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Bible Search
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost - June 3 2018

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
June 3, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2: 23-3:6

Hannah lived in the time before the kings, when the old social networks and political systems were breaking down.  The Book of Judges describes the general chaos – “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”[1] 

Eli was a priest of God in those days, but his sons – who were also priests – were, Scripture tells us, scoundrels.[2]  “…[T]hey had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people.  When anyone offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan …; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself.” 

Eli was visited by a prophet, who warned him that God would reverse the blessing he had given to his family in Egypt, that they would serve the Lord and the Lord would be gracious – now, said the prophet, “The Lord the God of Israel declares: ‘Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt.  See, a time is coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestor’s family, so that no one in your family will live to old age. … The only one of you that I will not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart; all the members of your household shall die by the sword.’”[3]

It was into this world that Hannah, the barren woman, came to the shrine to beg God for a child.  And as we know, that child was Samuel, whom she placed under the direction of Eli – of all people – to serve the Lord.  The rightness of her intuition is confirmed by the calling of Samuel by the Lord in the nighttime.

When she learned she would give birth, Hannah sang a song that we might find vaguely familiar:  And you can find it in your Pew Bibles on page 214:

1 Samuel 2:1-10                                                                    

 

Hannah’s Prayer

‘My heart exults in the Lord;

   my strength is exalted in my God.

My mouth derides my enemies,

   because I rejoice in my victory.

 

‘There is no Holy One like the Lord,

   no one besides you;

   there is no Rock like our God.

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.

The bows of the mighty are broken,

   but the feeble gird on strength.

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.

The Lord kills and brings to life;

   he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

The Lord makes poor and makes rich;

   he brings low, he also exalts.

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 honour.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,

   and on them he has set the world.

 

 ‘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.

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.’

 

The reason it sounds so familiar, is that Mary’s Song echoes Hannah’s.  On Thursday this past week, the Church remembered the visit Mary paid to her relative Elizabeth, which was the occasion for her own paean of praise to God, and you can find that in your Pew Bible on page 832.

 

Luke 1:46-55

 

Mary’s Song of Praise

 

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,

   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

   and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

   from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

   and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

   and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

   in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

 

So here we have the stories of two powerful, revolutionary women speaking prophetically in times of great trouble.  Samuel was born into a society that had forgotten its history and its covenant, not just with each other, but with God.  Jesus was born into a society that found itself firmly ground under the Roman boot, whose leaders thought that bowing to the force of Rome would save them from annihilation.

They may have been right, at least in some sense, but they were wrong in the eyes of God.

It’s not that God called for a political revolution – either in Samuel’s time or in Jesus’ – but God did call for faithful people to speak truth to power, which is what both Samuel and Jesus did.

Can you imagine at all what it must have been like for Samuel, a small boy, to tell the one who had raised him, loved him, and mentored him, that God offered no forgiveness to Eli or his house forever?  I certainly can’t.  What if Eli had been angry?  What if Eli had attacked him or kicked him out? 

But instead, Eli listened, and accepted the word that God had sent through Samuel.  His own life ended in sorrow and pain, with the loss of his sons, and the loss of the sacred Ark of God, which was captured by the Philistines, but he raised Samuel to heed the words of the Lord.

It was through Samuel’s obedience – his careful listening to the word of the Lord – that Israel survived against the Philistines; and it was through Samuel’s listening obedience for the word of the Lord that David became King.  David’s reign was always thereafter viewed as Israel’s Golden Age, its heyday, and it was David’s line that carried the promise of the messiah.

But don’t forget the words of Hannah and Mary – the Lord lifts up the poor and the powerless to greatness, and rejects those who claim the authority of political power and physical force.  Instead, the hungry are fed and the sick are healed – just as in Mark’s Gospel selection today – while those in power are reduced to dust.

God has a preference for the poor, and an ear for those who are rejected and despised by those in power.  The cries of the powerless are heard in heaven.  When Israel was rescued from exile and slavery in Egypt, God not only brought them out – through the obedient listening of the great prophet Moses – but also gave them, again, the Sabbath – a time set aside for rest and renewal for all, for the relief of hunger and for mending the broken, and for remembering the source of our being and our healing.

Thus we make our song, “O day of radiant gladness, O day of joy and light, O balm of care and sadness, most beautiful, most bright; this day the high and lowly, through ages joined in tune, sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” to the great God Triune.”

In the name of God…

 

 

[1] Judges 21:24.

[2] 1 Samuel 2:12.

[3] 1 Samuel 2:30b-31, 33.