I have gotten in trouble for a sermon once.
When I say ‘in trouble’, I don’t mean that someone had a question or wanted to have a conversation about something that they disagreed with.
When I say ‘in trouble’, I mean that I was pulled aside after the service and given a lecture about how what I preached was dangerous and wrong.
I have gotten in trouble for a sermon once. And it was a children’s sermon.
Now, what I had said to the kids was that you don’t need permission to do good. You don’t need permission to love someone, or be kind to someone, or to stand up for someone.
And what this particular parent heard was, “You don’t ever need permission to do anything… you can do whatever your want.”
I don’t have any children of my own, but I can understand how that might not be a message that you want your child to hear. Sometimes, it’s important to get permission. And, when it comes to children and their parents, it’s important to be clear about what sorts of things need a parent’s permission and what sorts of things don’t.
So… I stand by the message of that children’s sermon. You do not need permission to do good. You do need permission to do other things. And one of the things that you probably should get permission for is staying in Jerusalem after the Passover festival when your parents are heading home.
Let me back up a little bit.
In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus is twelve years old.
We don’t get many stories about Jesus as a child. The gospels tend to jump from the nativity story—if they have one at all—straight to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he’s around thirty years old.
That’s a big chunk of time to skip. And there are countless theories about what Jesus was doing during that time. There are people who think that he was a carpenter with his dad. There are people who think that he traveled to India to learn the wisdom of Eastern sages. There are people who think any number of other things.
But when it comes to the stories that we have in the Bible, this is the one that we hear about Jesus being a kid.
Every year, his family would go from their home in Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. According to ancient sources, there would have been a huge number of people—millions of Jews—from all over the area in Jerusalem for the Passover. They would made their sacrifices at the temple, celebrate for about a week, and then head home.
And this year, like every other year, when Passover ended, Mary and Joseph joined up with the other travelers heading in the direction of Nazareth and started their journey home. And they assumed that the twelve-year-old Jesus was somewhere in the group.
And, after about a day, they realized that Jesus was… not so much in the group.
So they went back to Jerusalem and looked for him. And, after three days, they found him at the temple… listening to teachers and scholars, and asking questions, and answering their questions. And everyone was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Everyone was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
It is easy to believe that, in this moment, with Jesus surrounded by teachers and scholars, questioning and answering with the best of them… it is easy to believe that, in this moment, Jesus is special.
And of course Jesus is special. He is the Word become flesh. He is the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made. Of course he is special.
But he is also not the only young person to sit around a group of adults and amaze them. I know that because I have met the young people in this church: the kids who come forward during our Time with Young Worshippers, the young people in our confirmation class, and youth who were part of our Christmas program.
Week in and week out, I am blessed to see our young people do amazing things.
And it isn’t just our young people.
It’s Malala Yousafzai, who was blogging about her life in Taliban-occupied Pakistan for the BBC; who was shot for her activism; and who went on to found a nonprofit organization, write a book, win a Nobel Peace Prize, and become a tireless advocate for the right to education.
It’s the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, who endured unimaginable tragedy. And who responded to that tragedy by organizing rallies, giving interviews to magazines, appearing on television, and becoming tireless advocates for better gun control. And who have done that while making sure to include voices from other, less privileged, communities.
It’s Sophie Cruz, an eight year old American citizen whose parents are undocumented. And who has passed notes to the Pope, spoken to President Obama, and given speeches at rallies in support of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
And, so many years ago, it’s Ruby Bridges, being escorted to William Frantz Elementary School by U.S. Marshalls. The first black student at an all-white school in New Orleans.
And it’s so many others. I won’t even try to list names. While people my age (and older) are complaining about the kids being on their phones all the time, and constantly playing Fortnite, and listening to Dear Even Hansen all the time; actual young people—ordinary young people—are changing the world.
Young people are in the temple… listening to teachers and scholars… asking and answering questions… and being amazing.
When Mary and Joseph find Jesus at the temple, they are astonished. And Mary says to Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
And Jesus answers her, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus is no baby meek and mild. He is a soon-to-be-teenager.
“Where did you think I would be?” he asks, “What did you think I would be doing?”
And he’s right. Almost thirteen years earlier an angel had visited Mary and said to her,
You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
She knew what kind of son she would be raising. Where did she think he would be? What did she think he would be doing?
Every young person who has tried to change the world has been asked that question: why are you treating us like this? Why are you adding to our anxiety?
And some have faced much worse. Malala was shot. I’ve read the things that have been written about the kids from Parkland. People threatened to kill Ruby Bridges… to her face… every day… while she walked to that elementary school in New Orleans.
“Why are you treating us like this?” people ask, “Why are you adding to our anxiety?”
And we know the answer. If we raise our youth up right…
If we teach the the lessons that the author of Colossians asks us all to learn. Be clothed with compassion and kindness and humility and meekness and patience. Be clothed with love. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish with all wisdom. Sing with gratitude.
Let the peace and word of Jesus Christ, son of the Most High, who was once a twelve year old, at the temple, amazing the teachers and scholars, live in you.
If we raise our youth up right… what else do we think they would be doing than making the world a place of greater compassion and mercy and justice and love? If we raise our youth up right… where else do we think they would be than on the front lines of the issues that will affect them for the rest of their lives?
What else would be expect them to do… than be Christ-like?
When Mary and Joseph found Jesus at the temple, they were astonished.
And—the scripture goes on—after Jesus answered them, they did not understand what he said to them.
And—the scripture goes on—after they took him by the hand, and they all went home to Nazareth together, Mary treasured all these things in her heart.
There are going to be times when our youth ask permission for the things they should ask permission for. And there are going to be times when they don’t. And there are going to be times when we think they should have asked permission, but when they really shouldn’t have had to.
There are going to be times when we can give wisdom to our youth. And there are going to be times when those of us who are a little bit older need to clothe ourselves in compassion and kindness and humility and meekness and patience… and listen to the wisdom of our youth. They are, after all, learning much more than we’ll ever know.
And we will have the chance to be amazed at their understanding and their answers; to watch them grow in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor; and and to treasure all of these things in our hearts.
We’ll have the chance to let a child lead the way. Hallelujah. Amen.
I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.
The views and opinions expressed on this website are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers or clients. Opinions expressed in comments are solely those of the authors.