here at Christ Church too.  We talk about discipleship in three
interconnected spheres – Worship, Community, and Mission.
important as this is to remember for our spiritual disciplines, I am much more
encouraged by the way Luke describes us as being “found” by God, the way Luke
dramatizes the promise of the prophet, that “you will seek me and find me when
you seek for me with all your heart”. 
I’m confident that I’m going to look in some wrong places, but I am
emboldened to know that – in the end – I will find and be found by this
wonderful and loving God.
      I once was lost but now am found.
      Seeking you as a precious jewel,
      Lord, to give up I’d be a fool
      You are my all in all.