Hope in Tumultuous Times

By Jen Flanagan

Jesus’ disciples marvelled at the beauty and grandeur of the temple.

Jesus’ response?  This temple will be destroyed – there will only be rubble left.

Is Jesus warning his disciples, and eventually us not to trust in man-made structures?  Are we wrong to admire the beauty of and recognise the engineering feats in buildings and other structures that we see around us?

The disciples ask when will these things happen?  Jesus’ response?  A vague referral to wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famine – he could have added pandemics to the list

Jesus’ emphasis then was not on WHEN, but on HOW the disciples would react – he warned them against people who would lead them astray.

Things that lead us astray may not seem to be evil in themselves – but anything that takes our eyes off Jesus has the power to lead us astray.

Some years ago, I received heartbreaking news of two members of my family.  First my grandson – then just turned 4 was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Within a few days, while still digesting that information, I was told that my nephew’s wife – then 30 – had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I felt like my whole family was falling apart.  Obviously it wasn’t, and once I stopped being a drama queen, and pulled myself together and prayed with deep humility I was able to remind myself that God was there in the midst of it all, and that I have a very large family – all of whom were willing to provide love, support and care for those carrying burdens.

Periods of stress and strain have been constant companions of people throughout the ages – I’m sure you can all tell me stories of times of great anguish for yourselves and your families.

And of course, we have all been living through a pandemic – and have been very aware of the effects this has had on our world and on ourselves.

Jesus was warning that none of us would have it easy – but that we need to make sure that we do not lose sight of the important things in life – that we do not lose sight of Jesus.

When we have these moments of despair – we need to keep praying – and sometimes this is the hardest thing to do – we’d rather go out and hit something – or yell at someone – or look for an easy way out – or maybe hide away from everything and everyone (which is usually my reaction!!)

However, Jesus is saying we must not lose faith regardless of what is happening – not that we sit back and do nothing in response to the calamity – but we need to continue to pray and ask God what role we should be playing within each calamity – and how can we give God the glory despite the circumstances.

Today we also read about Hannah – how desperate was she?

She lived in a time when a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to produce children – especially male children – to be heirs for the family and to provide for her in her old age, especially if she was widowed.

Hannah was living with constant bullying from her co-wife, who it appeared had no trouble producing children.  Hannah’s self-worth was at a low ebb – maybe the lowest it had ever been.  Her husband didn’t seem to really understand her predicament – he had children, albeit from another wife, so, he was not suffering as Hannah was, with a feeling of failure and despondency, and he could not empathise with her at all.  ‘Aren’t I worth more than ten children?’  He didn’t really understand her feelings – in fact was probably making things worse by belittling her feelings.  It wasn’t that he didn’t care – he just didn’t understand.

I do not know the torment that Hannah suffered – and of many couples today who seem unable to conceive and/or take a pregnancy to full-term – and I know there have been times when my lack of understanding and empathy must have caused pain to others in this way – I do hope I have become more considerate with age – I pray that I am learning to think before I speak and/or act – with all people – no matter what their circumstances.

There was a time when my lack of understanding was a good thing.  I had a very good friend who dearly wanted children, but had not been successful, for several years.  In the mean time, I produced 4 daughters in quick succession.  She always visited me in hospital after each birth – that was back in the days when we were expected to stay in hospital being spoiled before going home and facing the reality of a 24 hour a day responsibility.

Some time later she told me that she really appreciated that I didn’t treat her differently because she hadn’t been able to have any children.  She said everyone else walked on eggshells around her, didn’t talk about babies, and pretended everything was fine. Their consideration for her was making her feel worse. So, she was robbed of the opportunity to share in her friends’ joy with their children.  She also felt that she was not trusted to care for children by the other mothers.

Me, thick as a brick – I was blithely unaware of her feelings, and when she visited me in hospital happily passed the baby to her saying something like ‘here hold this’ with no consideration that maybe holding a baby would cause her pain.   She loved it!! – So sometimes being obtuse pays off – but I am aware that not everyone feels that way.

Back to Hannah!

Obviously, Hannah was not like my friend – Hannah felt completely empty, unfulfilled, unworthy, and incomplete.

I don’t think Hannah would have appreciated someone passing a baby over, saying ‘hold this’!!  That would have been rubbing her nose in it!!

In her anguish, Hannah turned to God

She poured her heart out to God – and eventually, God answered.

And when Samuel was born – Hannah thanked and praised God – with the wonderful prayer we read together earlier.

When our trials ease, or we have an answer – even if it is different from what we would have chosen – do we sing and dance – do we praise as Hannah did?

We have been living through a tumultuous time. And we don’t really know what lies ahead.

Have we made time to praise God through our desperate times?

Being forced to worship through Zoom and having mixed in-person and Zoom services has forced us all to re-examine our worship practices.

 We need to move into the new world that is coming into being around us.

Maybe the church we have been is not the church that is needed today or will be needed into the future.

After Hannah’s prayers were answered, the son she bore became a mighty man of God and led Israel into new ways – including having kings.

Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple – which happened a few decades after his life.  After that the young church needed to learn to worship in new ways away from that wonderful structure.

Just like the Israelites in Samuel’s time, and just like the disciples in the first century, we, too, with much prayer and praise need to discern how we are to be as a church in the world that is evolving around us – and how to be Jesus’ disciples in that world

How are we as individuals and as a community of faith become transformed into a relevant body to minister to the new world around us?

Whatever we become, however we become, it will only be through individual and communal prayer and praise, with a willingness to give up some things that maybe we hold precious, in order to make way for new things that God has for us. 

Ultimately, in all this tumult, we need to constantly give God the glory at all times, regardless of our circumstances.

May we, also be able to pray as Hannah prayed – thank you God for turning our world upside down.

Photo of Jen Flanagan

Written by Jen Flanagan

Jen is a lay preacher in training at TUC. As well preaching, Jen often assists with leading the 10:30am service and is a member of the Thursday Community Fellowship ministry team. Jen is Treasurer of the Church Council.

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