We don’t often get to read the story of Jesus staying behind in the temple in worship. This is a story that more frequently appears in children’s Sunday school. It’s the only story that bridges the birth narratives and Jesus’ adult ministry. Jesus is a twelve year old boy, entering the age of maturity, in which Jewish law declares that he is old enough to bear his own responsibility for keeping the law. He has memorized the Torah and is building his own relationship with God. Aside from the fact that his behavior frightens his parents, we hear his spiritual awakening and homecoming, “Why were you searching for me?” he asks his parents. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house (or, literally, about my Father’s interests)?” For three days, Jesus had been sitting in the temple listening to the teachers, asking questions, and entering into the discussion with such insight that all who heard him were amazed.
Do you remember your spiritual awakening, your spiritual homecoming? How would you tell that story? I was at senior high camp in the mountains of New Mexico. I was 17, about to enter my senior year of high school. We woke up each morning and got dressed in silence. Keeping that silence, we walked through the woods to the site of morning prayer, a clearing on a hillside that overlooked mountains and valleys and the rising sun. I heard God calling me to ministry on one of those mornings, which was confusing because I had never seen a woman minister. I did not know that was even a possibility. But I was suddenly alive in a way I had never experienced. The small group discussions were exciting. I needed to know all about this God I had just fallen in love with. I remember the preacher who led our group taking me aside to tell me that he thought I was being called to ministry and that I needed to take that call very seriously and follow through with it. It took me a long time to figure out how to go to seminary, but God’s house became my home. My mother said I ran in every time the doors flew open. And it’s true. There have been other times when I have felt the presence of God with such power because God keeps calling us to a closer relationship, a deeper knowing.
Jesus found his spiritual home in the temple, but we have to be careful that we don’t try to duplicate awakening circumstances. I think the Church has often done a disservice to our children and youth in standardizing our confirmation programs. I taught senior high Sunday school for many years and would see young people go through confirmation because they were “supposed to” and then discover God for themselves at some point as we read the gospel together. They had already been baptized as babies and confirmed as young teens, and there was no ritual left to solemnize or celebrate their new relationship and commitment. We find our spiritual awakening when it’s time. We find our spiritual home when we meet the Mystery that lovingly calls our name. There is no cookie cutter process that makes disciples. It is God who woos us and we respond when we are ready. And it is a natural as waking up or falling in love. Jesus couldn’t believe his parents wouldn’t know where he was. He had found his spiritual home.
There is a reason that when our spirits awaken, we find our home. Richard Rohr explains that what we seek is what we are. He writes:
To understand this, I must know that I am, at least in part, the very thing I am seeking. In fact that is what makes me seek it! But most do not know this good news yet. God cannot be found "out there" until God is first found "in here," within ourselves, as Augustine profoundly expressed in his Confessions in many ways. Then we can almost naturally see God in others and in all of creation too. What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for our True Self are finally the same search.
This is what I hope you will do. Go home and write the story of your spiritual awakening for yourself. If writing isn’t your thing, although I think it’s really powerful, remember that story in as much detail as you can and be thankful. Your story is going to be as unique as you are. There is something lovely about realizing how God communicates with our one-of-a-kind spirits. Some of our favorite Bible stories describe the unusual ways that people met God. Moses discovered God in a burning bush. Jacob wrestled with an angel all night long. Samuel heard God call his name in the night. Paul was blinded on the road to Emmaus.
But what about today? I know one person in our congregation heard God’s voice though a novel. One man that I know says that he followed a pretty girl to church and met the love of his life—not the pretty girl, but Jesus. A ten year old girl came to church because she was bored at home and curious, and left church dancing. She brought her grandfather to church with her several weeks later and he stood at the communion rail weeping while the congregation sang the closing hymn. An eleven year old boy spent one summer asking questions about life through my office window. One young couple was mystified when they were invited to attend a leadership conference and came home on fire with a vision. An older teenage boy found God through his keyboard. One man I know credits his mother’s persistence in prayer with awakening his spirit in his fifties. His late awakening also led him to prison ministry. Another man that I know hears God’s voice most clearly through his Native American spirituality.
Each of our lives is a story through which God reveals God’s self. When we tell our homecoming stories, we tell God’s story. How does your story begin? And where is God leading you? May we be as faithful in our ministry as Jesus was in his.