1 Samuel 1:4-20
Hannah walks into the Temple and ignoring the priest prays to God silently:
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 deathÖ
Hannah was desperate for a son. If she did not bare her husband, Elkanah, a son what value did she have? Her family, her village would all look on her as a cursed woman. A wife was supposed to give her husband sons. She had no children at all. But Elkanahís other wife, Peninnah had given Elkanah many sonsÖ and she wouldnít let Hannah forget it either. Elkanah tried in a clumsy, self-centered way to sooth Hannah Ė after all he himself is more devoted to her than any son would be. He simply didnít understand her desire and her need for self-esteem and worth. Her family life was a shambles. So now she comes to call upon God to give her a son.
Hannah has reached her witsí end. She doesnít know how to cope now with all the stress, disappointment and rejection she is experiencing. She at last resorts to God ÖShe canít do alone what she believes she needs to do. She needs God to come into her life and intervene in it. She needs God to join her to show Elkanah and Peninnah that she is a worthy woman.
Hannah treats God like her personal fixer. She presumes that she has only one way out of her dysfunctional world and that is to bare a son. God must do this for her. But Hannah is not wrong in doing this. God invites us to call upon the divine for help. Indeed, it is one of the primary means that we communicate with God and God counts on us to call for help. Hannah was faithful. She did not call upon God to punish Peninnah or to give her a better husband. She just wanted to do her part in the family structure and reap esteem and respect from that.
And I suspect that many of our prayers are just those sort of prayers Ė calling on God to fix a bad or threatening situation. Sometimes we need to just pray to God to get us through such events. And it is the appropriate prayer. God does not wish us to suffer and when we are suffering, God wants to hear us and to hear our thoughts and needs.
Indeed what we have suffered through the past few weeks is enough to have an atheist cry out to God. As the winds picked up on October 29th, prayers went to God. How many of us, prayed that Sandy would veer off and go east into the Atlantic where she would be harmless?† But as the winds accelerated and howled through the trees, and the trees began to fall, we cry out to God to protect us from the storm, to move the storm out of our neighborhood.
And then the power went out. In our town of Fanwood, the entire town was blacked out. And it was a cold and scary night. By this time it was prayers to God of what now? What is going to happen next?
And then the dawn came Ö and it was still a cold day without power for days. But now our prayers were of thanks mixed with frustration. We had come through the storm and our children were safe and sound. But still, O God when will it end?
And now we have to deal with all of the wind, tree and flooding damage Ö a lingering stress and reminder of a superstormÖ a type of storm that scientists are now saying will be all too common. When will it all end?
In the end all of this was in Godís hands. God was present through the whole adventure.
For Hannah, her prayer was answered and shortly after, she bore a son, Samuel, for Elkanah. She avoided the Temple while she had Samuel to herself. When you family went to pay the annual sacrifice, she stayed home. She would wait until Samuel was weaned. According to the notes in the Jewish Study Bible, weaning may not occur for three years. So Samuel is likely to have been three years old when he was finally brought to the Temple. And so Hannah kept her end of the bargain.
Would God have granted her wish, even if she had not vowed to dedicate Samuel to God? We can never know for sure. But God has a wider view of life. But by granting Hannahís wish, God paved the way for David to be found by Samuel and anointed King of Israel.† Hannahís faith and willingness to carry through with her vow shifted the dynamic between her and God. Before God was doing for Hanna what Hanna needed. God had entered into her life and helped her through it. But now, at the Temple before Eli she dedicated her first born son to God Ö and she entered into Godís life, doing what God wanted.
Leaving the Temple, she sang a different prayer:
My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. Ö The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the Lordís, and on them he has set the worldÖ
Hannah has awaken to Godís life Ö a life that is greater than her own, than her broken, dysfunctional family, greater than life without Godís hopes, greater than her tribeís or her beloved sonís life. Indeed she has given a great gift to her son by enrolling him into Godís life. Samuel would go on the follow and listen to God and do Godís work, enriching Godís life and thereby ultimately enriching the lives of everyone.
So it should be with us. Our prayers of need and supplication need to be balanced with prayers of thanks and commitment to Godís life. For if we do not do this, then our lives are small, isolated, and self-centered. Entering into Godís life is being involved in something greater than our immediate life.
Americans have lost this since of greatness. We are far too wrapped up in our individual selves.† We have forgotten that as a community we can do wonderful things that no one individual can do. And if we turn to God and seek out Godís life we can discover ways of greatness that lifts up all people everywhere.
I do not believe that God makes us suffer so that we wake up and push out of our self-centered shells. I donít believe that Hannah was barren just so God could arrange for Samuel to anoint David. Rather our suffering and our stresses are often caused by our own mistakes and our own misunderstandings and our own need to be in control or to one up someone.
I believe what God does, though is to try to bring something good out of the mess or out of the storm.† God does not punish us for not entering into the divine life. But God, I believe, will take every opportunity to encourage us into that life.
We saw a lot of this greatness during the hurricane and its aftermath with people helping each other in myriads of ways. We were able for a moment of compassion and caring to step out of our isolated lives and be a united people.† For that time we were participating in Godís life. But we need to sustain our efforts to be living in Godís life.
In Hannahís second prayer, she no longer prayed just for her individual self. Now she saw herself in the context of wider humanity and Godís call for justice and compassion. A thousand years later, another mother would also pray to God to enter into Godís life:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. ÖHe has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away emptyÖ
All around us are opportunities to partake of Godís life Ö a life that will raise up all of humanity and nature itself. Participating in Godís life does not take from our own lives, our own needs, our own struggles and joys. Rather it enriches are individual lives that they be more than just isolated worry and stress Ö and anger. Our lives can be filled with hope and promise of a better future for ourselves and our children and grand children.
I do not believe that God made Hurricane Sandy to punish us. But I believe that God will use that hurricane to wake us up to our own abandonment of the stewardship of creation expected of us.
We do not own nature. God did not give us nature. Rather God made us stewards of Godís good creation, both humanity and nature. We were to care for it and nurture it and partake of its fruits with respect and moderationÖ and always giving back into nature and our neighbors.
I do believe that God is turning a mirror on us so that we see that we have misused the resources and gifts of nature. We have taken them for granted. We have made them into means to profit. We have horded natureís resources. We have misused them. And God will not stop the consequences of what we have done.
We must enter into Godís life now and see the greater creation around us. We need to look through the eyes of God to see our way to healing nature, to cleaning up the mess we have made by strewing carbon and other elements into the atmosphere. We have to learn to respect Mother Earth and live with her, not take from her.
And the dangerous weather that has resulted from our neglect and inordinate use affects all of humanity, rich and poor alike Ö but especially the poor among us. God is crying out for help and relief for the least of us.
And as a free and democratic people we have the authority to press our leaders relentlessly to gather us as a community to make amends with Mother Earth, to live our lives and power our civilization in a manner that respects the earth and the air, and that aids and protects this generation and generations to come.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö