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Get (Guide, Encourage, Teach)
June 1, 1997

1 SAMUEL 3:1-20

The young boy, Samuel, was sleeping in the temple next to the ark (the sacred box which contained the tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.) The temple, which probably was a tent because the ark was mobile in those days, was located in Shiloh. This was before the time of King David so Jerusalem had not yet been made the capital, and Solomon had not yet built the famous temple. Three times Samuel heard his name spoken. Three times Samuel got up and went to Eli, the priest, thinking that it was the priest who was calling him.

Three times Samuel ran to get Eli to guide, encourage, and teach him. Usually, when telling this delightful story, I concentrate on Samuel and his experience. But, let's look at Eli this morning. Without Eli to guide, encourage, and teach him, Samuel probably would not have learned how to listen to God, and how to respond to God. Without Eli to guide, encourage, and teach him, Samuel would probably not have become a great prophet. It was Samuel who selected and anointed Saul as king over Israel. It was Samuel who fired Saul, and selected and anointed David as king over Israel.

Samuel became a Man of God because he had Eli to guide, encourage and teach him. Where would any of us be if it weren't for the great teachers we have had and are having, when we let ourselves be taught? What an impact, what an important role Eli, the teacher, played in Samuel's life.

This morning we are celebrating the educational ministry of our church. In the first service, the Sunday School was present to honor and express appreciation to our teachers. We appreciate and are grateful to God for calling people from our congregation to guide, encourage, and teach our children, youth and adults. Our educational ministry ranks right up there with the very best.

The purpose of our educational ministry is (and I quote from the United Methodist curriculum): Through Christian education we invite people and communities of faith to be transformed as they are inspired and challenged to:

. Know and experience God through Jesus Christ;

. Claim and live God's promises; and

. Grow and serve as Christian disciples.

Christian education in our church includes teaching the Bible, and guiding, encouraging, and teaching all of us to think theologically. To think theologically means to look at our lives and look at the world from a theological perspective, and apply what we believe about God to our lives and to the world. The context in which we guide, encourage, and teach is the community of faith, where we relate to one another and support one another in prayer, fellowship, and concern.

Have you considered how disadvantaged children and youth are who do not receive a Christian education? If you're concerned about your children or grandchildren, how will they succeed in life without being guided, encouraged, and taught the Christian faith? How will they succeed in life without a relationship with God, without morals, ethics, and a positive, strong self-image; without knowing in the depths of their being that God made them, Jesus loves them, and the Holy Spirit powers them?

Look at the culture within which our children and youth struggle. It is far different today than what it was when most of us were children. The average American child watches 30 hours of television a week. By the age of 12, the average American child will have viewed on TV approximately 100,000 violent episodes and 13,000 people violently destroyed. Children receive no Christian education in public school and little moral education. Youth and young adults are or will be confronted by drugs, alcohol, gangs, cults, other religions, new age philosophy, far right Christianity and far left Christianity. It's a confusing world out there, and how disadvantaged children and youth are who have no foundation from which to choose, and no tools by which to choose.

As pastor of this church, what I want, what I pray for every child and youth, are three things:

1) Consistent, regular attendance. Not once a month, not when they feel like it, but every Sunday. The church has only one hour of Sunday School each week, two hours a week of youth meetings, and three hours per week of CATCH. Don't short change the kids, and allow absences.

2) I pray for our children and youth a strong foundation from which they can evaluate all that is out there which confuses and tempts them. I hear parents say, "Oh, we don't force our children to go to church. When they are old enough, we want them to choose their own religion." How can they choose wisely if they have no basis from which to choose? You cannot think, or speak, or act unless you have something with which to think, speak, and act.

May our children and youth have a heart and head faith. I pray they will know and experience in their hearts that they are loved by God and loved by their church. I want them to feel safe here, and supported. I want them to have knowledge in their heads that they can use. How can they think theologically if they don't know the basics? Like trying to read without knowing the alphabet. At a minimum, I challenge the youths of our church to know and recite the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments which Jesus summarized in two: Love God and Love your neighbor, the Apostles' Creed, and some Bible verses, such as the one in our Jesus window, John 3:16.

To that end, I am devoting this summer to the Apostles' Creed. Beginning next Sunday, we will say the Apostles' Creed every Sunday, and I will preach a series of sermons on the Apostles' Creed, lasting all summer. Next Sunday we will begin with the Bible, asking "Is the Bible True?"

3) What I hope for our children and youth is that they will learn how to worship, and will feel comfortable with the worshiping community. I am concerned about the numbers of our children who are not worshiping regularly every Sunday with their parent or parents. How can we expect them suddenly some day to worship when they weren't taught as children? If the worship service is not part of their childhood, when will it become part of their life? I worry and wonder about the missing second generation in so many of our churches, including our own. We see the first generation and often the third generation because grandparents bring them, but where is the second generation? One reason for their absence may be that they did not worship with their parents as children. They were in Sunday School or home. I had lunch with a Mormon friend last week. Mormons spend three hours in church as do many of you. Mormons place a high priority on the family worshiping together. My friend said, "I want my three-year-old to see his Daddy praying in church." What a role model! How else do children learn?

Thank God, Samuel had Eli. Samuel ran to get Eli to guide, encourage, and teach him. Whom do our children have? Will you be an Eli? Will you see to it that our church has a strong Eli ministry? Will you see to it that our children and youth learn the basics, and feel part of a fellowshiping, worshiping community?

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris