Saturday, November 14, 2009

Living in and into hope

RCL Proper 33B
15 November 2009

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers: 1 Samuel 1.4-20; 1 Samuel 2.1-10; Hebrews 10.11-14[15-18]19-25; Mark 13.1-8

Let us pray.

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen. [Evangelical Lutheran Worship]

1) It is an ancient and contemporary story. Someone lacks what society deems to be valuable, what is necessary for social status. After many years of enduring abuse with patience and faith, he or she abandons all propriety and receives a promise, perhaps given only to get rid of the person. Then he or she receives what has been promised and lives happily ever after.

2) But in Hannah this ancient story takes a slightly different trajectory.

a) Hannah acts on the promise inherent in Eli’s blessing. She takes the risk of yet more disappointment and seeks the bed of her husband. This is no passive ‘waiting on the Lord’; this comes close to putting the Lord to the test.

b) When she receives the gift she has sought for so long, Hannah gives the gift away, completely and irrevocably. Although the writer of 1 Samuel will later record that she subsequently gives birth to three more sons and two daughters, this does not negate the radical nature of her decision to give Samuel over to God. She has no surety that she will have another child. No doubt there were some family members who thought her quite mad.

4) Hannah’s act and the substance of today’s reading from Hebrews raise a question for me: What is our hope?

a) For Hannah her hope was that God would grant her a child, thus proving to the whole family that she was a fruitful wife, a fit companion or her husband, Elkanah. The birth of Samuel was, in one fashion or another, an affirmation of her full personhood as this was under-stood at that time.

b) For the writer of Hebrews hope lay in the assurance that faithfulness in following the way of Jesus was the key to being fully alive, fully living into the wisdom of God made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth. To love one another and to do works of justice was a manner of life that helped to shape us into the pattern of the Word of God as embodied in Jesus, the one in whom we see God’s life fully realized in a human person in time and space.

5) When Saint Faith’s was founded more than sixty years ago, what was the hope of the founding families?

a) No doubt there hope was to establish in this part of the city a sign of God’s faithfulness to the world. Here children would learn the faith, adults would serve the well-being of the community and compassionate pastoral care would be offered to rich and poor, young and old.

b) No doubt some hoped that this would be, to borrow a phrase from T. S. Eliot, a place where prayer was valid. Here we would stand before God and lift up the needs and concerns of our little corner of creation. Here we would pour the water of new birth and incorporate new fellow pilgrims to follow the way of Jesus. Here we would break the bread of life and pour out the cup of salvation, for strength not only for solace, for renewal not only for pardon (cf. The Book of Common Prayer 1979, 372).

c) From the vantage point of the present I dare to claim that the hopes of our founders have been realized. We have been and continue to be a visible testament to God’s faithfulness to us and to all whom God has made. We have shared and continue to share with young and old the wisdom of God made known in the Scriptures, in our own experience and in our Anglican heritage. Here prayer has been valid and the sacraments have been lovingly and faithfully administered to all who have come among us in faith.

6) We are now facing the challenge of determining the future of this community of faith.

a) Over the months ahead we will take counsel together regarding how best to live in and into the hope that first brought us into existence.

b) Some of us may have very clear views of what should be done. Others of us may need to ponder and to pray before we commit ourselves to a particular course of action.

c) Regardless of where we find ourselves in this conversation, one thing must re-main clear: to live in and into hope requires continuing commitment to corporate life and to the concrete actions that express our identity as followers of Jesus, our way and our life.

d) Ultimately our hope is for a world in which every human being is fully alive, loved for no other reason that he or she bears the image of God; fully alive, free to offer without artificial constraint or prejudice the unique gifts bestowed to her or him by a gracious God; fully alive, knowing that there is more to life than the acquisition of goods and prestige; fully alive, living wisely and in harmony with all of creation, human and non-human.

e) This is why we are here, serving as stewards of the resources given into our care, whether as individuals, as families, as a community of faith.

7) So, my sisters and brothers in the way of Jesus, as we walk the way before us and consider how we may live in and into hope, “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.” [Hebrews 10.23-25]