When I was 9 or 10 years old, my grandma Gummeson gave me a book called "Children of the Bible." I didn't have a lot of books that weren't from the library, so this one was pretty fascinating to me.
It featured art pictures of children from the Bible (who knew there were children in the Bible?) and the stories about their lives. The book featured pictures of all of the children you would expect: Isaac, the baby Moses, David (well before he was a king), Jesus at 12, the little boy with the loaves and fishes. As well, there were a few children whose stories surprised me: not just Moses, but his sister Miriam, who saved him. The little maid who served Naaman the general, and told him who could cure his leprosy. Rhoda, the servant girl who met Peter at the door when the angel sprang him out of prison, but was so excited she forgot to let him in! I loved those stories.
Children of the Bible: it was a great secret, and it must mean that God loved the children, not just in a sentimental way, but that God loved children enough to entrust his message to them, even them. I was not just a learner, but I could be a teacher, too. Children were part of the story.
This Sunday we have the story of Samuel. It is one of my favorite Bible stories, which is why I always pause before I decide whether I am going to preach on Samuel's call. Am I just leaning this way because I like this story so much? Or is this the message my congregation really needs to hear? Now that I am an adult, I like this story not just because it's a story about a child receiving God's message, but for so many other reasons. The humor of Samuel hearing God and thinking that it is Eli. The old priest with dim eyes who, nonetheless, perceives the truth. The sadness of the message that Samuel must give to Eli, and his humility and grace in receiving it. The good news of the new thing that God will be doing among the people, beginning with Samuel.
As I told a few people who gathered this morning, we know this is a true story not just because it is in the Bible, but also because it has sad parts and happy parts, and every good and true story has both happy parts and sad parts.
"Speak, Lord, your servant is listening," Samuel finally says. May we learn to say the same.
"Speak Lord, your servants are listening. Tell us a story, a good story, a story with sad parts and happy parts, with tears and with laughter, where we have adventures together, but where there is a happy ending. But most of all, Lord, tell us a story where we have a part, no matter how big we are, or how small, no matter how young or how old, no matter how wise or how foolish."
It's a true story, this story about God and about Jesus and about us: and we know it's true because there are sad parts and there are happy parts, and because we are in it, too.