I had the privilege to preach at two lovely churches yesterday and I thought I'd share the sermon here . The scripture used is 1 Samuel 1:4-20, Hebrews 10:11-25, and Mark 13:1-8.
As I prepared for this morning. I sat down and read the scriptures and then I also read the commentary provided on the United Methodist website and when I was done, I felt completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed at how these readings spoke to me so personally. I had to sit on them for a day or so to let it all sink in and really move into my being so that I could then sit down and write it out into a sermon. We have Hannah, so brave, so confident in what God could do, and we read in Hebrews that WE are to have that same confidence when we come to God as well! And then in Mark we have change. I personally, am not always a fan of change but I think Jesus has a special message for us about it in this reading and early this week it really soothed me. It was just what I needed.
Will you please pray with me? May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
The reading from 1 Samuel brought back to me a sweet memory. When my son was about four years old and I was pregnant with my daughter, I taught a Sunday School lesson for his class on Hannah and Samuel. I shared how Hannah had prayed and prayed for baby. I told them how she went to the temple to pray, to cry out to God for a baby boy and how she told God that if he would answer her prayer, she would give her baby back to the Lord. I told them how she did have a baby boy and when he was old enough, she took him to the temple to live to serve the Lord. I had no idea the power of this story. See, all the way home from church he cried and cried because he didn’t want to give our baby to God, he wanted to keep her! It took me all day to convince him that we were going keep her. I love this memory! It is so precious, one because he loved his unborn sibling so much already! Two because even at 4 years old, this precious little boy wanted to do what God wanted even though he totally didn’t want to! It’s a precious memory to me, and one I think of every time I read Hannah’s story.
But there is more to this story of Hannah that we can take away with us. See, Hannah came to God full of expectation. She had taken all she could from her rival and being deeply distressed she went to the Lord in prayer. She prayed with fervor, full of tears. She prayed her heart out not caring who would see her or what anyone would think. She just opened up her heart in prayer asking for the one thing she wanted more than anything else, a child, not just a child but a son. She isn’t even overly selfish in this prayer because she also says that she will “set him before you (God) as a nazirite until the day of his death.” To be a nazirite means to be set apart for the Lord for a specified time, in this case his whole life. Hannah takes care of her son Samuel until he is old enough to leave, probably around 3 years old, and then takes him to temple. As she is praying this she knows that she will only be able to keep him for a short time, though we know from the rest of the story that she visits the temple and takes him clothes from time to time.
The thing is, Hannah went before God full of expectation. She knelt down with confidence that God would answer her prayer. She poured her heart out knowing God would hear her.
Our reading from Hebrews, today talks about this ‘confidence.’ It says, “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary…” Because of Jesus we can have confidence! Confidence that our sins have been forgotten. A few verses back it says, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” That should offer us plenty of peace and confidence that when we come to God, we come with clean slates and that he is ready to listen. We can approach him with a true heart full of assurance of faith. Faith, that God is faithful to us.
But Hebrews also says that we must provoke each other to love and Good deeds. That we shouldn’t neglect to meet together to encourage one another. I find it interesting how that part is worded. “ Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” He knows us so well, doesn’t he?
In this day and age, there are so many other activities, so many other things calling for our attention. Often we are torn as to where we should be! I remember when Sunday’s were strictly for church. There weren’t other activities fighting for our Sunday morning and evening time. Oh, we’ve always, at least as long as I can remember, had to get out on time for “the game” but the game didn’t ever start before noon! Now, we have youth leagues that play on Sunday mornings. We have games on TV that go late into the night. I remember when Wednesdays were kept free, no school programs or sports happened because people had church. Now it seems no day or time is sacred anymore. We just try to fill in everyday as much as possible and often there isn’t much time for church activities anymore. We like to say we just don’t have time for church, or Bible studies, or Sunday school or even for the fellowship time, such as potlucks or suppers.
But here we are in Hebrews being told to NOT NEGLECT meeting together. We NEED to meet together to encourage one another. To encourage one another in our faith, in our lives, in our growth, in love. It’s important and yet it’s often neglected. As a side, this Advent study starting this month would be a great way to get started! I hope you’ll come join me for this study. I’m really excited about it.
Anyway, back to the sermon. There has been so much change over the years, over all of time in how we spend our time. Change isn’t all bad. Change is to be expected! It’s to be anticipated! In our reading from Mark, Jesus is talking about the change that is going to occur. The destruction of the temple, the wars, the earthquakes and so on but he tells them not to be alarmed that these are just the beginning of the birth pangs. Just the beginning.
See, Jesus saw the destruction of the temple as a demolishing of an old way to make way for the new. He saw his own death as a kind of birth. As I read the commentary on these verses from Mark, I started thinking of my own life and the changes that happening or that are getting ready to happen. My kids are growing up! My son will be graduating from college and commissioning into the Army this spring and getting married sometime after that. That means his moving away and not seeing him as often. My daughter is growing up too. This summer she is hoping to go to a month or more long summer dance intensive! I can’t even imagine being without her that long! Honestly, I can’t imagine being alone with my husband for that long! She has a year then she will be heading to college and as much I hope it’s nearby, REALLY nearby, she could go off! My life is changing fast and furiously. My first thoughts are sadness, and that it will be awful but if I adopt the attitude of Jesus, I see that the sadness, and fear are but birth pangs of a new life for me and my husband together!
Change is a part of life. It is! We often don’t like change, I know I don't, because it makes us feel a little out of control and we like to have control over things in our lives but as a church, we have to be open to change, open to new ideas, to new ways of doing things, to new people. We need to be ready to welcome it, to give it a chance because often with change comes glorious new beginnings. Last week Pastor Wayne asked for new ideas, share them! Go research them! See what other churches are doing that’s working. Let’s be the change we need to be.
I have a couple of friends who are always reminding me that sometimes we have to have death in order to have a resurrection, in order to have new life. It’s a hard fact of life but if we take on the attitude of Jesus, to not be afraid of change, to not fight it. Then we can come to change with that confidence of Hannah, with the true heart of faith we heard about in Hebrews. Then we just might recognize that something wonderful is always being born. That sometimes the old has to give way a bit to make room for the new.
For me, this means I need to let go of my kids, let them go out in the world and make their mark, start their lives so that husband and I can find each other again and learn to be a couple again and then eventually all this new will show how great the old was as we share our memories with our grandchildren someday, as our children share some of our traditions with their families while making new ones of their own.