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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Church as Learning Community - Sermon at the Yogyakarta International Congregation

Sermon at the Yogyakarta International Congregation
Sunday, 23 September 2012 at 5.00 pm

Reading: Luke 2:41-52
Theme: Church as Learning Community

Good afternoon all brothers and sisters,

It is a great opportunity to meet you here as one body of Christ. Let me first introduce myself. My name is Steve Gaspersz. It sounds like American name but is not. I am a pastor at the Protestant Church of Maluku in Ambon, Eastern Indonesia. This is for the first time I join in the Yogyakarta International Congregation and standing up before you all. Thanks for the ministry board of YIC for the invitation. I hope that we can know each other during our conversation later on.

Before we learn each other about the God’s message in our biblical reading in the Gospel of Luke chapter 2 verses 41 to 52, I would like to invite you all to look at persons who sit surrounding you in left side, right side, back side as well as front side, and give your sweet-charming smile, shake your hands each other and say “God bless you!”. Please do it!

If you ask questions why should we do this? What is the reason? I think those are good questions. In my experience as a pastor, every time when I stand up before the congregation I can see many faces with various expressions. There are sad faces; angry faces; gloomy faces; serious faces but with empty eyes, and so on. Of course, I can see as well many happy faces; cheerful faces; enthusiastic faces with bright eyes, and so on. Our face express our heart-feeling even though some people able to hide by looking as nothing happened and everything is okay. Very often we cannot hide our problems through our face expression.

Yes, everybody has problem, including me. And instead of putting away our problems, we are carrying those problems every minute in our life even until we sit in church. We have been influenced by our problems and lost our joyful when we share God’s message during the worship. We sit in the church since the beginning of worship until the end without knowing our fellows who sit around us in the church even unwilling to share our charming smiles.

That is the basic reason why I invite you to do that before we learn about God’s message together. Learning about God’s message is not only matter of reading the Bible literally, hearing the pastor’s voice or seeing him/her in the pulpit. Learning God’s message, first and foremost, is about feeling God’s presence in our heart and hearing God’s voice precisely inside your body and life. How can we do that? First of all, let us open our eyes around, knowing our fellows around, and accepting them as part of your life. Because by knowing and accepting somebody surround you in the church, we able to feel God’s presence. That is why we need worship as a communion every Sunday.

You have problems. I have problems. They have problems. But when we realize that we sit together in the church then we believe that we are united by the God’s Spirit and we are shared the power of God’s love which are bigger and stronger than our problems.

Learning God’s message has meaning as discovering the spirit of joyful while overcoming one by one of our problems. It means that “do not say to God that you have a big problem, but say that my God is bigger than my problem”. When the spirit of joyful is within our life then God’s message becomes God’s power that encourage us to face our problems, not as burden but as the opportunity to build our Christian character as disciples of Christ. Facing our problems with the spirit of joyful is a learning process to be a faithfully disciple of Christ. What is the task of disciple? Only one: “learning”. Thus, the key term here is “learning”.

Brothers and sisters,

Luke chapter 4 verses 41to 52 as our biblical reading today is a good story about learning faith. We can only read the passage in the Gospel of Luke. There are no parallel stories in other synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John). This story is Luke’s story. Interestingly, in this story, Luke narrates Jesus as a “twelve years old” boy. Well, I think you know very well what happened when we were twelve years old, or perhaps you know quite well because you have twelve years children. Too many questions, too many curiosities as happened to all “almost” teenager. I call it as “almost” teenager for this is actually a liminal (in-between; unstable) age when they are trying to determine their existence by searching models from everywhere or from everyone by learning many things. The crucial point in this age is that they try to be whatever they want to be out of the parents’ control.

This happened with Joseph and Marry after the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. They lost Jesus but still unaware of it for they thought that Jesus is in their company. Later on they immediately had awareness that Jesus was not with them. We can imagine how worry was Joseph and Marry at the time. No smartphone. No short message service (SMS). No facebook. No twitter. No google earth. No matic motorcycle. No cars. No internet connection. They had to go back to Jerusalem after travelled for a day. What a naughty Jesus!

Joseph and Marry looked for Jesus in each corner of the city by walk. They asked each person about Jesus. No one knows! Eventually, after three days (!), they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Awesome! Jesus was learning in the Temple. He did not join with his peer groups for fun, drugs, or spent time for chit-chat or gossip. Jesus decided to go to the Temple for learning something new. This story gives us a fundamental notion that Jesus performed a concrete example that our faith is a learning faith. As a young Jew, Jesus obeyed to his religious tradition but at the same time he questioned his tradition by learning in the Temple. Faith is not only about doing worship as part of church tradition. Christian tradition or church tradition is important but more important that we understand the meaning and how to implement the meaning of such tradition in our daily life. That was the teen Jesus do.

When his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” But we see what Jesus respond. He replied, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Can you imagine when your son/daughter responded your question like that? I don’t know what you will do afterward. Can we say that Jesus demonstrated his stubbornness and impoliteness to his parents? Surely “Yes”. But is that the aim of the Gospel of Luke to show such stubbornness and impoliteness of Jesus? I don’t think so for I rather would like to see it by another angle.

Luke actually would depict Jesus as the young boy who was trying to place himself as an independent self. Jesus realized that he had learned much from his parents in the family circumstance. But he also realized that it is time for him to determine his orientation by himself and learning to take decision to be an independent self and looking for new horizons of experience and knowledge from and about others. And he was searching for it in the Temple. In other words, the Temple is not only considered as the worship place in certain days or times, but the Temple also becomes “school” or “midrash” (Hebrew) or “madrasah” (Arabic), the place where people regardless their age, profession, sexual orientation, educational level, cultural background, ethnicity, and so on, gather for sharing knowledge and experience to strengthen their faith as well as their understanding on religious tradition.

The phrase “I had to be in my Father’s house” actually is the theological standpoint of the Gospel of Luke. Luke emphasizes that Jesus learned in the Temple not merely as a cognitive exercise but he knows that in the Temple his faith is strengthened through learning each other. Learning process implies continuity and discontinuity as Jesus did. He wants to continue his learning action by discontinuing his relationship with his parents. The only aim is to understand more and more about his Father’s will. “Father’s will” is a new realm for the young Jesus. That is the reason Jesus feels he should be in his Father’s house.

Brothers and sisters,

We believe that the church is a symbol of the body of Christ and we are the community of faith in Christ. But our faith, as Jesus shown, is a learning faith. Learning for what? For discovering God’s message in our experiences, in our traditions, in our works, in our daily life, in our friendships, in our families, in our studies, in our sorrows, in our happiness, in everything. The Bible provides us theological direction that our experiences are the field where God cultivate God’s wisdom. By the God’s wisdom we know how to respect our life, how to appreciate our fellows, how to understand the great values of life as the God’s gift.

By discovering God’s wisdom in our life it does not mean that our problems will disappear automatically or in miraculous ways. No. Instead, God’s wisdom opens our mind and burning our spirit to find solution which is no longer based on our self-centered willingness but on the basis of new insights, new motivations, and new hopes.

Tomorrow we are going to step in a new week, seven days with five work days. We know nothing about tomorrow even though we have a lot of plans to do. We still have some unfinished problems in our works, our family life, our relationships with others, and so on. Today our biblical reading encourages us that our problems should be viewed as part of learning process to be a disciple of Christ. There is of course continuity and discontinuity in that process. However, precisely within the learning process God opens our mind and heart to find ways out.

Jesus’ story in our passage today tells us that our pray is important in church; our worship in church is important; our communion in church is important as well. But mostly important is we believe and we understand that those are only small parts of our learning faith; we should open our mind and our heart to receive God’s wisdom through our life experiences. Our living experience is liturgy of life where dialogue between us and God takes place. It means that we are becoming church as learning faith community seeking for God’s will through our daily life experience.

We learn not only for the benefit of ourselves. We learn to be a disciple of Christ who really understands God’s calling for us. As Jesus said “I had to be in my Father’s house”. Where is the Father’s house? I would say as my Christian faith that our world, our works, our family, our relationship to others, these are our Father’s house. Father’s creation where all creature lives in. It means that we live in our Father’s house here in the earth, not somewhere in the sky called heaven, with responsibilities; not to destroy or to make it mess but to maintain; not to conflict each other but living together with respect to differences.

Now such responsibilities are waiting for us during the next week. Don’t be worry. Keep your faith and still learning to strengthen our faith through every problem we have. Let us see what God will do for us! Open your heart and your whole life to receive abundantly God’s blessing in your life. Amen.

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One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces