Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 13, 2009

In the Temple of the Lord

Here follows some thoughts on a sermon offered by Fr. Daniel Keller of Our Lady of Walsingham (AOC, Mesquite, Texas) for the reading on Luke 2:41-52. Fr. Dan came to Orthodoxy from a Roman Catholic upbringing, journeyed to Holy Cross seminary in Boston, and has been Orthodox since the early 1980’s. When not in Texas, he visits for worship and today blessed us with a sermon. Left me thinking and so I pass some of his thoughts through… as well as my own… to see if I missed something.

Fr. Dan spoke to us on the Holy Family’s journey to worship in Jerusalem when our Lord was twelve that led to the discovery of Jesus teaching in Temple in Jerusalem. He explained that the process of arriving home without a son was probably less extraordinary than it seems: Men and women would have walked separately, so not noticing that God had literally been left behind was probably every bit of the sort of, “I thought he was with you…”. This is the sort of crisis most parents dread.. but know well enough as part of the inevitable confusion of raising a family

So this is our lone snapshot of the Lord between His Nativity and the Wedding at Cana. And what we see is literally Christ busy about his Father’s business. Recollecting the two commandments on which hang the whole of the Law… the first of which was to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul… and the second which is like unto it.. to love our neighbors as ourselves…. Fr. Dan notes this reminds us of the centrality of worship to the Christian life. For if even God the Son worships God the Father… think how much more we must do.

Fr. Dan also mentioned asking Fr. Alexander Schmemann at Holy Cross whether the second commandment was a consequence of the first… and received a nod that “this was precisely the meaning in the Greek original”. So unless we center our lives on worship, all our good works, efforts and love of our neighbors will ultimately fall flat… miss the mark.. and leave us despairing of our best efforts.

Personal experience of a Thickheaded sort notes the truth of this is borne out in folks seized with a fervor to do good works… and how sometimes this fervor seizes and runs roughsod over  those intended to benefit, treating them as mere bystanders, inconsequential, and possibly even impediments between our intention to make a good name, or do a good work. So while there are more exceptions than stars in the sky, I concede Fr. Dan’s point that unless we truly love someone… we can’t really offer the sincere sort of enduring help without learning the sort of real circumspection, care and concern that honesty and integrity… a sincere sort of love entails.

But more than this tidbit, Fr. Dan offered that another point of this story is that there are only two types of Christians: Those who go to Church, and those who do not. He mentioned that Orthodox are under no obligation and receive no “credit” for going to services. What matters lies within our hearts and our buring desire to be a part of the Body at Church, a part of the offering of ourselves to God, and a part of the receiving of the body of Christ… for ourselves and for our neighbors. He made this point more elegantly and paradoxically than I can remember, but it was clear that his emphasis lay on the concern for those who do not feel this desire… and that they need ministering to as the work they are engaged in is far more difficult, and of far greater import in turning back the darkness. Surely there is forgiveness and good news that could be shared here.

Think of Jesus in the Temple. Many of us might think it a miracle of peaceful exchange, of questioning, listening, and answering rare enough among adults… but here led by a “mere” twelve-year-old. If we think about that… there must have been neither posturing nor fear… a true acceptance as among peers of stature. This is the Lord still in his youth, still in his “vulnerable years”, still as incarnate in weakness among us… and not the “threat” he would seem later. And this is a wonder my Bible notes seem silence about. This is the Jesus of much of contemporary Christianity… our friend and fellow… a cool sort of dude, but not necessarily God… more of a man above many… but still a man like any other. Maybe a role model… but then a man whose mystery is deepened by his sacrifice… and his martyrdom for a cause for which he was misunderstood.

If this really were the point, that this man-like-any-other were true, the story could just stop here. But this isn’t even the start… we’re not even at Cana, and this is just a vignette of a point from which much would be revealed, it’s a point of tension against which the future (if not the present) will stand in sharp relief. Here, we know Jesus only as a young man of promise and a man whose aspirations seem to lie within his family and their business.

So I wonder whether this vignette doesn’t serve almost as key to the texts, as a marker that separates the mystery of the intervening years on which the texts are silent – engaging only the language of God – from the revealation of the mysteries of the three-years’ ministry of which they do speak. But more than that, there seems a question posed as to what sort of person this youth would turn out to be, and how could the temper of the discussion at the Temple, the frame of heart and mind there serve to guide the intention of hearts that follow the text beyond this point. My guess is that it’s clearly something better done as it was here… in a group… maybe even in the Church.  Note that even his mother, our own Lady Theotokos wondered at this. Hmmmm..


  1. Thank you for sharing this. In my early journey towards Orthodoxy, Fr. Dan was the priest in charge of a small western-rite mission about 30 miles from where I lived. At the time, that was my closest connection to Orthodoxy. He would drive down from Mesquite and hold services on Saturdays. I remember how wonderful his sermons were. I also remember his kind advice to me, at a time when my existing church and family connects seemed to preclude any move to Orthodoxy.. Again, thanks.

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