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11.15.09 The Day is Still Approaching, Mark 13:1-8, 1 Sam 2:1-10

by on November 16, 2009

Everyone is waiting for something. Either we are waiting for something bad to end. Or we’re waiting for something good . . . to end. If you thought we were waiting for something good to begin, that’s essentially the same as waiting for something bad to end. No, we’re all waiting for something to end, whether bad or good. And the day of ending is still approaching.

We’re highly aware of when we’re waiting for something bad to end. We pray for an end. We work towards an end. Something bad in our lives inspires us to progress, to overcoming it. As anyone involved in spiritual care will tell you, it normally tends to those waiting for something bad to end. Bad things come in many guises: some things are acute, like losing one’s job or a threat to one’s health. Other things are more subtle, like a relationship experiencing decline. But when bad things are happening in our lives, we find ourselves waiting for them to end.

Hannah was in such a situation. Her story is found in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel. She’s married to a man named Elkanah who is also married to a woman named Peninnah. Peninnah had several children; Hannah could have none. Elkanah loved Hannah extraordinarily, but he couldn’t overcome her barrenness. Peninnah mocked her.

Waiting for something bad to end, Hannah went to the church of her time and prayed. While there, the priest Eli observed her, thought she was drunk, and judged her. Hannah was alone, depressed, and desperate. She prayed for an end, and with Samuel it came. In response to this answer to her prayer, Hannah burst forth in praise.

We learn four things from Hannah about waiting for something bad to end. (1) It’s OK to talk to God about the bad things we want to come to an end. I know people who feel guilty about wanting bad things to end. They think they deserve bad things, or that God is somehow punishing them. But God’s presence is revealed in prayer, and God’s presence in bad things is revealed by praying about them.

(2) Bad things often get worse before they get better. Year after year, Peninnah’s multiple children and constant tormenting must have added to the weight of Hannah’s distress. Things can always get worse; and often they do.

(3) Not everyone will understand or support us in trusting God through the bad things. Friends and family may mock or dismiss us for turning to God in bad times. Elkanah tried to comfort Hannah by asking, “Am I not worth 10 children to you?” And Eli misunderstood and judged Hannah. But Hannah was honest about her pain, and honest about it with God in prayer. That is faith.

(4) When we trust God in prayer with our bad situations, we dedicate the outcome of our prayers to God. What Hannah did with Samuel is remarkable. She left him with Eli in order that he might become a priest. The answer to her prayer, Samuel, she dedicated to God’s service. When her prayers remained unanswered, she continued to pray. When they were answered, she continued to serve God.

What about this waiting for something good to end? We’re normally not as conscious about the good ending. In fact, when the good ends, our first thoughts are, “This is bad; we should end it. Let’s bring back the good ol’ days. Let’s work harder to make things like they used to be.”

But looking to what has been is not progress, but regress. It’s stepping backwards. And Jesus calls us to step forward. When good things end, it’s for a reason.

It’s Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. He is facing increasing conflict, first with the religious, then the political authorities. His comments about the Temple exemplify both lines of conflict.

The Temple was religious hub of Judaism and the state capitol of Ancient Israel for a millennium. It was given by God to Solomon to mark the end of a religious life of temporary wandering. The Temple was the permanent structure intended to replace the roaming Tabernacle tent. The Temple was destroyed in war, but rebuilt. And at the time of Jesus, it reached its architectural apex. The largest stone was 39 feet long and 13 feet high.

But the Temple had become a place of religious corruption and political collusion. Instead of representing God’s immanence, it came to represent God’s distance. People were segregated out by religious customs. Instead of representing nationalistic hope, it came to represent an unholy alloy with Rome. Herod, the benefactor for all the spectacular renovations, was a puppet governor controlled by Rome.

Still, Jesus disciples were impressed with its physical grandeur, and especially with what it had come to represent: power, stability, and endurance. They were impressed with the Temple, instead of with the presence of God which the Temple was supposed to represent.

So Jesus redirects his disciples’ attention beyond what they can see to what they cannot; beyond the distraction to the main attraction. The Temple will eventually pass away, he portends, with all its corruption, but also with all its religious significance. However, the presence of God will remain.

We learn three things from Mark about waiting for good things to end. (1) It’s OK to be impressed with monuments to God’s faithfulness. Such monuments originated as expressions of gratitude and as testimonies of God’s faithfulness, providence, and generosity. (2) Monuments can easily become idols. Whether our buildings, customs, or traditions, what started out as good can become a distraction when we focus too much upon them. (3) We are to look beyond the present and the past to the future. Whatever good exists today, or from the past, ends. And in 70 CE, Rome destroyed the Temple, just as Jesus described, and for his followers, Jesus becomes the new Temple.

Everyone is waiting for something. Bad things come to an end. So do good things. But everything must come to an end, because God desires that everything have a new beginning in Jesus Christ. Our hope in every ending, whether bad or good, our hope in every change, is that the presence of God in Jesus Christ will be manifest anew. Amen.

Questions for further reflection

What is a bad thing in your life that you wish would end? Have you spoken to God about it? What will you do if God delivers you from it—or if God doesn’t?

Can you remember a time when things got worse before they got better? What helped you during that time? Hannah had nowhere else to turn but prayer. Besides prayer, where else can you turn?

It’s said the good is the enemy of the great. To what good thing in your life are you overly attached? Are you willing to let it come to an end so that God can replace it with something great?

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