Scripture Readings for November 18, 2018
1 Samuel 1:4-20
Hebrews 10:11-14, 15-18, 19-25
Every Sunday we read scriptures, which usually include a Psalm, from the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible.) Then from the New Testament, we read a letter to the early Christians and a passage from the Gospels. We select these Bible verses from the ones suggested for the week in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is used by many churches and denominations all over the world. So, for one day a week anyway, we are literally on the same page as other Christians.
There’s unity in that, but also diversity. In other words, we each hear the same passages from the Bible, but each of us will most likely notice something unique to us, something personal, or something that leaps out from the Living Word of God and speaks to us, individually, but also corporately as one Body of Christ. For example, God’s Word might evoke a reminder of something we’ve been taught or give us a new insight or bring to our mind the thought of doing something differently from what we’ve done (or not done) in the past.
Very often God speaks to us quietly – like a mere impression or unexpected idea. Those impressions that come to mind as we read the Bible ourselves or hear it read in church and Bible study are like the Lord’s way of helping us to apply God’s Word and will to our lives. For example, reading the scriptures suggested for today brought to mind a word that seems to connect one Bible passage to another, thereby giving a theme for this Bible Talk, “offer.”
The most obvious example is when Hannah offered her child to God – even before he was born! Then the Psalmist reminds us that God offers us protection. Then the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews recaps how Jewish priests offered sacrifices to God every day even though that didn’t remove sin forever. And so, God came to us in Jesus Christ to offer Himself as the sacrifice that He himself required. What wonderful offerings we see in those highlights from today’s Bible readings! But let’s look closer.
Hannah didn’t just suddenly offer her son. She didn’t even have one! What she did have was frustration, sadness, grief, and the emotions anyone might get when ridiculed and mocked to the breaking point. Eventually, she couldn’t take it any more. She could no longer tolerate the way she felt nor the way she was being treated by society, by her husband’s other wife, and even by her husband, who loved her but met her grief with the insensitive remark: “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?”
Now, this had been going on for a long time and had probably been building and building the hurts, grief, and resentments inside Hannah for many years – at least enough years for her husband to take a second wife and have several children with that pesky woman!
But then in today’s story in 1 Samuel, Hannah has had it! At long last, she pours out her heart to God, and there, in the Temple, she offers up her disappointments and woundedness. She offers up herself and her desire for a son. And THEN, she offers up the child she asks God to give her – even though she doesn’t have him yet!
Meanwhile, the priest Eli is watching. Since people usually prayed aloud in the Temple, Eli initially offered Hannah his judgment, condemnation, and call to repent! But, by then Hannah was on a roll. She didn’t respond to her husband who thought he ought to be worth more than 10 kids, but she did respond to Eli to set the record straight. She offered the priest what she had offered God – her honesty. She told him how she’d been feeling and how she had poured out those pent-up emotions, so she no longer felt anxious or worthless, but she didn’t want Eli to think she was worthless either.
The priest believed her. He offered up a prayer for her. He offered a blessing and told her to go in peace, and she did. Now that she had laid the negatives in her life at the altar, she was freed of the past and free to conceive of all she had asked for! God gave her a child, a son – Samuel, whom Hannah offered up to God. She went on to have other children, but, raised in the Temple with Eli to teach him, Samuel became the son offered to God and, eventually, the man offered by God to the people, for Samuel became a priest, a judge, and a prophet who could be trusted to be honest, to hear God, and speak the truth – something God’s people had not witnessed for a long time!
When it comes to offerings, God started it!
As Psalm 16 reminded us, God offers us His protection, spiritually and mentally – and often physically too. Then, like the Psalmist, we in turn offer our thanks to God as well as offering our faith and trust.
In today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we’re reminded how the Jewish priests offered daily sacrifices to God – an ongoing bloody mess that didn’t remove sin beyond that day. And so, when the time was right, God offered Himself as The Sacrifice to end all blood-sacrifices forever.
Jesus’ offering ended the need for blood sacrifices on the Temple altar – animal sacrifices which had been offered year after year with no cost to the priests or people, other than the loss of an unblemished, healthy animal. The cost to Jesus was His life – His blood. This not only made everything right between God and us, it removed the need for the Temple as the only place designated to offer sacrifices.
Remember last month’s readings about King David and how he longed to build God a temple? He gathered supplies and made big plans, but God chose David’s son Solomon to commission and oversee the actual building. The grand temple that resulted became the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, beautifully built of the finest materials, thick walls, and humongous stones! But, as the Gospel of Mark, reported centuries later, Jesus let His followers know the Temple was coming down, and a few decades later, it did.
The famous Western Wall of the Temple, now known as the Wailing Wall, still stands as a place and a pilgrimage where God’s people offer their prayers (including wails!) as Hannah had done. However, the Temple was no longer needed for animal sacrifices or tears or worship because, as the Body of Christ, WE the Church ARE the Temple of God. And so, as the letter to the Hebrews told us, at any time in any place in any circumstances, we can approach the Almighty God as only priests could once do. First though, we must be open to receive what God offers!
Thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God offers us forgiveness, guidance, and empowerment in this life with eternal life to come or to be more accurate, with our relationship with God continuing forever, so even death cannot break that unending bond.
For now however, God offers to write on our hearts what God wants of us. As the letter to the Hebrews said, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Now that’s an offer we don’t want to refuse!
When we’re open to all God offers us, we can come to the Lord like a beloved child who freely approaches a kind and loving Father. We can receive more fully God’s kindness, comfort, forgiveness, and love, and then we can offer the same to the people with whom God places us in contact – our families, our neighbors, our church fellowship, the clerk in the store, and the stranger on the street, which brings us to the bottom line:
Anything and everything good that we have to offer – to God, to other people, or to ourselves – first came to us from God. So what we have to offer is God’s offerings or gifts to us.
Dear Heavenly Father and Most Generous and Loving God, thank You for offering to help us in every aspect of our lives. Help us to receive Your gracious gifts with thanksgiving and love in Jesus’ Name.