Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the stories of some Bible people who aren’t so well known. We’ve thought about Mary Magdalene and how Jesus transformed her life, and John Mark and how God gave him a second chance even when the apostle Paul didn’t. We’ve thought about Cornelius, an outsider who was seeking God, and how God reached out to include him, and about Naaman’s servant girl who spoke the crucial words of witness that led Naaman to ask the God of Israel for healing for his skin disease.
Today I want to talk with you about the story of Hannah, a woman who was in a desperate situation and who cried out to the Lord for help. There are some aspects of Hannah’s story that we don’t find it so easy to relate to; she was in a polygamous marriage, and the tensions and rivalries of that sort of marriage are hard for us to imagine today. But the main factor in her story is all too familiar to many people; she longed for a child, and her longing had not been fulfilled. There are many people today who know all about that sort of grief, and even if we aren’t familiar with it, we’ve all had times when we longed for things and our longing was not fulfilled. So let’s see what happens in the story of Hannah.
Read the rest here.
This morning I want to tell you a Bible story that may be familiar to you, but I want to tell it from the point of view of a character we don’t normally think about very much. In fact, we don’t even know her name. So let’s give her a name; let’s call her ‘Rachel’, which was a common enough name in Old Testament times. The Bible doesn’t tell us very much about her, so let’s fill in the gaps a little bit and try to imagine what life might have been like for Rachel.
Rachel was born about eight hundred years before the time of Jesus, in the northern kingdom of Israel. In those days God’s people were actually divided into two kingdoms, the southern kingdom of Judah with its capital at Jerusalem, and the northern kingdom of Israel with its capital at Samaria. We can imagine Rachel growing up in a family in a small village in the northern part of Israel, doing the things that young girls did in those days, playing with her friends and helping out around the house and learning to cook and mend clothes and so on. And she would have heard the stories of Abraham and Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, and she would have joined in the family prayers and other rituals handed down to Israel from the time of Moses.
In those days Elisha the prophet was speaking his messages in the name of God all over the land of Israel, and there were many stories of the wonderful miracles that God had done through him. People told of how he had lodged in the house of a poor widow with only a flask of olive oil to her name, and how he had told her to borrow as many containers as she could from her friends and fill them up from that one flask. She had done so, and the flask hadn’t run out until she had enough oil to pay off all her debts. Another couple had helped Elisha by providing a home for him to stay in when he passed their way, and people told of how, when their son had died suddenly, Elisha’s prayers had raised him from the dead. We don’t know whether or not our Rachel had ever seen Elisha for herself, but she had certainly heard the stories about him, and she knew God could do wonderful things through him.
We don’t know how long Rachel lived in peace with her family, but we do know that one day her life was changed. In those days Israel’s traditional enemy was the kingdom of Aram to the north, with its capital in Damascus. Under its mighty general, Naaman, Aram had won great victories over Israel. But it was not only the big battles between armies that gave Israel trouble; it was the border raids as well. Parties of Aramean raiders would cross the border into Israel, attack villages and plunder them, killing the men and taking the women and children away into slavery. And that’s what happened to Rachel. We can assume that her father was killed, and that Rachel and the rest of the family were taken away as slaves. Rachel was taken into a large house in Damascus where she became a lady’s maid; her mistress was none other than the wife of the great Aramean general Naaman.
Read the rest here.
Mary Travers passed away on September 16th. After successful recovery from leukemia through a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, Mary succumbed to the side effects of one of the chemotherapy treatments.
We all loved her deeply and will miss her beyond words.
Goodbye, Mary. You brought us joy and inspiration, and we will always be grateful.
Today I want to tell you the story of a Roman soldier named Cornelius. We can read about him in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts.
The Book of Acts tells the story of the work of the church after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Peter and the other apostles have preached the Good News of Jesus in Jerusalem, throughout the country of Judaea and to the borders of Israel. Everywhere they have gone, people have heard them with joy and turned their lives over to Jesus. Little communities of ‘Followers of the Way’, as they were called, are springing up all over Israel – people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah come to set Israel free.
Up until now, however, the message has only gone to Jewish people, and the early Christians probably see that as a natural thing. After all, in their mind Jesus was the Messiah of Israel – the one God was going to use to restore Israel to God’s plan for her. The idea that Gentiles – people who were not Israelites – would be included in that plan might never have occurred to them.
However, even though Israel as a whole was not interested in the Gentiles, the fact is that some Gentiles had become very interested in Israel. Throughout the ancient world at this time there were many people who had become disenchanted with the traditional religions and gods of Greece and Rome. These people were attracted by Israel’s belief in one creator God, and also by the high ethical standards set out in the Ten Commandments. A number of these folks had begun to attend synagogues and practice the three duties of godly Jews – prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. They had not taken the step of becoming Jewish – probably the idea of circumcision was a bit of a problem for them! – but they had moved a long way toward Judaism, believing in one God and trying to obey his commandments. Cornelius, the Roman centurion who lived in the town of Caesarea, was probably one of these ‘God-fearers’, as they were called.
Read the rest here.