Bringing the Text to Life
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Samuel and Jesus, in “church” without their parents, were on a spiritual journey. We are, too.
AT A GLANCE:
Because the Old Testament and New Testament readings for this Sunday tell the story of a boy in “church,” we thought we’d start there — with boys in church.
For material based on today’s gospel text, see “Back to School,” December 29, 1991, at HomileticsOnline.com.
You never know what children might do or say in church, and most congregations develop their own policies and practices.
Sometimes, parents are able to explain to their children why they need to behave or be quiet in a worship service. One mother counseled her little girl about proper behavior in church and then asked her if she understood.
“Honey, do you understand why we need to be quiet in church?”
The child said, “Uh-huh. Because people are sleeping.”
When parents are not with their children, however, things can go south quickly. Stan Purdum tells the story of a little boy, “Freddie,” who single-handedly disrupted the education and worship experiences week after week in a church where Purdum was the pastor.
“Jesus loved him,” Purdum said, “but after several months of his regular attendance, some of the rest of us weren’t so sure that we did. But still, it was our job to help Freddie know Jesus’ love and, if we were reading the gospel correctly, to be an extension of God’s love to him as well.”
Although a member of the church, Freddie’s single mom hadn’t attended in years. His grandma had been bringing overactive Freddie to church with her and had managed some measure of control over him, but then her health failed and she could no longer attend. Freddie’s mother started dropping him off for the two hours of Sunday school and worship. There, without an adult of his own to supervise him, this little guy ran wild. During class, he monopolized his teacher’s attention. During worship, the ushers became his overseers by default. And more than once, people seated in the sanctuary balcony leapt from their seats to grab Freddie as he careened dangerously near the railing.
The church tried all sorts of things. Member families invited him to sit with them, but he’d never stay in their pew for longer than a few minutes. They assigned a teenage helper to his class, and during worship gave him several activity sheets and crayons, but none of these efforts was effective for long either.
Finally, the church sent a delegation to appeal to his mother to come to church with him, and she did — for one Sunday, during which Freddie behaved angelically. She assumed her single visit had settled the matter and dropped him off on his own again the following week. She ignored the church’s subsequent pleas.
The only suggestion the church refused to implement was that they expel Freddie from church. Instead, they struggled along, hoping Freddie would finally abandon his acting-out behavior as he matured. They muddled through.
Kids like Freddie may be part of the reason some churches have a no-kids-in-worship policy, sending them instead to a “junior church” program or something similar.
Our Scripture reading from 1 Samuel tells of a child in “church” — or rather an Old Testament equivalent, the tabernacle at Shiloh — without his parents, where he “was ministering before the Lord.” His mother, who’d been childless, had promised God that if she were able to have a baby boy, she’d dedicate him to the service of the Lord.
Thus, after Samuel was born, potty-trained and eating solid food, Hannah dropped off her son at “church” and into the care of the priest, Eli. We don’t know Samuel’s exact age at this point, but the surrounding text suggests that he was still a young child. After leaving Samuel at the tabernacle with Eli, Hannah visited him once a year, each time bringing with her a “little robe” for him.
Whatever his age, Samuel was not a problem child. The quality of his service to the Lord in Shiloh caused him to “grow ... in favor with the Lord and with the people” (v. 26).
On this Sunday, the lectionary pairs this reading with the gospel text about Jesus at age 12 being in the temple where his questions impressed the learned teachers (Luke 2:41-52). He was another child in “church” without his parents.
One point we can take from this pairing of texts is that God’s sending humankind help via a person born through a special conception did not begin with Jesus. God had used that pattern before with Samuel’s birth. Both boys were dedicated by a righteous mother to the service of God. The account of Jesus at 12 in the temple concludes, as did the reading about young Samuel, with a statement about him growing in divine and human favor. Both Samuel and Jesus went on as grown men to serve out their mission from God.
Commenting on the similarity in the two accounts, Fred Craddock suggests that the 1 Samuel 2 account was the model in Luke’s mind when he narrated the story of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple. Craddock points out that frequently in Luke, we encounter a style of narration that uses Old Testament stories as a pattern for New Testament events, “sometimes even using exactly the same lines and phrases.” In explaining this practice by Luke, Craddock says that it could be because “Luke knew the stories and found them so congenial to his own literary task that he used them as models.”
Craddock explaines that while a wealth of Old Testament events and personalities nourish Luke’s gospel, “at no time does the truth or authority of his message depend on the prior stories.” In other words, Craddock’s saying that “Luke’s gospel stands on its own whether or not the readers know the literary antecedents. The event of the boy Jesus in the temple does not require for its clarity or purpose a knowledge of the boy Samuel.”
Craddock goes on to say that “what Luke was doing has to do with persuasion. Good communicators know the power of recognition. If one is presenting that which is new, framing the material on a familiar pattern so that the message, though new, is recognized by the readers, barriers to acceptance fall easily. Readers almost immediately own what is being said.”
Whatever the similarities or differences, in “church” without his parents, Samuel learned to distinguish the voice of God from the other voices around him.
In the temple without his parents, Jesus learned that there were greater claims on his life than those of his family.
Such learnings are possible for most of us, with or without our parents present. In both cases, the boys were actively engaged in what was happening at those places of worship, and perhaps that’s the key.
We should note that being in church without his parents did not make Jesus less respectful of them. Luke notes that following the temple incident, Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and “was obedient to them” (2:51). A person filled with God does not despise his or her earthly ties.
Both boys, the Bible tells us, increased in wisdom and in favor with the Lord. As we stand at this last Sunday of the year, it’s an appropriate time to review how we have or have not done that. How have we grown this past year? In what areas of spiritual and moral development do we hope to grow next year?
For a pattern of what Christian growth can look like, consider the spiritual odyssey of the 12 disciples of Jesus.
Before they met Jesus, they were simply part of the Jewish population for whom faith meant going to the synagogue and keeping the commandments.
But when they encountered Jesus, he called them to follow him, and they did. In doing so, they came apart from the crowd and, in a beginning act of faith, went with him.
And we note that at the beginning, Jesus did not cross-examine the Twelve about their beliefs. He simply said, “Follow me.”
But unlike Jesus and Samuel, who seemed comfortable in a religious setting, the disciples were more like Freddie in the story above. They were bouncing all over the place.
They misunderstood Jesus’ mission. Once when a village refused to offer overnight accommodations, some of them, furious, called in coordinates for a fire-bombing airstrike. But Jesus refused to comply.
Another time, two of them started fighting about who would have a more powerful position in the coming Messianic administration.
Sometimes they were clueless. They didn’t get it. Jesus would tell a story, and later, the disciples would speak to him privately and say, “What were you talking about?”
When Jesus began to suggest that he was going to die, they totally did not understand because, in their thinking, a Messiah doesn’t die.
And yet, even so — as goofy, clueless and revengeful as they were — Jesus was able to use them. He sent them out on healing and preaching missions, and they came back supercharged and glowing with what had happened in their travels.
But that period was also littered with their failures — most notably Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal and the desertion of most of the disciples following Jesus’ arrest. The Twelve, in responding to Jesus’ call, had begun traveling the spiritual road, but they had not gotten very far down it. It was a time of spiritual immaturity for them.
Fortunately, God was not through with them. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the 11 disciples remaining after Judas’ death, following Jesus’ instructions, gathered in a room in Jerusalem. There, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God came upon them in a mighty way. And after that, there was — as far as we know — no repeat of their old failures. They grew spiritually in a kind of giant step.
For us, spiritual growth is likely to happen more gradually, but we can look at the disciples’ pattern and ask ourselves whether we are progressing on the journey of faith
Are we like the disciples before meeting Jesus? Do we think that being a Christian means only trying to keep some moral rules and going to church?
Are we like the disciples after responding to Jesus’ call, but before Pentecost? We may be able to recall a specific time when we actually committed ourselves to Christ, or we may have pretty well accepted Christianity as it was presented to us as we grew up. That’s great, but has our faith stalled at that stage? Do our prayers still sound like a wish list? Our faith is real but immature. God is still able to use us, but we are missing out on the power and peace of a more mature faith.
Or are we, like the disciples after Pentecost, where we have confidence in God despite the ups and downs of our lives, where we have room in our faith to let our questions survive without destroying our spiritual peace?
The witness of Scripture is that we can grow in faith, grow beyond the beginning stages of belief to an adult faith that is more than adequate for the bumps and potholes on the road of life.
These two boys in church without their parents were on their way to that journey. Are we?
Lisa Hadler, Sheryl Kester-Beyer, Eugene C. McAfee, Stan Purdon, Melanie Silva and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Possible Preaching Themes:
Craddock, Fred B. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1990. 42-43.
LaMorey, Bill. “Why we don’t allow children in our worship service.” ChurchLeaders, June 14, 2011, churchleaders.com. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
Purdum, Stan. “Jesus loves problem kids,” New Mercies I See. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing, 2002.
THE OTHER TEXTS
DECEMBER 30, 2018, Cycle C
What Does the Text Say?
“Hallelujah!” is the English translation of the Hebrew words for “Praise the Lord!” — the opening words of Psalm 148 (and Psalms 146, 147, 149 and 150, among others). Israel’s song book, ranging across the spectrum of human emotions, ends triumphantly in this concluding collection of psalms, on a note of cosmic praise. The summons to praise Yahweh/the Lord is made first (vv. 3-4) to the celestial realm: the heavens, the heights, angels, the heavenly host (that is, the heavenly army), sun and moon, shining stars, highest heavens and the waters above the heavens (the source of rain in ancient Israelite cosmology). The reason for these bodies to praise the Lord is because he is their Creator: “He established them forever and ever” (v. 6). Unlike neighboring religions, Israelite religion never conceived of its patron God as part of the world of personified nature deities (such as Shamash, the sun; Yamm, the sea; or Mot, death); Yahweh was the Creator of the forces of nature and therefore their liege. The call to praise then moves from the celestial to the terrestrial (vv. 7-10): the earth, sea monsters (such as Leviathan, Job 3:8; 41:1; Psalm 74:14; 104:26), the deeps (source of subterranean water such as springs), fire, hail, snow, frost, stormy wind, mountains, hills, fruit trees, cedars, wild animals, cattle (that is, domestic livestock, probably sheep and goats, not bovines), creeping things (vermin and insects) and flying birds. The psalm then turns from the natural to the social world in its call to praise: kings, peoples, princes, rulers, young men and women, old and young (vv. 11-12). Finally, the psalmist addresses the call to praise to the apple of the Lord’s eye, “the people of Israel,” God’s chosen people, “his people” (v. 14). While Israel’s election as the chosen people was a source of both immense pride and staggering responsibility, it was, ultimately, a source of profound joy for the Hebrew people. Long before the notion of individual resurrection to a heavenly reward found its way into Jewish (and thence into Christian) thought, ancient Israelites considered their calling to be God’s “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) reward enough to elicit their deepest joy, reflected in the ecstatic paean of this psalm.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways. The RCL committee selected Psalm 148 to be the psalm reading for every year on the first Sunday after Christmas. What was their thinking? It is likely that this psalm was chosen to be read on what is usually the last Sunday of the year because it is a psalm that inspires us to reflect on the past blessings of God. The title of this sermon links to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem, “Sonnet 43.” These two “psalms,” as it were, or poems, could be considered together. The psalmist gives the preacher a number of reasons to praise God. The preacher can personalize this by referring to his or her own life, as well as congregational life, during 2018. The poem by Browning can be used to trigger a listing of all the reasons we love God and for which, then, God is worthy of praise. You could also reference “Sonnet 14” in which EBB says to an unspecified lover that if he is going to love her, it should be “nought, / Except for love’s sake only.” She goes on to describe things in her looks and present situation that could change, and “these things in themselves, Belovèd, may / Be changed, or change for thee — and love, so wrought, / May be unwrought so.” This offers the preacher an opportunity to discuss why we shouldn’t praise God. We should not praise God only because of all that God has bestowed on us, but because God being God is worthy of praise. We praise God and love God, for God’s sake. Or, “for love’s sake only.”
*Homiletics has treated this text once. Go to HomileticsOnline.com. Select Psalm in the Scripture Search drop down menu and click GO.
What Does the Text Say?
Having outlined for the Colossians the attitudes and practices they should put away (vv. 5-9), the apostle Paul turns to things that should characterize them. The foundation of his argument is that they should clothe themselves with these attitudes and practices because of who they are. They are ones whom God has chosen and sanctified. They are people whom God loves. As such, they should become those who respond to God with thankfulness. In addition, they should be a group which supports and forgives one another. The author adds other qualities that should envelop their lives just as clothing surrounds the body. These include qualities of personal virtue like humility and patience. Yet, Paul weights his focus toward qualities necessary for healthy communal life like mercy, kindness, gentleness and, supremely, love. He describes love as the yarn out of which perfection is knit. In addition to these external practices, the author is concerned that their internal life — both that of individuals and the body of believers — be governed by peace and the word of Christ. Instructed by this word, they will be able to instruct one another in a wise manner. The author suggests that this mode of instruction should take place in worship as they sing all kinds of praise to God. Lest they think that this instruction governs only their time together in worship, the author reminds them that their entire lives — every word and every deed — should be an expression of thanks to God their Father through Jesus their Lord.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Our Mission Going Forward. If Psalm 148 provides an opportunity to look back on the year past, today’s epistle reading, the only place where it pops up in the RCL (Christmas 1, C), is an opportunity to outline our mission “going forward” in 2019. The expression “going forward” is a catchy, trendy, two-word utterance meaning “in the future” or “from now on.” It can also be used to express advancing, going on, moving ahead, moving along, moving forward, moving on, proceeding and progressing. “Going forward” came to us from corporate America, and U.S. presidents quickly picked it up and it then went mainstream. Mark Seacombe, in his article “Going forward, let’s consign this inane phrase to history” (The Guardian), argues we should give the phrase a well-deserved funeral. That said, the expression suggests movement — positive and forward movement. The speaker doesn’t just say that such-and-such is what we’re going to do from now on. Instead, we are going to do this “going forward.” The speaker says that this is where we are, but “going forward,” this is where we intend to be and this is how we intend to get there. So the apostle offers several key strategies for the Colossian church “going forward.” These are capped by the ultimate goal: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v. 17).
*Homiletics has treated this text six times. Go to HomileticsOnline.com. Select Colossians in the Scripture Search drop down menu and click GO.
What Does the Text Say?
Luke is the only gospel writer to include a story about Jesus’ childhood. And it is more than a story about a parent’s worst nightmare: losing a child. This particular temple story closes the infancy stories and opens Jesus’ public ministry. For much of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem (9:51–19:28). This story anticipates that journey as the boy Jesus travels from Galilee (v. 39) to Jerusalem (v. 41). In this story, Jesus speaks his first words in Luke’s gospel; he responds to the question his mother asks him. After three or four days of frantic searching, they find him in the temple and are astonished. Mary asks, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (v. 48). Jesus’ response is: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be όῖἶί?” (v. 49). The NRSV translates this phrase as “in my Father’s house.” However, because the Greek expression is vague, it can also be translated as “involved in my Father’s affairs” or even “among those people belonging to my Father.” There is the possibility that something more is going on here. Mary’s question to Jesus emphasizes cause: “Why have you treated us ...?” (v. 48). What seems to be on her mind is not only where the lost Jesus is, but what could have led him to separate himself from his parents. What is important to note about these first words of Jesus is that he is speaking of his relationship with his heavenly Father. The sense and importance of that relationship come through no matter which translation is used. Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying to them (v. 50). They both have wondered before about this child. Mary pondered in her heart the shepherds’ message (v. 19). Mary and Joseph were amazed at what Simeon said about Jesus (v. 33). That they do not understand here shows that Gabriel’s announcement to Mary did not explain everything about this child of hers. So much has happened since the birth of Jesus; it is possible that Mary and Joseph are overwhelmed. Here is one more piece to add to all the others they are trying to fit together. Clarity will come as Jesus matures and claims his ministry.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Going into the Father’s Business. “Father & Sons” has been sene on many a storefront sign. Sometimes it is only “Sons,” as in Charles Scribner’s Sons. Perhaps someday we will see more “& Daughters.” It is probably the dream of many a father to pass on the family business to a son or a daughter. But according to a Harvard Business Review article, most family businesses are sold or fail even before the second generation has a chance to make it work. Even more dismal are the odds that a third generation family member will take control of a family-owned company. Only 10 percent of family businesses are in operation after three generations. But some do survive the generational handoff, notably Koch Industries, Walmart, Mars candies, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores and Perdue Farms, to name a few. Today’s text of 12-year-old Jesus in the temple is in the RCL only on Christmas 1, Cycle C. Jesus famously says to his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). The KJV translates “house” as “business” (see commentary note above). Now you can talk about the Son carrying on the Father’s business. What business is that?
*Homiletics has treated this text five times. Go to HomileticsOnline.com. Select Luke in the Scripture Search drop down menu and click GO.
Click here to download a ZIP file of the Nov-Dec 2018 issue as Word Docs.
God Will Take Care of You
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
Children of the Heavenly Father
Great Is the Lord
Halle, Halle, Hallelujah
The Trees of the Field
WFor licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The Praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
from Dec 30, 2018
Today’s brief reading is the introduction of the ministry of Samuel, one of the most significant and complex figures in Israel’s early monarchy. Samuel is the spiritual leader who, with Israel’s first kings — Saul and David — helped the Israelites make the dubious and difficult transition from tribal league to monarchy. Samuel’s many gifts and skills — as... Read more (you must be logged in to read the commentary)
What happened to Freddie?
The story line is not about a church that was faithful to a difficult child who later became a doctor and worked with the poor and needy in the inner city — or a similar narrative.
The story is about a church that was faithful to a difficult child who grew up into adulthood and who now works at a restaurant. He’s a young adult, and his mother says she is very proud of him.
Whatever Freddie has become and whoever Freddie is, the church was the church, and that’s all that could be asked.
We’ve just celebrated Christmas but think back to Easter for a moment. On Easter Sunday this year, the associate pastor at a church in New Jersey gathered the children in the front of the sanctuary during the morning service for the Children’s Message. The pastor did a big buildup, reciting some of the events that happened on that first Easter, including of course, Jesus’ resurrection. She finished her recitation of the facts with “And there Jesus stood!” She then asked the children, “What do you suppose Jesus said to Mary?” At that, one preschool-aged girl shouted, “It’s April Fools’ Day!”
Naturally, the congregation roared with laughter. It was, indeed, April 1. (Fortunately for those who conduct children’s lessons, Easter won’t coincide with April Fools’ Day again until 2029.)
A Marrero pastor was booked with child cruelty for allegedly whipping two pre-teen boys with a belt after they misbehaved in church, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said. Daniel Smith, 36, is accused of abusing the brothers, ages 9 and 10, after their mother asked Smith to counsel them for improper behavior during a March 9 service at Religious Leader of Behold Lamb of God Ministry on Ames Boulevard.
The next day, Sheriff's Office detectives were called to Woodmere Elementary School, where the 10-year-old had complained of soreness to the school nurse, who noticed several bruises and abrasions on his abdomen, arm and back, according to a Sheriff's Office news release.
The boy told detectives that Smith had beaten him with a belt, causing him to cry and urinate on himself, the release said.
The 9-year-old also was allegedly whipped, though his injuries were less serious. ... Detectives obtained an arrest warrant for Smith on charges of cruelty to a juvenile and simple battery.
—Paul Rioux, “Marrero pastor accused of whipping boys for misbehaving in church,” The Times-Picayune, March 20, 2012. nola.com. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car.
His father asked him three times what was wrong.
Finally, the boy replied, “That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys.”
I had been teaching my 3-year-old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer. For several evenings at bedtime, she would repeat after me the lines from the prayer.
Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us some email. Amen.”
“Does anyone know what the date is today?” It is December 30, which means that tomorrow is … the last day of the year! What year? What year will it be the day after tomorrow? Share with the children some of the best things that happened to you over the past year and then ask them to do the same. Share some things you are looking forward to in the year ahead and again, ask them to do the same. Have they ever heard of people making New Year’s resolutions? What are those? It is a method to try to do something better. Share with them a resolution you have for the year ahead. (Perhaps you want to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day or to exercise or spend more time in study and prayer.) What are some things they would like to resolve to do better? Today’s Bible lesson tells of a boy named Samuel. The last verse of the lesson is this: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.” Wouldn’t it be great if the very same thing could be said of us at the end of a year? Give each child a bookmark that reads: “Now the child ____________________ continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” Instruct them to put their name in the blank spot.
Alternative Idea for the Conversation with the Children
The text says that Samuel’s mother made him a little robe and gave it to him once a year. Talk about how Samuel was dedicated to the Lord for the Lord’s service. As a sign of this, his mother gave him a robe. Talk about how to serve the Lord as children, and then present to them a little stole that you — or a service committee of the church — made. This can be done easily, quickly and cheaply with a felt material from the craft store, and religious symbols can be ironed onto the fabric.
—Suggested by Rev. Sheryl Kester-Beyer, Calvary Lutheran Church, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Holy Apostles Episcopal Church, Mitchell, Nebraska.