Year B — Proper 28 (The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for November 18, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 1:4-20
Some of the most effective praying that is done may be with “wordless prayers,” such as that of Hannah. Nothing audible, no profundity of phrasing. Just straight up “pouring out my soul before the Lord.” (v.15)

1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hannah’s response to God’s goodness in answering her prayer (see above) functions as the psalm text for those using these readings. She certainly does as well as anything David or any other psalmist ever wrote!

One of my favorite questions to ask when the scripture is laid out before me — during those moments when I am simply seeking to let the text speak — is, “What do I learn about God from this text?”

  • There is no Holy One like the LORD
  • God is a God of knowledge
  • God weighs God’s every action
  • God holds the power of both death and life
  • God is in the midst of both poverty and wealth
  • God may be found at the ash heaps of life, as well as in the seats of power
  • God guards the feet of those who are faithful; God’s adversaries will be shattered (ouch!)

Daniel 12:1-3
An apocalyptic portion from Daniel; in chapter 11, he has told us that the vision speaks of “the time of the end.” We have one of the Bible’s four mentions of Michael, the archangel of God (there is a second in Daniel,  as well as others in Jude and Revelation.) Michael is one of seven angels of this rank according to some Jewish and Orthodox Christian sources (a pretty decent article from Wikipedia here.)

Whatever one’s views of end times and angelology might be, we certainly have a text of hope and comfort in the midst of great anguish here. Daniel’s vision has a formative influence on the eschatology of the early church, which knew its share of suffering, persecution, and anguish.

Psalm 16
Another passage with the theme of God’s protection. Notice that faith in God affects the whole person — physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.” (v. 9)

Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
The preacher of Hebrews places his assurance and hope squarely on the success of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Jesus has opened a “new and living way” for us to approach God — and we may now do so boldly and with great confidence.

With our eternal destiny secured, the preacher would have us turn to love and good deeds — “provoking” one another in these endeavors. What a different take on our usual impression of the word “provoke!”

Instead of provoking one another with political jabs, insults, taunts, and mocking — can you imagine what public discourse would be like if we substituted encouragement to love and good deeds, instead?

“Yeah, well your mother was so nice, she used to bake cookies for the whole neighborhood!”

“Aw, that’s nothing — yo’ momma was so generous, she used to give us all a quarter for picking up the sticks on Old Man Johnson’s yard!”

“Yeah, well if you don’t stop it, I’m gonna have to go over and help your little brother with his homework.”

“You better watch out; if you do that — I’ll be forced to fix your sister’s bike!

Mark 13:1-8
The prognosticators of doom and gloom are quick to arise whenever there is a major tragedy. In recent memory, there have been all sorts of predictions and pronouncements of the judgment of God attached to everything from the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001 — to Hurricane Katrina in 2006 — and the recent Superstorm Sandy that affected millions on the East Coast of the U.S.

Worldwide, wars and famine and struggles for justice drag on day after day, year after year. Many people are prone to ask the question, “Is this the end of the world?”

Well, I admit that one does have to wonder — just as the disciples in Jesus time wondered. We are there when Peter, James, John, and Andrew (notice the addition of Andy to the usual inner circle of the Big Three) pop the question to Jesus : “When will this be, and what will be the sign?”

I do like Jesus’ response, though it isn’t designed to answer the question directly: “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and will say, ‘blah, blah, blah, blah….'”

Provides a nice filter for the talking heads and non-stop purveyors of agony that fill the airwaves. They don’t know any more than you or I; whatever is going on around us, it’s all like birth pangs. Expectant parents all have to learn the same lesson: the baby will come when the baby is ready to come.

So it is with the final chapter of the coming kingdom of God….

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Morgan Wooten was a basketball coach. He coached at DeMatha High School in the DC area. His teams won 1274 games while losing only 192 times. He was considered by everyone who knew him to be one of the great ones. Well, everyone except his grandson.

Wooten is one of only three high school coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame. At his induction, he told a story about his grandson’s first day of school. The teacher asked Nick, “What’s your favorite sport?”  “Baseball,” he said.

The teacher knew who Nick’s grandfather was. She was surprised, “Not basketball?” Nick said, “Nope. I don’t know anybody who knows anything about basketball.”

The teacher was even more surprised, “But Nick, a lot of people think your Grandfather Wooten knows a lot about basketball. Nick snorted and laughed, “Oh no!  He doesn’t know anything about basketball.  I go to all his games and he never gets to play.”

Sometimes we see God the way Nick saw his grandfather. Because we see the game of life going on and have a hard time seeing the hand of God anywhere in it, we think, “God knows nothing about it,” or, “God cares nothing about it,” or, “God can’t do anything about it,” because, after all, we never see God get in the game.

The Scripture readings today talk about the art of having faith in a world gone mad,  of seeing God’s hand in the wild whirlwind of life around us. Each is an example of apocalyptic literature. Though many use these types of writings to try to make predictions about the future and to frighten people in the present; that is not what these Bible readings are about. They are intended to bring us reassurance of God’s love when we go through hard times and God seems to be very far away.

Daniel was written at a time when the Hebrew people and the Jewish faith were in a tough spot. They were in exile, they were oppressed, they were persecuted. Daniel was written to give hope to a people who had lost all hope; to give faith to those who were losing touch with God.

Chapter thirteen of Mark’s Gospel was written about thirty years after the death of Jesus, to the early Christians, a community of faith that was also in a tough spot, they were a people who were fearful and hesitant about the future. These words were written to give them hope and faith in the God of the future.

Hebrews was written to the Jewish Christian Community in Rome. They were struggling with the Romans on the one hand and their Jewish brothers and sisters on the other. They needed a word of hope in a time of distress. 

Each of these communities was like Morgan Wooten’s grandson. They saw the activity in front of them, but they couldn’t see the hand of the one running the show; and so they were afraid, they were anxious, they were losing hope.

Have you ever seen the Carl Reiner and Mel Brook skit called the 2000 year old man?  Reiner plays a TV reporter and Brooks plays, well, a 2000 year old man.

Newsman: “Well did you worship God in your village?”

Old Man:  “No, at first we worshipped this guy in our village named Phil.”
Newsman: “You worshipped a guy named Phil? Why?”
Old Man: “Well, he was bigger than us, and faster than us, and he was mean, and he could hurt you; break your arm or leg right in two; so we worshipped Phil.”
Newsman: “I see. Did you have any prayers in this religion?”
Old Man: “Yeah. Want to hear one?  – PLEASE PHIL NO! PLEASE PHIL NO!”
Newsman: “Okay. When did you stop worshipping Phil?”
Old Man: “Well One day we were having a religious festival. Phil was chasing us and we were praying. (PLEASE PHIL NO! PLEASE PHIL NO!) And suddenly a thunderstorm came up and a bolt of lightning struck and killed Phil. We all gathered around and stared at Phil awhile and then we realized: THERE’S SOMETHING BIGGER THAN PHIL.

That is the ultimate message of apocalyptic literature; there’s something bigger than Phil, there’s something bigger than the bad stuff that happens in our lives. And that something bigger is God. That something bigger is faith in God’s tomorrow overcoming our yesterdays and todays. That something bigger is the faith that God is indeed very much in the game.  God is involved in all our pain and sorrow, our suffering and disappointment. God is bigger, much bigger than all those things that frighten and haunt us.

Almost every church sings the Hymn Now Thank We All Our God around Thanksgiving.  As you sing it this year, reflect upon this: Pastor Martin Rinkhart wrote that hymn in the early 1600s, in the midst of the Thirty Years War. Six to eight thousand people in his village and territory died in an epidemic including the other two clergymen in town. For weeks at a time he buried as many as fifty people a day, including his own wife and children.

Either Rinkhart was heartless and a bit crazy, or he was in touch with a deep, deep spiritual truth about a God whose promises are ever sure and whose love never fails. If Reinhardt was right, if our Bible readings are telling us the truth that in the midst of this world’s trouble and sorrow, pain and disappointment; we can hold fast to the assurance of God’s concern and involvement in our lives; what are we to do, how are we called to live our lives?

There’s a fascinating line in our Hebrews lesson, verse 24: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” Usually the word provoke is used in a negative sense; as in “Honest Officer, I didn’t aim to hit him, but he, he provoked me!” but here it is used positively, as encouragement, as stirring up, as prodding and pushing and being active in love.

We are called into a world full of scared, lonely, hurting people, and we are called to provoke one another into acts of love and works of mercy, into commitments to compassion, into doing the right thing for all the right reasons.  We are called to be the hand of God in the world, touching all with the gentle and healing caress of divine love.

Amen and amen.

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