Our readings this Sunday speak about new beginnings, firstly in the story of Samuel who as a young lad learns to listen for God’s guidance, and then in the Gospel, where Philip invites Nathanael to ‘come and see’ Jesus. Beginning something new can be both exciting and at times a little daunting. There’s excitement in getting a new puppy who loves to play and jumps up to greet you, but it’s also daunting to consider how to train, contain and care for this loveable little creature.
Getting married is one of those huge steps we take in life and there is often a lot of excitement surrounding the day, but it is a very big new beginning. Learning to live with and love another person can be a very daunting adventure at times. I have often seen the wedding rehearsal as a kind of safety valve for a couple as they prepare for their big day. Emotions are often high, nerves are stretched and people make mistakes and want to go over things again. Sometimes there are tears and often there is lots of laughter and that’s very natural because there is a lot at stake as we learn to be vulnerable to each other and love each other in that vulnerability.
The story of Samuel has often been a favourite of the Sunday School because it is about a young boy growing up and learning to take responsibility; learning to listen for God’s guidance, and finding the courage to act on that guidance. Reflecting on that story as an adult I have often wondered how Samuel felt being apprenticed to the elderly priest Eli at such a young age. What we know from the story is that he worked hard at it, and found his vocation – even at a young age – to be attuned to the presence of God in such a way that he became God’s voice and spokesperson during his lifetime.
It’s a story which invites us to see children in a different light – not just as children who need our adult guidance and protection – but as unique individuals who have a voice, who think about things and often quite deeply. One of the great gifts given to me as a Divinity Student in Aberdeen Scotland, was to work for a season with a Minister who was gifted in children’s ministry. There was nothing patronising about his work with children. On the contrary he worked with children getting them to write their own children’s television programs which were filmed and screened in Scotland.
It was so empowering to see these children giving voice to their faith, and it reminded me of my time living in the Abbey on Iona. During my stay at the Abbey one of the volunteers was a Glaswegian called John. He was a brickie whose job was to do some re-pointing of the stone work. I remember seeing him at work in the Abbey cloisters with little Johnnie who was probably four years old watching and asking questions about what he was doing. John spoke to this toddler as he would a mate – adult to adult. He didn’t talk down to the boy. He was not patronising, and it was lovely to see the friendship they established.
This Sunday we will be baptising Brooklyn, surrounding him and his parents with our love and care, with all the hope and expectation of him growing into maturity and faith. Baptism is a very big new beginning – not just a quaint ritual in Church on a Sunday morning. It’s so big that it has often been described as a new birth, a re-birth into the family of God where all of a sudden we find ourselves surrounded by more brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles than we could ever have imagined.
In Baptism we are invited to ‘Come and See’, to enter into the mystery of God’s love and grace where Jesus waits to welcome us.