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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17 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Disbelief

  1. Because I am white, I cannot really understand the experiences of racism in our country. I have had the privilege of working with many people of color, though. One conversation that really stood out for me was this: the campus resource officer (SRO) at my first campus is a huge African-American man. Like, 6′ 5, 300 lbs of muscle. Also college-educated, widely experienced, and highly intelligent. We had many awesome, philosophical conversations.
    He had little patience with the boys on campus with sagging pants, he called them “Hip-hop daddies” and “tennis-shoe ganstas,” and he was always telling them to quit being what the white man expected, quit giving them a reason to be prejudiced – pull up their pants and go to class, make something of themselves.
    But he did notice a difference in how people treated him when he was out of uniform. In uniform (this was before all the recent agita with cops in general), wearing his badge and gun, he was one of the “good guys.” Out of uniform, he was a giant black man, and sometimes he noticed white folks scurrying to another aisle in Wal-Mart when he was present. He explained to me that while he was never looking for white folks to be prejudiced against him, he wasn’t surprised when it happened. There was a resignation to his voice when he said this. And I think about that often, and I know we have a long way yet to go in our country, a long way until all our citizens are on level ground, and not being told to protest injustice or offensiveness through the right channels. And I hear that cry, How long? How long, O Lord? How long? And I wonder how we pale people can help, to end the need to cry, How long?

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    1. Thanks for reflecting and wondering, bnzoot. There’s some good & important work that we white folks can do by (1) enhancing our understanding of the experiences of persons of color through investing time & energy into our own reading and research, as well as (2) increasing our everyday awareness of the ways in which racism negatively impacts white folks too — racism isn’t just something that happens to “other”/non-white people, but it also deprives our white-centric worlds of knowledge & relationship & nearness to God. “How long?” is a cry that we whites need to hear from brothers & sisters of color, but it’s also a cry that we who are white need to take up as an action in the spaces we inhabit: how long will we accept the perks of racial profiling by our local police, for example? how long will we tolerate the preferencing of white students in our public schools, for example? how long will we read biased reports of #BlackLivesMatter without complaining to those news agencies? Etc.

      I hear you and resonate with you about getting stuck in those moments when it feels like understanding and action are out-of-reach. Perhaps that’s another form of racialized disbelief that I hadn’t considered in my post above: the disbelief and doubt that we who are white can contribute positively to change. It’s a hard challenge, and I appreciate that you name it … and yet I believe there’s hope for us whites too, through learning to understand the mechanisms of racism, through making way for & giving way to others when it is in our power to do so, through questioning assumptions & systems that we engage each day, through supporting protesters and community organizations, and more! Thanks for raising the questions.

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      1. Yes! I cannot tell you, could never measure, the richness my own life has gained through working with and forming friendships with people who don’t look like me. My childhood in California would have been much different without the immense influence of Spanish/Mexican culture, Vietnamese, Persian. Working with African-Americans as both clients (students/parents) and colleagues (teachers, administrators) opened my eyes to their worlds, which are not all the same (I grow increasingly frustrated by those who throw out the term, “Black Culture”, wondering what they mean? Because they are as different, neighborhood to neighborhood, as we pale folk are).
        I guess I look for, work towards the day when my friend the SRO is more surprised by the racism than resigned to it.

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  2. Rachel, this is fantastic. Makes me wish I was preaching on Sunday.
    In terms of Mark, I wonder if the God who hears isn’t responding directly to the widow in ch12, much as you suggest about the response to Hannah?

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    1. Agreed, Eliza — Mark 13 cannot be isolated from Mark 12 or even Mark 11. In my sermon this past Sunday, I noted that almost everything Jesus says from Mark 11 – 13 centers on God’s subversive imagination…including a very close ear bent toward those who are rejected.

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  3. i have 2 previous sermons for this week, and i like both of them [not always the case a few years later]. one includes my personal story of infertility, which i am planning on using as i am in a new placement. it will need tweaking slightly.

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