This is the message for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 12 November 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures are 1 Samuel 1: 4 – 20; Hebrews 10: 11 – 14 (15 – 18) 19 – 25; and Mark 13: 1 – 18.
To me, there is an interesting connection between the Gospel and Old Testament readings for today. At the end of the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of war and the rumors of the war in conjunction with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and what must happen before the coming of Christ. The Old Testament reading takes place at Shiloh, the place in Israel where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. But to someone like myself, Shiloh has an entirely different meaning.
The place named Shiloh is about 45 miles east of Memphis and about fifteen miles from the Tennessee – Mississippi state line. In April of 1862, 42000 soldiers under the command of Ulysses S. Grant moved up from Corinth, Mississippi, to the town of Pittsburg Landing. The encampment of soldiers was on the grounds of the simple log building known as Shiloh Methodist Church. And though Shiloh means a "place of peace," the Battle of Shiloh was one of the bloodiest of all the Civil War battles.
It was at Shiloh that Grant and the other Union commanders realized that victory would not come easy. Nor would it be the quick, bloodless victory everyone hoped it would be. After Shiloh, everyone knew that the war would be costly and long.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks of war and the rumors of war. He gives a dire prediction that nations will fight nations and kingdoms will go against kingdoms. In the death and destruction of the Civil War, many saw the end times that Jesus said was coming in the Gospel reading. Historians have noted that the period after the Civil War was a period of great evangelism in America as people sought to avoid the "end times."
There are those today who say that the end times, if not occurring right now, are very close. But I am not one of them. I freely admit that I have problems with those preachers who preach evangelism based on end times and a Second Coming of Christ. After all, even Christ said to be aware of those false prophets who preach fear in His name.
Many Bible historians have pointed out that Matthew and Mark wrote their Gospels after Roman soldiers destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A. D. Besides, to assume that the success of the Gospel requires massive destruction seems to me a contradiction of terms. For the Gospel is as much a message of hope and peace as it is about the ultimate triumph of God over sin and death.
There are those who say that world is not the place for the church; that the world is none of the church’s business. The business of the church is saving of souls and spreading the Gospel.
Louis Evely wrote,
To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God.
Christians believe in "the end of the world," they expect the final catastrophe, the punishment of others.
Atheists in their turn invent doctrines of salvation, try to give meaning to life, work, the future of humankind, and refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in him and take no interest in the world.
All ignore the true God: He who has so loved the world! But which is the more culpable ignorance?
To love God is to love the world. To love God passionately is to love the world passionately. To hope in God is to hope for the salvation of the world.
I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble him enough that he could send them into the world to save it. (From In the Christian Spirit by Louis Evely)
What goes on in the world does concern the church. While I may not believe in the end times that were prophesized in the Old Testament Book of Daniel and its counterpart in the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, I do think that the destruction, violence, and poverty will be commonplace if we do nothing. In those times when life is darkest, it makes it even more critical that the church be a place of peace and the bearer of the "Good News", that there is hope in this world. To do so we must build that strong foundation of faith in God.
The passage from Hebrews tells us something about the way we live and what we do. If we allow the world to stay the same each and every day, then we are like the priests who made the same sacrifices each day. Their work did nothing to take away the sins of their congregation; their work did nothing to make the world a better place.
But with Christ’s sacrifice, the world changed. As the writer of Hebrews points out, in verses 19 – 25, we have access to God, that we can approach God with a boldness that was not possible before. With Christ, we have built the foundation by which we can do man y things. No longer do we fear the darkness; no longer do we fear the future. In Verse 23, the confession of our hope is our confident expectation of the future. If we do our part, there is no question that God will fulfill his part of the agreement.
Hannah’s live, as we read in the Old Testament reading for today, was very bleak. In ancient Israel, the failure to have children was regarded as a tragedy. First, children were needed to help with the everyday work of life. And without sons, the family name would not be preserved and without heirs, a family could not maintain its place in tribal allotments.
Because she did not bear him any children and especially sons, Elkanah could have divorced Hannah. But it is to his credit that he choose not to do so; rather, he married Peninah who bore him many sons and daughters. But Hannah’s life did not improve, for as we read, Peninah did not show her the same respect that Elkanah did.
But instead of giving up, instead of resigning herself to a life of depression and misery, of letting the darkness of life overcome her, Hannah turned to God. Through her faith, she asked God to give her a son and because of her faith, God gave her that opportunity.
In placing her life in God’s hands, in expressing her faith as the foundation for all she was to do, Hannah’s life changed. So too is for us; when we place complete and unbinding faith in God, so also do our lives change.