Sermon Series: Difference Makers
Why do we do the things that we do? I wonder how often do we take the time to consider the reasons or motivation that underlies the actions we take and the activities we engage in daily. I suspect that if we every stopped or paused long enough to reflect, ponder, or inquire of ourselves why we do the things we do we might be surprised at the answer. I am sure that in some cases we would find that we do things out of necessity. It is necessary to get the kids ready for school. It is necessary to eat breakfast to start the day. It is necessary that we address our hygiene prior to interacting with other people. It is necessary that we pay our bills on or before they are due. We would also find that in some cases we do things out of a sheer desire to satiate a want. We want to go to the movies. We want to purchase a new article of clothing. We want to take a trip and go places that we have never been before. We want companionship. Yet, in still other cases we might find that we have simply fallen victim to the copycat syndrome. We have seen the success of others and we reason if we take a page from their book or emulate their approach we too can experience a level of success that parallels theirs or at least comes close. In fact, there is a billion dollar industry called the self-help movement that is predicated on the principle that lifting up a template for success and offering a step-by-step approach to achieving the same level of success by copying what the author has done.
While all of the above contribute either in part or in large measure to why we do the things we do, I would submit to you that at the root all human behavior is pre-programmed. In essence we are creatures of habit. A creature of habit is someone who is used to and accustomed to their own way of doing things and if you alter the way they go about doing things they do not function well. Before we start protesting and trying to deny let us stop and consider. This fact was never clearer to me than when I was diagnosed with a tear in my rotator cuff. The injury required surgery and forced me to alter my lifestyle. While my wife more than ably stepped up and took over my responsibilities; I did not know what to do with myself. I found myself following behind her to make sure she was doing things the way I would do them. As I began to feel better of course I immediately tried to go back to doing the things that I was accustomed to doing. The reality is that whether we are aware of it of not we are creatures of habit. It is not necessarily a bad thing it simply is a statement about how human beings approach life.
The fact that some, most or all of our behaviors are pre-programmed actually puts us in some pretty good company. According to our text Mary and Joseph were also creatures of habit. The Bible says that every year they went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover according to the custom. Every year they followed the same routine and practice. They did not give any thought to it they simply adhered to practices and customs of their culture. Customs are very beneficial. They provide a sense of identity and help us to better understand who we are in relationship to others and our own culture. Customs offer us an opportunity to connect with our history. As our history is retold using various mediums and genres we who may not have been present for much of it are able to relive and relate to it. History allows us to see through the eyes of those who struggled, fought, shed their blood and died that principles are worth fighting and dying for if they are important. History opens a window to the past that aids us in learning not only where we came from and how we arrived at our present locale, but also what we went through to get here. Customs perpetuate traditions. The fact that customs are not static, but rather are composed of various practices and activities that are repeated is perhaps one of their most important contributions. The perpetuation of traditions helps to keep cultures alive. So customs are very beneficial.
On the other hand, there are also some drawbacks to customs. As with anything in life there are always some good and some not so good aspects to everything. The repetitious nature of customs generally offers little to no variation. While some are very comfortable and content doing the same things over and over again there will be those who become turned off and ultimately disconnect. Customs promote conformity. One of the problems with conformity is that it asks everyone who wishes to participate to follow suit and fall in line. Conformity is not and does not welcome change or the introduction of anything new. Conformity demands that those who are creative need not apply and if they do they must stifle their God given creativity if they want to share in the experience. Conformity denies entre for anyone wishing to enhance the richness of culture and tradition by declaring upfront it is either the way we have always done it or the highway. When we examine the necessity that customs place on conformity, it appears that the greatest drawback of customs is that they are exclusive and do not foster inclusiveness.
The narrow scope and binding practices of customs tend to make some people feel as though something is missing. How is it possible that Mary and Joseph could not only leave the feast, but also travel for an entire day and not realize Jesus was not with them? Could it be that they were so programmed in their behavior that they were oblivious to what else was going on around them? I have heard many people say, “I never saw it coming.” They share how they went to work every day taking care of life’s necessities, and they thought that everything was fine. They had no idea that while they were focused on doing the things they routinely do their marriage, relationship, career, or church was falling a part. While following the routine may offer us a level of comfort and help us to function at an optimum level it can also cause us to become oblivious to everything else that is going on around us. One of the things my mother used to say was, “clothes do not make a man, but a man makes the clothes.” I believe that we can tweak and apply this principle to routines and rituals. People make traditions. Traditions do not make people. No matter how well adapted we are to our daily routines we must never believe that following a routine will make us better people. The bottom line is that rituals, traditions and routines do not make us better they only make us comfortable.
After realizing that Jesus was not with them Mary and Joseph decide to look for Him. As we retrace their steps we see that the first placed they looked for Him was among their family and friends. Without giving any thought to the situation they went to what they knew. It is interesting that when we need a solution to a problem or an answer to a question the first place we turn is to the familiar. One of the challenges to using this approach is that when the familiar does not yield the results we are looking for we usually find ourselves wanting. We are wanting for a solution or an answer. When they did not find Him in the familiar they kept on searching. I would submit to you that the crux of Mary and Joseph’s problem was they did not have enough information. The reason they could not find Jesus was because they did not know where to look.
Of all of the resources that are at our disposal one of the most invaluable is information. In Hosea 4:6 it says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” Mary and Joseph’s lack of information costs them time and energy. They spent three days redoing what they had already done. One thing that keeps people bound to routines and traditions is the fact that they have not exposed themselves to other information that will help them to see there are other ways and approaches to tackling familiar problems. I am truly a dinosaur in every sense of the word. I usually have to be convinced that something will make my life easier. As every segment of society began to integrate and computerize their systems I fought it tooth and nail. I was bound and determined to do things the old fashioned way. However, when a person has had enough pain they will become willing and open to new ideas. As I struggled to do things manually spending weeks and countless man-hours completing tasks that took others significantly less time I eventually raised the white flag of surrender and began to avail myself to this different approach. I remember when I worked in the building trades and I worked under a master plumber. He used to tell me about how things were in the old days. He shared that people starting out worked under a journeyman or a master in their trade. They learned their trade and everything about the craft from a person who was more experienced and knowledgeable. After they had become proficient and well-skilled in their trade they would then become journeyman and if they stuck with it ultimately a master of that trade. My friend helped me to understand that while ability is a necessary component in the quest for success knowledge is even more important. Ability is God-given, but knowledge is God-shared. You can teach someone who is lacking in ability and they can at least make an attempt at a task. A person who possesses all of the physical tools but lacks the knowledge of what to do with those tools will be destroyed because of their lack of knowledge. I never became a great tradesmen; I do have knowledge and understanding of how to do and accomplish certain things.
And so, Mary and Joseph soon discover that in their search for Jesus information is the missing ingredient. How often have we heard people say, “If I only would have found out sooner things could have been different.” Information makes the difference. It makes the difference between saving a marriage and ending a marriage. It makes the difference between salvaging a career and a career being flushed down the toilet. It makes the difference between being swallowed up in debt and living debt-free. It makes the difference between successfully reaching our destiny or marching in circles and only being able to get a glimpse of our destiny every now and then.
When they do find Jesus, Mary and Joseph find Him putting on a clinic for how to learn and acquire information. The Bible says that they found Jesus sitting among the teachers. For Jesus the feast was more than a social event. The assembly was more than an opportunity to fellowship, laugh, tell jokes and connect with others. While fellowship is nice education is more important. One way that we can feel good about ourselves is to empower ourselves. We do this by arming ourselves with information. The key is to see every situation, every circumstance, and every gathering as a divine teaching moment ordained by God to empower, equip, and edify us.
When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, He was not just an idle spectator but he was actively engaged. He listened and He asked questions. In all situations we need to listen first and ask questions second. My former Pastor used to say, “God gave us one mouth and two ears, therefore, we need to listen twice as much as we speak.” Listening promotes understanding. Many disputes and disagreements can be avoided if we spent a little more time listening and a lot less time trying to get our point across. One of the components of listening is hearing. Hearing is the recognition of audible sounds. Listening is internalizing and processing the sounds we hear. Listening helps us to make sense of what is being said. While hearing is good, listening is always better.
In addition to listening, Jesus also asked questions. Because Jesus was listening to what was being said He was able to ask pertinent and relevant questions. There are times when we pose questions to others and do not get the answers we are seeking. In times like these we need not get angry at the person, but perhaps we need to reframe the question. If we do not know we need to ask. If we are not sure we need to ask and if we want to know we need to ask. There are some who are reluctant to ask because they do not want to seem stupid. The fact of the matter is that the only stupid question is the one we do not ask.
Even though Jesus’ parents observe Him as He puts on His clinic they still did not get it. Here we see one of the greatest challenges to learning is masking ignorance. Rather than admit they did not fully understand what Jesus saying or why He did what He did they masked their ignorance by focusing on the behavior rather than the root cause of the behavior. Once again, Jesus teaches us that ignorance is overcome by a pure desire to be better. Ignorance says, “I will stay in the same lane going at the same speed and hopefully I will get there.” The desire the know, learn, and educate ourselves says, “let me stop, get out and ask for direction so I can know how to get there.”
One of the questions this text poses to us is, do we want to be better? Do we want to be better husbands, wives, friends, or Servants of God? Do we want to improve the quality of our lives and work smarter and not harder? If so, we must admit that education matters. We must admit that it is important to know what we are doing, why we are doing it, where we are going and more importantly is there a better way.
My friends every situation, every circumstance, every experience that God allows into our lives comes equipped with a teaching moment. The purpose of this moment is to facilitate our ability to understand God and God’s purpose for us, to raise our level of awareness regarding what may or may not be missing from our lives, and to help us to know better so that we can do better.