Monday, 12 November 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 18 November 2018,
Second Sunday before Advent

‘Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down’ (Mark 13: 2) … classical remains in the Forum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Rome, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday,18 November 2018, is the Second Sunday before Advent, with the Liturgical Provisions for Proper 28.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland for next Sunday are:

Continuous readings: I Samuel 1: 4-20; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-14, (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13: 1-8.

Paired readings: Daniel 12: 1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-14, (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13: 1-8.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Through the night of doubt and sorrow’ (Hymn 661) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Wexford)

Introducing the Readings:

We are coming towards the end of the Year B cycle of Lectionary readings. On Sunday next and the following Sunday, we have two short introductions to the Books of Samuel (I Samuel 1: 4-20 on the Second Sunday before Advent and II Samuel 23: 1-7 on the First Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ.

Sunday next also brings us to our last reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, which we have been reading since early October; the next New Testament is from the Book of Revelation.

We are also come to the end of the Year B readings from Saint Mark’s Gospel; on the following Sunday, the last in Year B, we are reading from Saint John’s Gospel.

This Sunday’s readings raise a number of questions and pose a number of challenges:

● What can we pray for?

● Who can we ask to pray for us?

● Do we only pray for people and causes we regard as worthy and deserving?

● Are there some things we should not ask for in prayer?

● How do we respond when prayers are answered?

● How do we respond when prayers do not seem to be answered?

● How do we respond to those who seem to pray against us?

● Should prayer be accompanied by an offering or a promise of an offering?

● How does prayer relate to our hopes for the future … for ourselves, our families, our communities, our future?

● How do we pray in times of doubt, in times of fear?

● How do we respond if others seem to have led us astray in our prayers and in our religious hopes?

● What if the way they have led us astray is related in negative or destructive ways not only to our futures, but to the future of the world?

As the Collect of the Day reminds us, prayer is about shaping us in Christ’s image rather than bringing a shopping list to God.

But, on the other hand, if we cannot bring everything to Christ in prayer, how can we possibly be prepared to celebrate him the following Sunday as Christ the King?

Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest Eli, Jan Victors (Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1645)

I Samuel 1: 4-20:

The four books I and II Samuel and I and II Kings come together as a single collection, presenting us with an account of Israel’s monarchy and telling us the story of Israel’s kings.

The story of Samuel (I Samuel 1-2) marks the period of transition before the monarchy. It is followed immediately by the story of Saul, Israel’s first king (I Samuel 13-31) leads us into the story of David.

Despite God’s reluctant agreement to kingship, David, whose reign beings in II Samuel 5, represents the highest expression of a kingdom under the rule of God. The covenantal bond between God and his people is first sealed through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then it is refined through Moses. Now it is about to be worked out in a nation with roots that draw nourishment from its religious ideals, beliefs and customs.

There are several stories in the Bible of once-barren women who have unusual births and children late in life who are seen as a special favour from God, including:

● Sarah (Genesis 17:16-19);
● Rebekah (Genesis 25: 21-26);
● Rachel (Genesis 29: 31; 30: 22-24);
● The mother of Samson (Judges 13: 2-5);
● Elizabeth (Luke 1: 5-17).

An unusual birth was thought to be symbolic of the importance of the person in later life. This reading is a good reminder of this in these weeks as we are beginning to prepare to celebrate Christmas of the birth of Christ.

This collection of books on the monarchy opens in the time before the monarchy, when the Temple in Jerusalem has not yet been built. We might read here that Elkanah is a member of the tribe of Ephraim, rather than a godly descendant of Levi who lives in the hill country of Ephraim. Because of his place of residence, he is known as an Ephraimite, but he is really of the tribe of Levi (see I Chronicles 6: 33-38).

Elkanah is on a visit to the Temple at Shiloh for one of the three great Jewish festivals. He takes with him his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah, and the children of his younger wife, Peninnah (I Samuel 1: 1-4).

Polygamy was not common, but we know it was permitted. For example, we read:

‘If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn’ (Deuteronomy 21: 15-17, NRSV).

Shiloh was 20-25 miles north of Jerusalem, and the Ark was kept there (see I Samuel 3: 3). There also were temples in Shiloh, Bethel and Mizpah, and Shiloh is mentioned in other places as a centre of worship (Joshua 18: 1; Judges 21: 19; Jeremiah 7: 12; Psalm 78: 60).

At Shiloh, Elkanah takes part in a sacrificial meal. We are told that God has made Hannah childless (verse 5). In spite of this, Elkanah ‘loved her’ and he gives Hannah ‘a double portion’ of food and drink.

This festival is a special time for rejoicing, when sadness is prohibited (Deuteronomy 12: 17-18). But Hannah is sad. For many years, Peninnah taunts Hannah about being barren. In spite of her husband’s love and considerate attitude, Hannah has been so provoked and irritated that she has reached the point where she can take it no longer.

This time round, after the meal, Hannah goes to the entrance of the temple in Shiloh, where she meets Eli, the priest (verses 9-10).

‘How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine’ (I Samuel 1: 14) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Seville, 2018)

Hannah prays to God and makes a vow: if God will grant her a son, she will make him a nazirite (verse 11). A nazirite was dedicated or consecrated to God, refrained from strong drink, and was not allowed to have his head shaved.

A first-born son was always dedicated to God, but he was not expected to go as far as becoming a nazirite. However, Hannah offers more: he will be a nazirite throughout his life.

It is presumed at that time that prayer was usually said out loud. Knowing that everyone has been drinking, Eli thinks Hannah’s silence in prayer is because she is drunk (verse 13-14). When she answers him very coherently (verse 15-16), Eli realises the error of his judgment, and intercedes with God on Hannah’s behalf (verse 17).

Hannah trusts in God to grant her wish (verse 18). After returning home (verse 19), Samuel is born to Hannah and Elkanah, and Hannah now knows that her desperate prayer has been answered (verse 20).

Later in this chapter, after this reading, Hannah fulfils her promise. When Samuel is weaned, she takes him to Eli in the Temple and gives him to the Lord (verse 24). Samuel is God’s gift to an oppressed woman. His life is God’s gift. Then, in return, his mother gives his life to God (verses 27-28).

‘My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage’ (Psalm 16: 6) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Lichfield, 2017)

Psalm 16:

Psalm 16 is about placing our trust in God, who will not abandon us. Those who behave badly those their neighbours may as well be worshipping false gods, and their prayers and offerings are in vain (verses 3-4).

For those who are faithful to god and God’s promises, God is like ‘my portion and cup’ and they will find God upholds them (verse 5), when times are good (verse 6) and when times are bad (verse 8).

‘My heart teaches me, night after night’ (Psalm 16: 7) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Thessaloniki, 2018)

However, this appears to be an exceptional or unusual variation for the Church of Ireland in the lectionary (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 61; the Church of Ireland Directory 2018, and the Church of Ireland website).

Otherwise, the Revised Common Lectionary provides for Psalm 16 only when the alternative Old Testament reading is used (Daniel 12: 1-3). Instead of the Psalm, if I Samuel 1: 4-20 is used as the Old Testament reading, then I Samuel 2: 1-10 should be used as a canticle.

‘O Lord, you are my portion and my cup’ (Psalm 16: 5) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Rome, 2017)

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

The author has told us how much greater is Christ’s sacrifice of himself than the annual sacrifices of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Now he says that what any priest offered daily in sacrificial ritual for the forgiveness of sins was worthless, unlike Christ’s ‘single sacrifice’ (verse 12).

After Christ dies and is raised, he becomes king. In Eastern Mediterranean culture, kings sat down, but priests stood up.

Since that time, he has been awaiting the final defeat of his ‘enemies’ (verse 13), although the author does not say who those enemies are. For by offering himself on the cross he has ‘perfected’ (verse 14) or completed the removal of sin from those whom God has ‘sanctified,’ made holy, or set apart for his service.

Elsewhere, salvation will be completed when Christ comes again.

The Old Testament writings, divinely inspired through the ‘Holy Spirit’ (verse 15), foretell this. Jeremiah wrote that there will be a new covenant, one in which God’s ways will be written in peoples’ very being (verse 16), and where God will, in effect, clean sin off the slate (verse 17).

We have a new covenant (verse 18), a new deal with God. From verse 19 on, we are told of the consequences of the new covenant. Since Christ’s sacrifice allows us to enter boldly into God’s presence (‘sanctuary,’ verse 19), now that there is no longer a barrier (‘curtain,’ verse 20) between the faithful and God, and since Christ is ‘a great [high] priest’ (verse 21) who has sacrificed for the Church (‘house of God’), we have three privileges or duties:

● to approach God in faith with clear consciences (verse 22);

● to ‘hold fast’ (verse 23) to our statement of faith (made at baptism), reciprocating God’s fidelity to us;

● to stimulate the expression of ‘love and good deeds’ in others (verse 24).

These duties must be performed in the context of the liturgical community, especially since ‘the Day’ (verse 25) Christ’s second coming, is approaching.

‘Look, Teacher, what large stone and what large buildings!’ (Mark 13: 1) … classical remains in the Forum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Rome, 2017)

Mark 13: 1-8:

We are at the end of the Year B lectionary readings from Saint Mark’s Gospel, and at the end of reading Christ’s instructions to his disciples.

Christ has indicated to the disciples that the poor widow who gave all that she has in the Temple is a good example of discipleship. Now, in verses 1-2, he predicts the destruction of the Temple, as the prophets Micah and Jeremiah had done earlier. His words were later used against him.

Did he mean it literally or figuratively? We do not know. (Both the Temple and the religious system were destroyed in 70 AD.)

Then Christ and his first four disciples, Peter, James, John and Andrew (verse 3) visit the Mount of Olives – a place mentioned in the Old Testament (see Zechariah 14: 4) in connection with events at the end of the era. They ask him when will the Temple be destroyed (verse 4).

How will we know that the end of the era is near? Christ gives them three indicators:

● Many will come in Chris’s name claiming, ‘I am he!’ (verse 6) – the Christological ἐγώ εἰμι (ego eimi we associate with the ‘I AM’ sayings in Saint John’s Gospel.

● major international political conflicts will erupt (verse 8).

● natural disasters and famines will erupt (verse 8).

● And there shall be other signs too (see verse 14-25 later).

The figure of a woman in labour (‘birth pangs,’ verse 8) also appears in Jeremiah, Hosea and Micah.

The main theme in this passage, known as the Marcan Apocalypse, are that many apocalyptic messengers are deceitful and that those who are discerning will wait for the real end. We are to resist false prophets of doom, yet to be ready for the true events that are to unfold.

In the meantime, we are charged to continue the mission of the Church: ‘And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations’ (verse 10).

‘Beware that no one leads you astray’ (Mark 13: 5) … confusing signs leading into the sea at the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some questions:

The plight of a woman unable to conceive the much-wanted heir was one of the themes running through Downton Abbey some years ago. How do you deal with a topic such as this from the pulpit, knowing this is a private and silent source of grief for many women, and for many men too, in your parish?

Are there times when it is appropriate to be sad in our public worship and during the Liturgy of the Church?

As we approach Advent, can you make the following connections:

● between the promise to Hannah and the promise to Mary, or to Elizabeth?

● between the lifestyle of Samuel and the lifestyle of John the Baptist?

● between the Temple at Siloh, the Temple in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, and the destruction of the Temple discussed in the Gospel reading?

● between the priest Eli sitting on his seat rather than standing and the sitting king and standing priest (Hebrews 10: 11-12)?

● between Hannah’s suffering and her psalm and the way in which God reveals himself?

● between Hannah’s weakness and the way God’s power is demonstrated so often at the point of our weaknesses?

● between the Kings of Israel, whose story begins here, and Christ the Great High King in the New Testament reading?

● between the previous Sunday’s theme of remembrance and peace and Christ’s warnings on this Sunday about ‘wars and rumours of wars’ and of nation rising up against nation?

● between these themes and the themes of the following Sunday, which celebrates the Kingship of Christ?

‘When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed’ (Mark 13: 7) … an anti-war protest outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 13: 1-8:

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2 Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 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 birth pangs.’

‘… in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope’ (Post-Communion Prayer) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Mount Athos, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope.
Bring us at the last to that pure life for which we long,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for this Sunday in Sing to the Word (2000) edited by Bishop Edward Darling include:

I Samuel 1: 4-20:

391, Father, now behold us (at a Baptism only)
16, Like a mighty river flowing
625, Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

Psalm 16:

567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
392, Now is eternal life
289, This joyful Eastertide

Daniel 12: 1-3:

459, For all the saints who from their labours rest
461, For all thy saints, O Lord
463, Give us the wings of faith to rise
466, Here from all nations, all tongues and all peoples
467, How bright those glorious spirits shine
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
670, Jerusalem the golden
474, Such a host as none can number
475, Who are these like stars appearing

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

218, And can it be that I should gain
400, And now, O Father, mindful of the love
519, Come, all who look to Christ today
411, Draw near and take the body of the Lord
220, Glory be to Jesus
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
382, Help us, O Lord, to learn
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
638, O for a heart to praise my God
439, Once, only once, and once for all
281, Rejoice the Lord is King
291, Where high the heavenly temple stands

Mark 13: 1-8:

10, All my hope on God is founded
327, Christ is our corner-stone
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
372, Through all the changing scenes of life
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow

‘Through the night of doubt and sorrow’ (Hymn 661) … alone at night on Bird Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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