Uncertainty

A Sermon for Proper 28

1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Mark 13:1-8

I’m sure you remember some 23 weeks ago when we read from 1st Samuel the story of Israel asking Samuel for a king to rule over them. Well, this morning we read the story leading up to Samuel’s birth.

Hannah is t Elkanah’s primary wife; however, she is barren. Pennianah, Elkanah’s second wife, had children and harangued Hannah about her children at every turn (Wines, 2015). Her husband did not make life easier when he asks her “Am I not worth ten sons to you?” He just didn’t understand what it meant for a woman to be barren. He did not feel the sense of shame arising from the belief that she is being punished by God for some undefined reason (Miguelina, 2015). Think Job. Needless to say, there is tension in Elkanah’s family.

This is not a new story. You remember that Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were barren. You remember the tension in Jacob’s family between Leah, who had children and Rachel who did not. However, there are some significant differences.

On one trip to Shilo, Israel’s primary shrine, the Temple has not yet been built, Hannah sits before the Lord praying and weeping (Harrelson, 2003). Unlike the other barren women, she presents her concerns to God (Wines, 2015). Eli, chief priest of the shrine, assumes Hannah is drunk and confronts her. She explains that she is deeply troubled and is offering her anxiety and grief to God. Showing no interest in Hannah, without asking what her complaint is, he brushes her off saying, “the Lord will grant your request” (Hoezee, 2015) (Wines, 2015). The next thing we know Hannah is pregnant.

We have no idea how much time passes between Shiloh and conception. Unlike Sarah, Rebekah, or Sarah, or Elizabeth and Mary there is no angelic pronouncement of pregnancy. There is no apparent supernatural intervention. Nonetheless, Hannah gives God credit, by naming her son Samuel, which means, “I’ve asked of him from the Lord” and by returning him to God, for life, as a Nazirite servant (Harrelson, 2003).

In place of a psalm this morning, we recited The Song of Hannah.” It is similar to the Song of Mary, in that it is lifted from scripture, here chapter 4 of First Samuel. Unlike Mary, she does not speak to God but rather about God. She Praises God’s willingness to intervene for those on the margins of life. As Doug Bratt notes, the Song of Hannah praises God for creation and for caring about creation (Hoezee, 2015).  The song as a whole offers hope, in the face of despair; because it attests to God’s willingness to intervene.

There is an unexpected link between Hannah’s story and Mark’s account of the disciples’ awe at seeing the Temple, and Jesus response. Both stories are apocalyptic. The connection emerges when we remember apocalyptic literature is the writings of the oppressed. Moreover, it is not end of the world stuff; the word means “unveiling” or “revealing” (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) (Wines, 2015). Gleanings emerge from the whole context, not just this morning’s appointed verses. Jesus is not so much concerned with the state of the Temple as he is that the disciples understand:  the world is not now nor is it soon to be safe, the Jewish and Roman authorities are not now, nor will they be the disciples’ friends, and those who families have rejected them will not soon welcome them home. When Mark is writing the Temple is a smoking ruined pile of rubble. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that in the face of the world’s troubles God is always present (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015). In short Jesus is asking the disciples to follow Hannah’s example in facing life’s uncertainty (Miguelina, 2015).

Hannah’s world was uncertain. Beyond her barrenness, Eli was unaware of his sons’ belligerent behaviors. Even though Joshua secured the promised land, well mostly, the surrounding kingdoms continually threatened Israel. And within Israel there was significant animosity among the tribes. Jesus’s world was uncertain; as it always is when your country has been conquered and is occupied by a foreign power. Mark’s world was even more uncertain; the center of Jewish religious life, the Temple, has been razed. With the home of God on earth gone, how does one live in God’s presence? In all ages, including ours, life has been uncertain. We are unsettled by ISIS, Syrian refugees, continuing conflict in Libya, Yemen, and countries of North Africa and Egypt. The Russian Airliner presumably bombed, and the terrorist rampage in Paris Friday raises everyone’s anxiety. Many are not thrilled by the vitriolic, bitter nature of the current political season, nationally and locally. For some finances or employment are sources of uncertainty; for others, retirement or health disrupt life. Or perhaps it’s children, ~ or maybe it’s parents. I haven’t read this mornings’ paper, so I may not be aware of the latest source uncertainty.

Some seek to peer into the future and glean what’s to be as a source of certitude to counter life’s uncertainty (Lose, 2015). It doesn’t work; elsewhere in scripture Jesus tells the disciples, no one, not even he, can know the future (Mark 13:22). But, as Hannah reveals, we are not without an antidote; courage is the antidote to uncertainty (Lose, 2015). Br. Luke in a posting last week reminds us, courage is not the lack of fear, rather ~ it is stepping into whatever it is that confronts us (Ditewig, 2015). At times that includes letting go of what weighs us down, the indulgences that disorder our lives, and leaving them at the altar, which frees us to move into life as God envisions it (Tristram, 2015)(SSJE, Br. Geoffrey. And we never have to pretend to be who we are not, life is what it is; God knows us, loves us, as we are gently turned towards who we shall be (Vryhof, 2015).  And of course, we have the ultimate source confidence. Our great high priest Jesus by whom we, with certainty, approach the throne of grace with boldness, to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need, in time of uncertainty (Hebrews 4).


References

Ditewig, B. L. (2015, 11 11). Courage. Retrieved from Give Us A Word.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 11 15). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 1 Samuel 1:4-20. Retrieved from Working Preacher.

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 11 15). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.

Lose, D. (2015, 11 15). Pentecost 25 B: Pretenders to the Throne. Retrieved from In the Meantime.

Miguelina, t. R. (2015, 11 15). Pentecost 25, Pretenders to the Throne. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Tristram, B. (2015, 11 13). Let Go. Retrieved from Give Us A Word.

Vryhof, B. D. (2015, 11 12). Invitation. (S. o. Evangelist, Producer) Retrieved from Brother, Give Us A Word: http://ssje.org/word/

Wines, A. (2015, 11 15). Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:420. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

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