Sunday, November 18, 2018. Rev. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 13:1-8
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For better or worse, Presbyterians are not known much these days for being revolutionaries. When you’re known in some circles as the ‘frozen chosen,’ it may be a little hard to be known as people who are turning the world upside down. Which is interesting, given the involvement of Presbyterians in the conflicts that led to the founding of this country. In fact, one 18th century British leader remarked that “the revolution could not be sustained in America if it were not for the Presbyterian ministers” who were urging it on. These days, however, my sense is that we are more associated with being decent and orderly and safe.
Which means that Scripture passages like the ones we have read today can leave us a little bit unsettled. The Song of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2 and the beginning of the little apocalypse in Mark 13 are neither your standard stewardship texts to be read on Pledge Dedication Sunday, nor are they the kinds of Scripture passages that comfortably affluent Presbyterians read to soothe themselves.
Hannah sang, “Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who are hungry are fat with spoil. The Lord raises up the poor from the dust.” This is the kind of talk that can bring you to the attention of the authorities for being a trouble-maker. These texts bear witness to God’s revolution of love. Taken as part of the biblical testimony to the God of love who is seen most clearly in the face of Jesus, these texts are telling us that all of the forces in the world that oppose love will eventually be undone.
Mother Hannah, in 1 Samuel 2, has experienced the powers of cruelty in the most intimate circumstances of life, in the family. Hannah has been mocked and scorned in chapter 1 by her rival because Hannah has not been able to have children. In the patriarchal culture of the Bible, a woman’s value was tied to her ability to produce children. So when Hannah conceives and give birth to little Samuel, she exults in the song of chapter 2. And in this song, her imagination runs well past the birth of her child. She imagines a day when all those who are arrogant will be humbled, when the haughty wealthy are brought low, and when the desperate poor are given a secure place to live. Hannah anticipates the Great Reversal of all things, the reversal that Jesus himself spoke of when he promised that the first will be last and the last will be first. God is leading a revolution of love.
When we get to Mark 13, we have moved from the family to the terrain of religious manipulation and control. The Jerusalem Temple was intended to be a place of beauty fit for the holiness of God, but by the time of Jesus, the Temple had become corrupt, and maintained its magnificence by squeezing money from widows and peasants. Instead of being an advocate for the neighborly economy, the temple extracted well-being from the poor.
So when Jesus and his disciples come out of the temple, and one of his disciples breathlessly remarks on the bigness of the stones, Jesus says that all of those big, beautiful stones are going to come down. And just a few short years after the gospel of Mark was written, the Romans came and did exactly that, destroying the temple in a brutal effort to put down a resistance movement. The temple, to which the religious elites clung for their authority, was overturned.
Friends, the good news of these texts is that all that stands against the way of love will eventually be undone. The Roman Empire, which was the most powerful empire the world had known, itself eventually fell. We are all on our way to the Beloved Community, to that Great Neighborhood where all people are safe and at home and welcome. In the church, you and I are part of God’s revolution of love. When we reach out to children to teach them that they are beloved, when we work with teenagers to provide a restful sanctuary in the midst of the stresses of adolescence, when we reach across the boundaries between different religions in the Tysons Interfaith Partnership, when we form and participate in small groups where we can know and be known, when we stand against gun violence, when we speak up for the care of the earth, when we work together to create a congregation of generosity and attentiveness, when we gather to bear witness at the time of death to our convictions about the power of the resurrection, all of these and more are part of our participation in God’s revolution of love.
We may be Presbyterians, and we may do things decently and in order, but do not be mistaken: in our world of isolation and loneliness and fear, we are part of a great revolution of love. To God be all the glory. Amen.