Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 11, 2018
26th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 13:1-8
Here we are in the middle of November, approaching a national holiday. Are you in the mood for Thanksgiving? I’m guessing you are! But will our reading from the Gospel of Mark with Jesus predicting wars and the destruction of the Temple put a damper on our enthusiasm? Surely such a reading can’t possibly put us in the holiday spirit, or can it?
In just two weeks, Advent inaugurates a new church year—an event we will celebrate with a beautifully decorated sanctuary: purple paraments, red poinsettias, an Advent wreath and Advent candles, and lovely Christmas trees adorned with lights and Chrismons. But before we get too excited about Advent, before we even get too excited about turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie, there’s some unfinished business at hand—business like tearing down of a few temples.[i]
In our reading from Mark, the temple in question is the 2nd Temple. The 1st Temple, you will recall, is built during the reign of King Solomon. Later, in Israel’s history, the temple is destroyed only to be rebuilt after the people of God return from Exile. Although the 2nd Temple never reaches the glory of the original, it is still grand by the standards of the day. It’s about a mile in circumference and it has walls lined with gold and silver. Just picture what it looked like with the rays of the sun reflecting on it! For the people of Israel, the Temple was the holiest of places made by human hands for the purpose of making sacrifices and worshiping Yahweh.
It’s this grand structure that the disciples stop to admire. “Look Teacher, what great stones?” Imagine their surprise when Jesus responds—not with equal admiration—but by foretelling of its very destruction. Just like that… “Do you see these great stones? Not one will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
“Wait a minute, Preacher!” you may be thinking, “What about putting us in the mood for Thanksgiving? I thought we came to hear some good news?” Indeed! What is all this about throwing down stones and the end of time. What’s hopeful about Jesus saying, “Many will come in my name and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed…”
Ah, do not be alarmed! Hang onto that thought for a moment while we travel back in time to another temple—a temple located in Shiloh. It’s the setting for the story of Hannah. Shiloh was once the religious capital of Israel and it is here that Elkanah and his wives, Penninah and Hannah, come to worship and make their sacrifices to the Lord. But, the story goes, each year is torture for Hannah because she is barren. Penninah makes fun of her, jeers at her. Marci Auld Glass says that this may be “the ultimate family Thanksgiving of dysfunctionality. You can remember this story this week when your own family goes over the river and through the woods. We can’t catch the dialogue, but I suspect it went something like this. “Penninah: ‘Hannah, aren’t you excited to go to Shiloh? So we can say thank you to God for all our blessings, for all of our children? Oh, wait. You don’t have any children, do you?”[ii]
Distraught Hannah goes into the temple to beg Yahweh for a child. As she prays, her lips move but no sound comes out. So, Eli, the priest, mistakes her passion for drunkenness. Once he realizes his mistake, though, he says to her, “Go in peace. The Lord of Israel grant the petition you have made.” And God does just that. Hannah has a child whom, in her petition, she has promised to the Lord. Once he is weaned, she does as she promised. She takes him to the temple to leave him there. It’s then that she offers a prayer to God, a prayer that we know as the Song of Hannah:
My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed…The Lord kills and brings to life…The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts… For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world… The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.
In Hannah’s future there will be five other children, but as Marci Auld Glass notes, Hannah doesn’t know that when she sings her song. What faithfulness! She makes a sacrifice…not of doves or cattle or harvest. Hannah offers to God her one and only son and the foundation is laid. The foundation is laid for great things in the future. Samuel grows up to be one of the most prominent figures in the Hebrew Bible. Dedicated to the Lord, he will anoint David to be the King of Israel. David’s son, Solomon, will build the First Temple in Jerusalem. From the line of this same David, a Messiah will come into the world. But Hannah knows nothing of these things. Even while leaving her son at the steps of the temple in Shiloh, she knows only one thing: her heart is overflowing with gratitude, so she does all she knows to do. She praises God!
In this world there are wars and rumors of wars. Truth be told, pain is woven into the very fabric of our lives. Surely, heavy on all our hearts these days are those who have recently experienced pain and destruction beyond measure—people in Florida and Georgia who are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Michael; people in California who have lost homes, transportation, animals, and even their very lives to the fires that have ripped through the region. We reel from such news. There are times we might even be tempted to give up hope, were it not for our hope in Jesus the Christ.
Jesus left the realm of glory to enter the world as a helpless baby to be the Great Hope of our past, our present, and our future. In Christ, there is hope. In Christ new life is possible—in this life and in the life to come. When Jesus foretells of the temple’s destruction, could it be that, on one level, he’s declaring an end to all the grand things that humans erect for comfort and protection? With Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, earthly temples and high priests are a thing of the past. Love, mercy, grace, hope—these are our present—these are our future. A new way of life—it’s ours for the taking. As one scholar notes, “Over the centuries, people have looked for signs and made predictions about the end of the world. Jesus is much more concerned about how we live our lives each day. Teaching, proclaiming, healing, feeding—these are our daily acts of discipleship.”[iii]
Still, is it important to keep alert, as Jesus advises later in the gospel? Of course! But there’s no need to worry. Remember Jesus says to his disciples, “Don’t be alarmed!” For if we live faithfully, loving God and loving our neighbor the best way we know how, of what do we have to be afraid? We are not to live out of fear. We are to live out of humble gratitude.
Next Sunday marks the end of the Christian calendar when we gather to celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Soon, another song will be sung in our midst when Mary of Nazareth echoes the Song of Hannah, praising God, who has a way of working wonders in extraordinary ways.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name…
Soon, Advent, the time of waiting will be upon us. But as we turn our faces toward turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie, let us also turn our hearts and minds toward heaven with words of thanks and praise. No matter what we face today—as individuals, as a congregation, or as a nation, still we serve a great God. Yes, there are wars and rumors of wars, yes there is pain, but maybe we can take Jesus at his word and believe there is no cause for fear. Jesus, our Savior, has gone before us. Jesus has made the crooked straight and the wrong right. Jesus has conquered death—and so we keep moving toward the Promised Land—knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Surely that is reason for thanksgiving!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
[i] “Pouring Out Our Souls” A sermon by Marci Auld Glass, “Lectionary Homiletics,” Oct-Nov 2012.
[iii] Kimberly Clayton Richter, commentary in The Life with God Bible, 88.