The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, 18 November 2018

I Samuel 1:4-20
I Samuel 2:1-10


Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
St. Mark 13:1-8

Background: The Advent Shadow

Advent began is a monastic fast in the fifth century CE, where monks were bidden to fast every day of the month of December. It had a larger piece of the calendar when in some places the fast began on the Feast of Saint Marin, 11 November. Here the fast was limited to three times a week and was sometimes called the “Lent of St. Martin”. This was the practice in the Diocese of Tours until the sixth century, when it was adopted as the practice in all of France. Soon it was normalized as Roman practice and kept during the four Sundays and their subsequent weeks prior to Christmas.

In the lectionary, however, we have a shadow of that more ancient practice, as the readings for the last Sundays of the church year mirror the advent themes of the last days and the coming of Christ. Thus, in today’s readings and those that follow we see the anticipatory nature of the lectionary and sit squarely in the shadow of Advent.

Track One:

First Reading: I Samuel 1:4-20

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So, it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of theLord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 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 the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

And so, begins the history of the Prophet Samuel, providing us with many images and poetry that will become a part of the Jesus story. To gain a more complete context to this reading, I encourage you to read the pericope from verse one. In these verses we meet all the characters, their homes of origin and their social context as well. We also understand that Hannah, though childless, is the favorite. She is also the focal point of this portion of the history. We need to understand her position. She has not given her husband Elkanah a son, and thus she feels that she has negated her purpose in life. She is quiet in her response to her husband, but when she does speak it is to God. 

The character, Eli, and his sons as well, the High Priest, is the exact antithesis to the great prophet whose history this is. He seems not to either know, recognize, or hear God. So, when Hannah speaks to God, Eli sees something other. If anything, his characterization of Hannah exacerbates her condition. He does however, bless her endeavor, a blessing that precedes the intercourse that Elkanah and Hannah have that results in a son. Of interest are the characteristics of the Nazirite that Hannah describes in her dedication of her son to God. In some respects, this is a story of contrasts and opposites. There is the coming prophet, and the troubled priest and his sons, the childless and the mothers, the supposed drunk, and the nazirite which would not drink. Out of this tangle comes Samuel, whose name means “lent.”

Breaking open I Samuel:
  1. What is absent from your life that makes you sad?
  2. How do you deal with this absence?
  3. What has been given you instead?

Response: I Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
 “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 bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.
 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
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.”

This wonderful poem probably entered the text at a later time. Note the anachronism in the final verse of the poem which refers to “his king,” an institution that comes after this story. We can understand, however, why this borrowed text is used in the story, especially hearing, The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.” It is a poem that rejoices in and praises the God who makes things different. Several of the phrases will be used by Saint Luke in his Magnificat which he puts into the mouth of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Those verses amplify Luke’s agenda of attention to the poor. 

Breaking open I Samuel:
  1. Is your joy connected to other people’s joy?
  2. How does your joy serve the world?
  3. What does Hannah emulate for your life?


Track Two:

First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3

The Lord spoke to Daniel in a vision and said, “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Our reading appears in the last of the accepted text of Daniel, a series of visions of the kings of the north and south. In order to understand the cultural context of this reading, we need to reacquaint ourselves with the history of Israel in the second century BCE. The clue is this phrase, “time of anguish”. The rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled the Seleucid Empire from 175 to 164 BCE, had as its major agendum the Hellenization of the lands that it ruled. The record of that struggle is recorded in the Books of the Maccabees, and here in Daniel. The vision is of a struggle that frees the people of God from the abominations of the Seleucid kings – the sacrifice of pigs on the altars of the Temple in Jerusalem, a general persecution of the Jews, and the use of divine titles. 

The name Michael first appears in Numbers 13:13, one of the twelve spies sent to prospect Canaan. Here in Daniel the name applies to a “great prince, protector”. This character “shall arise”. Perhaps this might be taken as “lifted up”, as in a divine appointment to advocate for and rescue “your people”, i.e. Israel. It might be that this character is modelled on Cyrus the Great – the founder of the Achaemenid Empire (600-530 BCE) who allows the resettlement of the exiled Judeans and permits the worship of YHWH in the Temple of Jerusalem. Chapters 10-12 of the book seem to have been written around 167 BCE and reflect the anxiety of that time. 

Breaking open Daniel:
  1. Who is a protector for you?
  2. Whom do you protect?
  3. How does God protect you?

Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine

     Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."
     All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
     But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
     Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
     Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
     My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
     I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
     I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
     My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10    For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11    You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

What we have here is a confession of faith – by whom we do not know. Verses three and four provide some context to the confession, “those that run after other gods.” It is a good commentary on the anxiety evident in the First Reading. At any rate it is clearly an apology for the worship of YHWH and trusting in this God as the God of Israel. After this disassociation from those who offer “libations of blood”, the author rejoices in his citizenship in God’s realm. All parts of the body resonate to this faith and have joy in God. 

Breaking open Psalm 16:
  1. What do you believe in?
  2. How does that faith manifest itself in your life?
  3. What does the kingdom of heaven mean to you?

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”

he also adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.]
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The question addressed is, “Is it the blood that makes redemption and forgiveness possible?” In these final passages in which the author compares the ancient priesthood with Christ’s own priesthood we have a move from a literal understanding of sacrifice to a spiritual understanding. The author contends that “a single offering” is what was necessary. Like Jeremiah the author sees God’s will and law written in heart and mind – so that it becomes part and parcel of those who follow Jesus. 

This reading is followed by a second pericope (10:19-31), which has two parts. The first is a positive recommendation, and the second a warning (which is not a part of our reading today). “Let us approach with a true heart” is an invitation that we should mirror the priest as we too enter the sanctuary and make our offerings of prayer and thanksgiving. The encouragement is to continue to be and act in the assembly for the benefit of others, “as you see the Day approaching.” The reading, at its end mirrors the apprehension present in the other readings – another part of the Advent Shadow.

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. How is your faith earthy?
  2. How is your life heavenly?
  3. How does your life exhibit God?

The Gospel: St. Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

This reading arches over the cusp between Jesus’ appearance with the disciples at the Temple (13:1-4), and The Discourse on Troubles and the Coming of the Son of Man (13:5-8 [9-37]). The disciples have just witnessed the sayings of Jesus concerning the widow and the offerings of others, and now they become aware of the setting in which Jesus has made these observations. Their astonishment at the Temple and its magnificence seems more of an effort on Mark’s part to make an appropriate setting for what Jesus has to say next. First there is a comment on the permanence of this – all this will be gone. Something that these men and women likely witnessed in 70 CE. But what does this destruction mean? Jesus points to more than the end of the Temple but rather to end of many things, and institutions. He points to “wars and rumors of wars.” We are looking at a time of distress as seen in the first reading of Track Two. Jesus wants his disciples to see the cusp!

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. In what ways are you like the scribes?
  2. In what ways are you like the widow?
  3. Who are the widows and orphans in your life?

Points of Comparison           Living in Poverty and Living in Wealth

Comparison One:                  With what shall we live? What is Necessary?

Comparison Two:                  How do others see our lives? What do we do to keep up appearances?

Comparison Three:                What do we put our faith in in order to live?

Comparison Four:                 How does God redeem us?          

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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