Wednesday, November 28, 2012


1 Sam. 1:9-20; 2:1-10[1]
I grew up playing the game “Monopoly.”  My cousins and I would play it like it was going out of style!  In later years, when I actually read the rules of the game (!), I learned that we had “cheated.”  You see, the game of monopoly operates in a fixed world with a closed system.  There are only so many properties, only so many houses and hotels, and only so much money to go around.  Now, of course, my cousins and I didn’t invent new properties on the board.  But we didn’t abide by the limitations on cash and improvements.  The way we played the game, if a person had the money to buy a house or hotel, they got one.  And when we ran out of cash, we just made more.  We created $1,000 bills and $5,000 bills and we had double hotels on Boardwalk!
When I found out that we had actually “broken” the rules, I began thinking about the world and how it operates.  There are those in our world who operate from the assumption that there’s only so much to go around.  What that usually means is that I have to get mine so that I don’t wind up empty-handed!  And the assumption is also that it leaves others without enough.  But there’s also another way of looking at things.  When I shared my analogy with a friend who was in finance, he enlightened me regarding the way a market economy works.  Other systems of economics operate on the basis of the fact that there’s only so much to go around.  But a market economy works on the principle of creating wealth—by a starting business and tapping a previously undiscovered source of revenue.[2]
As my friend pointed out, when you look at the world from that point of view, the question of how much there is to go around doesn’t even enter the equation.  In fact, it is possible that no one knows how much a market economy can generate.  Instead of a principle of “hoarding,” a market economy works on the principle of “investing.” You see a niche, you come up with a business plan, and you raise the funds you need. Then you risk the whole thing in a new venture.  Will it succeed?  You’ll never know until you make the leap!  But it is a more hopeful outlook on the future than the closed system. It reminds us that we really don’t know what good things may be in store for us in the future.
Like Naomi, Hannah was a woman who feared that her life had no hope and no future.  Although she had a husband who dearly loved her, she had no children—especially no male children.  It may be hard for us to understand the importance of a son in that economic system.  Without a son of her own, after Elkanah died, she would be left destitute.[3]  Women did not inherit property in those days—even from their own husbands.  Only a son could inherit.  If Hannah never bore her husband a son, she would have no one to take care of her in her old age.  Even though Elkanah her husband had other sons, they were the sons of a different mother.  So from Hannah’s perspective, her hope was dwindling, and her future seemed dim.
It is in that context that she goes to the Temple to pray.  As she puts it to Eli, she was “deeply troubled” and praying out of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Sam. 1:16-17).  Although Eli initially misunderstood her motives, and even accused her of being drunk (!), he blessed her with the prayer that God would grant her petition.  And like Sarah, and Naomi, and many others who have felt that God had abandoned them and their future was closed, the Scriptures say that God answered her prayer and gave her a son, namely Samuel.[4]  And she praised God as the one who is able to reverse any misfortune, who is able to bring hope from hopelessness and a future from despair (1 Sam. 2:1-10).[5]
What she did next was an amazing act of faith.  She had promised that if God gave her a son, she would devote him to the Lord.  That meant he would not be able to inherit from his father and would not be able to take care of her in her old age!  But she had promised that if God would give her a son, she would devote him to God’s service, and that is what she did with Samuel.  I can imagine she did so with a great deal of “fear and trembling.”  But remember, this is as story about the God of hope and the future.  And we are told at the end of Hannah’s song of praise that God gave her three more sons and two daughters!
I think it’s important for us to remember that God does not operate within a closed system.  God is the God of hope, not the God of despair!  God is the God of the future!  In God’s system, the world operates based on promises that point toward a future with hope and life.[6]  Promises like “I will wipe away every tear,” and “they will all know me, from the greatest to the least,” and “they will beat their swords into ploughshares,” and “I am making everything new.”  The Christian faith is at heart the hope that God already doing that through Jesus Christ.[7]  The Christian faith is at heart the faith that God is already doing that through the Spirit of Life poured out on all creation.[8]
One of the challenges of living as a small church in this society is that it can feel like we’ve been left out, or passed by.  We can choose to live within that closed system, thinking that our best is back there somewhere in the past, wondering whether we have a future at all.  Or we can embrace an open future, and operate on the basis of the faith that God is continually at work around and among us—which means our future is alive and full of promise because we have no idea what God can do in this congregation and in this community. I prefer to embrace this open future.  I hope you will join me as we entrust ourselves and our congregation to the God of our risen Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is making all things new through his Spirit, the God who is God the God of hope and the future.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm; a sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/18/12.
[2] Cf. “Market Economy” at .
[3] Marjorie Menaul, “1 Samuel 1 and 2,” Interpretation 55 (Apr 2001):174
[4] Cf. Bruce C. Birch “The First and Second Books of Samuel,” New Interpreters Bible II:997: “By trusting her plight to God, Hannah claimed the new future God can make possible to those in barren, hopeless circumstances. Her story has roots in Israel’s past. God had remembered Rachel, and she had been given a child (Gen 30:22). God had remembered the Hebrews in bondage in Egypt (Exod 2:24) and delivered them into new life as a people. Hannah opens her misery and need to God and asks for God to remember her”
[5] Cf. William A. Dyrness, “Waiting in Hope,” The Christian Century (Nov 2, 1994):1011.  Cf. also Menaul, “ 1 and 2 Samuel,” 176: “As the Bible bears witness, the work of God in reversing poor and rich, powerless and powerful, barren and fertile has been going on from the beginning.”  Cf. further, Birch, “First and Second Books of Samuel,” NIB II:983: “Hannah’s hope becomes hope for Israel and for us that power is not irrevocably tilted in favor of those the world defines as powerful—definitions that leave many powerless and without hope. Hannah sings of a God whose transforming power can reverse those patterns. She sings of a God who does not accept the world’s power arrangements. She sings of a God whose might is not wielded in a disinterested fashion. God is heavily invested in the welfare of the weak, the powerless, the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed, the barren.”
[6] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 24-25.
[7] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 26-27, 28, 30, 32-33.
[8] Jürgen Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, 191.

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