Giving Back in Gratitude

1 Samuel 1:6-2:2 (selected verses)
Stewardship Season
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Children were for Hannah and the women in their generation prestige, wealth, and security. Barrenness was not just childlessness for her. Childlessness is an acceptable way to live in our world. But in Hannah’s world, it was barrenness in the fullest sense of the word – being without everything that mattered. It was to be empty.

So not only is Hannah without children, the one thing that she wants and needs for her present and future life, she is scorned and ridiculed by her rival wife of Elkanah. The Old Testament records quite a few relational problems with polygamy. This is one of those stories. Peninnah’s intentionally cruel to Hannah. In this agrarian society, at a time when only half of one’s offspring survived childhood, it was very natural to look upon the state of childlessness as a grave misfortune. The wife who presented her husband with no such tangible blessings or supporters felt that her aim in life had been missed. "Give me children or else I die!" was the plea of Rachel (Gen. 30:1) when she saw her sister Leah adding child after child to Jacob's household;

Hannah in her desperation, cries out to God. If only, if only, if only I can have this one thing God – a son, then I will give him back to you. She makes this very large promise with her prayer and most remarkably, she keeps it.

Let’s read the story.

I don’t know that many of us try to make deals with God. If you’ll give me this, God, I promise I’ll do this. I suppose we often pray our desperate prayers without any commitment. Just sheer pleading, no deal. But Hannah makes her promise that any son given to her will be given back. And sure enough, her prayer is answered, she nurses the child for the typical length of time in her day – about three years or a little more, then she takes him to the Temple to be raised by Eli, the priest.

I have never had to give up a child, but I think it would be much harder the longer you’ve had to love him or her. Of course, Samuel was not dying. He was just being sent to a sort of boarding school you might say, at the Temple with Eli. She gave up possessing her son. She gave up control over her son, but that boy would always be her son. She did early what all parents do eventually. Give up their children.

Richard and I will never forget our seminary friends Scott and Martha, whose baby son Jeremiah got very sick with meningitis. Richard helped them to realize that his condition was very serious and that they needed to go to the hospital. While there, Scott who was extremely calm but surely worried, turned and said to Richard, “Jeremiah belongs to God, not to us.”

We had no children at the time, but this thought has remained with us as we have watched our own offspring grow up. They belong to God, not us. We affirm that in baptism and in confirmation of baptism the teens affirm it for themselves.

They belong to God, not us. Same is true of our beloved spouses, parents, and other significant people. They belong to God.

What else belongs to God? Your house. Your bank account. Your health. Your time. Your abilities. Your everything. It’s all God’s and you’ve been asked to be a good manager, a steward of God’s property. It’s yours for you to take care of for a while. A steward of an airplane or ship or a house, is one who has total access but effectively cares for something that he or she doesn’t own, in such a way that tasks and people are managed fruitfully.

So as stewards of God’s creation, we perform tasks to make life better for the inhabitants of the earth. As stewards in the church, we take on tasks that make life better for those in the church and beyond the church. That’s why we have a stewardship season in the fall entirely focused on monetary giving. Because we cannot take care of the church and the church’s mission as effective stewards without money.

The amazing thing about Hannah is how she sings her song of triumph, not when the child is born, but after she gives the child back to God in gratitude. Think about it. A mother raises her child for three or four years, loves and adores the child, then hands the child over to someone else and sings a song of praise.

That how we should live in gratitude toward God with everything and everyone important to us.

If you’ve had a house and lost it in this terrible market, give thanks to God for the time you lived in it, and remember that it was a gift from God.

If you had a job you loved and now you don’t, be glad for the joy of that work. That job was a gift from God.

If you have a savings account, an investment account, that’s a tremendous blessing of security for yourself and your loved ones. If you give it away, then your blessing extended even beyond your own family. Charitable bequests are a great idea.

If you have a luxury item like a second home or a boat or a sports car, remember those are gifts from God and you might be called by God to give up them at some point for the greater benefit of others.

If you have enjoyed good health for many years, what a gift! Good health is a gift which we all give up eventually. Some of us kicking and screaming and others of us more graciously.

If someone you love is dying, they belong to God and are returning to God. You give them up with sadness, but surely also with gratitude for the blessing they have been for three years, thirty-three years or eighty-three years.

In our day, we expect children to outlive their parents, even though that does not always happen. In Hannah’s day, only half of the children made it to thirteen and the life expectancy was no more than thirty. I wonder if this kind of loss is easier when it is half expected. Now the loss of a child to a parent is compounded by the rarity of the occasion, so the feeling of unfairness is greater.

Hannah, in her longing for what she did not have, and in her grateful song of thanksgiving after returning to God the gift of a son, remembers to turn to God in every and all circumstances. Essentially, she remembers that her life is in the hands of God and that therefore everything that she receives is from God and belongs ultimately to God. So she gives back to God the son to whom she could have tried to cling.

What about us? Do you think that you could take your gratitude rock this week and not only give thanks for all the things you have, but say to God each time you give thanks. “This blessing is a gift from you, Lord. I offer it back to you, as a faithful steward.”

Rather than wish for more, long for newer, better, could you say, “Thank you, God, for this car that still runs well. It is a gift from you and I offer it back to you. Show me how you would have me use it.”

Rather than griping that again we need milk, I touch my gratitude rock and say “Thank you God for my freedom to go to the grocery store nearly any time of day and buy what my family needs. I don’t have to milk the cow or even walk to the store. Thank you for that privilege. I give you back this freedom and ask you, “What would you like me to buy in the store. More food for Beth-El?”

Rather than complaining about going to the dentist or doctor for some form of treatment, I touch my rock and say “Thank you God for the privilege of health care, which many do not have.” I give you back my health and ask what you would like me to do with it.

Thank you, God for the family you have given me, for all the gifts I receive through them. I give them to you, for they belong to you, not me, and ask that you would help me to steward/ to manage those relationships in ways that are fruitful.

Missionary Jim Elliot, was martyred at age twenty-eight (1956) with four companions while trying to share the Gospel with the Huaorani tribe of Aucas in the jungles of Ecuador. Jim Elliott, in his journal wrote these words which have been quoted many times – not because he lived but because he died so early. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Some people think he was re-stating the words of the English preacher Philip Henry (1631-1696) who said "He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose"[15].

Perhaps what Hannah saw is that giving her son back to God meant even greater blessings than keeping him close to her. After all, Samuel became a great leader in Israel, after growing up with the priest Eli. She gave up that for which she had been praying and longing and for three years loving with all her heart. But what she could not see was that in giving him up, she gained an even greater blessing, a faithful son, who was not only a blessing to her, but to the whole people, the Israelites. If she had clung to her son, he would have never become what he was intended to be – a blessing to many. We have the opportunity, people of Peace, to pool our resources, to create something that will surpass anything we could accomplish as individuals, something that will endure long after we are gone. We have the privilege and I think the responsibility, to build a congregation called Peace, whose people will be and do far more than we can think or imagine. God has gifted you. Will you give back in gratitude and with vision for the amazing things God can accomplish through us, working generously together?