As it happens, today I had my first class of teaching Sabbath School here in Portland. As is often the case, the way that I came to do this task was a somewhat interesting one. At the Men’s Weekend earlier this year  I made a comment about feeling that I had felt constraint in my opportunities to serve my brethren locally here for a variety of reasons. One of the other men in my area asked me shortly thereafter about serving in Sabbath School, as there is a perennial shortage of teachers here. So I volunteered my services, and found that I was the only man on the schedule, as every other Sabbath School teacher was a woman (specifically a mother or grandmother). I had previous experience as a Sabbath School teacher in Tampa, and had been a little frustrated that so much of my time and effort had been spent in trying to keep children sitting in their chairs and showing some reasonable facsimile of attention to the lesson, so I chose to teach the older kids, as I figured they might be able to understand and show some interest in at least some of what I said.
As is often the case, my own involvement in Sabbath education has a somewhat long and reasonably complicated family history. As a young teenager I first became involved in the task of preparing material for the teen Bible studies that were hosted by my local congregation in Lakeland, a precocious act that tended to draw a certain amount of scorn from older and far cooler teenagers in the area who were far too cool to care about learning about the Bible from a younger peer. As a high school student researching for material for a psychology survey to conduct among my classmates, by chance (or divine providence, perhaps), I came across a doctoral dissertation written by a relative of mine (my great-great uncle, the younger brother of my great-grandfather, who was a Unitarian minister of unrecognized part-Jewish descent) which found that Sunday School instruction was largely useless in the religious education of children. The basic gist of his research went as follows–there was no statistical difference between the scriptural knowledge or practice of those children who only had religious education weekly and those who did not have it at all. Only those raised in godly families where religious instruction and practice was a matter of daily life were different in the way that they lived their lives. And so it is.
Nevertheless, it was my intention to convey at least a few elements of the life of young Samuel so as to pique the curiosity of my young students between the ages of 9 and 11 in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, so that at least some aspects of Samuel’s early life and childhood might be of interest and even inspiration to them. The life of young Samuel, of course, takes place in 1 Samuel chapters 1-4, and deals with a few areas of great interest that it is at least worthwhile to discuss in passing. First, Samuel was born into a complicated Levitical family of the Sons of Korah where his mother had suffered torment and ridicule for being childless by her rival wife. This is a worthy entrance into a discussion about problems of bullying. Samuel’s mother’s attempts to pray to God and make a vow to Him were confused as drunken whispering by the high priest, given the corrupt nature of the time, not too different from our own, where the difference between the gratification of vice and honest service is different to recognize because of the ambient nature of corruption in all aspects of our present evil world. These matters I have discussed before here at least somewhat on a few occasions .
When Hannah’s request was answered, even the song she chose to sing is of interest, given the relationship between her song of praise, the song of praise that begins the Haggadah at a Jewish Seder on what my brethren would call The Night To Be Much Remembered or the Night To Be Much Observed (or some similar name), as well as the song that the Virgin Mary sang when she was told that she would give birth to our Lord and King and Messiah . This is obviously of great interest as well. Also of interest is the fact that God called Samuel during his youth, when he was a child of around the same age as my students. I knew I was being called as a child myself, for reasons that are far too personal to discuss here, but suffice it to say that God has worked with me (and I have needed the work, to be honest) from a very early age. Not surprisingly, the game and drawing I chose for this lesson also relate to that calling.
Another point that is worthy of discussing and of considerable importance to young people is the social and religious context in which young Samuel found himself. Serving as the adopted son of the high priest and of Levitical ancestry himself, he clearly had a close familial and personal bond with the tabernacle service of his time. Yet that service, which was supposed to be a way to instruct the children of Israel in God’s ways and lead them to deeper understanding and obedience, was corrupt, and the sons of Eli who were priests themselves exploited the people by taking improper offerings that belonged to God and their brethren as well as taking advantage of young women sexually. These are obviously serious matters, and also a contemporary concern within our own contemporary religious practice as well. God’s judgment of these wicked and corrupt priests, who had not been sufficiently rebuked by their father, is also of interest, in that God’s justice will not sleep forever. How to deal with these issues thoughtfully and delicately is, of course, a subject of serious concern.
That was how I planned it at least. Having never taught these particular children myself, I wasn’t sure how it would work out. As it happened, it went pretty well and most of them had a good time. A couple of of the girls were rather gossipy but very unwilling to explain exactly what they were gossiping about. Given that my class included a discussion on ridicule and speaking negatively about others and bullying others and their results (a subject that came up rather bluntly in an excellent sermon message today from my local congregational pastor), it appears that at least one person felt a little bit bad about what they were doing. At least some people are reflective about their actions at a young age at least. Overall, I have to say that the class went well, they wanted more candy (which was not surprising), and they showed a particular interest in men having two wives (not sure why, it never works out well in scripture) as well as the way that Eli and his sons died thanks to God’s judgment. Overall, the lesson on young Samuel appears to have been enjoyable for the kids, and it was fun for me also.
 Spoken about here:
 See, for example:
 See, for example: