The UMC Membership Vow –

Our Presence

When we join the United Methodist Church, we vow to uphold it with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. In this study we look at five scripture texts that support the UMC emphasis on each of these commitments.

Luke 2:41-52, Young Jesus goes to the Temple.
Luke 4:14-38, Jesus in the synagogues
Matthew 5:13-16,  “Make your light shine!”
Luke 13:10-17, Jesus heals in the synagogue.
Luke 19:47-20:1; John 7:14-15, 8:2, 18:20, Jesus in the Temple.

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Jesus in the Temple at age 12. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.
Luke 2:41-52, Young Jesus goes to the Temple. (10/19/2009)

Quite a few years ago, I dropped off my kids at karate, after dark, in the cold, in a school parking lot.  Way across the lot I saw a little boy.  I watched for a bit, and then I drove over to him and stopped 10 or 15 feet away.  He didn't approach me, but he certainly didn't look happy out there in the cold and dark, either.  I got out of the car and spoke to him.  A few tear tracks were on his face, and I found out that he hadn't been picked up after soccer practice.  Was he relieved to have an adult take him in hand!  Any adult!  So I gave him my coat, and we trudged off to find somebody who might know what to do with him.  I turned him over to a soccer coach for another team, who said he'd take care of him.  No matter how good a parent you are, once in a while you might misplace a kid.
A similar thing happened to Joseph and Mary.  They made the trip to Jerusalem several times a year, and they figured that Jesus knew enough by this time to stay with the group.  They were traveling with a bunch of friends and relatives, and they figured he was around somewhere. They didn't miss him right away, probably because they had five or six kids to keep track of, and at 12, Jesus was old enough that they weren't watching him every minute.  In Jesus' case, however, he wasn't left behind, he stayed behind.  He wasn't lost; he knew exactly where he wanted to be.  It was his parents who had the tear tracks on their faces!
Finally, they found him in the Temple.  Jesus says to Mary, "Why did you look for me?  Didn't you know that I had to be about my father's?"  The form of the second question expects the answer "yes."  I wonder if Jesus was saying, "Why did you look for me anywhere else?  You knew – didn't you? – that I would be here at my father's."

Luke 4:14-38, Jesus in the synagogues (10/20/2009)

As was his custom on the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.  Like Rodney Dangerfield, he didn't get much respect there.  It's hard to imagine that the kid you used know from down the street is now important.  Jesus recognized that people who knew-him-when would have some trouble accepting him as a prophet, and he razzed them about it a little.  They did not take it well, so he went back to Capernaum, about 20 miles away.  As was his custom on the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue in Capernaum.  There he got a better reception, possibly because the demoniac recognized him and identified him as the Holy One of God. 
Apparently most translators feel the necessity for showing Jesus as "holy," often by slightly altering what the text says to make it more "holy"-sounding.  When Jesus rebukes the demon, the KJV, Darby, and American Standard Version quote him as saying, "Hold thy peace."  International Standard Version, Good News, and Contemporary English Version say, "Be quiet."  English Standard Version says, "Be silent."  The Greek says, "Be muzzled!"  This seems to me to be stronger and less polite; see what you think of how I've translated below.
By the way, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 and 58, and the text is taken directly from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament.  By the first century, many synagogues, especially those not in Judea, used the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew OT.
Matthew 5:13-16,  “Make your light shine!” (10/21/2009)

This week's scriptures show that Jesus made being in the Temple or the synagogue on the Sabbath a top priority in his life.  You know what?  Jesus never went to sports tournaments on the Sabbath, or at least, not until after the worship service.  He never "worshipped on the golf course."  He never felt like lazing around the house and reading the paper for a change.  When he traveled, he attended the local synagogue wherever he was.  When he was in Jerusalem for the Jerusalem International Balloon Fiesta and the Judea State Fair, he made a practice of going to the Temple daily.
Now, I know that some people have to work on Sunday morning.  I'm not talking about doctors, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, clergy, lay church workers, etc., or even shut-ins, and I'm willing to cut a little slack for sales people who have to take turns on the weekends.  I'm talking about your ordinary Monday through Friday nine-to-fivers.  Where are they on Sunday morning?  If they aren't in church, why not? 
So what has all this got to do with today's scripture?  Every time a church parking lot is crowded, the light shines from that church throughout the whole neighborhood.  People see the activity and wonder what's going on.  Maybe they come over to check it out.  But if a church parking lot is half full during an activity that is advertised on the sign out on the street – like the worship service – the non-church goers look at it and conclude that there's nothing interesting going on there.  They're probably right!  Every time we show up at some other activity on Sunday morning, they see us and figure that church isn't important to us.  They're probably right!
So make regular attendance at worship a top priority.  Try to convince people that worship attendance is important to you and to your congregation.  Let your light shine in front of everyone, so that they can see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven!

Luke 13:10-17, Jesus heals in the synagogue. (10/22/2009)

The original rule about keeping the Sabbath was simple and good:  don't work on the Sabbath.  There was a even an explanation, in contrast to most of the rules.

But like all simple and good rules, this one immediately raised questions about what exactly it meant.  As near as I can tell from observation, we are all lawyers at heart.  Half of us use the law to see how much we can get away with, and the other half of us use the law to keep other people from getting away with anything whatsoever.  So by the first century, there was a tremendous mass of written and oral tradition saying exactly what – in any and every circumstance that anyone could possibly think of – constituted "work."  There were definitions, loopholes, plugs for the loopholes, more definitions, and more loopholes.
Apparently Jesus agreed that healing a woman by laying hands on her was work, because he didn't argue about that at all.  Rather he said that everyone knows that some types of work are allowed on the Sabbath, and that healing is in that category.  Notice that this work was done in the synagogue, which is where Jesus was always to be found on the Sabbath.

Luke 19:47-20:1; John 7:14-15, 8:2, 18:20, Jesus in the Temple. (10/23/2009)

Jesus attended worship on the Sabbath wherever he was, but he also spent a lot of weekdays teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The common people loved it, because he always made sense, and he was a great story-teller.  Since he had never been to rabbinical school, however, the priests and other Temple authorities were tremendously affronted.  Priests and Levites not only had to be from the correct families, but they had to study all the procedures in order to perform the sacrifices and Temple ordinances correctly.  Anybody could become a scribe (although it was often a family occupation), but it meant going to school for a long time.  After all this study, even the greatest scribes tended to cite previous scribes for most of what they taught (as do modern college professors).  Then Jesus showed up – not having gone to school, but teaching on his own authority.
Think how university professors would feel if some guy who had never been to college showed up on campus and started holding classes on the Quad.  Think how much worse it would be if all the students started cutting class to go and study with the new guy!  Much of what Jesus taught was just good, solid Law and Prophets.  The religious authorities probably objected less to what he was saying than they did to the fact that he was saying it without a graduate degree and a faculty position.

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Copyright 2009, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

The illustration showing showing the young Jesus in discussions with the sages in the Temple is from the Binns family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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