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When the Lord of promise overturns despair into hope

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October 16, 2016 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10 and Luke 1:46-55

How often does it happen that we experience some form of struggle? It might not be completely as pronounced as with others. The struggle might be inside our own minds. It could be a sense of inadequacy, or it could be that we are missing someone dearly loved. It could be an impending illness that we may experience as life-threatening. It could even be that we sense that trouble is lurking on the horizon and we just can’t see that anyone is prepared for the trouble. Huge changes or shifts in culture can even be experienced as a struggle. We might not be able to lay our finger on the cultural shift. Immigrants regularly go through those types of changes and really want to adapt to the new country, but the harder they try, the tougher it seems.

Yes, these struggles sound quite self-centred, but they can weigh on a person’s entire existence.

Such was the case with Hannah according to our reading from the book of first Samuel. First, where does Hannah fit in? How does this have anything to do with last week’s reading about Moses going up the mountain and Aaron shaping a golden calf for the impatient people? I sense that these stories can sound very disjointed. “Why a Narrative Lectionary?” you may well want to ask. It may be helpful to take note that the Lord God, our creator, can be seen as the Lord of promises. There are fundamental promises contained in the Lord’s relationship with the Lord’s people. These promises of protection, of safety and of an eternal destiny seem pointless when we think of our lives in the 21st century. But then, they are real. The promises are real to the people of Israel when Joseph is sold to Egyptian merchants. A famine arises and in the end, when the people of God are in dire need of food, they find that this same Joseph is the one who prepared a way for them to have access to food. A few centuries go by and and the people become a threat to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. He puts them into slave labour. The Passover story, a parallel to the Easter story, depicts the people being freed from bondage and going back to the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. On their way, Moses goes up a mountain and the people don’t see the promise being real anymore, which entices them to make an image that would represent God to them, a false image of the real God. The golden calf is an indication of humans trying to work out their own safety and future. The people of God continue to wander in the wilderness. The come into the land of promise when one turns to the book of Joshua, a book being skipped this year. The book of Judges follows with no real true leadership and it’s a book that ends terribly with inner tribal war. The book ends with the line, “In those days there was no king in Israel, all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Does this sound strange? Has the Lord of promise given up on the people of the covenant?

The book of Ruth also gets skipped, a book about a woman by the name of Ruth who perseveres and, to make an intriguing story short, becomes the ancestor of the later king David. The Lord of promise seems not to let go of these people. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

According to our story from first Samuel, another woman, Hannah seeks to do God’s will, but finds herself relegated to a life of barrenness, not being able to have children. What a crisis it was for her! But let’s not get stuck with the story of infertility, as painful as it truly is…

Hannah is part of a much bigger picture, as the books of Samuel are the start of the era of human kings instead of having God as their king.

With that lens, God’s faithfulness to the covenant God has with God’s people becomes the primary theme, with Hannah’s barrenness just one of many, many hurdles that stood between God and the fulfillment of the covenant. The covenant meant and still means that God will be faithful and reliable to God’s children, the believers of then and also of 2016. Of course Samuel goes on to anoint Israel’s first king, and then also King David. Both of those events end up having huge effects on Israel, such as the covenant God makes with King David later on.

The takeaway is that God is faithful to God’s covenant, and because we know that God has been faithful to God’s covenant in the past, God will be faithful to the parts of the covenant and promises we’re still waiting on.

This week’s thought reminds us that the answers to our prayers are part of something much bigger. We are not the centre of God’s world, but part of a world on which God’s love is centred.

“(The Lord) puts poor people on their feet again;

    the Lord 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;

    he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.

(1 Samuel 2:8 from “The Message”)

 When Hannah sings the above verse, she has discovered that God has granted her a son. Samuel, who would grow to be one of the most important figures in Israel’s history. The arrival of this son brought great joy to Hannah and her heart sang with praises to the God who had given such a gift to her. What is striking about this song is that her song isn’t filled with selfish praise, where she is simply happy because she got what she wanted. Her heart is overflowing with unselfish praise; the kind of praise that rejoices that others benefit, too. The poor are lifted up, the mighty oppressors are brought down, and the feeble and weak are lifted up. The Lord indeed is the One who overturns despair into hope! Of course not always, as the Lord God isn’t some kind of a genie in a bottle, making all good things happen on our demand.

This is however a great reminder to all of us. We often pray for something and hope that what we want happens. But the faithful prayer of Hannah calls us to not just see answers to our prayers as isolated and personal. They are also part of the larger work of God and connected to a bigger story.

This is the same kind of joy we see in the New Testament when Mary sings her song of joy when she discovers that she is carrying Jesus. She knows that bearing Jesus is not just a personal victory for Mary, it is part of God’s bigger work to bring about the kingdom of God.

So as you and I experience times where God is doing something meaningful and life-giving in our lives, let’s remember not to isolate our experience of joy from the world around us. Continue to hope that God’s work will flow to others, lifting up the poor and the oppressed, the marginalized and those that sense themselves to be outcasts, and helping those who are weak and struggling to find strength and flourish.

When we enter challenging times, when the anaesthetist inserts the needle, or the road is slippery, or our children don’t quite do what we expect them to do, or our neighbour seems extremely strange, hard to reach out to, we can always rely on the Lord of promise.

 

Copyright 2016 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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