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Monday, November 13, 2006
Justice and Joy The texts this Sunday affirm God’s birthing of the future. Their promise-bearing words urge just and hopeful lives today. Hannah cries out to God in distress. God’s hearing goes named in the child “heard of God” (Samu-el). With Hannah, we may sing with joy, celebrating the justice of God that breaks open the future to new life. 1 Samuel 1:4–20; 2:1–10 In biblical times, a childless wife was viewed with scorn for her failure to provide her husband and family with heirs. Hannah suffers such ridicule. Yet, Hannah joins those women in Hebrew and Christian scriptures whose barrenness becomes the opportunity for the birthing of promise. Hannah does not let go of the one who can bring life and joy. And God does not disappoint. Dynamics of community are revealed in this text in several ways. Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, does not waver from loving her. Peninnah, her “rival,” gives Hannah no peace by “irritating” her (a Hebrew word that has the meaning of “to cause to thunder or tremble”). Eli, the prophet, jumps to an errant conclusion, but then listens. And in listening, Eli then sends her away in peace by affirming that Hannah’s asking will find answer. God is often portrayed as the promise-keeper in scripture, a trait that brings hope to individuals and communities. In verses between (1:21–28) and following (2:18–20) the focus passages, Hannah is the one who keeps her word. And in so doing, she helps lay the foundation for Israel’s hope through dedicating her son Samuel to serve God. It is a powerful story of a mother who offers God the very promise given her. It is a poignant story, where the narrator reveals that Hannah “used to make a little robe and take it to him each year” (2:19). The joy of Hannah taps into deep hopes for the whole of Israel. The song Hannah sings (2:1–10) is not a lullaby for the son she has entrusted to Eli. It is a victory song for the Holy One of Israel, who overturns conventional wisdom and dismantles earthly powers while uplifting the very ones this world overlooks and oppresses. Hannah’s son Samuel is a sign of the future God has in store, a future that in verse 10 hints at a “king” and an “anointed” one. Hannah’s child will be the one who anoints. God’s promises, like Hannah’s, will be kept. Hannah’s song is echoed in the Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46–55) in structure and themes. The notes these women sing harmonize in the chord of God’s new order that lifts up the lowly and brings low the haughty. For Hannah and Mary, their songs trace from and aim toward the birth of a child, in whom God’s promises of justice and joy will be kept. In contrast to the community provocation that irritated Hannah, Hebrews urges provocation to love and good deeds. In Hebrews 10:11–14, (15–18), 19–25 the “day approaching” serves as a motive and an ethic for living in community today. Encouragement based on God’s sure promises builds up community. In Mark 13:1–8 Jesus speaks of the birthpangs to come, when God disrupts what had been the one constant in Israel’s religious community – the temple. Yet, similar to Hannah’s song, Jesus reveals that such upheaval points to a future in God’s realm. The gifts Hannah brings to community, first in her persistent trust and then in her child Samuel, are enormous. What of our selves do we entrust to the care and keeping of community? What stanzas might we add to Hannah’s song to celebrate reversals unleashed by God for the sake of the future? Who today would embrace Hannah’s song? Who might flee from it? Why?


Michael Reid said...

I like thinking aobut the other gifts Hannah brings to the community, too -- we're told that Peninnah enjoyed making Hannah miserable, and shortly thereafter Eli the Prophet accuses her of public drunkenness when in her grief she turns to fervent, visible praying. Hannah appears to weather these rebukes with grace. It seems her faith also gave her strength to put up with the "hassles" of cruel or judgmental situations and allowed her to stay focused on her relationship with God, "telling God her problems." That kind of strength is helpful and inspiring in this age of lightening judgments, when incessant derision passes for entertainment.

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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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