Learning from the Master

February 2, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

Presentation of our Lord
Luke 2:22-40

Listen here:



Transcript of Sermon:

“There is power in understanding the journey of others to help create your own.

This quote opened a documentary called Kobe Bryant’s Muse. It came out in 2015 and shared his story from his perspective. This quotation was his own, perhaps revealing his motivation to do the documentary in the first place, to share his story, perhaps so that others could learn from it. Or, just as likely, the quote is an explanation of how Kobe Bryant’s journey was created – by understanding the journey of others who came before him.

You see, he spent his childhood in Europe. His father, having played in the NBA for a little while, knew that to extend his career, he needed to play international ball, and so they moved to Italy when Kobe was a young boy. And in all the different places that they moved to, the language was different, the setting was different, but the basketball court was a constant, and he loved the game.

His maternal grandfather back in the States would videotape each of the NBA games that was on television (this is VHS time), and shipped those tapes overseas. Kobe would study them and learn from the masters of the game, those who had journeyed before him. He tried to master each move that the greats made so that he could be a master of the game himself.

Within his story, amid the championships and the accolades, there were admissions of doubts and frustrations. Having entered the NBA straight out of high school, he sat on the bench much of the first season. He wondered as he drove through the LA streets, seeing the students of UCLA, if maybe he had made the wrong choice.

And when the Lakers were facing the Utah Jazz in the Conference Finals, when Kobe was a mere 19 years old, he finally was in the game. His teammates were giving him a chance to make those amazing three-pointers he became known for, at crucial points in the game they tossed the ball. He let it fly… and it was an air ball. (That means it didn’t go in the net, for those who aren’t basketball fans.)

And they did it again. He took the shot. And it was an air ball. Four times they trusted him, and four times he came up short. And, the team came up short and didn’t defeat the Utah Jazz.

Yet, instead of giving up, he went to a nearby high school gym and began to take shot after shot after shot after shot to hone his craft. So, when they faced the Utah Jazz in the season opener that next year, Kobe was ready. He had hit the reset button, and they won, and it was personal vindication.

Then, at the mid-point of his career, he had some personal setbacks that also caused challenges. He realized the pain he had caused his family and others. Then, he hit the reset button. He re-established his focus. He took on the Black Mamba image. He reclaimed the number of his high school days, number 24. He knew he now needed to be the leader of the team.

In a challenge for the finals, he befriended his teammates, and they did not succeed. As he reflected, he admitted he had been too soft on them. Then he hit reset and led them in the way he knew how to play basketball. He invited them to turn their inner demons into strengths. And when they did that together, they were able to master the game. Kobe taught them what his journey had taught him, and from that they were able to create their own.

As I think and reflect on the telling of Jesus’ story in Luke’s gospel, it reveals, unlike the others, a fuller picture of the journey Jesus took from a very early age. It shows Jesus as a very devout Jew.

At eight days old, the circumcision and naming. Then, 40 days after his birth, what is now February 2nd, today, is the presentation of Jesus in the temple.Now, just to be clear, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to go to the temple before now because Mary wasn’t allowed in the temple before now. It took 40 days for her to go through the purification required to become ritually clean after giving birth to a male child, and so this was the day of purification for Mary. She came to the temple and they made the sacrifice required. And because baby goes where mama goes, it was also the day that Jesus was presented as the firstborn son in the family – the one who belonged to God.

It was in that time, the presentation, that Simeon, who had been waiting his whole life to see the Messiah, recognized who Jesus was at just 40 days old. He took him in his arms and saw him and named him as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of the people of Israel.” Jesus’ purpose was to reveal God’s love to all people.

Now I know we’re used to this language, but this was radical talk back then. God was reserved for the people of Israel. They were the chosen people of God and Jesus was like, “No. That’s not what I’m called to do. I’m called to share God with the Gentiles, too.”

We hear in the very next story about Jesus, who at the age of 12 had been accidentally left behind after a festival in Jerusalem. Three days later his parents came back to get him and find him in the temple talking with the teachers, and the scribes. Listening to them, and more importantly, asking them questions.

There were no VHS tapes for Jesus to study. There was no Google for him to look up the background. The only way to do the work, to learn from those who had gone before, was to go to the temple and to be in relationship. To study and to ask questions. The temple and the Torah were his high school gym – where he went and practiced, and practiced, and practiced.

He didn’t come to replace the Torah. He came to fulfill the Torah. To be the one that takes it to the next level. The one who invites us to understand

  • a God who welcomes the outcast
  • a God who seeks justice for the oppressed
  • a God who brings healing to those who are wounded
  • a God for whom neighbor isn’t just the people that look like us, and believe like us, and act like us, but neighbor is all people. And then that God commands us to love them.

Jesus was a leader in his way. His disciples were the team that he guided into that same work, not in a soft way, not in a “let’s make everybody comfortable” way. Jesus expected the disciples to give their lives to the work of revealing this same God, the God that Jesus revealed.

And as followers of Jesus, we are called to that same work – to our life’s work.

To be prepared to answer that question, “Why do you follow Jesus?” The question, “Who is Jesus to you?” To be able to tell people, when you hear Jesus being portrayed in a way other than how you understand Jesus, to have the language, the vocabulary to explain Jesus to them.

It’s not always easy. The first few times we get that question, we may throw an air-ball or two. But we’re called on to go back and do the work. To practice, practice, practice.

The welcoming, justice-seeking, healing, and loving God revealed to me through Jesus, in my opinion, is worth that effort.


I invite your thoughts and insights.

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