Hancock Church Sermon

Rev. Dana Allen Walsh

November 18, 2012

1 Samuel 3:1-11

 

This morning, I’ll be preaching on our monthly sermon series, Faith Across the Lifespan.  In this sermon series, Paul and I are exploring the joys and challenges of the spiritual life at different places along life’s journey. Last month, Paul preached on birth and baptism.  Next month’s focus will be adolescence and youth. This sermon’s focus is on childhood and parenting.

 

This is a humbling sermon for me to preach.  I have not yet had the experience of raising children.  I don’t know what it entails, I don’t have first hand knowledge of the stresses it places on a marriage, the lack of sleep it requires, the late night worrying, and of course, all the joy that it evokes as well.

 

Soon, in three months time, all of that will change, but in the meantime, I relied on some of our young families at Hancock who emailed with me and met with me, and allowed me a window into their world of being parents to young children.

 

And the more I learn about the challenges and joys of parenting, the more I realized this story held some truth:

 

A clergy couple who were just called to a new church started a class called, “How to Raise Children.”  This was, of course, before they had any kids.

Later, once they had two little children, they changed the name of the group to “Suggestions on how to Raise Children.”

Once they were teenagers they had changed the name to “Feeble Advice from Fellow Parents.”

 

Well let’s call this sermon: Feeble Reflections on Children from a Soon-To-Be-Parent.

 

If I’ve learned anything from my interviews, it’s that parenting isn’t easy. It’s one of the most challenging jobs conceivable and it comes without an instruction manual, a graduate level course, or a yearly review of how you are rating.  For many of our parents, life is unimaginably busy as they balance two fulltime careers and soccer practices, music lessons, and homework.  There is little time left for a parent’s personal hobbies or interests.  So it brings out the best and the worst.

 

Nicole Johnson in her book, Fresh-Brewed Life, tells this story about her family:  After putting her children to bed, a mother changed into old slacks and a droopy blouse, took off her make-up and proceeded to wash her hair.   As she heard the children getting more and more rambunctious, her patience grew thin.  At last, the mother threw a towel around her head and stormed into their room, putting them back to bed with stern warnings.   As she left the room, she heard her 3-year-old say with a trembling voice, “Who was that?”

 

Being a parent is not just a role that one plays for a few hours a day, it’s lived 24/7 and sometimes we get it right as a parent and sometimes we don’t.

 

It appears that the real business of parenthood is the upbringing of the parent.  Children raise us as much as we raise them.  Through raising children, parents are given the opportunity to be children again – jumping in leaf piles, catching snowflakes on your tongue, singing off-key in the car.

Parents are also given the opportunity of really learning how to trust God.  Until becoming a parent, life may have seemed like something that could be controlled.  With hard work and diligence, it may have appeared that you could make most things happen that you desired.  That’s until you become a parent, and then you learn how to ask for help, from God and from others.

Parenting is a true experience of humility and at times, powerlessness.  Maybe this is why Jesus kept welcoming the children to come to him, because children make plain our lack of control and power, and remind us of our need of God.

 

In our Scripture passage, we see the prophet, Samuel as a small boy when he first encounters God’s voice and needs the help of another to learn how to respond.

 

As a little boy, Samuel is awoken in the middle of the night by hearing his name called.  He doesn’t recognize that is God and he doesn’t know how to respond.  When Samuel hears this mysterious voice, he seeks out Eli, an old priest, believing that it must be Eli speaking.  But each time, Eli denies calling his name.  After the second time, Eli realizes that it must be God calling Samuel’s name in the middle of the night. Eli teaches Samuel how to respond to God’s call with the simple words: Speak, for your servant is listening.

 

It’s interesting that God would choose to speak to a small child, rather than old wise priest.  I can imagine that Eli was a bit disappointed and maybe even jealous that God wasn’t calling his name.  Especially after all his years of faithful service as a priest.  And now that Eli is feeble and unable to see, I’m sure he would have appreciated an encouraging word.  Yet, God chooses an unsuspecting little boy who doesn’t even recognize God’s voice!  Eli sets aside his own longing and desire and teaches the boy how to respond.

 

Maybe God had been calling Eli’s name, but he had stopped listening.  Maybe it took the ears of an eager and open-minded child to hear God’s voice.

 

Children have the ability to wonder, to be curious, and to be honest.  Children aren’t hung up on the right way to pray, so they speak to God with directness and sincerity that we often forget as adults.  Here are some great examples of children’s prayers:

 

  • Dear God, I want to be just like my daddy when I get big, but not with so much hair all over.
  • Dear God, I think about you sometimes, even when I’m not praying.
  • Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love all the people in the world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.
  • Dear God, Thanks for my baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.

 

A child’s raw and honest approach to faith reminds us that we don’t need to hide behind a mask of perfection when we come to God.

 

Craig Dykstra, author and theologian, writes:  “The faith of children is essential in the faith of the whole congregation.”

 

So, I am deeply grateful for the children and families that are part of Hancock’s community.  It’s our job to make sure they find a sense of love and belonging here.  And to remember that these children are our teachers.  They are vital to our faith life.

 

One parent said this about coming to church:

We were wary of committing to yet another few hours each week which would certainly only diminish that precious spare time further, but I knew that our family “needed it”, much as I tell my children all they “need” is food, shelter and love, perhaps I have forgotten one important part that I knew we all needed “spiritual nourishment”/togetherness/sense of greater purpose.

 

One of the gifts that the presence of children in our community offers us is a ready and constant example of life lived authentically, imperfections included.  In our adult lives, there can be layers of emotions, errands, and expectations, that get in the way of God.  Yet, children remind us to be nowhere else but here, right now.

 

And children are honest about their need to be loved.  To know that they are not alone in this world.  And though they may not articulate it in these terms, they also long to discover and use their gifts.  And that’s our job as a faith community, to give them a place to apply their gifts, to show them ways to serve others, to wonder with them about God.  The mysterious voice in the middle of the night for Samuel would have remained nothing but a mysterious voice, if it wasn’t for Eli’s guidance and instruction.

 

This summer, while on our church’s service trip in Panama, I was humbled by what I learned through playing with the children that lived in the small, impoverished village of Tranquilla.  There were daily lessons as we played cards, sat in the hammocks, and practiced our Spanish, but when we were leaving, they reminded me of how close children are to realm of God.  How their deep desire for love can be so completely giving and selfless.

 

Before we were about to say goodbye, I gave the children some crayons and notebooks.  They were nothing special but I had not seen any paper or art supplies in the small house were the 9 children lived.  They graciously accepted the gifts with lots of “gracias” and shared the supplies equally amongst themselves.  Then after a little huddle of a discussion, they came back and presented me with one of the notebooks I had given them.

I thought they were confused by my bad Spanish and I tried to explain again that it was a gift for them to keep.  But they would not take the notebook back.  Someone came over to help translate and explained to me that the kids wanted me to have the notebook, they had nothing else to give, so they chose to give me one of their newest items.  For these little children, it was more important to show their love and gratitude, than to keep it for themselves.

 

The faith of children is essential to the faith of a whole congregation.

 

Today, as we prepare to give our financial pledge for Hancock’s future, let us remember the generosity of children.  Let us remember how deeply they can love.  Jesus’ words to his disciples were: you cannot enter the realm of God unless you become like a little child.  Today, as we give our financial commitments, we come one step closer to embracing the heart of a child.