|| Sunday November 15, 2009 "Becoming Hannah" 1 Samuel 2: 1-10
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|Posted by: Brad Miller||11/17/2009 9:23 AM|
|The scripture this morning is 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, but we need some context before we get there.|
Here’s how I remember the story:
There was a woman named Hannah who was married to a man name Elkanah. But Hannah wasn’t Elkahnah’s only wife. He had another wife named Peninnah. Here is what distinguished Hannah from Peninnah. First, Peninnah had children, while Hannah had none. Second, Peninnah was not a very nice woman – taunting and ridiculing Hannah whenever possible – all because Hannah had no children. Somehow, in Penninah’s mind, that made her better than Hannah. And apparently, Hannah thought so, too. She let Penninah’s ridicule and provocation get to her, and so she became depressed and spent a large amount of time, weeping for her affliction.
The third thing that distiniguished Hannah from Peninnah, is that their shared husband, Elkanah, loved Hannah best. Whenever they ate the meal following the sacrificial ceremony of blessing and atonement, Elkanah took charge of serving his family and always gave Hannah the best and the biggest portion. Over and over again, he would remind her that he loved her so much, but still she grieved her inability to bear her husband a child.
During one of their pilgrimages, Hannah left the dinner table and presented herself at the Temple of the Lord. Of course, only the high priest could go inside, so she stood, like so many others, outside the holy of holies and prayed to God. Her prayer went something like this: “God, if only you would look favorably on me and give me a male child, then I will gladly pledge him to you as a nazirite servant all his life. He will live a life of complete devotion, never drinking or breaking any of the priestly rules.”
The nazirites were a holy order of men who served God by serving the temple priests. They dedicated their lives to following the precepts of the law of Moses, assisting the priests in their duties, never partaking of strong drink, and - in a sign that they were set apart – they never cut their hair or beards.
This was the prayer of a desparate woman. She had no where else to turn. Until she could become the mother of a child, she would forever be a failure, in her own eyes.
Now, I don’t think that any of us would say that was true. But all of us have known people who for one reason or another could not see the worthiness in themselves, no matter how much the world thought otherwise. This is exactly where Hannah was in her journey, that day she prayed to God to bless her with a son.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, do you remember where the story goes next?
Well, it seems that one of the priests, Eli, was sitting at the entrance to the holy of holies. He was there on a sort of guard duty, to oversee the worshippers outside the temple and to keep an eye on the temple entrance.
Eli noticed Hannah praying and weeping. But he noticed something odd. Hannah’s lips were moving and her tears flowed, but no audible sound was coming from her mouth. Eli rolled his eyes and thought, “Another drunk coming to beg forgiveness.” Disgusted, Eli said to Hannah, “Do you have to stay here and make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Why don’t you take your wine and go home and sleep it off?”
Hannah, already at about as low a place as she could be, must have been mortified. “I’m not drunk! I am deeply troubled. I couldn’t even muster the strength to pray out loud – but I have been peen pouring out my heart and soul to God. Please don’t think ill of me, I just need God’s blessing in my life.”
Eli, feeling bad, said quietly, “Go in peace and may God grant you the blessing you so desire.”
And just like that, a word from Eli broke Hannah out of her depression and she went to meet her husband. Finally, she felt good about something. With the priest as intercessor, surely God would hear the plea.
Soon after Elkanah and Hannah and the rest of the family returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Samuel, who would become the first King of Israel.
The story continues after a gap of a few years. Samuel, raised by Elkanah and Hannah, reaches an age where he is not completely dependent upon them for everything. At that time, Hannah takes Samuel back to the Temple, and back to the priest Eli. There, along with the normal offerings, she presents Samuel to Eli. “Remember me?” she asks Eli. “I’m the one you thought was drunk. But when I prayed in your presence you blessed me and now the Lord has blessed me with my child. And now I come to fulfill my promise to God. I give you Samuel as a nazirite for all time, to serve the priesthood and to serve God all his days.”
That’s how I remember the story. And it is a remarkable story. It resonates with me because it is all so real. Even with the striking social and religious differences across the centuries, the people in this story are real. I know them.
Hannah who feels alone and hopeless and has nowhere to turn. Peninnah who always seeks to belittle and devalue people. Eli who sees something odd and immediately assumes the worst.
But one of these three I know best: Hannah.
No, I have never been in her exact situation. But I, like many of you, have felt what it means to be isolated, seemingly unable to change our situation, in despair.
I know what it feels like to stand before God and ask that somehow, someway, I might find solid ground to stand on. I know what it feels like to be alone, except for the promise of God’s presence.
And so have you.
It is part of the human condition. It is part of who we are, that sometimes we run into things that we cannot control. Things that threaten our peace of mind. It is simply part of life.
But have we ever promised anything quite so BIG, if only God would hear our prayers and bless us with the answer we desire? We need to really think about this for a minute.
Here is Hannah, feeling as alone and broken and hopeless as she can be. She wants a child so much. She asks God to bless her with a child. “And if you do this,” she says, “I will give up my child in service to you.”
Hannah wants a child so badly that she is willing to give that very same child away! How are we to understand this? We aren’t talking about summer camp or even boarding school. What Hannah proposed and then followed through on is giving her child away…for good. True, to a very worthy and sacred calling, but still how does that square with her wanting a child so badly? How would you willingly give something away that meant so very much to you?
One of the reasons that these questions are so difficult to deal with is that we haven’t heard the whole story yet. But, honestly, what I just told you is what I remember from the story that I was first taught as a child in Sunday School.
Hannah desperately wanted a child. Hannah prayed to God for a child. Hannah promised to dedicate that child to God’s service, and then, Hannah followed through on her promise.
But, this is not the whole story. Not by a long shot.
After she presents Samuel to Eli, Hannah worships God and in the midst of their worship she prays a prayer that has become known as “The Song of Hannah.”
Hear is the Message Bible’s paraphrased version of this prayer:
“I'm bursting with God-news! I'm walking on air.
I'm laughing at my rivals. I'm dancing my salvation. 2 -5 Nothing and no one is holy like God,
no rock mountain like our God.
Don't dare talk pretentiously—
not a word of boasting, ever!
For God knows what's going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens…
6 -10 God brings death and God brings life,
brings down to the grave and raises up.
God brings poverty and God brings wealth;
he lowers, he also lifts up.
He puts poor people on their feet again;
he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—
a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are God's;
he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!
God's enemies will be blasted out of the sky,
crashed in a heap and burned.
God will set things right all over the earth,
he'll give strength to his king,
he'll set his anointed on top of the world!”
This is a song of praise! A song of victory! A song of Thanksgiving!
But why? How?
Because Hannah firmly understood that God is a mighty God, always to be trusted, worthy to be praised, and always present!
Once and for all, Hannah got it! She could not do it all on her own. But, God is real and that makes all the difference in the world.
Make no mistake about it: Hannah’s song is all about her understanding that we must trust God – completely and constantly – to be present for us. Hannah’s song makes it clear that it is not always getting exactly what you want that is important. What is most important is knowing that God is near and that God’s will and word are to be confidently followed. What is most important is us taking a step in faith and accepting that God has our best interests at heart. What is most important is us understanding that we cannot do this on our own.
The question before us is: how close are we to becoming Hannah?
We have known the kind of fear and uncertainty that Hannah knew. But how do we make that next leap to total trust in God’s promises, in all things? By paying close attention to where we have been. Because where we have been, God has also been.
In my darkest days, somehow, someway, God was able to break through and assure me that I was not alone. Sometimes it was through other people. Sometimes through a well placed word of encouragement. Sometimes simply through a sense of peace that swept over me.
My understanding of God’s presence assured me once again that God is here and now and real, and with that assurance comes the realization that God is good, and will see me through anything.
There are still days when I am scared, worried, wanting to rail at God. Those are the days when Hannah’s song of victory and praise can do me a world of good.
In some ways, we have all been where Hannah was. Maybe some of you are there today. Maybe you are caught in a swirl of uncertainty and chaos that causes you to be scared and unsure of where to go next. Maybe you are at that same place where Hannah was: praying a heart wrenching prayer to her God, lips moving but no sound escaping, tears streaming down her face.
If so, look around. Not only is God present, so are God’s people. We have been given this great gift of the church to help us see our way through difficult times.
And when those difficult times are past, we have been given this great gift of the church to help us honor God and celebrate God’s power.
Think back to days when you were more certain, less scared. Do you see God’s hand in the good things you have been given? Then trust that God has not gone anywhere, and trust that, in Hannah’s words, “ God will will set things right all over the earth…for the very structures of earth are God’s.”
Us “Becoming Hannah” exists when we understand and accept our Biblical witness AND our won experience of God’s very real presence in our lives, an then, saying “Thank You”, every day of our lives. May it be so for you and for me.
Let us pray: Lord, thank you for the witness of Hannah. Thank you for showing us one who is more like us than we might recognize. Thank you for reassuring her, and in so doing, reassuring us. It is through Jesus the Christ that we offer this prayer. Amen.
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