Nov 16, 2012
I'm on a week's holiday so no podcast this week, but here is the script of the sermon I'll preach on Sunday.
Focus Readings: 1 Samuel 1:4–20;1 Samuel 2:1–10; Mark 13:1–8 Subscribe on Itunes
I read recently that in 1977 when the Uniting Church began there were over 900 communicant members at St Stephens. Today there are a little over 200 and of those we see only an average of about 80-90 on any given Sunday. I don’t know but I imagine the average age of the adult members of the congregation would probably have been in the 40s and there would have been a thriving Sunday School, Youth Groups and fellowship groups. The future probably looked very bright. Today there are no youth groups the Stations are going but they are not thriving, and the future does not look quite so bright. The average age of the adults in the congregation s 70 ½ . Even if there is some cause for hope the future is still unknown and uncertain.
Seven years ago I was single and I had just about given up hope on being married and having children. Like Hannah in today’s story I was pretty despondent. Not as sad as Hannah though because unlike her my future well being and my relationship with my spouse did not depend on having children as Hannah’s might have if she had not had as devoted a husband as Elkanah - barren women were not always as fortunate. Just ask some of Henry the 8ths wives.
Hannah did have a child and when she does she bursts into a hymn of praise. The pain and disgrace of barrenness is forgotten and her child Samuel goes on to become Israel's greatest Judge and we heard that story earlier this year. At the birth of her child she breaks into song. And the words she uses another woman Mary who was about to have another important child uses, as the baseis for her son. My soul magnifies the lord and my heart rejoices in God my Saviour.
Less than 40 years after the events of the first Easter, the temple in Jerusalem together with the whole city had been destroyed. A Jewish rebellion had been brutally put down by the Romans and from a thriving city Jerusalem was reduced to a village in the rubble. As in all wars there was untold suffering for fighting men and men women and children among the civillian population.
Jesus forsees this destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and the suffering that will go with it and warns people that even though things seem black, this will not be the end, the end is still to come. This he says is but the beginning of the birth pangs. Worse suffering is to come before he returns, before the Day of the Lord. But there is also a promise here.
All three of our children have been born by Caesarean. Eli as an emergency after Heather "inactively" laboured two days for and Parker & Ivy as elective but not really desired Caesareans. If you have ever witnessed or been a woman in labour, or if you have ever had that sense of worry as you wait for the birth of your child by Caesarean you will know about birth pangs. There is another kind of pain, and that is the pain of being unable to have children. If you ask parents, was all the trouble and pain of getting children worth it? Was the pain of child birth or the pain of worrying about fertility worth it, the overwhelming majority will say "yes". In fact the pain is often quickly forgotten.
This was my experience especially with Eli. Not only was he the first but I saw Heather suffer the pain of labour all to no avail, and then we had the further worry of the emergency Caesarean when the labour failed. For the hospital and the surgeons this was all routine, but not for us. In the end Eli was born and the events of the birth were quickly forgotten.
And Eli has brought incredible joy not just to our lives but the lives of many others. All this from suffering.
The same was true not just for Hannah but for the disciples over the first Easter. Their friend Jesus was arrested unjustly tried and convicted, suffered one of the cruelest and most shameful forms of death devised by human beings and mixed with this was the shame of their failure to stand by him or defend him. Yet on Easter Sunday all that changed. God transformed death to life, suffering to healing, shame into glory, and denial and abandonment into forgineness and reconcilliation
To coin a tired old phrase we may not know what the future holds but we know who holds the future. So whatever the future holds for you personally or for St Stephen’s the God who holds that future is the same God who gave Hannah a child, and who raised Jesus from the dead. Whatever our present suffering or fear, we belong to God in Christ who transforms death to life, suffering to healing, shame into glory, and denial and abandonment into forgiveness and reconciliation.
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