In the midst of a global pandemic that has confined families to homes, pushed businesses to the brink of disaster, medical systems into crisis mode and nations into financial stress, I want to pull us back to our micro-reality. One child. Just one child. We are caught up in the tragic news of the lives of residents in Midland, Michigan being washed away in a flood of historic proportion. We are reminded that funds are still needed to reforest millions of scorched acres of land in Australia. Colleges are making decisions about whether to only offer on-line classes in the fall. Family budgets are stretched to the breaking point. But I want to rejoice in the value of just one child. On Sunday our congregation celebrated Christian Education Sunday and, even though our Sunday School year was wildly interrupted in March, teaching has continued in new ways. More than ever we celebrate the presence of children in our congregation.
For our worship, one family acted out a version of the story that has been passed on to us from Luke’s Gospel. People brought their children to Jesus, hoping for a blessing. It’s akin to our desire to baptize our children into the care of Christ’s Church. The disciples shooed them away, certain that Jesus juggled far too many demands to drop to a knee and hug a child. But Jesus, irate at this judgment call, took the boy in His arms and blessed Him. It’s the story of just one child who had the hug of a lifetime from the Son of God!
In 1 Samuel 3 we learn that the priest in charge of the Israelites’ spiritual well-being was Eli. He was an older man and his sons had not been faithful to the holy call on their lives. So God withheld the life-giving Word. Eli and Sons Ltd. was a bust. It doesn’t always work to pull the next generation into our line of work. Eli’s sons rejected God, abused the privileges that came with their position and lorded it over their congregants rather than serving them. As is often the case with adult children who inherit sizable gifts from their parents, these boys expected to receive acclaim as a right. They were too lazy to develop the skill, self-discipline, and attitude of service needed to be good leaders. So the story has overtones of darkness. Visions of God’s presence were rare. Old Eli could barely see BUT the lamp of God had not gone out. In spite of faithless leadership, God had not abandoned this place or these people.
The back story to our passage is that a woman named Hannah was unable to have children. She earnestly prayed in the sanctuary in Shiloh for a child, promising God that, if she was blessed with a son, she would dedicate him to a holy life of service. A year later she gave birth to a son and committed to give him over to Priest Eli once he was weaned. At age three she brought him to Eli who had failed to raise his own sons well. This baby for whom she had long prayed was left in Shiloh in the embrace of an old man who could not even see the beauty of his small face. Hannah made her way home. A deal’s a deal. A pledge made in prayer must be kept. (If it makes you feel any better, she did have other children after Samuel. But still…) God had a plan. Since Eli’s biological sons weren’t going to make good on the commitment to lead God’s people, God would form a different kind of family. It came to Eli in the form of an energetic toddler who must have turned his sedentary life upside down. Samuel was tutored in the ways of worship not out of a sense of entitlement but because God gave it to him as a gift.
In the first verse of chapter three we learn that the Word of the Lord was rare. It came to Eli but his sons’ narcissism interrupted the natural order of children following in their father’s footsteps. Young Samuel, however, matured in his faith. The dedication made on his behalf by his mother, became his life’s calling. Even though he was following the guidance of the old priest, he still didn’t yet know God’s voice. When the time was right, God called to the boy in the dark of night. On the third try, Eli finally understood that it was a different Father or Master who was calling out to Samuel. He attuned the boy to the One he was meant to serve. God moved to the next level. Samuel heard the divine voice and was ready. Through this one child, prayed over by a devout mother, God began to speak to the Israelites. God’s Word came alive once again.
Our Christian Education Coordinator and I had a great time going to the homes of our first grade graduates this past week. We stayed on the lawn, apart from each other and from the children as we presented them with their own Bibles. It is our custom to give these to them once they have learned how to read. They were ready for us, some dressed in “church clothes” for the first time in months. They were excited to receive their own copy of God’s Holy Word. As we conversed from a distance with their parents, all of us starved for conversation, several of the children sat quietly on their front porches on a cold May morning, reading their new Bible. The Word of God comes alive for them now. Some who have younger siblings are looking forward to reading their Bible aloud to their little brother or sister. Others will, no doubt, sit in their parents’ laps and share the joy of being able to read Bible stories on their own. In Psalm 68 it states, “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. He sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing.” Families are woven together in so many beautiful ways. What a gift it is when the Word of God is valued and the traditions of the faith are passed on from one generation to another. It is our privilege and responsibility to faithfully raise the children in our Church to serve God. Through just one child, God’s Word spreads powerfully into our world.
I am so impressed with the children and young adults living through this very challenging time of a global pandemic. Our seniors have been robbed of their graduation ceremonies and open houses. Young couples have had to forfeit the wedding of their dreams. Proud first graders received their Bibles on their front porches, not in the warm physical embrace of their church family. Yet none of those I’ve spoken to have lamented the losses. They have taken it in stride much more readily than their parents. This is a generation of minimalists who say “No thanks” when we offer them Great Grandma Gertrude’s beautiful set of dishes. They are more apt to rent than own. They choose to live in small spaces rather than big homes with a rented storage unit on the side. They have a broad acceptance of differences in people. They call a spade a spade when looking in on our country’s polarized politics. I am counting on these fresh faces who so value authenticity to lead us out of our adult messes. Through each child raised in the Church, God’s speaks so that the Light of the Lord is not extinguished!
A friend told me about her five-year old granddaughter who became very ill several years ago. She sustained a 104-degree fever for three days. When she finally began to feel better and a small amount of energy returned, she confided in her mom that God had visited her in those fevered nights. “I’m not afraid of the dark anymore. God and I talk to each other.
Our calling is to claim our own vocation as disciples of Jesus and to awaken a sense of that in our children. We teach them to listen for God’s voice. But many times, out of their trusting spirituality, they remind us that God is still speaking. When we introduce them to the faith, the darkness of our world is lightened by each precious child. As we increasingly entrust our well-being into their capable hands, as old Eli had to do with young Samuel, we can rest assured that the lonesome will be placed in families. The lamp of God will never go out and the Word of the Lord will not fail us!