You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Beloved, Love: Great Hope, HERE.
On this cool fall morning, as leaves fall and trees become barren—how are you doing? We are culturally programmed to instinctively say, “I’m fine,” or we might venture an “OK.” Really, I am fine…
Yet… I don’t know about you, but for me the past week has been personally challenging. There is something unsettling about living in this in-between time:
- We are somewhere in-between what was and what will be in our lives once a vaccine is widely available
- We are in the midst of actively voting across the country, but we also do not know what we will be living into the days after November 3. Is there great fraud (of which there is no proof)… or great hope emerging?
- Fall also places us in-between the long, warm days of summer, and the looming cold, shorter days of winter. Winter. This year the season will be filled with the holidays and get togethers that aren’t, or won’t be (or, at the very least our online church and family gatherings will be very, very different!).
Thus, as I started reflecting on the Bible passage in 1 Samuel, I found myself writing down words and phrases I wanted to say but knew I could not use in a sermon… they were not pastorally appropriate… but what other words… how else… do we express what is going on in the world around us?
And then we get—Hannah’s prayer. A personal lament and a critique of the world around her. An open naming of the culture’s ills… all of the wrongs… the deeply rooted sins.
Hannah names it all. She cries out. Her despair. Her barrenness. All that rips her up inside—and out.
Beloved—how about you? How are you doing this morning? Are you feeling barren?
If the Spirit stirs you… you may share your sense of emptiness in the chat if you are joining us on Zoom, or in the comments if you are on FaceBook. However, I will also give a gentle reminder that (FaceBook in particular) is a public space. I encourage you to reach out to me in the week ahead if you would like to share more.
For this is important. As I talked to people over the past week and asked this very question, “Are you feeling barren these days? During the pandemic?” there was an immediate, great flow of feelings which I heard: isolation, loneliness, stuckedness, depression. The inability to safely hug family, grandchildren, friends… to physically touch another human being… only emphasized a larger sense of forced detachment and hopelessness.
This hit home on Wednesday, which was our granddaughter Quinn’s 5th birthday. We went to her place in Stoughton for an outdoor, socially distanced (with masks) birthday party. Standing outside, Quinn suddenly shouted, “Virtual hug!!!” and with a slight jump and a big, enthusiastic smile, hugged herself. We all responded, each hugging ourselves individually. Quinn then said, “Squeeze tighter!” which we all did.
“But… wait… we are in person,” I thought to myself. This is REAL, not virtual. I am right here, we are HERE… together… physically. We are not separated by some computer screen.
Yet, hugging each other that night was virtual. Due to the coronavirus, I could not hug my beautiful granddaughter on her birthday. Squeeze tighter.
Afterwards, all I could hear in my mind were Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.
This morning, Hannah names the weariness for us—The ills of the world around her. The personal reality rising out of the bullying and humiliation she faced in her own household. But also, in her tears, she cries forth the prayers of the millions, and billions, humankind have all prayed at one time or another in our lives. We tend to focus on the physically bareness, Hannah’s great desire, longing, to have a child. For those of you for whom Hannah’s song is your song, know God hears your pain. You are seen.
However, Hannah’s words do not provide us with a template for prayer requests. We know God does not always answer our prayers in the way we want… or when we expect it… but… if we listen closely… we can hear the Great Hope which rises within Hannah from the dust of lament.
Her barrenness is our barrenness. Our grief, our sorrow, our despair. Our shock at gazing outward and witnessing what is going on around us.
Lean into Hannah’s words. Did you hear it? Through her sobs of distress, God turns the social order of the world upside down. This is a personal prayer… but also a communal one. Hannah recognizes how social structures are interconnected. She renames, redefines, what power is, identifies who holds that power, and—identifies how reality conflicts with the beloved community God envisions. This heartfelt poem was told and retold for hundreds of years before the life of Jesus, and holds echoes of the Beatitudes.
Blessed are… (Matt. 5:1-12)
Hannah knows deep in her heart, anchored in her faith, that power in this world is not how our culture defines it. The way in which we have been taught to understand authority is a trap. A façade which instills overwhelming despair, elicits fear, and drags us into a space of hopelessness.
Hannah sings out power is not found in:
The power of pride, or arrogance
It is not held military power, or riches
Or by those with royal titles
Or men with political power
In her plea and affirmation, Hannah proclaims God wants us to reimagine who truly holds the power which can change the world. God’s Great Hope is found in you who are:
Heartfelt, mind blowing, this is a radical reimagining of the way in which God empowers those marginalized by unjust systems.
This is Holy Transformation.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And you will be changed.
I will leave you with this image: With the presidential election approaching, we have been provided us with snapshots. Snippets of hope. Photos of determination. Change. In a country where, at the time the constitution was written, an individual who was black was considered 3/5 of a person and women did not have the right to vote…
In these United States, where people native to these lands were deprived of the right to vote well into the 20th century…
Here, where access to voting has been denied to so many people for centuries, we see pictures of people lining up to vote. Determined to vote early. Their waiting outdoors, for hours, is encouraging to behold. Here are crowds, socially distanced and wearing masks, responding with their vote, their power.
But as hope filled as these moments are, the long lines also reflect the continuing reality of voter suppression. It is so very wrong that in our country, which could be—should be—a model for the world, that voting is not easily accessible and efficient. It is morally wrong that we as a country have not been able to come together to at least get the technology right. The technology which would allow people to vote safely, with equality and equity during a pandemic.
But instead of hopelessness, deep barrenness, and despair, the people are crying out, showing up. Here, the prayer of one person, Hannah, sends us forth with this good news from The Message, a Bible paraphrase. Here is 1 Samuel 2:8-9:
God “rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are God’s;
(God) has laid out (God’s) operations on a firm foundation.
(God) protectively cares for (God’s) faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark”
May Hannah’s tears, faith, and prayer in God guide us this day, and in the days ahead.
~ Pastor Kris
Reflection on 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10 offered October 18, 2020