The events and news out of the University of Missouri and Yale University are fresh in my mind and my twitter feed as I read the Revised Common Lectionary texts for this coming Sunday November 15th, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. The news at both schools is googleable; much of the University of Missouri news can be followed with the hashtag #concernedstudent1950. Among other offenses, microaggressions, overt & covert acts of racism at both schools (and many others), there is this small example: school officials at Yale advising students to tolerate racially insensitive Halloween costumes and to view such insensitivities as an opportunity for dialogue. In other words, the seriousness of offensive costumes was not believed when students brought it to their schools’ attention, and the freedom of some students to offend & threaten was upheld over the safety and well-being of other students.*
Disbelief is one of the persistent & undermining attitudes of racism and of accompanying systemic powers, ranging in appearance from outright accusation that those naming the injury & racism are lying or exaggerating … to the more subtle insistence that those who have been/are being injured should publicly share their wounds and should be obligated to teach those causing the harm how precisely they caused injury … to respectability requirements that those who want to air their grievances against a system of power should follow the system’s protocols & behavioral norms in order to “properly” protest.
The suppressing tool of disbelief is not new. When Hannah wailed aloud publicly in the temple, when she poured out her prayers with the silent murmuring of her lips, when she brought her protest to God without the usual semblances of piety & decorum, Eli expressed disbelief: “You’re not praying; you’re drunk and making a scene of yourself. Get it together, woman, if you want to remain here in the temple.” Hannah defended herself: “I am not drunk; I am mad and distressed at God, and I am right to bring my petition here and to pitch my tent before God until I am heard — until God remembers me.” So Eli changed his disbelief, and when at last Hannah bore a son to Elkanah, she named her son “The fruit of my protest” (Samuel = God heard).**
Following the theme of disbelief, I’d suggest that the whole of Sunday’s RCL texts support the claim that only the Holy One is consistently found to be the Believing One:
- in Hannah’s song of praise (1 Samuel 2), there is no one like the LORD who sees & believes the state of the poor and the feeble;
- disbelief is stark in Mark 13, for the disciples cannot imagine that Jesus has accurately forecast the temple’s destruction nor can they grasp when they should believe or disbelieve rumors of war and claims of Christ’s return;
- for the author of Hebrews 10, only God can be trusted to believe our confession and to remember that we have been forgiven once for always, while priests make new offerings daily for our sins;
- for Daniel (12:1-3) as for the psalmist (16:3-4), only those who believe in the Believing One and act wisely upon that belief can be called righteous.
Perhaps “disbelief” doesn’t resonate with your read of the texts and of current events this week. Perhaps you’re making one last stewardship push before Reign of Christ Sunday on the 22nd (which is also Thanksgiving Sunday in the U.S.). You might be holding Hannah’s story with care in your context to offer space for comfort & storytelling around difficult experiences with fertility. You might be drawn to the foreshadowing of Advent that seems to dance around & play through Sunday’s readings (“the beginning of the birthpangs”).
What’s percolating for you as you approach the words & spirit of a sermon for this coming Sunday? Share your thoughts, your wonderings, your support of one another in the comments!
*the resignation of U of Missouri’s president on Monday does not resolve or immediately change the imbedded culture that supports/permits/turns a blind eye to these offenses
**obviously, this is the Revised Rachel Version of the events in 1 Samuel 1.
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