Do You See? – November 15, 2015

“Do You See?’

1 Samuel 1:4-20 Mark 13:1-8


“Do you see?” Jesus asked. He was telling the disciples to look at the temple and realize that something was happening that was more important than the magnificent temple that had been built from the stones…stones that would be lying in a pile of rubble. The coming of the kingdom was underway. If we have paid close attention to the news of the past few months we might think that something else of critical importance was taking place. And, it is. In the United States…we are in the beginning of that national quadrennial exercise called a presidential election. Six billion dollars and a lot of energy will be spent to convince us to select our national leaders. Much posturing…fretting…and name calling…and half-truths will be evident. There will be those who fret…posture and call names when it’s all over. Amidst all of this…the story of Samuel should give us comfort and guidance. Before hearing of the comfort and guidance…however…let’s make a quick comparison of the United States and Israel at the time of Samuel’s birth. In Judges we read of Israel’s habit of rebellion over and over again. It’s somewhat like the United States’ habit to strive for a secular…non-religiously driven society. The strong and loud libertarian impulses in America today are much like Israel’s pushing away of Yahweh’s covenant in the period before Samuel’s birth. The comforting news is that God’s answer today is the same as it was then. Samuel’s birth gives us two facets of that answer. When a nation is in such despair…the only hope is the appearance of righteous and just individuals…both in the national leadership and in the local citizenry. First Samuel, chapter 1 announces both. Samuel is the coming new leader and he is given to the nation through a righteous and just individual. Do you see…righteous and just leadership comes from righteous and just individuals…who lead and who support the righteous and just leaders. Israel’s problems were deeply rooted in the national mindset…the hearts of the people. They were made worse by her failed leadership…men offering themselves as religious. Eli and his sons were so perverse that they provided no hope for renewal. Without a truly godly leadership their nation faced eventual ruin. The birth of Samuel provided hope for the future for Israel. The important role of leadership in modern nations can’t be overlooked. The last century has given us many examples of corrupt, tyrannical despots…people who manipulated the nations over which they held control…and inflicted immense pain and suffering on masses of people….Adolph Hitler…Romania’s Ceausescu…Cambodia’s Pol Pot and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein…just to name the most notorious. Other national leaders have allowed the spiritual infrastructure of their nations to deteriorate through less dramatic and less obvious policies and practices. As illustrated by the first chapter of First Samuel…God wants to use godly leaders to reform the nations. In the Old Testament…kingship was a source of great potential for good for the nation of Israel. It became the means through which God himself would eventually redeem his people. These principles are no less true of our community…state…and nation today. The second necessary element in the spiritual rebirth of a nation is even more important…though it receives less attention…the importance of an active godly righteous and just citizenry. A righteous and just ruler alone cannot reform a rebellious and sinful population. The good news of this passage from First Samuel begins with the righteous, everyday affairs of a faithful family. Through her sufferings and trials…Hannah was used as an instrument of God to begin spiritual rebirth in Israel. Like Elizabeth and Mary after her she was honored by God with a miraculous conception in order to show God’s mercy and grace to continue his salvation story. But without a host of other…nameless Israelites who also prayed and lived their lives in quiet devotion…such reform would not be possible. Those individuals became what Jesus referred to as the salt and light of their society. The Bible consistently shows us that social change and reformation as well as change within a church family take place primarily in this way. As the waves of the sea slowly and gradually alter the landscape of the seashore…we need wave after wave of godly people…daily contributing their influence on our culture and slowly chipping away at the evil in our society…chipping away at complacency…overcoming fear. Just as the slow but constant drip…drip of water on a granite boulder will eventually change its surface…so Christians must be faithful to God’s Word…living devout and godly lifestyles over the long duration in order to reform the nation…serve the community and build His church. Let me share a real life story with you…about a man named Howard…Howard Keller. He signed all of his communications with his initials H. K. That’s what he wanted everyone to call him. H.K. had a long and successful career in radio advertising sales. When we met he was 60 years old and the sales manager for a radio station in Charleston, South Carolina. I was slightly more than half his age. I was a sales rep for that radio station. H. K. hired me. He was my boss. He had the authority to fire me. One spring sales in the radio station had been flat…and in that market spring was an important season for radio advertising sales. H. K. called a meeting of the sales team. After all had arrived and become quiet he said just one sentence…”I think we’re driving by more business than we write.” That was it. He left the room. The sales reps talked with each other asking what he meant and what might happen next. As the next week began H. K. would get in the car with a different sales rep at the beginning of each sales day. As the sales rep drove on his or her regular rounds H. K. would point to a business and ask if the sales rep had ever called on them. Most of the time the answer from the sales rep was no. H. K. would then tell the rep to pull into that business’ parking lot. They would go inside the business together. H. K. would introduce himself and the rep and ask for the business’ decision maker. When that person was available H. K. would engage in conversation about the person and their business…then ask if they had ever considered advertising on our radio station. In most cases the person said they had never been asked. In some of the situations no sale was made…but in many a sale was made…and some of those businesses are still advertising with that radio station…three decades later. What H. K. showed us was that each of us creates our own comfort zone…and typically stays within that zone…missing many opportunities to make the sale…to create believers. What he also showed us was that we control whether we will get out of those comfort zones…and we reap the benefits from going beyond the comfort zone. I hope I don’t have to elaborate to point out that H. K.’s lesson applies to those of us in any church family today…including our church family. God doesn’t want any of us in a comfort zone. God enables us to get out of those comfort zones. A most effective part of getting out of our comfort zones is prayer. Do you see Hannah? She had every reason to be bitter…and to hide away in a comfort zone. She was incapable of bearing children. She was ridiculed by Penninah. Her husband…Elkannah…was unable to comfort her. The priest…Eli…didn’t understand her motives. Yet…rather than give in to her emotions…or just plain give up and live solely in her comfort zone …she let those circumstances drive her to prayer. Hannah’s pain prodded her to a strong faith which was demonstrated in prayer. Her prayer and vow show the kind of faith that is demonstrated when a person is dealing with pain, suffering and loss. In these days of pain, challenge and loss our prayer must be as faithful. Our words and actions must show us living a godly lifestyle that takes us and those we encounter out of our limiting comfort zones. Do our prayers ask God to give us the wisdom and courage to participate in active, righteous and just ways in leading our family…our church…our community…our state…and our nation…leading the way out of comfort zones? Do our actions and words take us out of our comfort zone to take the word of God to others? Do we invite others to join us in our church family? Do you see….that it is like Hannah that God would have us live out our faith…outside our comfort zones? Do you see…that regardless of those leading…God is leading and enabling us to lead them to be righteous and just leaders…though in doing so we may take them and ourselves out of their comfort zones? Do you see…that like that magnificent temple…our comfort zones also must become a thing of the past?