Coming Home

Luke 2: 31-52
Rev. Dr. Jill A. Kirchner-Rose
July 12, 2015

So, I am sitting at dinner with the Search Committee and I am very aware that this is an astute group of folks and quite progressive in their theology.  I decide it is time to impress them.  I say, “At my former church, University Christian Church, we had Bishop John Shelby Spong come and speak on several occasions.”  John Walsh, the Chair, looks up from his plate and casually says, “Oh, you had Jack come and speak.”

“Uh…Bishop John Shelby Spong,” I repeated.

“Yes, Jack,” John replied.

It suddenly dawns on me that he is calling Bishop John Shelby Spong by his first name.  “Do you know Jack?” I ask.

“Oh yes,” said John, “We are friends.  We go way back together.”

John Walsh then went on to tell me the next day that he had also been good friends with Peter Gomes, the former chaplain at Harvard and William Sloan Coffin, the former chaplain at Yale.  “The three of us had formed a kind of network,” John said.

John Shelby Spong – Jack, William Sloan Coffin, Peter Gomes – these are the theological giants of the 21st century!  I guess I better add John Walsh to that list as well.

During the interview that same weekend, a question was asked of me by your Search Committee.  “Do you often use storytelling in your preaching?”  “Yes,” I affirmed.  “I believe storytelling is an effective form of preaching.  Fred Craddock was one of the greatest storytellers of all time.”  To which Sue Wallace said, “I had Fred Craddock as my New Testament professor.”  I thought, “My goodness – you had the Fred Craddock, voted as one of the top ten preachers in the English speaking world, as your New Testament professor?”

That same weekend, I was looking through the RUCC pictoral directory.  And who do I see in it?  Ben Bohren!  A member of RUCC.  I don’t know what the reputation of Ben is in the UCC, but in the Disciples of Christ, Ben is held in very high esteem.  Right up there with the DOC General Minister and President.  Ben is the minister’s minister…and now I may be Ben Bohren’s minister?

And his sister and brother in law are active here, too.  Barbie and Loring Fiske-Philips.  Loring, by the way, was an outstanding chaplain on the Search Committee.  He led us in some very meaningful discussions.

Loring called me before his trip to Europe.  He discussed the Summer Night studies with me.  He said, “Your interest in racial diversity spoke to some of us.  I am wondering if you could share some resources with Keith, the co-chair of our Christian Ed committee.”  “Sure, I have a resource or two I could share with him.”  To which, Loring said, ” Oh good.  Racial diversity is a subject that is important to Keith too.  He is a professor (and come to find out the Director) of Race Relations at the University of Redlands.”  Keith can do circles around me!

Just last night at the church potluck, I learned that Mr. Tolar is a member of this congregation.  Mr. Ken Tolar!  Mr. Tolar was my third grade teacher at Mariposa Elementary School!  I thought the world of him.  He was a great teacher!  And now I may end up being one of his teachers?

It has become very clear to me, the bar is set high.  This is no ordinary congregation.  You are an extraordinary group of people.  And I can only imagine all of the other treasures seated among us. Greatness is in our midst.  Needless to say, I am very humbled and honored to be the Search Committee’s selected candidate for the Senior Minister position.

In our scripture passage this morning, we meet one who is in touch his greatness, his divinity at the tender age of 12.  Some background to today’s passage. Other than this passage from Luke 2, we have no clue what happened to Jesus between 8 days of age with his circumcision and 30 years of age with his baptism.

Scholars call this time between the birth and his baptism at 30 years “the lost years of Jesus”.  There are many theories out there about what exactly Jesus did during the first 30 years.  Gospels outside of the Bible speak of Jesus forming a clay pigeon as a child, throwing it in the air, and the bird flying away.  Another gospel speaks of Jesus performing household razzle dazzle to help Mary get her chores done around the house. And still another gospel speaks of Jesus raising a childhood friend from the dead.    Another conjecture says that he worked closely with his father, Joseph, learning the carpentry trade.  And still others believe that Jesus spent the first 30 years of his 33 years of life traveling the world, gaining wisdom and knowledge.  There is actually a book entitled, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers.  Many of Jesus’ sayings in the Bible are also sayings attributed to Buddha — sayings about compassion, peace and love.  Because many of these sayings are nearly identical, and Buddha lived 500 years before Jesus, many believe that Jesus had access to Buddha’s teachings…that Jesus traveled to India and around the Orient.  Of course, these are all conjectures, the truth of the matter is the only story we have in our Bible of Jesus first 30 years is this story today.

Let’s take an in depth look into it.  Jesus travels to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover at age 12.  After a day’s journey, Mary and Joseph realized Jesus was missing.  Now that may sound like child neglect to some of you, but according to some scholars, Jewish families traveled in large groups because it was safer that way.  Within this large group, there were three separate groups of travelers.  All the married women would walk together in the first group.  The second group would be all the older children — skipping along having fun.  Then bringing up the rear were the men, all the guys 12 years or older…that way the men could keep an eye on the children and women.

After traveling for a full days journey Mary and Joseph came together.  Mary did not see Jesus in the children’s group because she assumed that since he was 12, he was walking with the men.  Joseph, on the other hand, was accustomed to Jesus being in the children’s group, and even though he had turned twelve, he must have assumed that since he wasn’t with the men, that he was where he always walked, with the older children.  Both Mary and Joseph made a dangerous assumption:  They each thought Jesus was with the other.

Fortunately, they found Jesus.  They found him in the Temple.  Mary asked, “Where have you been?  We have been worried sick about you.”  And Jesus nonchalantly says, “Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s House?”

During my teenage years, if one asked the question, “Where is Jill?” a person could safely answer, “Don’t you know she is in her Father’s House?”  For I spent much time right here at the corner of Olive and Bellevue.

As the Search Committee walked me around the property early in June, I felt like I was on a spiritual pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem, but a spiritual pilgrimage back home.    I remembered the day that we broke gound here in 1984.  I was part of the youth group at the time and our job was to blow up the balloons. And there were balloons everywhere.  There was such excitment in the air!

The Search Committee began this “spiritual pilgrimage”  out by the trees and I remembered how I would often come lie under those trees after school.  If those trees could talk, they would tell you about countless prayers that I prayed.  Prayers about crushes I had, prayers for friends and family, prayers about tests that I thought I had failed.

The Search Committee then led me to the labyrinth.  As you know, the church house, before it burned down, was located there.  In that church house, the youth group met on Sunday evenings.  We would have meaningful discussions.  We would play fun games.  We would plan our Youth Sundays.  In the safety of that youth group, I experienced unconditional love and acceptance like I had never expereinced anywhere else.

And it was in that church house, that Rev. Richard Blakely would meet with me on a weekly basis – discussing with me such important topics as the Bible, my faith journey, the historical Jesus, my call to ministry which I had heard at the age of 15, my personal teenage struggles and challenges.  Those hours with Richard were very precious hours to me!  How symbolic for me that a labyrinth has been built over the location of where the church house was located – for in that church house, my faith journey was nurtured through the twists and turns of life.

We then made our way to the community garden – which was not here 20 years ago.  But how wonderful to see that seeds are still planted and miracles still grow in this place.

The Search Committee led me through Covenant Hall.  Covenant Hall was our worship space when I was growing up.  In Covenant Hall,  I remembered that day I came forward to be confirmed at age 15 years old.  Baptized at age 16.  Ordained at age 26.  I remember kneeling before this congregation, as they / as you placed your hands upon me and ordained me into the faith and ministry of Jesus Christ. Today I am wearing the very stole which you placed on me that day.  It was in Covenant Hall where I preached my first sermon at the age of 17 years old.As I walked through Covenant Hall, I knew I was standing on holy ground.

The Committee then took me to the other rooms of this building. As we walked through one room, in particular,  I remember how I served on a Search Committee and sat in that very room on Saturday mornings.  How ironic that now I am on the other side of the Search process walking through that same room.

Then, we made our way into the Sanctuary – this beautiful sanctuary which was only a vision, dream, hope during my earlier years at RUCC.  My mother had served on the Building Committee at one time.  She never saw the fruits of her labor, but I think she would be impressed.  How very stunning is this sanctuary!

Yes, this way my home away from home.  If one asked when I was a teenager / young adult, “Where is Jill?”  A person could safely answer, “She is in her Father’s House.”  I spent much time right here on this corner.  Everytime I walked onto this property,  I was overflowing with thanksgiving. I wanted to give everything I could to the God who had called me to this place.  I had developed a passion for this radical, wild, soul stirring, turn your world upside down God.  It is here in this place where I experienced my soul tingle with excitement, my heart thunder with anticipation, my mind fill with elation, and every nerve stand on tiptoe.  It is here in this place where I experienced an abundance of “Glory, glory hallelujah” moments.  Heaven on earth moments.  Wow moments where I was so aware of the sanctity and sacredness of life that it took my breath away. Here in this house of worship.

One poet writes this, “The church of Jesus Christ is where lepers come to be touched, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame run and the dying live.  The church of Jesus Christ is where children lead and the wise follow, mountains are moved and walls come tumbling down.  The church of Jesus Christ is where ministers are ministered unto, judges do not judge and each child is seen as a precious and beautiful child of God.  The church of Jesus Christ is where people say ‘Yes’ in the face of ‘No’, the sea divides for the exile, the ark floats and the lion lies down with the lamb”

(Ann Weems)  I am extremely blessed to be raised and nurtured in such a church.  Yes, many of the faces have changed.  You have expanded in new ways and explored new ministries.  Hallelujah!  But the same positive, loving, hopeful, accepting, affirming spirit is alive right here and right now.

Our scripture passage concludes with these words, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature.”  You have certainly grown in wisdom and stature. My hope is that I, too, have grown in wisdom and in stature these past 20 years.  No, I am not personal friends with Bishop John Shelby Spong.  I don’t know Jack!  And no, unlike Sue Wallace, I did not have Fred Craddock as my New Testament professor.  And no, I do not have the reputation of Ben Bohren.  And no, I am not an expert on Race Relations like Keith.  But what I do bring is a deep love, a sincere affinity, and a growing appreciation for you, the extraordinary people of Redlands United Church of Christ. There was no place I would rather have been those teenage years and no place, I would rather be during these middle age years — then, right here at 168 Bellevue Ave., with Jesus and with you, in my Father’s house.   Amen.