Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Back at School”
Rev. Art Ritter
December 31, 2017
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Both of my daughters have found themselves back into school. Amelia is taking some classes to be certified as a yoga instructor. Maren is near the end of her work to receive a MBA from Walsh College. I am grateful that we are long past the point where I am asked to help with any of their homework. Yoga and business statistics are beyond my level of comfort.
Like any good parent, a few years ago I managed to spend a lot of time helping with homework. Most of the time this process wasn’t too difficult and when Amelia brought home history homework, I accepted it as a challenge. It was kind of like bar trivia, a nice way to prove that the old brain could still work! Algebra was totally different however! Whenever I looked at a high school Algebra book I remembered all over again why I chose to become a History major. I recall that when Maren was in high school, I went out and purchased the book “Algebra for Dummies.” I think that even the content of that particular book was well beyond my academic level.
I recall one evening, many, many years ago when I was trying to help Maren with a Math problem and she had reached the breaking point. She burst into tears and cried out, “I wish that I were the grown up and that you were the third grader doing math!”
At the time, I remember that being a tempting offer! Oh, to be a third grader again! Young and carefree. No worries about bills, about household tasks, about recession and terror and other scary things I didn’t know about until I got older and wiser. I thought for a moment how wonderful it would be to have someone else cook
all my meals, do all my laundry, buy me everything I wanted, and drive me around to all the places I wanted to go.
But then I became more rational. I remembered what it was like in third grade. When you are in third grade you get teased a lot. And I was so skinny. My hair was too short, my pants too high, and my socks too white. I remembered the importance I placed upon fitting in and being accepted by those whose opinion seemed to matter so much. I remembered the day in which I was called to the blackboard to figure out a math problem with another student. I remembered my teacher grading my Social Studies test in front of the whole class. I remember my anxiety during spell downs. I remembered my crush on Sheri Stevenson, whom to my embarrassment, the teacher sat right next to me. I remembered the loud, droning noise of the school bus on the way home and my fear of the bullying older boys. I remembered the awful smell of the cafeteria and the horrible sight of what the cooks called “pizza.” I remembered the scent that drifted through the hallways when fifteen sweaty boys lined up at the drinking fountain.
Suddenly I thought to myself, “No, I do not want to be a third grader again.” I wasn’t really as much fun as I like to think it was. In its’ own way it was difficult, and sometimes frightening. There were times I felt so small and so powerless.
Do you remember what it was like for you in school? Sometimes it takes the struggles of your own children or grandchildren to make those memories come alive again. Don’t get me wrong, for me- school was usually a good place to be, a place of fun and success. But there were other times when I was made to feel the smallest that I have ever felt in my life. It happens to the best of us. We are all sometimes so small in the face of awesome influence and power.
William Willimon writes about his friend, a banker, who becomes physically ill, even nauseated, whenever he enters a school building. He cannot even attend a PTA meeting at the school because he is so traumatized by his childhood experiences. He says, “Those were the most miserable memories of my life. I think I’ve spent most of my life getting over what happened to me in a typical day of school.”
A few weeks ago, one of the residents attending worship at Beacon Square asked me while we don’t know much about the childhood of Jesus. It is interesting to note that the Bible doesn’t say much about it. We don’t know much about what took place in his life between his birth and the time he became an adult. We don’t know anything for certain, except for one particular day when he went to school. It was a Hebrew school held at the Temple. Here was the poor little boy from the family of a humble carpenter, standing before the best scholars in the Temple. And it seems that this small boy knew more about the scriptures than even the most learned priest or scribe, men who had been studying these pages all of their life. Jesus was probably about in sixth grade. Can you imagine being in sixth grade and debating religion with the professors of the finest seminaries in the land? But Scripture says that the scholars were amazed at his knowledge.
The story is almost like a fairy tale, a real children’s story so to speak. You know those stories, the kind where Jack outsmarts the Giant, steals the goose that lays the golden eggs, and then cuts down the beanstalk. Or the story where little David stands up to the frightful giant Goliath. This story of Jesus in school is like one of those stories. It carries an important life lesson that we might overlook in our holiday hangovers.
If this was what the boy Jesus was like, maybe this story is more important that we usually make it. Think about the times when we have felt small and powerless. Think
about the occasions when we have avoided something because we feared rejection. Think about the places and circumstances we miss because our anticipation of them creates that sick feeling of inferiority in our stomachs. This story is for those times and places. We read about little Jesus standing in front of all of those people with power and then he tells them what is truth! Yes, little Jesus shows them! He teaches us that little ones can have some important thoughts, big ideas, and meaningful actions too!
It is quite appropriate that this is the story we read the first Sunday after Christmas. It reminds us, if we need any reminding, of whose side that God is on. Once again the weak and the small and the vulnerable are supported. Can you remember Mary’s song of Magnificat; “God is going to bring down the proud and lift up the lowly.” Here it happens, right before our eyes, even before Jesus is grown up! This is a story designed to unnerve those who think they already know it all, those who somehow fell that they are at the head of the class. Here is the small boy Jesus, lecturing the people with advanced graduate degrees.
I remember a day in the summer immediately after my high school graduation. It was a day in which I was playing softball at a town near my home. There, hanging around the field as always was Stevie, a mentally impaired adult. Stevie used to get teased an awful lot. Some people cruelly called him “Stevie Wonder.” They would send him on senseless errands for them. Others laughed as he pretended to direct the band at the high school football games. The way Stevie was treated is one of those things that make me cringe when I think about him today. On that day Stevie was talking to all of us about how he had spent the afternoon swimming. The rest of the team was teasing him about girls in bikinis and asking him to strike a lifeguard pose. But Stevie turned to me and asked, “Did you go swimming today?” I replied, “No Stevie, I don’t know how to swim.” With that Stevie began to laugh. He said to me, “You don’t know how to swim? Boy, are you stupid!” Everyone laughed as Stevie had humbled me. At the time I was embarrassed about being embarrassed by Stevie, but now I think of that day rather fondly. It was a time in which my lack of ability could help a little one humble the high and mighty. It was a role reversal, just like the little Jesus in the Temple. It was a role reversal, just like God brought to the world in the humble birth of an unexpected king at Christmas.
This childhood story of Jesus, this story of the little one impressing the mighty ones, is everybody’s story. Everybody gets to be small sometimes. Perhaps we have never felt that way more than in the past few weeks. I wish we could tell our children that when they get older, they will always have their right answers and that they would always be confident in every decision. But that wouldn’t be true. No matter how big you get, there are still times when you feel so small.
This past week, we greeted Jesus’ birth, the great and powerful God coming among us as a baby. He came weak and vulnerable. Small. In a way, he never changed. Even though Jesus amazed people with his knowledge that day, even though as Scripture says, “he increased in wisdom and stature,” he never forgot what it was like to be made small in the eyes of the world. He resisted the tendency to stand over people. He constantly challenged those who claimed power and authority, making sure they were the ones who had to answer the tough questions. In many ways, he delighted in being the small one, all of his life.