been almost a year since any of us saw NHL hockey played.
Does anyone miss it? I
donít. Frankly, I find
little pleasure in watching hockey on TV.
I can watch it for about one period (usually the first), and by
then Iíve had enough.
Do I find hockey on TV boring because I donít like hockey?
On the contrary Iím fond of the game and played it for twelve
seasons. I enjoy watching
hockey Ė as long as I can see it ďliveĒ.
It's televised hockey that I donít enjoy watching.
Why donít I like watching hockey on TV?
Because TV never shows us the game.
TV merely shows us the puck.
TV doesn't show us the whole game being played; TV merely shows us
the puck zipping here and there and back again.
Thereís a difference between seeing the puck and watching the
game. I know the difference
just because I know hockey. I
know, for instance, that the team which plays better when it
doesn't have the puck is the team that wins.
(You see, the better a team plays when it doesnít have the puck,
the sooner the team gets it back; and obviously a team canít score
unless it has the puck.) And
so whenever I'm watching a game "live" I pay closer attention to
the team that doesn't have the puck. I
know too that in order to win, a team has to be able to get the puck out
of its own end of the rink in two crisp passes.
In the first five minutes of a game I note whether or not a team
can do this. I know a great
deal about the game of hockey because Iíve been watching hockey for
Yet there is a different kind of knowledge I have of hockey too.
I know what it is to be bodychecked so hard you feel you have been
hit by a train at a level crossing. I
know the exhilaration of ďwiring" a shot that leaves the opposing
goaltender motionless and flashes the red light behind him.
I know all this not because I watch hockey; I know all this because
I played hockey.
The first kind of knowledge is "observer-knowledge";
observer-knowledge is gained through accumulating information.
The second kind of knowledge is "player-knowledge";
player-knowledge is gained only through participating.
There are obvious differences between observer-knowledge and
player-knowledge. The most
important difference, however, is often overlooked.
It's this: the players determine the outcome of the game.
Only the players determine the outcome of the game; no observer, no
spectator, ever has.
says to the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I
KNEW YOU; I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the
nations". "Before I
formed you in the womb I knew
you". God hasn't known
Jeremiah in the sense of observer-knowledge, always observing the man,
always accumulating more and more information about Jeremiah.
God has known Jeremiah as a player, a participant in Jeremiah's
life, shaping the outcome of the prophet's life.
God has known Jeremiah insofar as God himself has been involved in
the unfolding of Jeremiah's life -- since when? since Jeremiah became a
prophet? since he became an adult? since he was born?
No. God has been
intimately involved, passionately involved, persistently involved since
the day Jeremiah was conceived.
Today is Christian Family Sunday.
Today we are thinking particularly of children and parents
together. We are thinking of
the significance that children have for their parents, of the impact that
parents make upon their children, of God's incursion of parents and
children together. One point
we are going to stress in the service today is a point we have underlined
several times already; namely, God has been a participant in the lives of
our children from their conception and
will continue to be this, for he has something for each to do.
As children grow up parents frequently scratch their heads and
wonder (silently, I trust) what on earth is becoming of their child.
The future is uncertain; the child behaves in ways which parents
find odd, even un-understandable. Worse
than un-understandable, however, is behaviour that parents find
heartbreaking whenever a youngster derails himself, and find infuriating
since the youngster, despite superior intelligence, displays inferior
wisdom. The parents are
disappointed, anxious, angry and powerless all at once.
Now they have as little idea where their offspring is going to end
up as they have of what precipitated the derailment.
It's easy now to give up on the one whose birth brought such joy
and promise one and one-half decades ago.
When this happens we must go back to Jeremiah: "Before I
formed you in the womb I knew you, and knew you not as a remote spectator
high in the cheapest seats in the hockey arena, as far from the play as
anyone can get. I knew you,
rather, just because I was the single most intimate participant in your
life -- and still am". That's
the point we have to take home: "and still am."
We must never give up on our children.
We must never cease praying for them.
We must never think that because their future is unclear to them
and to us they therefore have no future at all.
We must never assume that because we seem unable to reach them in
some respects no one else ever will and God himself cannot.
Remember: Jeremiah wasnít appointed to be a prophet the day he
became a prophet. He was
appointed to be a prophet the day he was conceived.
Between these two momentous days countless developments unfolded
whose significance no one could guess; not Jeremiah himself, and certainly
not his parents. And yet the
single weightiest factor in Jeremiahís life was the unidentified
participation of God himself as the holy one of
shaped the youngster in a way no one could see for an end no one could
None of this is to suggest that as children grow up they need not
come to faith, profess it boldly and confess it consistently.
Plainly they must. None
of this is to suggest that their sinnership has been diluted one per cent.
Plainly it hasnít, as parents and schoolteachers attest.
None of this is to suggest that as these infants grow up they are
relieved of responsibility for who and what they are.
They are relieved of no responsibility at all.
But it is to say that the faith they are one day to profess and the
obedience they are one day to render didnít begin with them
but began with the quiet work of the great infiltrator himself.
as we admit that God is wonderfully at work in our children we must admit
too that we adults are charged with discerning this; charged with
discerning this and magnifying this. Eli
discerned it, and so did Hannah. The
story is one of my favourites. The
boy Samuel is lying down, at bedtime, in the temple where he has gone to
apprentice under Eli the priest. He
hears his name being called, his very own name: "Samuel,
Samuel". He trots in to
see old man Eli, who tells the boy that he, Eli, hasn't called anyone.
It happens again. Finally
Eli discerns that God is calling
Samuel, calling Samuel for a work that remains hidden to them both.
We must note that it isn't Samuel who is discerning; the text tells
us that "Samuel did not yet know the Lord".
Itís the old man who grasps whatís going on.
Hannah, Samuel's mother, had grasped it first.
Hannah had wanted a child as she had wanted nothing else.
Each day brought her closer to menopause and closer to desperation.
Then it happened. She
even named her child "Sam-u-el": "His name is God".
She meant, of course, that the child's nature, the child's
character would be God-like in some respect.
Because Hannah had longed for this child so ardently, because he
was the only child she was to have, did she clutch him to her, never let
him out of her sight, treat him like an heirloom too precious to risk with
the jarring and jostling which are the common lot? Did
she mollycoddle him and smother him? No.
She sent him away from home, sent him to Eli where his spiritual
formation would unfold. What
made the wrench in Hannah's heart bearable was her discernment that this
step was necessary if her son was ever to exemplify the name she had given
him: Sam-u-el. Wrench?
Terrible wrench. Every
year she sent him a coat to replace the one he had outgrown.
Then he hadn't stopped growing; he was very young.
It takes nothing less than Spirit-quickened discernment to grasp
what God is doing in those who are growing up around us.
Eli had it. Hannah had
it. My own father had it.
My father often intuited what was going on in my young head and
heart; he saw that the ten-year old question I had asked him betokened far
more than a child's curiosity. On
one occasion I had just learned the story of John Newton, author of
"Amazing Grace", slaveship captain whom the surge of God's grace
had finally rendered clergyman, hymnwriter, spiritual advisor without
peer. I was perplexed about
the justice of God's mercy. My
question wasn't so much could
God forgive someone who had trafficked in wanton cruelty as it was should
God forgive such a person. My
father saw the wheels turning in my ten-year old head.
He attempted an answer -- somewhat convoluted -- which I didn't
find convincing, and I told him so. He
left off trying to answer the question directly and instead said gently,
"Victor, he who was
's saviour is my saviour too". I
got the point immediately. The
expression someone's sinnership takes may be socially reprehensible while
the expression someone else's takes is socially acceptable, even rewarded;
nevertheless, all of us alike are sunk in sinnership to
the same degree. All alike
are the recipients of God's condemnation, even as all alike are the
beneficiaries of God's mercy. I
was aware that my father was as virtuous as
had been vicious; I was aware too, in my father's comment, that on the Day
of Judgement virtue and vice would count for nothing.
All that mattered then would be our response to a mercy as vast as
it was undeserved. You will
never hear anything else from this pulpit as long as I occupy it.
Only Spirit-quickened discernment -- like that of Eli and Hannah
and my dad -- sees, laser-like, into the heart of the child and
facilitates the spiritual formation of that child.
Samuel was still a growing boy when his mother at home and his
mentor in the temple discerned the way and work of God within the child.
How important was the spiritual formation of young Samuel?
How crucial were his mother Hannah and his mentor Eli?
According to scripture Samuel is the last of the judges or elders
; Samuel is the first of the prophets.
Scripture maintains that Samuel is the greatest figure since Moses.
Towards the end of his life Samuel presciently anoints a boy, just
a boy, in anticipation of this boyís becoming
ís greatest king: David.
You and I must understand that the spiritual formation of young
people, in both home and church, is no small matter.
last episode we shall examine today has to do with Jesus.
Luke tells us he is twelve years old.
a child became an adult at twelve. Jesus
and his parents have gone to
for Passover services. The
services over, his parents set out for home,
, only to find that their son is missing.
Anxious and angry now, they trudge back to
, find him stumping the theologians there, and tell him they are irked.
He replies, "Why do you have your shirts in a knot?
Isn't this what I'm supposed to be doing?"
The seeds which his parents have been sowing for twelve years have
borne fruit. The preparation
for his later work, preparation which his parents have forged in him even
though they have no idea what that "later work" is going to be;
this preparation is finding its fulfilment in the twelve-year old, and
will find even more dramatic fulfilment in the thirty-year old.
Our Lord's parents, however, are slow to grasp it; slow to grasp
the fact that their son's vocational obedience is precisely what they have
endeavoured to foster in him for years.
In first century Judaism a boy became a man on his twelfth
birthday. The event in the
temple that worries and irks the parents coincides with the child's
leaving childhood behind and stepping ahead in his adult vocation.
Our Lordís parents, let me say again, are upset that their son,
as the boy turns into a man; their son perplexes them and frustrates them.
Like all of us, from a psychological standpoint they have
difficulty relinquishing control over their youngster.
Like all of us, from a spiritual standpoint they have difficulty
understanding that their son must
what heís doing if heís to fulfil his Heavenly Fatherís plan and
purpose for him.
You and I should rejoice to see that day when our children, now
grown up, are summoned to that work -- and enter upon it -- for which we
have prepared them, under God, as best we have been able.
When it happens we mustnít be at all surprised if the work to
which God has appointed them isnít what we had in mind; we mustnít
impede them in any way if the work to which God appoints them contradicts
what we have always thought they should be about.
The truth is, every day in ever so many ways we are, under God,
preparing our children for a work to which God will appoint them when all
the while, every day, in every way, both we and our children have no idea
what that work is going to be. Yes,
I was raised in a home replete with Christian influences both overt and
subliminal. Still, at no point
did anyone ever sit down with me and have a man-to-man talk about the
ministry. I had dozens of
conversations with my dad, however, about lawyering.
I went to university to study law, fell in love with philosophy,
and am now Presbyterian minister in Schomberg.
My daughter Mary is fluent in French, and my daughter Catherine in
Cantonese. If at some point
Mary (B. Sc.N. graduate) tells me she's been called to work in
French-speaking Africa and Catherine back to
, there's one response I mustn't make: I mustn't say, "Why do you
have to go so far away? Doesn't
need to be Christianized or healed?" I mustn't say, "What's
more, if you go overseas and stay there who will look after your mother in
her old age? How about a
little consideration for her?" I
had better not say this. If we
have been genuine in the spiritual formation of our children; if through
our discernment we have tried to foster the work of God's Spirit within
them, then we should rejoice to see all of this bear fruit even if it is
fruit we never expected and now canít understand.
I think we should even expect their discipleship to take them in
directions which we havenít anticipated and may not like.
After all, the only thing that matters for any of us is that we
recognize God's will for us and do it.
Several years ago when Maureen and I visited the Christian
community on the Hebridean island of Iona, western reaches of Scotland, we
learned of a seventy-year old member of the Iona Community (Church of
Scotland) who was leaving for Latin America.
He had been a psychiatrist in
for years; soon he would be in
doing family-practice medicine. What
response do you think the man's announcement of this would bring forth?
I can see different people looking at him sideways and saying
something like this:
friends: ďYou can do as much healing amidst Glaswegian wretchedness
as you can amidst El Salvadoran wretchedness, so why go half-way around
medical colleagues: "You haven't done family-practice medicine in
years; what makes you think you can? It's
easier for a family-practitioner to do psychiatry than it is for a
psychiatrist to do family-practice."
own physician: "You'll get malaria or tapeworms or some such
thing in two months and have to come home anyway.
Besides, you're seventy years old.
Isn't it time to hang up the stethoscope?"
forty-five year old child: "Your grandchildren will miss you
terribly, especially since you are their sole, surviving
all of this is without force. All
that matters, for any of us, is that we recognize God's will for us and do
it. We must pray every day
that our children are going to do just this.
And when they do we hope our response will be better than that of
Mary and Joseph.
children; or perhaps two children and an adult.
In any case Jeremiah
reminds us that God has been engaged with little children from the day
they were conceived. Young
Samuel reminds us not so much
of Samuel as of his mother Hannah and his mentor Eli, for these two
discerned early in Samuel's life what God was doing within the youngster.
The twelve-year old Jesus
in the temple: he exemplifies emerging awareness of that vocation for
which his parents have prepared him unknowingly even as they donít
understand it fully themselves.
God grant that the children in our midst will ever do as much for
us as these three children have done for the world.
After all, these three the world will never forget.