There is a question that echoes through today’s Old Testament lesson: “Who’s Teaching the
We know the answer is the internet and comes the disturbing reality that 50% of what is there is pornographic or leads to pornographic web pages. We also know that poverty, homelessness, and war leave children to live on the streets and be candidates for gangs and terrorist movements. In some countries it is 30%.
We also know that the best intentions of parents to involve their children in sports and special after-school activities leave no time for the church to be a part of family life, nor for parents to carry the Baptismal vows from the font where they are made into the years that will lead a young person to make his or her own yes” in Confirmation a life-long commitment.
So, “Who’s teaching the children?” Sadly the answer often is, “People who are not modeling a Christ-like life, because it is foreign to them or rejected by them.”
Recently a conversation with a young woman turned to religion and she identified herself as being baptized and confirmed. Then she added that her boyfriend has no religious background by the choice of his parents. He confessed to her that he has nothing to believe in and that he feels an emptiness within himself. Because that confession is becoming typical of the times in which we live, today’s Old Testament lesson couldn’t be more relevant, as it calls us to focus on and learn from three people.
The first is Hannah, who with her husband, wants the best for their newborn son. They want him to believe he has come from God and belongs to God and is to honor God throughout his life. To come to that understanding, they know he needs to be raised in an environment that nurtures him into growing into living a God-centered life. For Hannah’s son, that was the Temple.
For us it is the Christian community with its Church School¸ choirs, Scouts, ASP, all the events and meals that bring us together as family, and most of all: every Sunday worship and special celebrations centering in Word and sacrament.
It is this place and time that “teaches the children” as it immerses them in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “heart of Jesus’ message and life” with its “soul force” to put on “the weapon of love.” (Quoted from Joel D. Kline, Come and See, Sermons.com for January 18, 2015)
Hannah brought her son to the temple where she knew that answer could be found. For us that place is the Christian community, church, congregation, Trinity.
The second person on whom we focus is Samuel, a model of all children of whom, like him, it may be said: did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Like him, our children and youth may find nothing clicks in worship and church school or anything else Christians do; there’s no “Ah ha!” moment – such as Confirmation. Vows may be taken, bread and cup may be received, but nothing special is felt…at that moment; as it was with Samuel.
As close as he was to the center of Hebrew worship, he wasn’t feeling anything special, even when God was calling him by name. But he stayed, and that’s what mattered then and still matters today; to stay and wait, in the company of those who are there.
And so, the third person on whom we focus is Eli. For Samuel he was the elderly man who was always there to talk to and learn from, to watch as he worshiped, to listen as he prayed, and to run to when he was confused and worried, which Samuel did as, three times, he got up and went to Eli, who counseled him, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
With that counsel when the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” - God’s claim on his life became real and Samuel felt moved to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Who is today’s Eli – remembering who Eli was, a father who knew he had failed his sons, perhaps he had not spent enough time with them, or not matter how much time he could have spent they were outright incorrigible scoundrels, stealing the meat meant for the sacrificial offering and running after young women.
While living with that weight of seeing his own children reject God and God’s people, God used Eli to mentor someone else’s child named Samuel.
Who is today’s Eli, perhaps living with the guilt and frustration of not being able to nurture one’s own flesh and blood into living a Christ-like life and finding one’s home for the soul to be in the Christian community, the church, congregation, Trinity, but, in spite of living with that burden, takes up the ministry of serving a child whose parents are overwhelmed with trying to keep food on the table and hold on to a job, who are ill or absent, or have no interest in keeping the Baptismal vows made at the font?
Today’s Eli for today’s Samuel.
Who is our Eli? Who is adopting a child or teen to be a partner in the pew? Who is stepping in to fulfill Baptismal vows a parent is not able to keep? Who is walking along side him or her to turn Confirmation vows into a life-long way of life, centered in the Christian community, church, congregation, Trinity?
Who, in these days when there are so many wholesome activities outside the church, is holding our children and youth to stay in the church with a contagious practice of devotion to God, modeled to be copied?
It is the ministry of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke when he saw what was happening in Germany in the 1930’s where youth were being glorified and, what was being said then, is being said today, “Youth are the future of the church.” As that was and is said, there was and still is the lament of churches empty of youth, an absence that has adults asking, “What must we do to bring them back?”
Bonhoeffer’s answer that still holds true now, is that youth find their life’s foundation to be Jesus Christ and themselves members, parts, of Christ’s body, the church of all ages and colors and nations involved in being church together.
One church has no trouble keeping its youth as they pair up, two youth with two adults, who read two chapters in the Bible a week, then ask: “What do you find interesting? What is confusing? and “Where in the reading do you find yourself?” Together today’s Eli and today’s Samuel are finding God and being found by God, through the Bible. They are becoming church, together. (Bonhoeffer references and story adapted from Christianity Today, Jan. Feb. 2015 P. 35-36)
Another way of being a mentor to youth is seen a story about Francis of Assisi, who one day invited a young monk to go on a preaching trip into town. He was honored to be asked and thrilled to think of all he would learn.
All day long they walked the streets and alleys and were in the company of hundreds of people. At the end of the day, the two headed back home without St. Francis addressing a crowd or talking to anyone about the gospel.
Greatly disappointed, the young monk said to him, “I thought we were going into town to preach?"
St. Francis responded, "My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless (our life) preaches everywhere as we walk!” (Author unknown)
A mentoring ministry carried forward by today’s Eli, who, when hearing today’s Gospel, reaches out to other youth, like Nathaniel, sitting under a tree, to whom today’s Eli says, “Come and see.”
So, “Who’s teaching the children?” There is no better answer than to be able to say,
“Use me, Lord, to be today’s Eli to today’s Samuel.”