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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures:
For Sunday: I Samuel 1:4-20 AND I Samuel 2:1-10 OR Daniel 12:1-3 AND Psalm 16:1-11, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8
For Thanksgiving Day: Joel 2:21-27, Psalm 126:1-6, I Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 6:25-33

I’ve including the Thanksgiving Day readings because many congregations may celebrate this Sunday as Thanksgiving Sunday, the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day.

I have been reading Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, first published in 1945. The 1992 edition contains Frankl’s reflections on his “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” (with particular emphasis upon psychological responses to those experiences), “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” and “The Case for a Tragic Optimism.” Logotherapy is an approach to psychology which seeks to understand how and where people find meaning and help them to discover their own meaning and purpose. More than once Frankl quotes the words of Nietzche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” Harold Kuchner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, in the foreword to the 1992 edition, summarizes Frankl’s key insight in this way: “The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.”  Along with Frankl’s emphasis upon hope and meaning, he discovered in the concentration camps a thankfulness for what he calls “the most trivial of comforts.”

In considering this week’s readings, let’s reflect on where we find meaning and purpose and hope and what elicits a thankful spirit within us.

In the story of Hannah from I Samuel, the meaning of life revolves around children and their possible impact upon the future. In a society where children were a measure of your eternal worth, Hannah is unable to provide her husband, Elkanah, with such a heritage. Hannah is distraught. Her life seems to have no meaning and she carries on in a way that makes Eli, the priest, think she’s drunk. (vss. 10-16) Finally he grants her petition for a child and Samuel is born. (vss. 17-20) The reading from the second chapter of Samuel is much like Mary’s song in the New Testament, the exultation of a mother who connects her son with a time of peace and justice. Sometimes we have such high hopes for our children! They will arise and take this messy world and be part of the building of something new and beautiful. We find in such births and visions hope and meaning.

Psalm 16 and the reading from Hebrews seem to find meaning in forgiveness and mercy and closeness to/intimacy with God. “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices . . . You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy . . .” (Psalm 16:8-9 & 11) Hebrews, chapter 10, continues the emphasis upon Jesus as our high priest, “for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (vs. 14 and the verses that precede it) This week’s reading specifically lifts up forgiveness. The Holy Spirit says, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (vs. 17) Such forgiveness means we can live with “confidence,” approaching God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean . . . Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” (vss. 19-23) We find meaning and are able to move ahead in hope because the burden of being judged for every move we make has been removed.

We are into the season of the church year when the emphasis is upon the consummation of history, on a time when God will bring fruition to all things. Writings full of symbolism and omens, called apocalypses, speak of battles between good and evil. “Apocalypse” is a word from the Greek which means to uncover or reveal. Daniel and Revelation are two such writings. This week’s readings include a short section from Daniel, including the words: “There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered . . . Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life . . .” (Daniel 12:1-2)

Many have used such apocalyptic writings to predict and give dates to a precise sequence of specific events—often with a great deal of disagreement about the events. Someone, after reading the book of Revelation, said simply, “I’ve read the last chapter. God wins!” Most people of faith believe that good is ultimately stronger than evil. In the face of much evidence to the contrary, we believe that good ultimately prevails. It is in such beliefs, interpreted in esoteric detail or broadly held as a view of how life works, that are a source of hope and meaning for many.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday stands in the apocalyptic tradition, the 13th chapter of Mark often called “The Little Apocalypse.” The reading ends with images of “wars and rumors of wars,” of nation rising against nation, of earthquakes and famines, and this is just the beginning. (Mark 13:7-8) This week I just want to call attention to the prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. (Mark 13:2) The destruction of the temple would have threatened meaning for many. It verged on taking God away from them. How many of us pin our hopes and meanings to buildings and places?

In talking about hopes and meanings we may also look at the things for which we give thanks. The lectionary readings for Thanksgiving Day show us some of the things for which people often give thanks.

The reading from the book of Joel speaks of a time of abundance which will come upon the people. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.” (Joel 2:26, and the preceding verses) Psalm 126 also anticipates and rejoices in restored fortunes. (See vss. 1 & 4) “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced . . . Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (vss. 3 & 6)

The reading from I Timothy speaks less of the content of our thanksfulness as it does about making “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings . . . for everyone.” (I Timothy 2:1) It’s interesting that included among “everyone” are “kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (vs. 2) Much to unpack in that if we were to dig into the historical context and the place of the Christians of that day in the society around them.

So much of our thanksgiving focuses upon our abundance and physical blessing, the people around us, the political leaders we favor, etc. Are we able to lift up our leaders in prayer (and not prayers of condemnation) after the recent election?

The Gospel reading for Thanksgiving Day reminds us that so much of what we worry about, and for which we give thanks, is transitory. Jesus, in Matthew, chapter 5 (part of what we call “The Sermon on the Mount”), tells us not to worry about such things. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (vs. 25) If we were to go beyond the defined reading, we would come to verse 34: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” In our giving thanks, perhaps we need to focus on this day, this moment, receiving it and living into it in a spirit of thanksgiving. In such moments, perhaps we will discover that we have all we need, an abundance of the spirit we almost missed noticing.

Hope and meaning can sometimes seem elusive, so difficult to find and define. May our attention in this season of Thanksgiving turn to things of deep meaning and lasting significance.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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