Pentecost 24 (Year B) - November 15, 2009
We're making our way toward Advent.
In today's lectionary passages there's lots of strength and power-over (particularly in Hannah's hymn to God -- e.g., "The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed." 1 Samuel 2:10 -- but also some in the Letter to the Hebrews as well) but I'm more interested in light in the darkness.
Marl talks a lot about signs of the apocalypse, of the End Times, but at the end, Jesus says, "This is but the beginning of the birthpangs" (Mark 13:8b). I love birthing imagery around God and Creation.
The sun hasn't yet officially risen at the time I get up in the morning, and it has most definitely set when I leave work. But we know that the lighter days are coming. We have not yet reached the darkest days (the days which have the fewest hours of sunlight), but although we know darker days are coming, we know lighter days are coming after those.
Last Sunday we concluded the semi-continuous reading in the Book of Ruth with the birth of Obed, restorer of life and nourisher of Naomi's old age, ancestor of Jesse and of David. In the daily lectionary readings this week, we read about Rebekah being found as a wife for Isaac, and about Samuel -- about the circumstances leading up to his birth to Hannah and about his Call from God.
Subtle, right? In the line of Jesse and David is born a child who will be a restorer of life, and Abraham finds a partner for the child of his old age, and to another woman is born a child who is dedicated to God and who hears God's call "in those days [when] the word of God was rare [and] there were not many visions."
Our theme over and over is the birth of children who are a light in the darkness -- new life in periods of emptiness and barrenness.
This is the Good News.
Not the magic of children per se, but the fact that God is over and over again bringing life out of death, light out of the darkness.
Even in the midst of all our darkness and conflict, God's Spirit is moving.
Tiffany talked about how Hannah bypassed the temple authorities to confront God directly, but what strikes me is how this is echoed in Pentecost.
Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine." But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before God."And from Acts:
-1 Samuel 1:13-15
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."The INTOXICATING power of connection with God. And I hasten to caveat this because I know that not everyone has positive experiences with intoxication, and I want to keep this a safe space for all who have suffered the effects of substance abuse. And personally, alcohol mostly makes me tired. But I love this idea of being so filled with the Spirit of God that observers think, "You cannot be acting under your own power." Because when we are our best selves we aren't -- we are tapping into that power and energy in which we all live and move and have our being, of the Ground of All Being, of that which sustains all of us, that same breath of life which breathed life into the first humans when they were but molded earth.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:"In the last days it will be," God declares, "that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young ones shall see visions, and your old ones shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of God's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of God shall be saved." [Joel 2:28-32]-Acts 2:12-20
Through the prophet Joel, God tells us: "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young ones shall see visions, and your old ones shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit." No one is too lowly to be filled with the power of God.
We are invited, in these November days which here in Massachusetts are so often cold and dark, to be filled with the warming, life-giving, spirit of God.
Let us return to the Gospel.
Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple -- leaving the dwelling place of God -- and one of the disciples says, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!"
Look at the towering, strong, enduring, ROCK SOLID, systems built by humans.
Jesus replies, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
Since the time of Genesis, humans have been trying to reach the heavens with their own power, with their own earthen buildings, to cross over into God's realm so that we can say, "This is my land now -- I know God, I control God, I am like unto God."
Just as that Tower was knocked to the ground, so too these buildings, so too these systems. No human system endures forever. God always breaks through, upsets the established order -- Isaiah tells us that, "Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain" (Isaiah 40:4).
Jesus' disciples ask, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?"
When will God's Kin-dom break through? How long must we wait, O God, how long?
And Jesus doesn't really answer them.
Jesus warns them not to be led astray by those who will come in Christ's name, and tells them not to be alarmed by wars and natural disasters, but that's it. Our Gospel reading today (which admittedly is not the end of this particular speech by Jesus -- though I can assure you that we don't get much additional clarity in the rest of the chapter) ends with Jesus saying, "This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."
There is going to be a beautiful new Creation on the other side, but in order to get there, you need to LABOR.
And labor is hard. Sure, sometimes it's easy. But sometimes it's hard. It feels like it lasts forever, and it's bloody and sweaty and filled with screaming and groaning, and sometimes it even kills us. But usually it doesn't.
And through it all we have the comfort of the constant presence of our God.
And so I invite us to be inspired -- to be filled with the power and the presence of God, to help birth the Kindom of God on Earth.