A Good Old-Fashioned Whuppin’ – a sermon

Sunday, December 27th, 2015 – First Sunday of Christmas
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:41-52
Hymns: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “The First Noel”, “What Child Is This?”, “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, “Away in a Manger”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “Joy to the World”

A Good Old-Fashioned Whuppin’

How many of you have ever had a teenager?
Better question, how many of you have ever BEEN a teenager?
Follow-up: how many of you, as a teenager, ever did something that got you subjected to a good old-fashioned whuppin’? I mean, a “go pick yourself a switch and meet me behind the woodshed in five minutes” good old-fashioned whuppin’?
Now, I can’t honestly say that I ever got taken out behind the woodshed. After all, I grew up in Phoenix. Not only is it a city, but it’s really never cold enough to justify fireplaces, let alone woodsheds (although that doesn’t stop something like forty percent of the houses in the city from HAVING fireplaces). But mind you, I certainly got my hide tanned but good once or twice, and boy did I have it coming. One of the times I can think of was the time I carved something into the lid of my Steinway piano (which, if you go to my house and look, you’ll see it’s STILL THERE, twenty-five years later). I got it good for that one.
Another more serious time that I probably SHOULD have gotten it good occurred when I was seventeen, and I’m guessing the reason it didn’t was because at that point, I was almost as big as I am today, which is to say taller than either of my parents and bulky enough to throw my weight around with some damage. What happened was this: I had left after school on a Friday afternoon in April with some friends to go to another friend’s birthday party at his house in west Phoenix. I thought I had communicated this fact to my parents, but it turns out that the thoughts and the actions of seventeen year-olds are not always connected in reality. This being 1999, there were no cell phones, meaning that my parents had no way of getting in touch with me, and thus, when my mom got to the school to pick me up and I was not there in any way, shape, or form, she freaked out.
Eventually, my parents figured out where I was, called my friend’s house, and let me know in no uncertain terms that they were on their way to retrieve me. I, of course, threw a teenage temper tantrum over the phone, to no avail. And at the end of it all, the only reason I not only got out of getting it good but ended up getting to stay was the fact that when my parents got to the house where I was (a half hour drive from their house, by the way), all of my friends came outside and guilt-tripped them into letting me stay.
Of course, after I DID finally get home that night, I ended up being grounded for the next month, until the time came for me to go do my crazy nerd things for the release of Star Wars: Episode I. But that was last week’s story.
You see, teenagers are prone to do some stupid things. I did ‘em, you did ‘em, and I have no doubt that the kids who currently populate are CYF and Chi-Rho groups, good kids though they are, will almost all do at least one stupid thing in 2016. It’s something that’s almost hard-wired into the DNA of a teenager, foolish rebellion and pointless tomfoolery. Generations of getting taken out behind the woodshed haven’t whupped it out of them, and I sincerely doubt that’s going to change anytime soon.
And the reality is, this is an age-old problem. You think my parents were the only ones freaking out about where their teenage son had disappeared to? Let’s travel back two millennia and talk to Mary and Joseph for a minute.
You see, I can’t help but think that they were pretty protective of Jesus when he was growing up. They knew EXACTLY who he was. Mary had been told by Gabriel before she even became pregnant that Jesus was going to be Emmanuel, God with us, and Joseph had been told the same in a dream (following which a little Gorilla Glue was needed to put his head back together). There was a star over the house in which they lived, shepherds were sent to them by angels, wise men found their way via the ancient Hebrew prophets, and in the end, they bailed on Israel and took refuge in Egypt when King Herod got a little crazy and stabby out of his paranoia.
You have to think that their hearts kind of sank a little bit every time Jesus banged himself up as little kids are wont to do. You know, he falls off his donkey and skins a knee, he goes on an unsupervised tear through Joseph’s workshop and bangs his head on a workbench, he climbs up a sycamore tree with that no-good neighbor boy Zacchaeus and falls out and breaks his arm. The kinds of things that make you wonder if Mary and Joseph thought that God was about to smite them for really not taking the best care of his only Son.
Given that there are no Biblical accounts of Jesus burying his parents following an unfortunate accident, I think we can safely say that God was a patient and kind Almighty parent, but there’s still that idea that Mary and Joseph had to have been paranoid about what would happen if something went wrong.
And so, when they made the annual pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was a young teenager, I’m sure that they laid down the law, probably something along the lines of, “You STAY with your cousin, John! He’s apparently unfit to tie your sandals, so I’m sure he’ll make darned sure you don’t go wandering off into the desert to be tempted by Satan!”
On second thought…
Anyway, so the pilgrimage happens, and then, on the way back, they realize that Jesus isn’t with them. Bear in mind, they didn’t realize this until the end of their first DAY traveling back to Nazareth. Now, according to Google Maps, the most direct road from Jerusalem to Nazareth is about a ninety mile trip. Given that most modern roads in Israel follow the ancient roads that were carved out by Rome thousands of years ago, there’s a very good chance that the route Google Maps gave me is the same road that Mary and Joseph would’ve taken to get back. If we assume they were traveling ten hours a day, at an average pace of three miles an hour, that’s a three day journey. That’s three days in either direction, plus the Passover festival for this pilgrimage. We’re talking a total of nine or ten days that they’re away from Nazareth, meaning Joseph isn’t making any money as a carpenter during that time.
Now, that’s fine. That was part of their religious heritage. What WASN’T fine was the fact that once they were thirty miles out, they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. I’m pretty sure that if any one of you who are parents go thirty miles down the road and realized you’d left your kid behind, you’d probably freak out just a little bit – and you have cars that can get you back to where you came from in half an hour! Mary and Joseph, on the other hand, suddenly found themselves having to turn around, travel a day back to Jerusalem, spend who knew how long looking for Jesus, and then having to make that day back toward Nazareth up on the return trip. At least two extra days on the journey, and probably more!
Mary was probably worried sick, and Joseph was probably muttering things about how that boy was gonna get the whuppin’ of a lifetime when they got back to Nazareth, only to pause and remember that this boy was the Son of God and that any whuppins administered might not be conducive to Joseph’s future health and well-being. But imagine their surprise when they got back to Jerusalem.
Jesus was still in the temple. He hadn’t wandered off, hadn’t gone off on some inane snipe hunt with other kids his age, wasn’t getting into trouble with a girl somewhere. He was in the temple, talking to the clergy. It’d be like if the Mumfords had gone to Kansas City, thinking that Maverick was in the back seat, only to get there and realize he wasn’t there, then come back here and found him in my office having an in-depth discussion on the eschatological meaning of the prophecies found in the book of Ezekiel.
I mean, really, how do you stay mad at a teenager after that?
Well, I’m sure you can. I don’t know. I don’t have a teenager. I don’t plan to have a teenager for MANY years to come. I have to have a kid first to even expect to have a teenager, and I don’t even know when THAT’s going to happen – and thank you all for not asking.
Of course, Jesus had to go and ruin it all by smarting off to his parents: “Where were you expecting me to be? Of course I’m in my Father’s house!”
Although… I don’t know. If you really think about it, he wasn’t smarting off at all. It made sense. Jesus was going about his Father’s business, even if it meant upsetting the people he was responsible to on earth.
And you know, we have that same responsibility. We are called to be about our Father’s business on this earth, even if it means upsetting the people to whom we are responsible. Sometimes that means the government, sometimes the powers-that-be in the church, sometimes professors, sometimes the police. When we are presented with a situation where we can go along with those in power, but it means forsaking the radical call which we have been given to show God’s love to all people regardless of social station or situation, then we have to upset the people to whom we are responsible. We are to be in our Father’s house, about our Father’s business.
Last week, I talked about how, if the church as we know it wishes to survive, it must turn its focus to Christmas and celebrate the incarnation of Christ all year long. That’s what this is all about. Celebrating the incarnation of Christ means living as Jesus did, putting the work of God over our own fears and desires, and hewing to our Father’s business even if it means defying conventional authority.
Being a Christian who truly lives out the commands of Christ can be a tough row to hoe sometimes, but it is our calling. We are, at all times, to be about our Father’s business, even if it means being on the receiving end of a good old-fashioned whuppin’.
Amen.

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