... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 25 Year B
Message November 18, 2012

Fortitude Patience and Hope: A New Birth is still to come

Text: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Sam.2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

Out of the ashes of despair turmoil and destruction arises the celebration of deliverance new life and new beginnings for those who are persistent in faith determined in hope and tenacious in patience. In the November issue of “The Anglican” the newspaper of the Diocese of Toronto, there is an article about a group who turned a closing church into an affordable housing complex called Monaco Place. This United Church building no longer being relevant and not wanted by any other United Church congregation became the object of interest for a group of community activists spearheaded by the Rev. Canon Kate Merriman. After more than a decade St. Paul – Pietro Valdo United Church has become part of St. Clare’s multifaith Housing Society with 20 apartments. As the Canon Merriman said, “There’s life after death.”

Such is a modern day example of the lessons from today’s readings.

In the beautiful story of Hannah we are transported into the life of an anguished outcast woman who, despite being loved by her husband Elkanah is constantly ridiculed by her sister wife as well as the society at large. Without any children of her own she feels the weight of her society’s scorn and implication of barrenness as a sign of God’s punishment. Despite the ever present judgements and personal sense of turmoil, Hannah persists in her faith and trust in God. Neither the passage of years, the ridicule of Penniah, the pity of Elkanah or the misunderstandings of Eli, sway Hannah from praying and appealing directly to God. In that perseverance she is finally blessed and with that blessing comes new life – the birth of Samuel; the last of Israel’s judges and anointer of kings, and Hannah’s restoration within her family and within society.

The moving story of Hannah like that of Sarah and Elizabeth is the story of fortitude in the face of adversity and God’s design for newness promise and hope. As we come to the end of our liturgical year it is perhaps a good thing to contemplate this newness and this hope. Sarah well beyond child-bearing age became the mother of Isaac. Elizabeth also well beyond child bearing would bear a son John who would become the messenger preparing the way for Jesus. The parallels are obvious and intended for such is God’s way of providing for the people a hope in deliverance out of times of trial and despair. The final mode of deliverance would be through a child born of a virgin.

In place of a psalm today we witness the song of thanks and praise Hannah offers following the birth of her son Samuel. This song highlights several great truths, two of which become bridges to the New Testament passages we hear today. First of all, it is God alone who is capable of overcoming all obstacles and second, persistence in faith will ultimately lead to new beginnings.

So often we believe we are the ones making a difference – changing the course of history for the better. If the truth be known – we are usually the ones changing it for the worse and only by God’s intervention are correct courses taken. Eli, the kindly old priest who I’m sure was thinking he was a mover and intercessor between God and the people, took Hannah to be drunk and was chastising her for it, only to be brought up short. His blessing as reported in the NRSV would also be seen as a dismissal according to how one translates the Hebrew. All in all poor Eli is seen as a totally human character, making lots of mistakes and having to repeat them before catching on. The author of Hebrews could well have had Eli in mind as he compared the priesthood of Jesus to that of humans. In fact the author could well have had Hannah, the heroine of the Samuel reading in mind as the example of what faithful Christian believers should do in response to Jesus’ priestly works: to be faithful persistent and bod in approaching God, to have hope without wavering and to provoke one another to love and to do good.

The gospel passage from Mark often called Mark’s little apocalypse seems at first to be separate and have little in common with the other readings. Yet in Jesus’ admonition to his followers we hear the same advice to persevere in faith, to have patience and to remain hopeful. The Temple at the time of Mark’s writing had already been destroyed, the followers were feeling the full brunt of the persecutions both from the Romans and the Jewish zealots and life was very much in turmoil. The events portrayed were not some remote future but were being experienced at the time of their being written about. Yet Jesus had foreseen the events and had tried to warn his followers.

There would be destructions, natural disasters and false leaders who would try to seduce people from the view of God’s design and goal. There would be times of apparent futility concerning the worship of the one true God. But these are to be seen as all simply the beginnings of what is to come – a new life. Mark does in fact use the analogy of giving birth and that the various travails are just that – the beginning of the birth pains. The time line, to the realization of the new birth is never given. Nevertheless that has never stopped people from trying to calculate the end time and the Second Coming. For sure some are even now holding out Dec. 23, 2012 as the end date using an ancient Mayan calendar which seems to end on that date.

We hear countless voices over the centuries who have tried to lure people from the goal of God. Some have used very cunning and seductive issues of the day to sway people to this road of action or that. There are those who offer a “cross less religion” or a Christianity without tears. There are others who have attempted to amalgamate all the various religions into one or to couple the faith to the society and nation demanding a patriotic ideology which states God is on our side no matter what this placing God in a box as some kind of national mascot. When that happens there will always be division and when division violent forces will collide. No wonder there is such apathy and mistrust. No wonder we find ourselves embroiled in a fight for survival. Congregation everywhere are experiencing decline – there are a few exception but for the most part we have been made to feel negated and as having little if anything to say to a modern world.

Yet, as Jesus would encourage his disciples or as Hannah would reply to Eli, “Have faith, persist in your journey to follow God’s will, have patience and above all remain hopeful – the new birth is still to come. As we approach Advent perhaps this should be our mantra, “the new birth is still to come!”