Read: Samuel 3: 1-10 plus verse 19

This is the story of a small child who heard the voice of God calling in the night, but he didn’t know who it was until an old man told him.

It is a simple story that began a faith journey for Samuel, but it could be our story — YOUR story, because the bible is full of stories in which we can identify ourselves and our personal experiences.

Who are YOU in today’s story? A small child who doesn’t know the Lord, or what the preacher is talking about, and has a dream in the night of a voice calling your name? You run to mum and dad’s bedroom trembling with fear and one of them comforts you and takes you back to your bed. It happens again and again, and mum, or dad, grandad or grandma, become tired of being woken in the middle of the night. Then….. well, what happens next?

Can you identify with the old person whose eyes are so weary you can hardly see and all you want is for the child to go back to sleep so you can have some peace?

Some of us — most of us! — can relate to being both young child and old person disturbed by cries and dreams in the night, but there is encouragement hidden in this story for all of us, however young or old we are.

This is a story of a child who has no understanding of the word of God and does not know the Lord (7). This is a child who, some will claim, isn’t ready for communion and is still to be taught our church traditions and must be helped to grow in spiritual strength through our teaching and example. Then, when they are older, they will know the Lord as we do!

God doesn’t do tradition or follow the rule book of the world and speaks to people without introduction. God is the stranger in our lives who we have never met and can be the voice we have never heard. The voice doesn’t wait until the world thinks we are ready to hear God, but speaks because God is ready to speak to the world. When we are still in the dark and our minds are empty of knowledge the Spirit hovers over the chaos and talks good into the child! (Genesis 1: 1-3)

It is frightening when you hear a voice you don’t know calling your name in the night and you don’t know where it is coming from. It takes time before we are helped to understand and will say, “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” So, it needs old people like Eli who realises what is happening and without such people the children are not encouraged to hear God calling in the night.

I don’t know how you measure who is old, but I know that when I was five anyone over thirty was old; over fifty and they were ancient and seventy plus was antique. When we played guess how old I was with Pilots one of the children described me as ANTIQUE! I thought that was great because antiques are valuable.

Old people are of great value in the ministry when they can encourage children to listen to the voice of God and not expect children to always listen to the voices that want to shape a tradition that is older than them! God is making all things new so the voice of change must be encouraged to be heard.

So in this story about Samuel and Eli is the story of a church that realises how God is speaking in unexpected and surprising ways to people in our communities who don’t know the Lord and need the encouragement to go away and listen again to what they are being told. The ministry of the ANTIQUES is so valuable in encouraging the children of God to hear the voice calling in the night…. If you need convincing that “the antiques” have a ministry look at how God used Caleb, Moses, Miriam, Joshua, Anna, Simeon, and many others….. If you hear a voice calling your name in the night it is probably God so don’t hesitate to go….

READ: Mark 9: 30-37 + 10: 13-16 as one story

If a bottle full of milk is a bottle of milk what is this…… (empty milk bottle)? Yes, it’s a milk bottle, but what is it if I fill it with something else? Does it become a water bottle? Does it change from being a milk bottle?

What this illustrates is that once a child you are always someone’s child and from the beginning we are God’s children and nothing can change that. We can be emptied of what the Father originally made us to hold and filled with something else, but we are still the child we were in the beginning.

We call God our Father and say there is only one God so man, woman, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, rich or poor are all children of our one Father but have been emptied of what we were made for and filled with something different. I prefer the image of a bottle of wine and refilling it again with more of the same!

When Jesus invites us to welcome children we are receiving what God has put in them from the beginning, before the world can empty them of their original goodness and fill them with something else.

It is in the context of who is the greatest that Jesus takes a child whose voice is not heard in the debate, or any other debate, and invites us to embrace the presence of God in them. God is great in the child and you can’t get any greater than the kingdom that lives in the heart from birth. It is an ever present seed that can be nurtured by the Holy Spirit or choked by the weeds of human aspiration to be GREAT! We are already great, but in trying to be greater make ourselves weaker in the Kingdom of God so Jesus points us back to the times when we had no wealth and our richness was in the innocent trust in the love that embraced us.

The Kingdom of God is already within us (Luke 17: 21) at its best as a child but can be poured out and replaced with worldly thinking as we theologise and legalise what God has given us into something of poorer quality!.

I often remind myself not to let congregations or denominations shape me into who THEY want me to be, but to be shaped into the person God wants me to be. I am like clay with God the Potter or I am like wood in the hands of the Carpenter and what is being made is a valuable collection of ANTIQUES that will live forever on earth as visible symbols of the Kingdom we pray will come. A child of God is what we are because the Spirit was in us in the beginning and God doesn’t dump us in a recycling bin when we are emptied, but is filling us up again with quality love!

The child is a visible presence of the Kingdom among us so to welcome Jesus is to live the Kingdom; to be Jesus people and not hinder that growth with all the human temptations and aspirations. God is making all things new, starting with you so that no-one — NO-ONE — is too young or too old because we are being made to become valuable ANTIQUES! Thank you for that child who helped me see my value! It is a value to be nurtured in everyone and in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says “whoever welcomes YOU, welcomes me….” (10: 40) The YOU has no age limit!

It was a question from my daughter when she was about four years old that this text shaped me and my theology. The question became a poem:

If we welcomed Jesus when he was born Jesus was living in me as a baby; if we welcome Jesus when we welcome a man, Jesus is living in my daddy; if we welcome Jesus when we welcome a woman, Jesus is living in my mummy; if we welcome Jesus when we welcome a child, Jesus is living in me today and if we welcome Jesus when we welcome an old person Jesus is living in grandad and granny. So why is everyone waiting for Jesus to return when they can look in a mirror and see him living already?

It is the Kingdom of God welcomed in the child that permeates through the generations and genders that all have equal responsibility to each other so that we are never too old to share in the ministry of the Church. The cared for have a ministry to the carers; the housebound have a ministry on the telephone and grandparents are role models of faith to the family so finding the Kingdom of God in the child is like refilling your bottle!

Don’t throw the container God made into a recycling bin, but wash it clean and fill it up with what it was made for — to reveal the Kingdom that was born within you! Amen.