Hannah's Vision (26th Pentecost, Proper 28B)
26th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28B) - November 18, 2018
1 Samuel 2:1-10 1 Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. 2 “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. 8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world. 9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. 10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Skidaway Island hosted an event yesterday entitled, “Georgia Immigration Detention: Stories of Hospitality and Hope.” We heard firsthand accounts of the struggles that immigrants face when they are captured and detained by ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement). The immigrants who are detained in Georgia's centers have not been convicted of crimes, but they are held against their will in prisons with terribly substandard conditions.
But despite the detainees' terrible situations, we heard hope, defiance, and human creativity emerging in their testimonies. They create art, they make friendships, they form lasting bonds, and they refuse to be shut up or shut out, even if they lose their appeal and are deported. These stories connect with the pain and injustice of the world on the one hand and with God's promises and our hopes on the other. Similarly, Hannah embodies both suffering and triumph in 1 Samuel 1-2.
We start hearing about Hannah’s struggle through real life -- her disappointment at not being able to bear a child. This causes her social isolation, ridicule from within her family, and insecurity about her future after her loving husband dies. But when that circumstance changes (after lots of tears and prayer), she prays a prayer that speaks powerfully about God’s ability to make things right in this life and in the life to come.
Hannah’s Song is about her circumstances, thanking God for granting her a child. But it is also very clearly the heart and soul of this book in the Bible. It is the story used to introduce 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings. These books cover the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel, the rise and fall of the famous, infamous, and overlooked kings and queens of Israel and Judah, starting with Saul and David. (We heard many of the famous stories from Samuel and Kings throughout the summer in the Sunday lectionary readings.)
Hannah is important to the plot as the mother of Samuel the Prophet, Priest, and Judge (who will anoint both Saul and David as king), but she also sets the stage with her prayer, reminding us who God is in the midst of all of Israel’s political machinations. There will be many points in the upcoming stories where God gets lost in the shuffle. The characters at play are just doing their own thing without considering God’s role in their lives, particularly in their leadership of the nation. But according to Hannah, God has something to say about leadership.
Contrary to many powerful and influential people throughout the ages, God is not neutral to human affairs. God cares about how we treat one another and how we design social and political systems. In fact, God is the measure of our morality and ethics: “for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” (1 Sam 2:3b). Without a deeply rooted relationship with God, leaders (even Christian ones) often neglect those in their care. They forget that they are not as important as they think they are. Arrogance can catch up with them.
But in God’s eyes, the mighty aren’t that strong. God cares more for the feeble and weak, girding them with strength (2:4). Full people, who hoard unimaginable wealth for themselves, “have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil” (2:5). With God, people who are despised and ignored for their poverty, uncleanliness, or misfit behavior, are honored and elevated: “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor” (2:8).
God is interested in balancing the imbalances of wealth and power. God wants the hungry to be well-fed even if it means the rich need to give up some of their own food. The weak should be empowered and not just ruled by the toughest and the baddest. No one should be reduced to the ash heap of society. No one is without human dignity and everyone should inherit some place of honor.
There is an undercurrent of compassion running through Hannah’s vision for God’s world. It is built on a foundation of God’s love for the whole world. God created the universe and called it good; then, God created every human being and called us “very good” (Genesis 1). But too often, we deface the image of God in our neighbors through oppression, abuse, and neglect. We are too comfortable living in a society that brutalizes the weak instead of seating them with princes.
And critically, this section of the prayer is not written in the future tense (i.e. such and such will happen), but in the present or even past tense. Hannah says that it is this way, or at least it should be. This is an emphatic way to pray. I believe so strongly that you want this God, that I’m not asking for it. I’m saying that you’ve already done it and made it so.
But remember that this is an introduction to a book about kings and kingdoms, and Hannah is just a peasant woman. So she asserts that, under God’s supervision, it is the duty of the princes and kings to make this vision a reality. This beloved, egalitarian society is not just a pipedream, but it is God’s desire for the world. And those who take on positions of authority are both charged and empowered to build it. “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed” (2:10b).
Now, we all know how often politicians fail here. So few of them demonstrate genuine love and concern for the needy in society. (It may just be that power always corrupts the human beings who wield it, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
But, there is still hope. If Hannah is to be believed, God wants the world to be more loving and compassionate. And if God wills it, God will get what God wants. There are always sparks and glimmers of hope. Even in our present brokenness, this loving, liberating, life-giving Kingdom of God is visible. Jesus brought it into the present through his life, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit continues to stir it out of the church in small but noticeable ways.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. “Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:4-20.” Working Preacher. Accessed 17 November 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3857.