Sunday, November 15, 2015

Birthpangs, 1 Samuel 1, Mark 13:1-8

Commerce Presbyterian Church
November 15, 2015
Slide: Birthpangs
Warning: this sermon is a little out there…
so I ask you put a little extra effort to staying with me if you want to follow along this morning :).

This morning’s sermon is about living with one intention: a desire to please God.
Turn to your neighbor and say: I desire to please God.

"I desire to please God. "

How many of you sitting in this room now, would have predicted the path you have taken in life that has led you to this present moment?

How many of you could have said, yes, because I made that decision to do something--
I don’t know,
go on that date--would have resulted in you being a grandmother to those people who call you grandma…
All he did was ask you on a date.
[You didn’t know years later you’d be going to a church in Commerce because you said yes! ]

For most decisions, most actions we take or actions taken by others,
I’m sure we could not have predicted where they might have led,
or what might have come as a result.

It’s kind of frightening in many ways isn’t it?
We like to think we have certain control over things, but if we think about it, we realize how little control over our lives we actually have.

Life is unpredictable.  
I don’t want to say uncertain, but rather, unpredictable.
We cannot predict what our actions may lead to.
Some people call this unintended consequences.
That even when we have the best intentions when we do something, things we cannot predict will come as a result--.

paris vigil.jpg
Slide: The tragic events in Paris weigh heavily on hearts across the world this weekend.
We try to make sense of what has lead to such insane actions and actors.  
We ask why?
Why such senseless violence?
What has stirred up such a hornets’ nest?
How do we make it stop?  
There are many theories as we seek answers and explanations.  
Whatever actions that are taken--no matter our best intention--will result in unintended consequences.
And it is very likely, Isis is an unintended consequence of previous acts of “intervention”-- intended for something else.  

Which is why I think many of us are very cautious about the use force 14 years into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

We pray for the victims.
We pray for our enemies--as Jesus tells disciples to do.

Jesus makes some pretty gloomy predictions in our passage toward the end of Mark.
He tells his disciples that the buildings they see around them will be torn down.
When they ask: What will be the sign it all be accomplished?
He responds:
You will hear rumors of wars,
nations rising against nations.
earthquakes, famines, strange weather patterns,

So clearly Jesus predicted all this madness?
the end is near!
These are the birthpangs!   
jesuslook busy.gif
Slide: Jesus is coming! Look busy!

Lot’s of predictions are made about a lot of things: the results of a football game, the stock market, when Jesus is coming.  Rarely is anyone correct.  

We look to our faith for answers, and unfortunately, we don’t find easy answers.
Instead we find, unpredictableness.

Until..until...we take a step back,
move beyond ourselves, our smallness, our small attempts to make sense of things…
and see that something bigger is going on. I think that is what Jesus is trying to do with the disciples, when they ask him about the end.  He paints a picture bigger than their little world.

And this is what happens in our story of Hannah in 1 Samuel, too.  
Hannah is so focused on her little problem, which of course seems so big to her.
Her not having borne a child was a big deal to her, and in that society.  
Poor Hannah, so concerned about her problem.
So tired of being ridiculed by her mean, “sister wife”.
That’s what wives married to the same man are called, “sister wives.”  In Hindi sister wives call one another Sautan--sounds a bit like satan,
I’m sure Hannah though Penni was more like Satan than a sister--but, I digress.

Nothing will console her, not even her husband’s kind words:  “
Aren’t I worth more than 10 sons to you?” Good try buddy.
We men have such a history of failed attempts to console our wives

I appreciate Hannah’s determination.
She moves past a stage of depression, and takes a step to wholeness.  
She goes to pray…
where even the preacher adds insult to injury:
“Woman, Are you drunk in church!?”

She tells him her story,
and her joins in praying for her desire.
This encounter between Eli and Hannah, is presumably innocent, common.
The priest coming to check in on who might be praying in the temple,
but this encounter results in something pretty radical.

It is here that her small story becomes larger--it moves into a space where it is no longer her story or about her, it becomes God’s story and it is about what God is doing.

Stick with me here:  
Slide: My two sons
See, Eli is a bit distraught over the fact that his two sons, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter,
his two sons, of whom I’m sure he was very proud when he they were born,
his two sons, would carry on the family business,
and Eli happens to be the most powerful man in the land of Israel, the High Priest and judge,
So one of his sons should be fit for the task right?
It turns out, his sons are morons. hooligans, corrupt, incompetent....

So, Eli, distraught by his own problems, hears this woman Hannah’s problems, and says he will join in praying for her.
He’s probably thinking:
“You want a son? Go ahead! May God grant your desire and see if that makes you happy...just look at me, sheesh!”

See the irony of the story:
Hannah has committed to raising a child worthy of a higher calling, which Eli doesn’t know.
Once she has this child, she hands him off to Eli to raise, and

Depiction of Eli and Samuel, John Singleton Copley, 1780

Slide: Eli would raise this boy who would take the power away from his own sons;
Eli would raise the great prophet of Israel, who would end the period of Judges, and transition the people to a rule by kings.  His name would be Samuel.
Eli does this faithfully because he knows he is not in control...God is in control…
This is not Eli’s story, this is God’s story.

The future of Samuel, and the future of Israel, came from the unintended consequences of a little ridiculing from Penni. a few prayers from Hannah.  a small blessing from Eli.  

Eugene Peterson The Message, “Introduction of 1-2 Samuel”:
“,,,these stories remind us of the actual business of living: this is what it means to be human. ….
remind us that what it means to be a [human--created by God,] mostly has to do with God.  
Stories of the bible, [of Hanna, of Jesus] help us to realize that our ego-bound experience is too small to understand what it means to believe in God and follow in his ways.

[The story of Hannah, the apocalyptic vision of Jesus] do not show us how we should live but how in fact we do live;
our daily experience [is] the stuff that God uses to work out [God’s own] purposes…
purposes of salvation, purposes of redemption in us and in the world.
rumors of wars, nations against nation. it’s out of our control, but in the midst of it all, we can set our desire on pleasing God and living faithful committed lives.  

As Eugene Peterson says, God is the commanding and accompanying presence that provides plot and texture to every sentence written [about our lives]...
We are given a place in this divine story unfolding, God’s story, as messy as it sometimes seems.

The way of faith, life in the spirit, is not so much to present us with a moral code, that if we follow it right, things will go our way;
Life in the spirit is not adhering to a system of doctrine telling us if we just believe the right things life will go our way.
Life in the spirit, invites us, to “Live into this thing unfolding all around us.”
This messiness we see, the unpredictableness, the monotony, the joy, the struggle;
this is what it looks like to be human;
this is what is involved in entering and maturing as human beings.”
Don’t back away or retreat. Don’t give up, but come in.  

This is God’s story, and we are invited in.

And we enter the spiritual path when it is our intention to participate, when it is our desire to please God.

Dr. Lauren Artress,  studies Labyrinths of all things--having a Labyrinth here at this church is one of the greatest gifts we have.  
File:Labyrinth vor St.
Slide: Labyrinth
She says: “All of the larger-than-life questions about our presence here on earth and what gifts we have to offer are spiritual questions.
To seek answers to these questions is to seek a sacred path. As we find our meaning and purpose we also realize that some invisible form of guidance has been leading us. We may not be able to recognize this in the moment, but in looking back over our lives we see the footprints of an invisible being that has guided us, challenged us, and carried us through times of crisis.”(Lauren Artress, Walking A Sacred Path, p. 7)

when we discover our story is actually God’s story,
we become aware of our participation in it. Our hearts may become set with the intention to please God.

It may lead to results we never could have predicted, but then, what actions do?
SLIDE This is why I love a prayer of Thomas Merton, who I think captures how we are to live with intention into God’s story, which can slowly become our story as well:
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself...
and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
- Thomas Merton
Turn to your neighbor again and say, I desire to please God.

Let us pray.

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