Wisdom Doesn't Have An Age Restriction (Luke 2.41-52, 1 Sam 2.18-20)
There is sometimes a strange wisdom in children and young people. I’m bot saying they’re always right, or wise. Often they do things that make no sense, and those of us with a bit more experience know aren’t going to work, but often they come out with things that are so wise it can take your breath away, and you pause and say. Wow, yes you’re right.
There was a thread on Twitter recently about young children naming everyday things with alternative names, and there’s a strange wisdom in what they call things, some of them are hilarious. Here’s some genuine examples.
Crow becomes a ‘Halloween Eagle.’ A Rhino is a “Battle Unicorn.” Gloves are “Hand socks.” Earmuffs are “snow headphones.” A Harmonica is a “cowboy trumpet.”
I think there’s a genuine wisdom in these names, a practically based wisdom, I think we should let five year olds name more things.
These names aren’t wrong really are they? They’re just looking at things from a different perspective to the rest of us, with open minds that haven’t been clouded by the expectations of what things are, or the way things are. A mind open to wonder and creativity in a way that often adults have lost.
There isn’t an age restriction on wisdom.
As we’ve seen from our Bible readings God does great things with the young, and expects great things from them. The boy Samuel had more wisdom than Eli’s sons.
Some of the most illogical and naïve people I’ve ever met have been pensioners, I’m not talking about anyone here of course, you’re all venerable and wise people, but if someone is unwilling to learn from their experiences, they will remain naïve and insular, unable to progress.
Wisdom is found in the young. I was about nineteen when I first felt the beginnings of my calling to be a priest, I was told that I was inexperienced, and that I should go away and get some more ‘life experience’ then come back to it later on.
Granted, that was the right thing for me, but for many who faced a similar situation never came back. Up until a few years ago it was frowned upon for younger people to be put forward for ministry in the Church. Citing that people needed life experience first.
The legacy of this is a missing generation in our pews, a missing generation of clergy, of people who would’ve given the most energetic years of their lives to serving the church, and now we have a crisis in terms of clergy, fifty percent of which are due to retire within the next five years.
For the church to be vibrant it needs people of all ages and abilities to feel a part of it. Sometimes in church we get pre-occupied with the young too, caring only about how many younger people are in the church and attending services. Older people matter to, there needs to be a balance.
Thankfully the church has now repented of its old attitude about ministry, and younger people like myself are now being accepted for training. We need a mixture of people as our priests, young, old, male and female to build us up as the body of Christ.
When I first went back to my local priest, a different priest by this time and said, “I think God might be calling me to be a priest.” I had gone along to procrastinate thinking that I was too young, too inexperienced and too thick to possibly go forward for ordination.
“Right then!” he said “Let’s get you onto a vocations advisor.”
“Me?” I replied “but I’m too young, too inexperienced.”
“Graham.” He countered “I am in my fifties, and I have never been out of work or on unemployment benefit. You have. You know what that feels like, and can share the experience of millions of people in this country. Your experiences are different to mine, you have the knowledge of something that I don’t.”
I went forward and here I am, five years later stood here.
Wisdom doesn’t have an age restriction.
We see this in young Samuel, who is wiser than the sons of Eli. He listened to God, and kept God’s commandments.
He became exemplary and grew in maturity and faith. When he was very young the LORD called to him and spoke to him directly. We shouldn’t be surprised then when children and young people have insight into things that perhaps we don’t understand. We shouldn’t be surprised when young people are called to do amazing things by God, it’s all here in the Bible.
Our passage from Luke mirrors the story of Samuel, showing Christ to be like him in
many ways, but also more than him. It’s the last part of the infancy narrative, and it’s a bit of an anti-climax really, sandwiched between the dedication of Jesus at the temple (much like Samuel was), and the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry.
Just like the boy Samuel, Christ also grew in stature and in maturity, and the story we heard from Luke mirrors that of 1 Samuel, although Jesus was God, like us he grew and matured. Even as a young boy, Jesus had spiritual maturity and authority, he questioned, he poked and prodded those in authority, much like he would in his ministry as an adult. Just like children and young people often do now and have always done.
The teachers are astounded at what he asks them, and were amazed at what his answers were. That wonder though could’ve turned into hostility, and I wonder where we in life have been hostile to the words of the young?
Where they have disagreed with us, or perhaps even opened the wounds of our own hypocrisy. When we don’t understand who they are and where they’re coming from, and indeed vice versa. When Jesus talks to his parents when they find him, they don’t understand what he’s saying to them.
It’s difficult not to sympathise with Mary and Joseph in this story though isn’t it. Their child goes missing, they must’ve been searching frantically for him everywhere, the words that Jesus said to Mary must’ve pierced her.
It was a learning situation for Mary and Joseph, and is a pattern for his life. He is not bound to them, in a way a normal child is. Neither is he bound to their expectations, or their wisdom, but God’s expectations and God’s wisdom.
There is a challenge in what he says to them, what must’ve been a deep and frightening challenge, to acknowledge him for who he is, the Son of God.
Faithful Israelites are challenged by him. He cannot and must not be constrained to their own preconceived understandings of who he is, he’s not just a child, he’s the messiah, God with us. He must be allowed to transcend what they believe him to be in order to carry out his work, of saving not only faithful Jews, but gentiles as well.
Sometimes for us to hear God’s spirit speaking to us, we have to listen to the young people we so often dismiss, really hear them. We have to see them for what they fully are, full corporate members in the Body of Christ, of our congregations, with their own spirituality to teach us.
They are not the church of the future, but the church of the present.
God’s wisdom works through the young and old, through experience and inexperience, through adopted patterns and seeing things with fresh eyes.
The word became flesh through a young woman, the Christ child grew under the nurturing of two young, inexperienced parents.
Like the teachers, if we sit and listen to the young, we might be surprised and astounded by what they have to say, by what they have to teach us, and by what we find ourselves teaching them.
For too long we have denigrated and dismissed the views of young people, now it’s time for us all to work together.
The next time you see a rhino on the TV think ‘Battle Unicorn.’
And whistle for joy on your cowboy trumpet, for to enter the kingdom of heaven we need the wisdom of children, and the old.
For that is God’s wisdom.
Preached at St Helen's Bishopgate Norwich.