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Pentecost 25 Proper 28B November 14, 2021

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Song of Hannah)
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Our first reading for today is from the First Book of Samuel. We meet Elkanah. He has two wives. Back in those days, a man would often have more than one wife. He is very generous to his wives, to Peninnah and all her sons and daughters, and especially to his wife Hannah. He loves her very much.

But Hannah has a very deep grief in her life. She has not been able to have any children. Back in those times, about three thousand years ago, women were most valued and respected if they had many children. Women who were not able to have children were usually not as highly loved and respected. It is to Elkanah’s credit that he loves Hannah and treats her with great respect.

Peninnah has many children, both sons and daughters, and she constantly reminds Hannah of this fact. She makes Hannah’s life miserable. She has done this for years.

Have you ever had a problem that made you feel like a failure, that made you cry with grief and frustration? Have you ever gone from year to year with a great sadness as Hannah did? Most of us have had experiences such as this, times of great sadness about things that were beyond our control.

Hannah and Elkanah go to the temple at Shiloh to worship God, and Hannah does a very wise thing. She goes to the altar and kneels down and pours her heart out to God. She weeps and she prays the words that express her feelings, but she does this silently. She asks God to give her a son.

The priest Eli is sitting by the doorpost. He sees this woman who is so upset and thinks she is drunk. Eli scolds her, but she tells him the truth. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled,” she says, and, as she speaks to Eli, he realizes that this is a good and honest and upright woman of deep faith who is asking for God’s help. Seeing the depth of  Hannah’s faith, Eli assures her that her prayers will be answered. She has a son and names him Samuel, and Samuel becomes a great prophet and servant of God.

Hannah’s song celebrating her son’s birth strongly resembles Mary’s song, the Magnificat. In her song, Hannah rejoices in God’s compassion for the poor, the hungry, and the weak. And we can rejoice in God’s compassion for her.

In our reading from Hebrews, we are called to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we have genuine hope. We are called to inspire each other to love and good deeds, and to encourage each other.

In our gospel, one of the disciples comments on how huge the temple in Jerusalem is. This is true. Scholars tell us that the temple was very large,  even in comparison with buildings in the great city of Rome. But then Jesus says that all these huge stones will be thrown down. He talks about wars and earthquakes and all kinds of upheaval. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Jesus is talking about the kinds of conflicts and tensions that go on in our world at various times, including ours.

In our time, we are being called to take care of our beautiful planet, to work on racial healing so that we will sincerely love all our brothers and sisters as ourselves, and we are called to deal with many other issues so that we can help to bring in the shalom of God.

In the Church, we are also facing challenging issues. A financial expert has told us that in the Episcopal Church in Vermont, we face a financial crisis.

Last year, Bishop Shannon reminded us of a story about Jesus and his disciples. They have just fed five thousand people. Jesus tells the disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He dismisses the crowd of people they have just fed and goes up to the mountain to pray. Very often, Jesus would go apart and spend time with God in prayer. Meanwhile the disciples are crossing the sea, and a storm comes up. The wind is howling, the waves are getting higher and higher and the disciples are really scared. Jesus comes walking toward them on the water. At first they think he is a ghost, and they are even more scared. But Jesus said to them, “Take heart. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter says, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says “Come.” Peter jumps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus on the water. But when he notices the strong wind, he gets very scared and begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord! Save me!. Jesus stretches out his hand, catches Peter, and they both reach the boat and get in. Once they are in the boat, the wind stops blowing. That’s when they realize Jesus is the Son of God.

Bishop Shannon told us that trying to deal with the pandemic and all these issues is like trying to walk on water the way Peter did. We are facing the unknown. We don’t have clear answers. When we feel ourselves start to sink, we need to remember at least two things: one, we are walking toward Jesus; two, Jesus has his hand stretched out to save us.

We are going to be working together to find out where God is leading us and then to follow in faith. The financial expert described the situation as though we are going to reach the edge of a cliff. That’s scary. But, instead of letting the fear overcome us, we can remember our faith. A wise person once said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” We have faith in Jesus, and he is reaching out to us to help us and guide us and save us.

God answered Hannah’s prayer and Samuel was born. We are going to be making a journey into uncertainty. We could be overcome by terror. It will feel like a storm on the water with winds howling and waves growing higher. But Jesus is here, We are walking toward Jesus. His hand is stretched out to us. And he is saying, ”Take heart, It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Amen.

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