This Week’s Sermon – Her-Story: Hannah

This is the next sermon in the series called “Her-Story: Women of the Hebrew Scriptures.” Today we learn about the leader of Deborah.

In addition, we’ve commissioned Rev. Rachel Frey to write a hymn for this sermon series, and she’s done a wonderful job! You can find the hymn here:

SCRIPTURE  – 1 Samuel 1:1-28

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion,*because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year after year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?’

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants,*and no razor shall touch his head.’

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.’ But Hannah answered, ‘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.’ Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favor in your sight.’ Then the woman went to her quarters,* ate and drank with her husband,* and her countenance was sad no longer.*

They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of theLord.’

The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, ‘As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there for ever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.’ Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.’ So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull,* an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.’ She left him there for the Lord.

Her-Story: Hannah
1 Samuel 1:1-28
July 28, 2013

            Well, I suppose by now you’ve all heard the news about the very special baby that was born last week. This was a really big deal! There were obviously a lot of people who were eager to meet this new little prince of a boy. When his mom went into labor the buzz started, and when he was actually born, Facebook was full of requests for pictures and speculations on a name. When a picture was finally made public, it was passed around like a hot potato and people oohed and aahed at this little boy. And then, we finally learned his name: Grant Dennis Riegle, newest grandson of Frank Spragens, our music director. What, was there another baby born this past week?

Babies are kind of a big deal, huh? Even in the Bible, we have the stories of several famous babies, although I’m sure none of them were as cute as Grant. We have Isaac, the baby boy born to elderly Abraham and Sarah, who represented the promise of God fulfilled. There’s Moses, a baby who survived Pharaoh’s death sentence and a raft trip down the Nile to become the deliverer of Israel. And you’ve probably heard about Mary and Joseph’s little bundle of joy. Wonder what ever became of that guy?

In today’s passage, we have another important newborn. Although Samuel may not be as well-known as the other bouncing biblical babies, his birth is crucial to the history of Israel, and his mother is a hero for her courage and perseverance that leads to Samuel’s arrival in the world. As we continue our sermon series on women in the Hebrew scriptures, we turn to Hannah, the mother of the kingmaker.

A quick recap of where we are in history: the Israelites have been rescued from Egypt by Moses, wandered in the desert for 40 years, received God’s law, and moved into the Promised Land. When the Israelites took up residence there, each of the 12 tribes had their own territory, so they were more of a loose configuration of tribal groups than a united nation. For governing purposes, or when the people would be invaded by foreigners, God would raise up a judge to rescue them from their plight and restore peace and order. The book of Judges recounts that part of Israelite history.

In our current Bible, the book of Judges is followed by Ruth, an interlude in the historical narrative, which is then followed by first Samuel. But in ancient Hebrew manuscripts, Ruth is in another section, which means Judges is followed directly by 1 Samuel. Why is this important? Well, the last line of Judges says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

Uh-oh. Do you know what happens when people start to do what’s right in their own eyes? The definition of “what’s right” undergoes a serious revision, and usually not for the better. What happens is the Israelites start looking around at their foreign neighbors and realizing that they didn’t have judges, they had kings. And all of a sudden having a judge wasn’t good enough. The people say, “We want a king over us so that we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” To which God replies, “Hello? Remember me? King of Kings? You don’t need an earthly king; you have me.” But the people keep asking so God relents and lets the people have their king, and because of what happens to a person’s ego and scruples once you start calling them “king,” the people said, to quote the movie “Anchorman,” “We immediately regret this decision.”

So where does Hannah fit into all of this? Samuel was the last judge of Israel and the one God called on to anoint the first king, who was Saul. Without Samuel, there is no Saul. And without Hannah, there is no Samuel. In fact, even with Hannah there was almost no Samuel, because of her barrenness. The scripture states matter-of-factly, “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children,” but in reality, that one simple sentence carries with it the curse of shame and public scorn, not to mention personal pain and feelings of worthlessness.

In Israelite society, a woman’s main function as a wife was to provide sons for her husband so that the family legacy could be carried forward. If she couldn’t fulfill that role, her value was greatly diminished. Barrenness was not seen as an issue of infertility; instead, it was seen as a punishment form God. Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife, and it seems clear from the text that he genuinely loved her. But she was barren. So, following a common practice of the time, he takes a second wife, Peninnah. We don’t know if Elkanah actually love Peninnah, and if he did, it’s a safe bet he didn’t love her as much as he loved Hannah. But Peninnah gives Elkanah something Hannah can’t: children.

You can imagine how this drama played out in Elkanah’s household. The story tells us that Peninnah provoked Hannah severely to irritate her, but that probably doesn’t do justice to the pain inflicted upon Hannah because of her inability to have children. She was viewed by Peninnah and the community as a lost opportunity, like the first-round draft pick who can’t perform at the required level. Every time Hannah opened an invitation to a baby shower or got asked how many children she had, she would be forced to relive this pain all over again, reminded that in society’s eyes, she was of no value.

Elkanah saw his wife in distress and did his best to comfort her. “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” God bless his little heart, he’s trying, isn’t it? He probably doesn’t even realize how insensitive his comments are. Wouldn’t it have been a little more comforting for him to say, “YOU mean more to ME than ten sons?” Instead, he tries to give a pep talk that fails to take into account the anguish with which Hannah is dealing. His love is no substitute for a child.

So she takes her pain to the only one who can truly understand her. She goes to the local temple and prays to God with such intensity and fervor that the priest Eli assumes she’s had a bit too much to drink. “Stop making a drunken spectacle of yourself!” he tells her, which makes me wonder what kind of people he’s used to dealing with at his church. Sounds like they may have more than grape juice in their communion cups. Maybe Eli wasn’t used to seeing a woman pouring out her heart to God with such raw emotion.

In a church where I served, during the prayer time we would invite prayer requests from the congregation. Often times a worshipper would share openly about the need for prayer and the situation that led to it. A prominent local businessman visited with us several times, then abruptly stopped coming. I called on him to see what he thought of our worship. He said he didn’t like it and wouldn’t be back, because, he said, “I didn’t come to church to hear people let their guts hang out.” Hannah is letting her guts hang out during this prayer, and it’s a great model for those of us who think prayers must be offered in hushed tones and King James English.

Part of Hannah’s prayer is a bargain: if God will grant her the son she so desperately desires, she will return that son to God by raising him as a Nazirite, a special class of citizen set aside to serve God. In a sense, Hannah promises to do what we have done with Tucker today. She is promising to dedicate her son’s life to God. Now, Crestwood is not asking Evan and Sheila to leave Tucker here for us to raise him. We don’t’ have a budget line for diapers, and I have a feeling Kirsten might get a tad lonely without her little brother around.

But what Hannah does can be a model for what we do with our gifts from God, whether they are children or gifts or possessions. I heard a speaker talk recently about the L effect of faith – what we receive to God, we are called to give to others. A person who lives out their faith should have their arms fall off from living out this L effect. But too often we live out the I effect, taking what God has given us and clutching it in our grasp, as if we think that in giving it away, there won’t be enough for us.

That’s why Hannah is so wise in her actions. She recognizes Samuel as a gift, and she makes good on her promise to return that gift to the Giver by sharing it with others. Her audacious spirit has served her well, and her stubborn persistence and trust in God’s presence, even when God felt absent, transforms her from a helpless victim into a faithful example of obedience and stewardship.

In the end, Hannah will have five more children, but none of them will make up for the loss of Samuel. It’s not always easy to be faithful to God. Sometimes it involves giving things up. Sometimes it requires stepping out of our comfort zones. Sometimes it means having our prayers answered with the word “No,” or even worse, “Wait.” Wouldn’t it be easier to simply give up on this faith thing, rather than put ourselves through the challenge of worshipping a God we can’t see who calls us to be more than we are?

Of course it would. But then, where would our hope come from? If Hannah didn’t have faith, where would she have turned during her time of anguish? Our faith in God gives us a place to go when we have nowhere else to go. I had a congregation member drop in this week to talk because, she said, “I needed to go someplace where I felt safe.” For Hannah, God was her sanctuary, her safe place where she could go and let her guts hang out in prayer. And when she is able to see that not only did God show up at just the right time, but that actually God had been with her all along, walking with her each barren step at a time, she responds in what I believe is the only appropriate way: She gives back to God that which she has been given.

Have you ever had a prayer answered? Have you ever look up from a valley you were in to see God walking with you? Have you ever recognized that who you are and what you have is a gift, an abundance of blessings, that God has given you? Hannah did. “And she left her gift there for the Lord.”

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