1 Samuel 1:4-20; Psalm 113; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
November 18, 2018 –Twenty-sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Count your blessings, one by one
It will surprise you
What the Lord has done.
Our vision continues to clear as we come to the end of another Christian year, Anno Domini 2018 and the Season of Advent awaits our arrival.
Paul reminds us this morning that the great gift of Christ is to open the way to all power and all truth and all life to all people. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
Who are those who are being made holy? Those who will stand with open eyes, see what there is to see, hear what there is to hear and do what there is to do.
In this great human yearning for the truth, we push back against our pre-human nature. We want to believe what we want to believe.
There is an old Chinese proverb: “To know what you know and to know what you don’t know is to know.”
There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain, ““It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” One of the interesting things about that quote is that Mark Twain never said it.
As we look back on what the year has brought and count our blessings, one by one, we can see without fear because it has already passed.We are still here, watching and waiting, for that glimpse into what is true and what is not true.
To see what there is to see, and to know that we cannot see it all… that is true wisdom. It is boldness wrapped in humility.
I had cataract surgery on my second eye this week and I worked on the puzzle of being sure that Ollie will one day see with both his eyes. It became clearer to me, as I struggled with both of these mysteries, that there is much we cannot see and much that we do not want to see.
But Jesus could see it somehow and “since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.”
My post op appointment was Thursday and I reported a dark area on the left side of my left eye. For some reason I had not seen it after the surgery on that eye, but I could see it last Thursday.
The doctor can speak in the language of the eye far more clearly than I can, and when I tried to describe it as a half circle or a disk, he asked me if I meant a crescent, like a waning, almost new, moon. That’s it, I told him. That’s a better word.
He told me we are born with a blind spot, and since we don’t get any information from it, since it doesn’t contribute to the database our brain has to work with, our brain learns to ignore it. It doesn’t tell us what we cannot see. It only tells us what we can see…or what we are willing to see.
Count your blessings, one by one.
It will surprise you
All that the Lord has done.
We started chatting at the Finance Committee meeting this week about what a beautiful place we live in and how desolate eastern Montana looks as you come out of Marias Pass. Our brains tend to discount what should be there but isn’t.
People asked me in Washington what it was like where I lived and I told them I could walk up to the end of the block and see the East Front of the Rocky Mountains 70 miles away. No, no, they told me, the trees would get in the way.
We were talking about this and Vince Taylor said that he still got a thrill when he came out of the Pass and that big, giant landscape opened up in front of him. I can tell you that the same thing happened to me whenever I was driving from Billings to Great Falls and I came up out of the Belt Creek drainage and the high plains jumped up in front of me so that suddenly I was not seeing a mile or two or ten…I could see that same East Front 50 or 60 or 70 miles away.
Suddenly the world is big and it’s like you understand the vastness of it as you had never understood it before. It was always there, in Marias Pass or in the great hardwood forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it was cloaked in blind spots…that we call trees…and you were unaware of it…you were asleep to it. No, no, they told me. You can’t see 70 miles at a glance, the trees would get in the way.
We need to get woke. Jesus came to get us woke.
When I was in Huntsville, Alabama, the deputy Project Director for the Mariner probe lived across the street from me. There was a Time magazine dedicated to the first photographs from Mars, and as I leafed through it, I felt homesick.
There is something exhilarating about being able to see for miles and miles, just as there is something hopeful about being surrounded by trees and streams and lakes.
We need to be able to see what is there even when we don’t see anything there. So the disciples ask Jesus when he will stand the world on its head, when he will begin to use his enemies as his footstool.
He tells them much the same thing that we are talking about here. Many will come after him claiming to be the one, but they will not be the one. Many tumultuous events will occur, but they will not be the precursor to the end of time.
Just keep watching for what you can see. Do not lose heart. Do not be alarmed when it looks like the end is coming. Wait. Watch. Keep the faith. Do good. Love God and love your enemies until the end. Encourage one another even when…especially when…it seems as though all is lost.
Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, talked about one morning when he was walking to work at a forced labor camp. It was dark and cold and they were poorly dressed, poorly fed and meanly treated.
The man next to him said, “If our wives could see us now.” That got everyone thinking about their wives, he wrote, and what should come into Frankl’s mind then…at the brink of death… deep in the throes of injustice, inhumanity and evil?
For the first time in his life he saw “the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the first wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire….
“The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who as nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.”
If a concentration camp inmate can see the beauty of creation…if the Promised One can tell us to carry on even as he turns like a flint to the city that was about to put him to death…a shameful death upon a cross of wood…who are we to say No to all that?
Who are we to give up…grow bitter… blame our ill fortune on forces beyond our control…on the evil or incompetence of others? If powerless people can do it, why can’t we?
Frankl said it was not for us to question life… “Why me?”… “In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
So we come in our reading to the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, Israel’s great prophet who would anoint the youngest afterthought of an offspring of Jesse as the King of Israel…when another king was already sitting on the throne.
But we come into the story long before any of this has come to pass…when she was the favored wife of Elkanah, but she was barren. He loved her and saw to it that she received a double portion but she could not give him a son. The harsh wife who had given him many sons already lorded it over her.
Does this story sound familiar? Maybe we can see and hear Sarah and Hagar again as we listen in here.
Hannah should have been bitter. She should have given up. She should have walked away. But she did none of those things. Instead, she went to Shiloh, the high place of worship in those days, and she prayed to God for mercy and a way to see the day of her deliverance.
Her prayers were not answered right away but she did not relent. She prayed on. Then insult was laid upon insult in her life. The priest, Eli, saw her praying so fervently one day that he assumed she was drunk.
She should have been offended. She should have evoked her anger to take him down a notch. Indeed, if it was all about her and how good she knew she was, that is exactly what she would have done.
When you are wrongly accused of something, though, you do not get mad…you do not choose to be angry…you are hurt…and you try to explain to your accuser…out of mercy for them…out of the mercy you are worthy of yourself.
She explains that she is deeply troubled. She was pouring out her soul to the Lord. “Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
This so melts Eli’s heart that he sends her off with a blessing that she should receive what it was she was praying for.
Again, she responds to him with sweetness, and because of that, we read, “her face was no longer downcast.” She becomes pregnant and she delivers the child who anoints the child that makes Israel…poor little Israel… the greatest nation…the most consequential nation…in the history of humankind.
Because even in its misery of the Roman occupation it gave us a priest who opened a new and living way for us to God. There was no longer a curtain between us the holy of holies, between us and the hope of salvation. We were given direct access…a way around…a way through…a way over…a way up and in to that high place where you can see everything clearly…even the curve of the earth…and mountains a hundred miles away.
He showed us all this in a way we could not hope but see. Ollie has a vision issue, too. He has a lazy eye and that is why he wears glasses that have a patch over one eye…the good eye.
The brain, for some reason, does not speak to the lazy eye so they put a patch over the good one, so that the brain doesn’t have any choice but to look through the lazy one.
If it wants to see anything it is going to have to look through the weak eye…so that it can be built up and become a window into the world…so that it can get woke.
Jesus works even in the middle of our sin to make us holy. Viktor Frankl did not see that love was the ultimate and highest goal of humankind in spite of his difficulty…but because of it.
Hannah did not bring Samuel into the world in spite of the great trials she went through…but because of them. Jesus did not become the savior of the world in spite of being falsely accused, unlawfully tried, illegally convicted, and heartlessly crucified…but because of them.
And we do not come to understand the truth that is looking us in the face in spite of our blind spot…the spot that humbles us and keeps us from seeing directly into the heart of God…but because of it.
God kept saying to us, “Don’t make me come down there!” But we finally made it necessary for God to come down here in the mind and heart and soul and strength of Jesus Christ.
Next Sunday, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Even now, we get a glimpse of what it means to have a crucified King who isn’t merely seeking allegiance with our lips, but desires a fundamentally different way of us being in relationship with God and with one another.
Not through a priest. Not through any intermediary. It is no longer a station to station call…we are talking person to person with our Creator…and Redeemer…and Sustainer.
Sometimes, terrible things just happen. Yet, Christ our King is right there with us and has committed to be in solidarity with us even in our suffering.
In the meantime, let us count our blessings, one by one. It will surprise us what the Lord has done.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through me this day? Amen.