Seven Miles

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem . . . Jesus himself drew near and went with them (Luke 24:13-15).

By now you’ve probably moved on.

Here on Thursday, Easter Sunday seems like a long time ago.

Easter observances vary from family to family, but maybe you worked hard last week to get ready for the weekend. This could have meant getting the house show-room ready, getting the kids new outfits, cooking a dish to contribute to the meal you were invited to attend, joining your grandchildren at a local egg hunt, wading into the lunch-time crowds for brunch (thankful you were able to make a reservation).

And let’s not forget the point of it all – worshipping the risen Christ. Yeah, there’s that.

That in itself is no small task given the challenges of getting everyone ready, getting everyone there, getting the car parked and getting to a pew (or auditorium seat as the case may be). Sunday evening found you worn out and weary, and relieved that it was all over. Now you’ve moved on.

How long will it take before you realize that the living Jesus you heard about and sang about on Sunday is with you right now, on Thursday?

All the Way Home

For two of Jesus’s followers, this realization took seven miles.

Seven miles is the distance from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. These two expectant disciples had been in Jerusalem for the Passover; they had gone there with high hopes as to what Jesus would do to liberate their nation; they had followed the events that led to Jesus’s death. And now they were moving on, leaving all of that behind, headed home to Emmaus.

We are not told at exactly what point Jesus joined them in this walk. Luke simply says that as they were talking about all that had happened “Jesus himself drew near.” Distracted and disappointed, they had no clue who he was. “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

As they got closer to Emmaus, the sun sitting low in the sky, these two disciples persuaded Jesus to stay for dinner. Only when their traveling companion took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them did they realize who had been walking with them.

This took seven miles. Seven miles of talking with Jesus. Seven miles of listening to his words. Seven miles of distance between the noise and activity of Jerusalem, and the table intimacy of Emmaus. After seven miles their eyes were opened.

Sometimes recognizing the living Jesus takes longer.

Keep Walking

Maybe we need a little distance from Easter in order to grasp the truth of Easter.

Jesus is alive and walking with us. Patiently and persistently, Jesus reveals himself to us along the way. And in the most ordinary setting, something triggers our recognition. We see what has been right in front of us all along. Our eyes are opened.

This doesn’t always happen quickly. If you ‘Google’ how long it takes to walk seven miles you’ll discover that at a brisk pace you can cover that distance in less than the time it takes to watch a movie. The disciples on the Emmaus Road were not moving at a brisk pace. Their seven miles took longer. And for some, knowing the truth of Easter – that Jesus is alive and walking with you – can take much longer than seven miles.

As this week draws to a close, Easter Sunday may seem like a long time ago. Maybe you’ve moved on. But when you did, the living Christ moved with you.

Keep walking. And pay attention.


Far too easily and quickly, O God, we put Easter behind us. We move on without fully grasping the reality of your presence moving with us, walking with us. Guard us from walking aimlessly in these days. Reveal yourself as you will and give us eyes to see. We pray in the name of the one who walks with us, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Your Darkest Hour

Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns (Luke 22:53).

This past Sunday morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m. Not by choice.

For whatever reason, I woke up and discovered yet again that darkness is no friend to my thoughts. I always set an alarm that gets me up early on Sunday mornings, but it wasn’t time for that alarm to summon me to the day. I didn’t want to be up that early. I wanted just a little more sleep.

Sleep never came. My thoughts kept pinballing from this to that, the what if and the how.

Looking back, I think I should have just gotten up at 4:00 a.m. and faced the day – get out of bed, make the coffee, get to my desk. I find that whatever it is that nags at me in the darkness, whatever it is that looms large and foreboding, never seems quite as formidable once the day begins (even if the day begins before the sun is up).    

Recently, however, I’ve had some conversations that have reminded me that there are those for whom the darkness never seems to lift, even when the sun sits high and bright above them. 

If that happens to be you today, I want to take a stab at offering you a word of hope. Jesus knows well the weight of dark moments. In his darkest moments he was abandoned by his friends. He felt the pain of God-forsakenness.

But the one abandoned never abandons us.

When Darkness Reigns

The story of Jesus’ passion is characterized by an encroaching darkness that culminates in his crucifixion on the day we call ‘Good Friday.’

We see Jesus in anguished prayer in Gethsemane. He knew the darkness that comes when something dreaded must be embraced. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34).

In those very moments Jesus also knew the darkness that comes when evil prevails. The plans and purposes of the adversary appear unstoppable. At his arrest Jesus told his opponents, “this is your hour – when darkness reigns.”

With his dying breaths, Jesus felt the darkness of God’s absence. “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

And at his crucifixion “darkness came over the whole land” (Luke 23:44).      

The Light of Life

As has been observed previously in this series of reflections and Sunday messages, the word ‘passion’ is an anglicized form of the Latin passio, which means ‘suffering or enduring.’ But the story of Jesus’ passion doesn’t end in suffering. We know that all of this is headed to a resurrection. Throughout Luke’s gospel, when Jesus spoke of his impending sufferings, he also mentioned the rising again (Luke 9:22).       

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant: In words that anticipate the passion of Jesus we see this servant as a man of sorrows, despised and rejected, one from whom we hide our faces. In short, we see him abandoned.

But the prophet continues: “And after the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).

Your darkest hour is not your defining hour.

You too will see the light of life.

The one who was abandoned will not abandon you. The one who suffered God’s absence promises to you his abiding presence. He entered the darkness of death and defeated it, rising to life again. But for that part of the story, we wait just a while longer.

What would you name as your darkest hour? How did you see the faithfulness of God?


Merciful God, we thank you for your faithfulness. We thank you for your promise to never leave us or forsake us. We are humbled that Jesus knew the pain of abandonment, yet dwells with us daily by the Holy Spirit. Comfort us in our darkest hours, we pray. Sustain us until we see again the light of life, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Storm Shelter

In fear and amazement they asked, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:25)

I’m pretty sure the first church I served as pastor was in the heart of tornado alley. If not the “heart” of the alley, it was no more than one street over.    

Winds blew strong and often in Southern Oklahoma. The flat landscape offered little to break those winds, and you didn’t need a tornado to feel vulnerable to the elements. An average storm would do just fine.

During my first year at this church just outside of Ardmore, I lived in a camper trailer. Those accommodations were a way of providing me with my own “home away from home” when I was there on the weekends (I lived in Fort Worth where I attended seminary). At one point the family that owned the trailer made me aware of a concrete bunker in the ground, just adjacent to the foundation of their house. This was not a basement. They used it for storage, but explained that “in a tornado we’ll all go down here.”

That got my attention. Thankfully I can report that in my five years of weekends in Southern Oklahoma, I never had to seek cover in the concrete bunker.          

Where Do You Turn?

This week we’re thinking about storms. Not weather events, but the storms that bring a different kind of devastation. These storms might be external circumstances that upend your life. They might be unseen internal struggles that you’ve learned to mask in public, the kind of storm that nobody sees.

As we listen to Luke’s two storm stories, there’s a question we would do well to answer: In the storm, where do you find shelter?

Yesterday we noted the line from Psalm 57:1. The Psalmist seeks shelter or refuge in “the shadow of your wings” until the storms pass. Eugene Peterson’s translation is colorful: “I’m hiding out under your wings until the hurricane blows over” (MSG).   

But we don’t always do that.        

Sometimes we seek shelter in other people. This isn’t bad. In a storm we need the support, comfort, counsel, and help that a community can give us. We need friends. In Oklahoma I needed  family to tell me “in a tornado we’ll all go down here.”

I’ve noticed, however, that storms can alienate people from others. Like that demon possessed man in Luke 8, some people live with a storm in isolation, cut off from community. They choose to wrestle with their demons alone.

In a storm we might seek refuge in ourselves, choosing to rely on our resources, our smarts, our connections, whatever we can think of to manage to storm.

As it turns out, seeking shelter in “me” isn’t a very good way to live through a storm.

Jesus Is Our Refuge      

The storm stories of Luke 8 teach us a simple truth. Jesus is our refuge in whatever storm comes our way.

In our fear, we look to him.

In the tempest we can’t control, he is in control.

In my massive NIV Exhaustive Concordance, the English word “refuge” shows up ninety-three times. Like a concrete bunker in the ground, our storms send us running to God. He’s the high ground in the flood. He’s the fortress in the hurricane.

Too many of the shelters we seem inclined to run to will fail us. A great education and a well-paying job, a clean diet and a chiseled six-pack to go with it, a dream home with a picture-perfect family. These are gifts of God’s grace, but they won’t exempt us from life’s storms.

Jesus is our refuge. But we won’t see him that way unless we answer the disciples’ question: “Who is this?” We’ll take that up tomorrow.

Where have you sought shelter in a storm? And practically speaking, what does it look like to seek “refuge” in Jesus?


With our prayer today, O God, we come to you seeking refuge. We don’t come asking you to stop our storms, but we look to you as our shelter. You alone will get us through. Be our refuge through this day, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Name Your Storm

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm (Luke 8:24b). 

In April of 2021 I joined with a few others to do a prayer walk on our Hecktown Road property. At the time, before construction had started, we did this every Wednesday at noon. The prayer walk was brief – just thirty minutes of walking the property, offering the place to God’s purposes, giving thanks for the grace and faithfulness that had allowed us to acquire this land for a new church home.

Anyone who came was welcome to stay as long as they wished. On this particular April day, no one stayed very long.  

I don’t know if the weather that came our way that afternoon can officially be called a storm. I don’t recall how bad (or not bad) it was. But there’s no question that the sky over where I stood was threatening. Something was about to happen. And whatever it was looked ominous.

After just a few minutes we were all back in our cars.

Two Storm Stories

Storms figure prominently in the biblical story. We’re only six chapters into Genesis before we get the great flood. Much later, the final chapters of Acts recount Paul’s journey to Rome and the powerful storm that wrecks the ship on the island of Malta. These storm stories come to us as actual weather events, but the bible isn’t merely reporting the weather. The meaning of these storms is rich and multilayered.   

This week as we continue exploring the mission of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, we come to two storm stories that Luke places side by side. As he does this, we’re invited to see that storms come to us in different ways.

Luke’s first story shows a storm that rages around us, an external event that threatens us. For Jesus’ disciples, this was a storm at sea, a tumult of wind and wavs that threatened to sink their boat. Such storms might come to us as a financial crisis, a contentious and bitter divorce, the loss of a job. In some places in the world, the storm is war or persecution.

Luke’s second story shows us a storm that rages within the human soul. In the region of the Gerasenes, Jesus encounters a man who is tormented and ravaged by the demons that have a grip on him. This man dwells in a solitary place. He cannot be subdued. Mark adds that he continually shrieks, cutting himself with stones.          

The common element in both storms is Jesus. In each, the presence and power of Jesus brings peace.

Storms Will Pass

I want to begin this week’s reflections by simply asking you to name the storm that’s looming over your life right now.

You could be in the middle of a tempest right now.

Or maybe, like a dark thick cloud, you sense something coming your way.

In her message this past Sunday, Marnie leaned in on two words: fear and control. Our storms easily evoke our fears. Sometimes those fears control us – or as we seek to manage our fears, we try to control the storm.

There’s a wonderful line in Psalm 57:1. “In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by” (ESV). I can’t help but notice that the storms are plural. We often live through more than one.

Whatever it might be, we don’t manage or control a storm. And walking with Jesus, living by faith in him, will not give us immunity from the storms that life can bring. But the storms we deal with will pass by. And until they do, we take refuge in Jesus.

So for today, name the storm. Name the dark cloud that your anxious and frantic actions won’t budge.

And be assured that the presence and power of Jesus is with you until that storm passes by.


Gracious God, we’ll do whatever it takes to avoid a storm. And what we cannot seem to avoid, we will work feverishly to manage. The hardest thing for us to do when the tempest rages around or within us is to trust you. As we name our storms today, we ask you to be present to us by your Spirit. We will take refuge in the shadow if your wings, confident that Jesus walks with us in every storm. We pray this in his name. Amen.

Where Are Your “Deep Waters?”

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).

I hated the midnight shift.

I think I hated it because any time I was required to work through the “deep night” hours it was followed in the morning by my regular daytime shift as a chaplain intern at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

To be fair, I didn’t do the midnight shift very often. We had a full-time chaplain on the staff who regularly worked those hours. That was the rhythm of his standard work week. But from time to time he would take vacation days, and when he did the department interns were called upon to work through the night.

My memories of that experience color the way I read the brief conversation between Jesus and Peter in Luke 5:1-5.

Bad Timing or a Lack of Trust?

A quick review: Jesus was teaching by the Sea of Galilee – what Luke calls the Lake of Gennesaret – and the attendance exceeded what was expected. Jesus was getting pushed from the shoreline into the water, so he got into a boat belonging to Peter. Peter pushed out into the water and Jesus used the boat as a speaking platform.

Luke doesn’t tell us much about what Jesus said that day or how long his teaching lasted. What we are told is that when Jesus got into Peter’s boat, Peter had been busy washing his nets and cleaning his gear.

His shift was over.

Time to clean up and take a break. Jesus, however, had a different idea.

Once he had concluded his message and dismissed the crowd, he said to Peter, “Let’s go out to the deep water and the let the nets down for a catch.” That was probably the last thing Peter wanted to do. Peter had already worked through the night, and he said as much to Jesus. “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”     

No doubt Peter was weary after a night of fishing. The timing was not good. But what we hear in Peter’s reply might have been more than a timing issue. Very likely it was a trust issue. Peter knew better than Jesus did. Peter knew, based on his lifetime of experience and his acquired expertise, that the best time for fishing is at night.

Peter knew those waters better than the carpenter Jesus. Or so he believed.

And yet, as we saw yesterday, Peter’s respect for Jesus moved him to comply. “But because you say so. . .” Peter had no clue what Jesus had in store for him.

One More Time

I’d like to suggest to you that all of us have deep water places in our life, and it is in those very places that we struggle to trust God. We’re hesitant to believe that God can make a difference in the places where we’ve prayed and worked and waited to no avail. Our deep waters are familiar places, and we’re pretty sure we know them better than Jesus does.

Maybe these depths are a difficult and broken relationship, patterns that you pray will change but never do.

These depths might be an ongoing relentless fight with depression or crippling worry or an enslaving habit.

These deep waters could be a stubborn circumstance related to your work or your finances.

The bottom line is you’ve been dealing with these things for a long time. You’ve been out on those waters over and over again, and you’ve got nothing to show for it. And yet, Jesus asks you to go back and let down the nets one more time.

He’s asking for more than compliance or mere obedience. He’s asking you to trust him. 

Jesus has a way of showing up in those places and doing what we could have never done on our own. When he does this, he turns our reluctant obedience into bold risk-taking devotion. 

The question for you today might be obvious. Where are the deep waters in your life?            

You might not see the miracle right away – but just know that those deep waters are where the miracles happen. Ask God for the grace to trust him, ready to go back there again, ready to be surprised by more than you could ask or imagine.


Gracious God, I ask you today to be at work in those ‘deep water’ places of my life – the places where I’m sure there’s nothing left to do; the places where I’m sure I know better than you; the places where I’ve given up. Help me to be expectant, ready to see you do what only you can do. Do this as you see fit, when you see fit, and teach me to wait on you in trust, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.   

A Prophet Without Honor

“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24).

I was in second grade, so I am told, when I delivered my first sermon.

The congregation was a captive audience of my classmates at Camden Elementary School in Camden, S.C. I can remember enough of the moment to know that it happened, but beyond that the details escape me. Family lore has it that I asked my teacher, Mrs. Rivers, if I could have a few minutes to address the class. She agreed, and at the end of the school day I held forth on the crucifixion.

There was no shaking hands at the door afterwards. I’m sure the bell rang, and my congregation bolted for the school buses.

But neither was there open hostility or rejection. After all, this was South Carolina circa 1969. Those second graders were probably very familiar with the crucifixion story. In the years since that second-grade homily, things haven’t changed too much. My preaching is less applauded than it is endured. But neither does anyone seem ready to run me out of town or throw me off a cliff.

That’s the kind of response Jesus received in his hometown of Nazareth. No one who heard him stood around afterwards, making small talk over donuts and coffee.

Hometown Kid Makes Good          

This week we’re taking a brief look at Jesus’ inaugural sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. Jesus has just emerged from the waters of baptism and the spiritual warfare of the desert, now returning home “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk. 4:14). He has been teaching in synagogues throughout Galilee.

Eventually he makes his way back to Nazareth, and on the Sabbath day he goes to the synagogue “as was his custom.” Luke places this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but he does not say that this is Jesus’ first sermon. This is a crowd that knows Jesus. They’ve likely known him for most of his thirty-three years. On this day Jesus is invited to read the scripture and offer comments or reflection, as was common for faithful Jewish men to do in the synagogue gathering.

Jesus read a messianic passage from Isaiah 61 – how God’s anointed one (the ‘Christ’) will free captives, restore sight, lift up the oppressed, and bring good news to the poor. After reading the text Jesus delivered the key idea of his sermon: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). Jesus is announcing that he is the one of whom Isaiah spoke.

At first the hometown crowd is impressed. They “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Lk. 4:22). But their admiration soon became anger.

Jesus explained that this messianic mission was not limited to ethnic Israel – and he did it by using the scriptures. Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Elisha and Naaman the Syrian. By the time the sermon was over the people were furious, ready to run him out of town and throw him from a cliff.    

Polite Familiarity with Jesus 

“No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” Jesus said. Why is that?

There may be a list of reasons. My guess is that most of them would be variations on a common theme: A long and polite familiarity with Jesus makes it hard to truly hear Jesus. The Nazareth crowd knew Jesus a little too well. They’d watched him grow up. And while they were initially impressed with his reading from Isaiah and the one-sentence sermon that followed, they already had his identity fixed in their minds. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Knowing him as Joseph’s son made it very hard to grasp his identity as the Christ, his identity as God’s son.

Many of you know the stories of Jesus very well. You know the things he did and the things he taught. You’ve known these things for a long time. After a while this knowledge settles into a polite respect for Jesus. A comfortable familiarity. That familiarity can become a barrier to his claims to Lordship.

As Lord, he calls us to obedience, not just polite respect.

As our savior he convicts us of our sin and need.  

As much as I hate to admit it, I can see myself in that Nazareth synagogue crowd. Not so much in my fury and violent resistance to Jesus, but in my long familiarity with him that makes it hard for his words to come with fresh and compelling power.

A question for you: Is there any way that your own long familiarity with Jesus makes it hard for you to truly hear him?   


Guard us, O God, from the kind of polite familiarity with Jesus that makes us feel like we know him, yet without truly walking in his steps and joining his mission. By the power of your Spirit keep disturbing us with your words, forming in us the likeness of your son, in whose name we pray. Amen. 

From Dripping Wet to Dry as A Bone

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1).  

From the very beginning, Jesus’ invitation was simple: “Follow me.”

Follow. That’s a loaded word.

Jesus isn’t asking to be admired and respected. He’s not asking that his thoughts and ideas be accepted and agreed with. He’s truly inviting us to follow – to walk in his steps and become like him, to live our days according to the practices and patterns we see in him, to become his students. The churchy word for this is “disciples.”

I grew up in churches that loved singing a chorus that said, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” This decision was very important, almost as important as the invitation itself. When I was eight years old, I made my decision, at least publicly. In my church, baptism came after the decision. I’ve been following (with imperfect steps) ever since.       

And yet, in a very real sense that decision to follow has to be made again every day. The invitation comes fresh with each sunrise. Jesus’ invitation to follow speaks to our embodied life, and embodied life happens every day. In what this day brings – both the planned and unplanned – will I speak and act and think like Jesus?

Luke: The Mission

In these early weeks of 2023 at Grace Church we’re continuing to make our way through the Gospel of Luke, moving from Luke’s nativity stories to the lengthy narrative of Jesus’ ministry. We want Jesus’ way of life of become our own. As a church, we want his mission to be ours.

To follow Jesus means that we will walk the path he is walking.

Fair warning: We might not always like where that path leads.

As he tells the story of Jesus, Luke places two events side by side that mark the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and mission. In Matthew and Mark, these two events are next door neighbors, one coming right on the heels of the other. Luke separates the events by a lengthy genealogy, but they are nevertheless closely tied together in his story.

Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river.

Jesus is then led to the wilderness place of testing.

Today I’m asking you to ponder the way those two events are placed side by side in Scripture. More importantly, ponder how they are placed side by side in Jesus’ life. See Jesus coming out of the river, dripping wet, leaving a muddy trail as he begins walking to the desert. See him as he leaves the place of God’s blessing and favor to the site of Satan’s trial and testing.

And consider: Where are you on that path today?     

Water and Wilderness

Some of you are standing waist deep in the Jordan. You sense the favor of God on you life. You stand under blessing, and in the words of the Psalmist your “cup overflows. Jesus’ baptism was marked by God’s powerful confirmation of who Jesus was. The heavens open, the Spirit descends upon him, and a voice speaks. God is “well pleased.” Jesus is the beloved son.

That scene soon ends, and the next thing we know we’re in the barren place of testing. Here Jesus endures forty days of fasting and withstands a repeated onslaught on that identity as beloved son. Some of you are in that wilderness place, the place of testing. In that place God can seem distant, even absent.

The common denominator (and don’t miss this) between the water and the wilderness is the Spirit. The same Spirit that comes on Jesus in baptism leads him to the place of testing.

In the ministry of Jesus, the desert place of testing was not a “mistake.” It was a “must.”          

To follow Jesus is to walk that path from water to wilderness, from dripping wet to dry as a bone. Where are you on that path today?


Father God, give us the grace we need to live this day in the steps of your son. As we sense your blessing and favor, we will give you thanks. As we live through a season of testing, we will trust you, knowing that your Spirit is with us in the wilderness place. Fill us with your Spirit as we decide again today to follow you. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Finding Jesus Again in ’23

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48-49).

There was a time when parents allowed their kids to have free reign of the neighborhood, often not hearing from them for hours at a time. They may not have known precisely where their child was – but they knew the neighborhood and they knew the neighbors. A child’s extended absence was no cause for alarm.       

That kind of thing is probably what was happening in Luke 2:41-52. Mary and Joseph had taken their twelve-year old son to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When it was all over, they set out for the eighty-mile trip back to Nazareth, assuming that Jesus was among their friends and relatives, never imagining that he had stayed behind in Jerusalem.

They traveled a full day before they discovered that he was nowhere to be seen.  

Three Long Days in Jerusalem

If you’re a parent (or even if you aren’t) you don’t have to work too hard to imagine the panic that Mary and Joseph felt as they made that day-long trip back to Jerusalem. That journey took hours – and once there, they had no idea where he was. I once lost my son at a park for what was probably less than thirty minutes. I played the worst-case scenario in my mind, convinced the police would soon need to be called. Mary and Joseph’s agitated search lasted far longer than mine.     

After three days, Mary and Joseph found their son in the Temple. He was sitting among the teachers talking theology and offering commentary on scriptural texts. Mary was clearly perturbed. “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you” (Luke 2:48 The Message).

Jesus’s answer to his mother is the climactic moment of the story, confronting us with who this boy is. “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Losing Jesus

As a new year begins, you may be asking questions of Jesus. Your questions may sound very much like the questions Mary and Joseph had as they paced the streets of Jerusalem for three days, making anxious inquiry of anyone who might have seen their son.

Where is he?

Why is he doing this to us?

What is he up to?

Yesterday we observed that the start of a new year seems to hold out promise and possibility and hope for new beginnings. Today, we take a moment to acknowledge that such is not always the case. The hurts and struggles and fears of 2022 are still alive and well in 2023. Not unlike Mary and Joseph, some of you have possibly “lost Jesus” – not as a matter of conscious rejection. You simply looked around, and he was nowhere to be seen.

Our Frantic Search

After their three-day search, when they finally locate their son, Jesus’ parents reprimand him as any parent would do. “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (2:48). Note that word in the NIV translation: “Anxiously” searching. The ESV says “searching for you in great distress.” The NLT uses the word “frantic.”

The moment is striking in that Jesus does not share their anxiety. He is not frantic. He is not distressed. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). The Greek of Luke 2:49 doesn’t give the noun, so translators render the phrase “my Father’s house” or “my Father’s business.” Both merit our reflection.

Jesus is in the right place, doing exactly what he needs to be doing.

The same can be said for you today. Jesus is not lost. He is not anxious or frantic about the things that concern you. In this very moment he is in the presence of the Father, and by the Spirit he does the Father’s work. That’s not always easy for us to see or believe. 

Here’s a suggestion for this year: If you’ve struggled to find Jesus, maybe a place to begin searching is simply by following his example. Jesus, of course, is never confined to a building – but there’s something significant about being “in the father’s house.”

Your search may take longer than three days. But keep looking. Jesus isn’t lost. And until you find him again, he is right where he needs to be, doing exactly what he needs to be doing.


Lord Jesus, sometimes we lose sight of you, and in that moment our fears escalate. Give the grace we need to seek you, knowing that you will to be found by us. You are not frantic. You are not lost. Do your good work in us in the days of this coming year. Amen.  

“According to Custom”

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom (Luke 2:41-42).

There’s something about the start of a new year that presents us with promise and possibility. We know that turning the page of the calendar or counting down the seconds that lead us to 12:00 a.m. on January 1 doesn’t really change our lives. The life we have now is the same life we had a few days ago, or six months ago.

But maybe change is possible.

Maybe we can become different in some way.

Some of us embrace this possibility with very specific statements. We make resolutions that express what this desired change will look like. Others of us, having made too many resolutions that were soon abandoned, stay silent in our yearning for change.

In the field of behavioral / neuroscience there’s a fair amount of literature that has emerged on the power of forming “habits.” The changes we yearn for at the start of a new year won’t likely happen in a singular moment of steely resolve. Significant change seems to happen in small and incremental ways.

There’s a difference between making resolutions and forming habits.

Identity Before Ministry

As we begin a new year at Grace Church Bethlehem, we’re continuing our journey through the Gospel of Luke. On New Year’s Day Marnie transitioned us from “Luke: The Nativity” to “Luke: The Mission.” In the early weeks of this year we’ll be giving our attention to the things that Jesus said and the deeds he performed.

Luke builds a bridge from the Christmas stories to Jesus’ ministry by giving us a glimpse of the adolescent son of Mary and Joseph. Only Luke tells this story of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve years old. As Marnie explained on Sunday, this story is significant because “before Jesus can take up his ministry, he has to double down on his identity.”

Jesus’ public ministry started when he was thirty years old. But his sense of who he was, his identity and relation to God the Father, began to take shape long before that. That’s what Luke allows us to see in the adolescent Jesus.

Luke doesn’t explain how this happened – but he does show us something important about the context in which Jesus’ identity emerged. Jesus’ family lived “according to custom.”

They practiced certain habits that provided a foundation for a certain kind of life. One of those habits was an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover (2:41).

Habits for A New Year

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. On a recent podcast interview he stated that “habits are behaviors that embody the kind of person we want to be.” In other words, habits – and that includes the smallest repeated behaviors – express our identity.  

What habits are seeking to cultivate or change in the year ahead?

I’ve sometimes been critical of going to church as “a matter of habit.” The example of Jesus seems to confront me with my error. The adult Jesus went to the synagogue “as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). The adolescent Jesus made pilgrimage to Jerusalem “according to custom.”

Our practices shape our identity. Habits form who we are.

For Jesus, a foundational practice was being “in my Father’s house.” We’ll take a closer look at that tomorrow.

For today, take a look at your habits. What do thy say about who you are? What habits would allow you to become the person God is calling you to be?


Gracious God, we know too well the limits of our good intentions and firm resolve. We look to you and your grace for the life we yearn to live in this coming year. And yet, we are not passive in our quest. Use the simple practices that we are able to do to shape us into the people you have called us to be. By your Spirit, be at work to shape the likeness of Jesus in us, the one in whose name we pray. Amen.  

Favored One

The angel went to her and said “Greetings, you who are highly favored! . . . Mary was troubled at his words (Luke 1:28-29).

Before Gabriel spoke Mary’s name, he called her “favored.”

Her name is spoken later as the angel tries to reassure Mary and give some definition as to what this favor looks like and what it means. What’s notable is that Mary’s proper name is only spoken once (1:30). The designation “favored” is spoken twice (1:28, 30).

This is true of all of us: grace defines life far more than a name or title.

Mary is favored by God. That sounds good, doesn’t it? What could be better than being told – by an angel no less – that you are favored by God, that God is inclined toward you, takes notice of you and directs his blessing toward you? God’s favor sounds like a very good thing indeed.

God’s Favor on Our Terms  

I’d be perfectly willing to be numbered among the favored ones because in my mind God’s favor would look like this: good health, a flourishing family life, meaningful and satisfying work, money for what I need and occasionally for things beyond that. To me, God’s favor means tangible experiences of blessing.     

In other words, God’s favor means a good life as I’ve defined it.

What strikes me about Mary’s story is her response to God’s favor. Mary, the favored one, is troubled at Gabriel’s greeting. The NIV Bible says, “greatly troubled.” The Amplified Bible says she was “greatly perplexed,” while the NLT renders the phrase “confused and disturbed.” After Gabriel’s first attempt at an explanation, Mary still has questions. God’s favor comes to Mary as something disturbing, perplexing, confusing.

Mary’s story teaches us that God’s favor doesn’t mean getting the life we want. God’s favor means being summoned to a life we never imagined. God’s favor and our comfort have little to do with each other; they are not the same thing.

God With Us

I take encouragement from Mary’s response to God’s favor: troubled, perplexed. Maybe you can too. Most of us know what it is to face something that has us confused and unsettled. We know what it is to struggle to make sense of what we’re living through. God’s favor may rest on you right now, but you don’t know it. If we define God’s “favor” strictly on our terms, it’s probably easy to miss.

If we look ahead in the nativity story, we see Mary and Joseph, about nine months after Gabriel’s appearance, making their way to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Mary knows she could have her baby very soon – but she isn’t at home, near her own bed, with friends and family nearby. She’s making an 80-mile journey on a donkey, possibly frightened and miserable, hoping for a decent place to stay. This hardly looks like being favored.    

But maybe Joseph reminded Mary of his dream. Their child is “Immanuel . . . God with us.”

And perhaps that is the true meaning of God’s favor: his faithful presence with us in whatever it is that has us perplexed and disturbed. Take heart, all you who are troubled. There’s favor to be found in what you can’t seem to sort through or figure out. In whatever that might be for you today, God is with you.

And you too are favored.


God, we thank you for your grace and favor. We give you thanks for the many different ways your favor comes to us. Teach us to look for your favor in what troubles us and not simply in what we believe would make for our own happiness. We would be a listening and trusting people today, in reliance upon your Spirit. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.