Pastor Sherry’s message for November 14, 2021
Scriptures: 1 Sam 1:1-20; Ps 113; Heb 10:11-25; Mk 13:1-8
Some of us are old enough to remember the comedians, Rob Reiner and Mel Brooks. Some years back, they performed a comedy routine called “The 2,000 Year Old Man.” (Maybe you remember hearing/watching it?) Reiner takes the role of a TV news reporter and Brooks, the 2,000 YO man (As related by Revs. Fearless & Chilton, in their Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year B, p.361):
Reporter: Well, did you worship God in your village?
Old Man: No, at first we worshipped this guy in our village named Phil.
Reporter: 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.
Reporter: I see. Did you have any prayers in this religion?
Old Man: Yeah, want to hear one? PLEASE PHIL, NO! PLEASE PHIL, NO!
Reporter: OK, so 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 gathered around and stared at Phil’s body awhile and then we realized: THERE’S SOMETHING BIGGER THAN PHIL!
This story reminds me of an indigenous Indian missionary named Andrew Swamidoss. He came to speak at my seminary and related how the people of India worship many gods. He told us that a fellow had been run over by a bus at a particular street corner. The next day, there was a shrine there to appease “the god of the bus-wreck.” Imagine having to pray to thousands of gods who—like Phil—to keep them from harming us. Thank God there is someone bigger—and kinder—than Phil and the god of the bus wreck!
Our God is bigger and more powerful—and more loving—and can and does see us though the many bad things that happen in our lives. We can all probably think of many bad things that have happened to each of us during our lifetimes. We don’t want to ruminate over them because that can lead to depression and despair.
Our Scriptures this morning offer two categories of “bad things” for us to ponder.
A. In 1 Samuel 1:1-20, the dilemma is childlessness or barrenness. This would be a heart-break for any of us who wanted a child.
Think of the incredible stress and the multitude of disappointments and pain for couples undergoing in-vitro-and other fertilization treatments. Making love can be reduced to a baby-producing procedure; and the clinical interventions like calendar-and-temperature-watching, as well as giving the wife hormone injections begin to take a toll on a marriage. Consider childless couples anxiously awaiting adoptions. We probably all know of someone who cared for—even funded–a young woman throughout her pregnancy, only to have her decide at the birth to keep the baby. Or how about couples who spent thousands upon thousands trying to locate an adoptee in a foreign country.
Hannah knows she is barren, and—to make matters worse—she lives with her husband’s very fertile 2nd wife, Peninnah. We would probably characterize Peninnah as a “mean girl.” She knows Hannah is their husband’s favorite, but she can brag that she has more children. She can and does make Hannah feel less than. She can and does make Hannah feel miserable.
But Hannah appears to know that our God is bigger and better than Phil, or any other gods. She worships God in His Holy Temple and she cries out her despair and her heartbreak, asking God to give her a child. Hannah, whose name means grace or favor, is such a great example to us. She takes her misery to the Only One who can do something about it. Notice how David takes all his fears and desires for revenge to God in some of the psalms he wrote. You see, it’s OK to take our disappointments, anger, and despair to God. It’s much less effective (and Christian) for us to share those with others.
But Hannah appears to know from Ps 113 that God is our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps she held in her heart the knowledge that our God does not exalt the high and mighty—the bullies and braggarts, like Peninnah—but instead advances the cause of the humble and the lowly—people like herself, perhaps even people like us. Maybe she had memorized and camped on verse 9–He [God] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. At any rate, she cried out to the Lord in prayer. He heard the desire of her heart. He heard her promise to raise her child to serve the Lord as a priest. And the Lord gifted her with a son, Samuel, soon intended by God be an important prophet.
The story of Hannah speaks to the personal, the micro-level , while our Gospel lesson, Mk 13:1-8, addresses the global or macro-level. Jesus prophesizes the demolition of the Temple (not accomplished until about 35 years after His ascension, in 70AD). A disciple has called His attention to what a magnificent building it is. The folks of that day probably believed the Temple would endure forever, but my son, the structural engineer, tells me that buildings have a life span. Buildings require maintenance, don’t they? Materials rot, decay, or become bug-ridden or brittle, and must be replaced. Even marble can be destroyed. Jesus’ response to the disciple’s comment seems to imply, Don’t put your faith in buildings, no matter how spectacular. .
Later, Peter, James, John, and Andrew draw Him aside and ask what other events foretell the end-times. Jesus cites the appearance of false messiahs; political turmoil, wars and rumors of wars, nations turning against nations; and physical calamities like earthquakes and famines. Then, sadly, (verse 9) He predicts that Christ-followers will be persecuted by religious and political leaders.
This passage is a “heads up” warning for us: Trouble is coming—some may say trouble is already here. Many of us cannot bear to watch the evening news anymore. We are sick and tired of multiple examples of lying, greed, power-grabbing, sexual abuse, drug abuse, murders, etc. Interestingly, Stephen King, the current master of the horror genre in fiction books, has said, Horror has not fared particularly well on TV, if you except something like the six o’clock news….It is very difficult to write a successful horror story in a world which is so full of real horror.” And I think many of us are also fed up with leaders who cannot or who will not take action to turn things around.
The Good News is that there is something bigger than Phil. There is something greater than the bad stuff that occurs in our lives or in our communities. That something is a Some One, Jesus who loves us. That something is our faith that His reign over tomorrow will overcome whatever is going on in our todays and has gone on in our yesterdays. Our God is bigger than our pain. Our God is bigger than our sorrow. Our God is bigger than our suffering. Our God is bigger than our disappointments, betrayals, or abandonments. Our God is bigger than whatever frightens us or holds us captive. Our God’s promises are true. Our God’s love never fails us.
We recently (at our Saturday “soup and cinema event) showed a movie about a high school football coach whose teams won 151 games in a row. That’s a true story. There is also a winning high school basketball coach, named Morgan Wooten, whose teams won 1274 games, losing only192 times (15%) during his career. His little 1st grade grandson, however, was not impressed. He told his teacher his grandpa didn’t know anything about basketball. The teacher was shocked and told the kid lots of folks think his granddad is a basketball genius. “Oh no,” the child explained, “He doesn’t know anything about basketball. I go to all his games and he never gets to play!”
Sometimes we tend to believe God is like that…always watching, never getting into the game. But our lessons today assure us that God knows (and foreknows) whatever we are dealing with or will deal with, the micro and the macro concerns of life. He’s neither asleep at the wheel nor far away. Remember that Baptist pastor who said, There is no situation that I can get into that God cannot get me out of. If we trust God, we will be all right.
We serve someone bigger than Phil, or Joe Biden, or our Bishop, Mayor, the Pope, or whomever. We serve a mighty God! We worship a powerful Jesus! We can trust Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit to manage whatever troubles us—if we call upon them. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams