By Jonathan Shively
Reflection: “She is drunk!?”
Alan visited our church quite regularly for about 2 years. He joined the choir, sometimes singing in tune, sometimes not. He ate meals with us, always enthusiastically, often sloppily. He spoke up during worship, sometimes at appropriate moments, sometimes not. He spoke passionately about his faith, sometimes understandably, sometimes not.
Alan is one of our community members who moves in and out of homelessness. He struggles with mental illness. He is, frankly, a person that parents would counsel their children to avoid. He’s the type of person that elicits glances of exasperation from those trying to manage the worship service and nervous twitches from those charged with keeping an orderly community.
I’d like to say that the church has been of great help to Alan, but I’m not sure that would be honest. Oh, he’s welcome in our congregation, but I’m not sure we’ve done much for Alan’s living situation, his mental condition, or his singing ability. Apparently the hospitality was significant enough for him to continue attending.
What I do know, however, is that Alan had something to share with our congregation that may have far outweighed our reciprocation. Alan is a man of deep spiritual connectedness with God and rich spiritual longings. In words that sometimes only he understood, Alan would share about his faith in God and his efforts to follow Jesus. When those words made sense, it was evident that Alan loves God and seeks to be a disciple of Jesus. When the words didn’t make sense, at least I felt that there was still strong evidence pointing toward Alan’s walk with Jesus.
In the end, I don’t think it was we who evangelized Alan; I think Alan was evangelizing us.
But in order to see God’s work through Alan, stereotypes and first impressions had to be set aside, and degrees of patience had to be exercised to recognize God’s use of Alan as evangelist.
In the 1 Samuel 1 text for this week, we read these words in the 13th verse: Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.
When Eli first sees Hannah, he makes some judgments. “She is drunk,” he thinks. He even says as much to her: So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” (v. 14) It would have been easy at this point for Eli, the priest on duty, to ask her to leave, to deride her for her apparent condition, or to draw attention from others to her perceived condition. But he did not.
On the contrary, Eli listens to Hannah’s heartfelt response:
“No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (vs 15 -16)
Eli responds to Hannah, saying, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”
It’s a lesson we’re taught from an early age, don’t judge a book by its cover. And yet it’s a message that requires constant reminding. What we see, or think we see, is not always what we get. What will we get if we carefully and intently look toward the other, listening for petitions and praises poured out before and on behalf of God? Sharing God’s love requires that we regard those we encounter as beloved, not as worthless, drunken or an uncomfortable spectacle.
The other thing to keep in mind is that while we’re living out love, we may be caught off guard by God’s love expressed to us through others. We’re not always the bearer of the message; sometimes it comes in the form of an Alan or a Hannah.
Go in peace. Receive with grace.
“… within every circumstance, every object, every person, God’s action is going on, a sort of white heat at the centre of everything. It means that each one of us is already in a relationship with God before we’ve ever thought about it. It means that every object or person we encounter is in a relationship with God before they’re in a relationship of any kind with us. And if that doesn’t make us approach the world and other people with reverence and amazement, I don’t know what will.” Rowan Williams, p. 35 in Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, 2007.
“It’s hard to get around the idea of belief as a relational process. People who can change our beliefs are people to whom we give authority to suggest alternatives to us.” Doug Pagitt, p.113 in Community in the Inventive Age, 2011.
Film Suggestion: Simon Birch (1998)
Give me your eyes Brandon Heath
Healer of our every ill Marty Haugen
Open my eyes, that I may see Clara H. Scott
O Lord God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, open our eyes that we may behold thy fatherly presence ever about us. Draw our hearts to thee with the power of thy love. Teach us to be careful for nothing, and when we have done what thou hast given us to do, help us, O God, our Saviour, to leave the issue to thy wisdom. Take from us all doubt and distrust. Lift our thoughts up to thee in heaven, and make us to know that all things are possible to us through thy Son, our Redeemer. Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott, 1825-1901 in The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. George Appleton
God of clear and penetrating vision, look into our hearts.
Scan past our idiosyncrasies.
See beyond our irregularities.
Overlook our callousness.
View us through the lens of your gracious love.
But beyond seeing, fill us, unconditionally, with your love.
Overload our capacity to contain your presence.
Pour into us until we are overflowing.
Saturate our being so that we might be more like you,
Looking past our neighbor’s idiosyncrasies;
Seeing beyond the stranger’s irregularities;
Overlooking our friend’s callousness.
Open us to encounter you in unexpected places,
Through unsuspecting witnesses.
In Jesus the revealed Christ’s name we pray.