The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (November 15, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Reprinted with permission from The Lectionary Lab Commentary: Stories and Sermons for Year B

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….

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

At various times in the history of the church, dire circumstances have been interpreted as a punishment from God and a sign that Angry Jesus is about to put in an appearance, accompanied by the Archangel Michael.

May 19, 1780 was a strange day all across New England.  An “eerie, smoky pall” covered much of the region.  “The gloom was apparently quite stark, as birds returned to their roosts early, thinking it was night. Forest fires in Canada likely produced the darkness, but many in New England interpreted it as a sign from God.” (Kidd and Hankins, “Baptists in America.” Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 53)

Not only did many interpret it as a sign from God, they interpreted it as a bad sign, a sign that God was angry, that God was not only coming soon, God was coming full of judgement and anger.  Many of the churches in New England, especially the more evangelical Baptists and Congregationalists, experienced a major uptick in both attendance and conversions and people fled the wrath to come and hurried to “get right with God.”

One of the standard numbers sung by the Gospel Quartets who appeared at homecomings, revivals and such in the evangelical churches of my youth was “Jesus is Coming Soon.”  It had a strange mixture of upbeat tempo and beatdown lyrics in four part harmony:

“Jesus is coming soon;

Morning, or night, or noon;

Many will meet their doom,

Trumpets will sound,

trumpets will surely sound!”

As someone said to me recently, “I’m not sure what Episcopalians mean when they say ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead,’ but I’m pretty sure they don’t mean THAT.” Well, if we don’t mean that, what do we mean?  What are we to make of these lessons we read today?  While it may be easy to slide by Daniel without paying much attention, ignoring Jesus is a bit more difficult, we have to give him a careful listen.

The first time we read through or listen to these texts, we are likely to hear violence and judgement and discord.  We will recoil from words like anguish and shame and contempt in Daniel.  We will pull away from images of disagreement and discord, of natural disasters like earthquakes and the wanton human destruction of war in the gospel.  We especially dislike thinking about them as something necessary, something God is doing in the world.

But this is one of those times when the message of hope is a still, small, voice straining to be heard in the midst of a lot of bombastic noise. The real message here is that, as inevitable as those things are in a fallen world, God is in the midst of them, and us, with another message and another work going on.  God’s hand, God’s word, is working “in, with, and under,” the harsh realities of the world to bring us the message and the reality of our deliverance.

Look at Daniel.  Michael arises, there is a time of anguish but – listen: “at that time your people shall be delivered,” and “those who sleep in the dust shall awake.”  The Psalm contains two of my favorite lines in the Bible, lines I want carved into my gravestone; “My body also shall rest in hope, for you will not abandon me to the grave.” (Psalm 16:9b-10a) Hebrews rehearses the story of Christ as both our Great High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice and then says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” (10:23) And finally, in the midst of talking about all the bad things that will happen, Jesus says, “do not be alarmed,” (vs.7) and reminds us that these are “birth pangs,” (vs. 8) which means God is in the midst of all of this, bringing something new into the world.

The message today is one of hope and promise in the midst of doom and gloom.  Which fits the way our lives tend to work out. We live each day in the already but not yet hope of God’s new kingdom of love and grace.  Though we know about God’s love in Christ, though we have felt that love, both in the world and in the church – we also spend a lot of time in the midst of confusing difficulty and occasional despair – both in the world and in the church. These scriptures call us back to a fundamental trust in and reliance upon God as the cornerstone of our life and our life together – they remind us over and over that “the one who has promised is faithful.”

I have a Baptist minister friend who went to Vanderbilt Divinity School.  He often reminds me that one of his professors there, Liston Mills, frequently said that every religious or theological question really boils down to just one, “Can God be trusted?”

In the midst of trials and tribulations, distress and destruction, can God be trusted to still care about us?

When we have failed to be good, failed to be the people God wants us to be, failed to be the people we know we should be; can God be trusted to forgive us and love us still?

When we come to the end of our days, when we close our eyes in death, can God be trusted to be there when we open them again in that undiscovered country? Will we go to sleep in death and wake up in Christ?  Can the promises of God be trusted?

The message today is yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  The one who has promised is faithful, we need not be alarmed.

Amen and amen.

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