Proper 28B/Ordinary 33B/Pentecost 25
November 18, 2012
1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10
On election night in Chicago – the headquarters of President Obama’s campaign – the joint was rocking. Flags were waving, people were yelling and hugging each other – it was positively giddy. But in the middle of the celebration, one couple’s giddiness topped everyone else’s. Upon hearing that Question 6 (the initiative legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland) had passed, Keesha Patterson of Fort Washington, Maryland, popped the question to her girlfriend Rowan Ha. Rowan said yes, the couple embraced, and the crowd went wild.
When we finally get what we’ve prayed for after years and years of trudging, struggling and crying, we can be forgiven if we get a little giddy.
This week’s Hebrew Bible reading and Psalm reading feature Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, whose Song of joy is also positively giddy. Hannah’s song is prefaced (in 1 Sam 1:4-20) by the fact that, although she was loved by her husband, Hannah was barren. In the time of the ancient Hebrews, infertility was a major calamity for a woman, first, because her ability to bear children (especially males ones) was seen as the measure of her worth and second, because barrenness was grounds for divorce under Mosaic law. To be divorced was to be left abandoned, reviled by the community and penniless. Even though her husband Elkanah doted on her, Hannah had to know the reality that her existence was tenuous. To rub salt into the wound, Elkanah’s fertile senior wife (Peninnah) took pains “to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam 1:6). She was so pained by this bullying, that “Hannah wept and would not eat” (vv.7).
One day, at the feast day at the temple at Shiloh, Hannah went to pray, weeping bitterly. She made a vow before the Lord: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head” (vv.11). A nazirite was a young man dedicated to the service of the Temple, who did not cut his hair or drink as a sign of his service (Sampson was a nazirite). Hannah was proposing that her first-born son, should she have one, would be given over to the Temple. When we are in distress, we will reach out in ways we never thought of before. We pocket our pride, and we ask for help.
When the issue of marriage equality in Maryland was considered by the state legislature in March 2011, what was thought to be a simple ratification turned into an ugly fight between LGBT activists and African-American clergy from the Civil Rights era. State Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. said “If you want to compare same-sex marriage to civil rights as I know it, show me the Ku Klux Klan that invaded your home”. On March 11, the House voted to send the bill back to committee, where it would not be considered until 2012.
But instead of turning on the African American community, the LGBT community reached out instead, and the response was overwhelming. The Maryland legislature eventually ratified Maryland equality. Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens made a video in support of marriage equality. In a video made in support of Question 6, prominent African American clergy from the Maryland area and around the county lent their voices (to see the video, click here). NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond likewise made a video in support (to see the video, click here). Finally, but certainly not least, when President Obama voiced his support of marriage equality in a televised interview, a sea-change of opinion began to take place (see “Gentiles and Gay Marriage: How We’ve Evolved“). When the issue of marriage equality went before the electorate in Question 6 on Election Day, Maryland voters silenced the opposition permanently.
After her prayers, the Lord “remembered” Hannah, and she became pregnant with the prophet Samuel, who would eventually anoint King Saul and King David, ushering in the golden age of Israel. Hannah’s song of celebration after Samuel’s birth is a full-throated ode to joy that embraces not just Hannah, but all the poor and downtrodden who – like herself – have suffered for too long:
“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” (1 Sam 2:2-6).
Yes, Hannah is a little giddy, but she (like us) can be forgiven in her celebration. Her celebration marks a time when Israel was coming out of the “bad, old days” of the Judges, where “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). According to evangelist Jim Wallis, we have experienced a similar transition in this election: “The biggest mistake the religious right made was to make the word “evangelical” a political term. Evangelical is a theological commitment, not a political one … It’s following Jesus and our obedience to the Scriptures that leads us to defend the poor, protect the most vulnerable, welcome the stranger, seek racial reconciliation and justice, be good stewards of the environment and peacemakers in a world of war”. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The Arc of the Moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. I hope Keesha and her partner Rowan are still celebrating – and if they are reading this and need a minister, feel free to drop me a line!