Do You Hear the Call? Rev Dr Durrell Watkins MLK Sunday 2015 Once upon a time, as stories often begin, there was a man named Elkanah who had two wives at the same time: Hannah and Penninah. The story Elkanah and his two wives is found in the bible, long before people decided without carefully […]
Do You Hear the Call?
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
MLK Sunday 2015
Once upon a time, as stories often begin, there was a man named Elkanah who had two wives at the same time: Hannah and Penninah. The story Elkanah and his two wives is found in the bible, long before people decided without carefully reading the bible that it somehow defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Of course, Elkanah having two wives is not unique in biblical storytelling:
Solomon had hundreds of wives.
Jacob had a couple of wives and children with two of his servants.
David had multiple wives (one of whom was a married woman he seduced and later had her husband killed so he could marry her…the bible may not be the best text for contemporary ethics)…also, let me hasten to add, that while David had multiple wives, the love of his life was a guy named Jonathan. When Jonathan was killed in battle, David opined, “You were so dear to me, Jonathan; more precious was my love for you than my love for women.”
And these are just a few of the heroes in our sacred tradition. The one man/one woman argument won’t even stand the test of our own scriptures. People can have their prejudices against same-gender loving couples, but to blame those prejudices on scripture is nothing short of ridiculous.
But I digress…
Back to Elkanah, the biblical bigamist.
According to 1 Samuel 1.2, Elkanah’s wife Penninah had children with him, but his other wife Hannah had never been able to get pregnant.
In this ancient culture where women had no status apart from a man, and where wives’ primary purpose were to become mothers, it was considered a great shame for a wife to not have children, and that shame was compounded exponentially if there was another wife of the same husband who did bear children. So in the social construct of the time, Hannah is deeply hurt and embarrassed to be childless, and her shame is all the greater because Penninah does have children.
Now, I should add that the story suggests that Elkanah prefers Hannah to Penninah, even though Hannah has not yet had children. You see, over and over in scripture, it is the one you wouldn’t expect, the one that religion and society had written off, the one who had been left out who receives the unexpected blessing, the miracle, the affirmation of love.
Maybe because Elkanah loved Hannah so unconditionally that caused her to want to please him all the more. Maybe that only added to her desperation to become pregnant. So Hannah goes to the shrine at Shiloh to pray for a miracle.
The priest at Shiloh, Eli, sees Hannah praying, and he prays for her as well. Eli says, “Go in peace, and may God grant you what you have asked.” And that night, the story says, Hannah and Elkanah conceived a child.
Part of Hannah’s prayer had been that if God would give her a son, she’d give the son back to God, promising that he would grow up in a monastic sort of environment. What if the son wanted a different career path? Who cares?! In those days women, children, and slaves had very few choices. Samuel was to be given away and that was that. It was a world with very different values from our own.
Hannah had a son, named him Samuel, and when he was weaned, she took Samuel to Shiloh and gave him over to Eli to raise. That’s the background for the reading we heard earlier. An elderly Eli is raising and mentoring Samuel, who becomes a prophet who later installs Israel’s first two kings, first Saul and then David. Samuel even plays a part in defeating the Philistines who had invaded and oppressed his people.
In the story, Hannah the social pariah, the one who could not fulfill her duty to bear children, was the favored wife of Elkanah. It is also Hannah who is heard by God and receives the greatest desire of her heart.
In the story, Samuel, who was given to a priest to raise when he was a baby, is the one who hears God’s call in the night, and he grows up to be a prophet of God, and a king maker, and a liberator.
Whoever told you that you didn’t matter, that you had no hope, that you were meant for the shadows and for silence…whether it was a political party or a religious group or a fanatical family or a lover or an employer or even a diagnosis…whatever made you feel as if you were useless, I dare you, I implore you, I beg you to reject that vicious lie! You are God’s miracle, not God’s mistake!
If you are experiencing a dark night in your life, dare to get quiet, and listen for the divine Voice calling your name, affirming your sacred value, whispering to your heart that you matter, reminding you that you have gifts to share that will make the world a better place.
Hannah wasn’t the last hurting person to be heard by God, and Samuel wasn’t the last marginalized person to be called to great service. In the stillness of your night, God is calling, ready to bless you and put you to work to be a blessing to others.
This weekend in the US, we remember and honor Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He too, during a long and painful night in American history, heard the voice of Justice calling him to share his gifts with the world. He stood up to the Jim Crow laws in the South. He spoke against the evils of war, particularly the Vietnam war. He affirmed the dignity of working people and worked for economic justice for all people. It was while advocating for sanitation workers in Memphis that he was killed. He was one of the best orators of any age, and he summoned almost unparalleled courage, along with wisdom, and that great forensic skill to inspire a community and challenge a nation and change the world.
Now, let me point out something about changing the world…it’s not a one and done deal. The calling never stops. Samuel first heard the voice in the night when he was 12 or 13 and he went on to a life of service: religious service, government service, anti-oppression work…there is always more to do.
Dr King didn’t just organize one march or one rally. He didn’t just give one speech or sit in jail one time. He didn’t work until there was one bit of progress. He tackled racism, poverty, war…there was always more healing needed, and therefore more work to be done. And, every bit of progress had to be remembered so that it would not slip away.
Medgar Evars, a civil rights activist who was killed in his own driveway in Mississippi in 1963, used to say, “It will be difficult to hold on to freedom once we get it.” In the decades following Medgar’s assassination, we’ve seen the Voting Rights Act passed, and recently, we’ve seen it gutted. If we ever think the work is done, some of the good can be undone. The calling never stops. Racism is still a terrible disease; will we dare to resist it?
And how ‘bout all this marriage equality progress? Please know that there will be some who will spend decades of time and millions of dollars trying to roll back the progress of recent days; that can only happen if we become complacent. We have to always be ready to hear the call in the night, and prepared to say, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
I am asking you today to renew your commitment to the ministry of Sunshine Cathedral. Your financial gifts, your prayers, your attendance, your support of special events, all help us to share the message that all people have sacred value, that we are each God’s miracle and not God’s mistake…and I promise you, that message is still needed. I get emails and letters and Facebook messages every single week telling me that parents have abandoned their children for being gay or lesbian or transgender, or telling me that they are still struggling with old religious messages of condemnation, guilt, shame and fear. People all over the world are looking to us for a word of hope, and we must never stop offering it. Do you hear the divine Voice calling us to continued action?
Sunshine Cathedral, we have so much more to do, more people to reach, more encouragement to share, much more healing to offer.
If you think we’ve done enough, or that the need for our work is passed, I assure you nothing could be less true. The world needs us. The world needs the joy we have. It needs the hope that gives us such strength; it needs a different kind of church. Do you hear the calling? If so, then continue to share your time, talent, and treasure with Sunshine Cathedral and continue believing that the future has infinite possibilities. We can be shapers and sharers of that future.
This is the good news!
© Durrell Watkins 2015
God is at work in my life.
God is blessing me to be a blessing.
And so it is.