To the God of Justice

1 Samuel 2:1-10
David A. Davis
November 12, 2023
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Hannah doesn’t hang around long in the pages of scripture. She is only mentioned here in the first two chapters of I Samuel. She never gets a shout out by name in the New Testament. She doesn’t make that list in Hebrews chapter 11 where the preacher does that riff: “by faith Noah, by faith Abraham, by faith Jacob, by faith Moses and more” That list is all men. By the middle of I Samuel 2 the narrative tells that “the Lord took note of Hannah; she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.” And then Hannah exits the bible’s stage. “The Lord took note of Hannah.” The primary meaning of the Lord “taking note” is a reference to the vexing biblical theme of barrenness and fertility. But I am guessing the Lord taking note of Hannah goes much further than her having children. The Lord took note. Clearly, so did Mary the mother of Jesus. The Lord took note of Hannah. Mary took note of Hannah. And so should we.

Hannah’s prayer that I read for your hearing is not her only prayer. Earlier in the story Hannah goes to pray to the Lord in the temple.  “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord,  and wept bitterly.” Eli the priest sees Hannah and because her lips were moving yet her prayer was silent, Eli accuses her of being “a drunken spectacle”. Hannah stands up for herself before the priest. She tells him she has had nothing drink and that she has been “pouring out her soul before the Lord.” “Do not regard your servant as worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time”.  You go Hannah! Take note of Hannah. She stood up for herself, for her faith, for her relationship to God, and for her prayer life. She gave it to Eli. She gave it to God for that matter pouring out her soul. After Samuel was born Hannah “lent him to the Lord” for as long as lived.

“Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in my God. Mary prayed and said “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Hannah prayed “the bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird their strength.” Mary prayed “The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” Hannah prayed “the Lord raises up the poor from the dust; the Lord lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Mary prayed “The Lord has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Hannah prayed “The Lord will guard the feet of God’s faithful ones”. Mary prayed “God’s mercy is for those who fear God, from generation to generation.”  Hannah’s prayer is Mary’s prayer. Hannah’s song is Mary’s song. Mary’s Magnificat is Hannah’s Magnificat.

Both Hannah and Mary praying to the God of justice. Praying, singing, painting a world of justice, righteousness, compassion, and transformation. Both Hannah and Mary telling of the never-ending mercy and the certain presence and the present act of God. Hitting notes in their song that proclaim the world as we know it turned upside down, a world overflowing with peace, a world where the lowliest find themselves joining a divine song of joy and praise. Both Hannah and Mary singing a picture of the kingdom of God.

As Hannah finishes her prayer and soon takes her leave from the pages of scripture, Sanuel remains and begins to “minister to the Lord in the presence of the priest Eli.” The writer of I Samuel tells the reader that “the sons of Eli were scoundrels” who had no regard for the Lord. The reader is also informed that “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread.” Scoundrels run amok and no one seeking a word from the Lord. That seems like a biblical way of describing a world far from what God intends. A world where humanity is not at its best. A world where the faithful must have been wondering about the silence of God; the perceived absence of God. A world where the darkness is too bright and the mercy and grace of God too hard to find. Hannah breaths her prayer into that world.

It’s a prayer, like Mary’s prayer, that begins with exultation and praise. It moves toward a daring affirmation of all that the Lord of heaven and earth can do.  The prayer proclaims what God can do and the restored world God intends. One scholar describes it as a prayer that acknowledges that the Lord has the power to intrude, intervene, and invert. But in acknowledging God’s power to intrude, intervene, and invert, one can also conclude that  Hannah’s prayer is also invoking, asking, pleading for God to be and to act. What goes unspoken in the prayer from the one who poured out her soul to the Lord, what goes unspoken and yet must have been a passion deep with Hannah’s soul, was her lament for the world around her. God’s people around her.

Biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann describes Hannah’s prayer this way: “This song becomes the song of Mary and the song of the church as the faithful community finds in Jesus the means through which Yahweh will turn and right the world…. This song becomes a source of deep and dangerous hope in the world wherever the prospect and possibility of human arrangements have been exhausted. When people can no longer believe the promises of the rulers of this age….this song voices an alternative to which the desperate faithful cling.” Yes, Hannah’s prayer, Mary’s song, the church’ song. A prayer for you and for me. A prayer for us amid our lament for the world around us.

Brueggemann writes that Hannah “flings” her song in the world’s power of death and darkness. He calls it an “act of daring hope.” Through Mary, Hannah also flings her song into the future of God’s people. Songs work that way sometimes. It’s a song that stuck. A song the church can’t get out of its head. A song that has a future. A song for the people of God to keep on singing. A song to pass on from generation to generation. A song that never ends.

Several weeks ago, our 2 and a half year old granddaughter Franny was staying with us for the weekend while her parents went to a wedding. Franny has discovered our piano that sits likes to tickle the ivories with me. As we both sat on the bench, I started to play “Blessed Assurance”. Franny’s face lit up and she yelled, “That’s Franny’s church song!” So we sang it together. Her grandmother and I didn’t teach Franny the song. Her parents didn’t teach her. Franny learned her song at Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City. The church taught Franny her church song. Songs work that way sometimes.

That’s how it should be with Hannah’s daring act of hope. Passing the prayer from generation to generation. That in every generation God’s people might cling to the belief that this old world still belongs to the God who created it while again and again calling on God to be and to act. Hannah’s song. Mary’s song. The Church’s song. It tells of God’s world. God’s kingdom. And together we shall sing it, and pray for it, and live toward it, and work for it. Our exultation and praise takes shape in here so we can witness to the God of restoration out there. Inspired by our acts of praise in here, we are empowered and enabled and inspired to be instruments of God’s grace out there. So transformed, we whose hearts exult in the Lord, whose strength is exalted in our God, so transformed that we know ourselves to be midwives of God’s kingdom here on earth. Ever longing, ever asking for that kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

This last Monday Cathy and I went up to New York City to meet our new granddaughter Maddy for the first time. I have told a lot of people of the years that my day off is Fridays because on Monday I am too tired to enjoy it. Monday’s are the day of the week when I do my first bit of sermon preparation. There may be no better way to begin sermon preparation than holding your four day old grandchild. At one point in the afternoon, I found myself alone with Maddy as I sat on the sofa holding her. She was asleep and I was humming a few hymns probably more for me than her since she was sound asleep. I found myself thinking about this beautiful newborn child and what a few friends, family members, and colleagues have said by text and email as we shared the news of Maddy’s birth: “Welcome to the world, Madeline Fay.” Welcome to this world. The world surrounding us here and now.

That’s when the sermon preparation started. Because I realized right then, maybe for the first time really. I realized that Hannah’s prayer and Mary’s prayer have something in common beyond the content. Something in common as important as the content. Both Hannah and Mary were praying to the Lord of heaven and earth for their child. They both were praising God and asking God to be and to act in the world in which their child would grow up. Longing for that world to more like the world God intends and for God to work on that a whole lot sooner than later.

Hannah’s prayer to the God of justice. Hannah’s prayer. Mary’s prayer. The Church’s prayer. Our prayer.

My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in my God.”