SOME OF you may have seen the movie, Antwone Fisher.
It tells the true story of a boy who was given up by his mother when he was born.
He was raised in a foster home where he experienced severe and relentless psychological, sexual and physical abuse.
He grew up with a deep-seated anger within him that readily and frequently boiled over into violence.
Antwone Fisher tells his story and the means by which, with care and support, he came to experience healing and wholeness.
There is a wonderful scene at the end of the movie where he finally meets all the members of his extended family.
In our society today there are many different kinds of families.
We can no longer stereotype the idea of what being “family” means.
We have couples, both with and without children.
We have single-parent families.
We have extended families.
We have people living alone, for a variety of reasons, who nonetheless have a strong sense of connectedness to family members living elsewhere.
We have families made up of people who are unrelated but who choose to live together in community.
We have adoptive families, foster families and blended families.
We have happy families and we have unhappy families.
Within the family of the church we need to be careful that in speaking about families and family life we acknowledge this reality and ensure that no one feels excluded.
The story of the boy, Samuel, is a much-loved part of the Old Testament, and it offers us a great deal for personal reflection on the way God speaks and acts.
It is a matter of considerable significance that Samuel was only a child when God called him into a life of ministry and leadership.
This is not the only passage in the Bible that raises the issue of the place children have in the heart of God and in his purpose for church and world.
Jesus had some very clear and confronting things to say about the centrality of children in the Kingdom of God and the dire consequences in store for those whose behaviour in any way hinders their experience of his love and grace.
God does not speak only to adults.
God speaks to and through children.
That is why we need them in the church family, and that is why we should listen to what they have to say.
We should never under-estimate the capacity of a child to enjoy a relationship with God; to love God and to want to serve him.
Children can and do love God.
Children can and do pray.
Children can and do have faith.
The story tells us that it was hard for Samuel to hear the call of God.
This was because the spiritual health of the nation, Israel, was at such a low ebb that Samuel had not grown up in an ethos which encouraged him to believe that God would speak to him.
The nation was spiritually impoverished.
God had not stopped working or speaking, but the people were apathetic and unreceptive. How are children to hear the call of God if the adults in their lives do not provide a loving, caring, supportive, encouraging environment of faith within which the voice of God can be clearly heard?
This reality is true in regard to both children’s biological family and the church family to which they belong.
That is why we want to celebrate all the good, positive, affirming and life-giving experiences of family that we have.
That is why we want to say “thank you” for relationships in which we find love, encouragement, forgiveness and support.
That is why we want to identify and uphold patterns and values for family life that nurture personal wholeness and integrity and strengthen, sustain and enrich relationships.
That is why we want to celebrate the gift of children, share our lives with them, and experience them as a source of life and hope in our midst.
So, let us celebrate and give thanks to God for what it means to be family.
Let us give thanks for all those people (including mothers and fathers) who, in their lives and relationships, reflect the love and care of God.
Let us give thanks for our children, who enrich our lives, give us joy, and point us to God.
Let us give thanks for the family of faith, the church, through whose worship, witness and service the glory of God is revealed.