1 Samuel 1:1-28
2, June 2013
Tricia Dillon Thomas
Opening Prayer: Kumbaya, Come by Here, My Lord.
Well. Here we are.
It’s funny because in many ways I have spent a lot of time thinking about today… What I would say on my last day, in this, my last sermon.
To be honest, I’ve rehearsed parts of this sermon for years. In the car, in the shower, after a really good day, sometimes… after really bad ones. I thought I had a lot to say.
Yet, at this moment, it all kind of feels surreal…because these last 6 weeks I never imagined. I thought I would have spent a lot of my days at the beach, which is only 5 minutes from my house, and prayed prayers of thanksgiving over God’s beautiful creation, making sure I memorized the shore line and paid attention to the squalls of the seagulls.
I imagined I would have filled my calendar over meals with friends I’ve met through my children’s schools and in my community.
I imagined I would have visited with each of the families whose children I have been blessed to work with. I would have had ice-cream dates with the youth.
And I would have finished that video that the youth and I started to work on and presented it to as a gift of how each of you is beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of the Creator.
In the least I would have fulfilled my role as pastor and have been present to the sick and prayed with the grieving.
But in reality, I was too sick with this pregnancy to even leave my bed most days. Home alone with three children while my husband started his job in another state…
Our roles reversed.
You helped care for my children, so I could take stay at the church and take a nap on the couch.
You came to my house and visited my family and brought us meals to feed our bellies, but also our spirits.
And you prayed for me and offered me hope as I anxiously waded through this first trimester of pregnancy.
Mid week I emailed Elizabeth. I was having a hard time. I didn’t feel good. I was stressed. I was having a hard time writing this sermon. Elizabeth emailed me back. She suggested I stop trying to write and just go to the scriptures and dwell in God’s good Word. She gave me a passage to read, but told me to also sit with the one on which I was preaching.
Instead of looking up the passages online, like I normally do, I closed my computer. Propped up in the bed, I put my computer on my nightstand and reached for the Bible I have sitting there. It’s the Bible this church gave to me in celebration of my ordination soon after I came to Peace, and the one I’ve used the most in my five years here.
You know how the pages in most Bibles are so very thin, that they’ll often fall open to places where you’ve spent some time?
As I started flipping through, the pages of my Bible fell open to the places that I’ve spent with you. There were notes in margins with good words from parts of sermons that Elizabeth and some of you have preached.
Scriptures from various retreats and conferences with the youth were highlighted.
Marked were passages that the youth and I used to deal with conflict and reconciliation.
And there were Psalms that were underlined and marked up from when one of Peace’s matriarchs, Gretchen, let me be her pastor and she mine in her dying days.
What became very clear to me, as I looked at our stories written on top of and in the margins of the Great Story in the pages of this Bible, is that like my last 6 weeks here, the journey we walk is not often the one we have imagined or would have ever chosen. And what I also began to realize is that it’s in those places where we see God at work, how we become aware that our individual lives aren’t really our own, but woven in and through and between a community of faith and a much larger story... a story that comes alive when we share it with one another.
And so today, I want to share with you my favorite story. It’s been my favorite story since my junior year in college, and yet over the last twenty years, almost as a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit, what I’ve loved about this story, how I’ve connected to this story, how God has spoken to me in this story has changed with different phases of my life, through both its joys and brokenness.
So please let us now listen for how the Spirit again moves and blows her mighty breath upon these words and in our hearts.
Elkanah lived in Ramah, a town in the hill country of Ephraim. His great-great-grandfather was Zuph, so Elkanah was a member of the Zuph clan of the Ephraim tribe. Elkanah’s father was Jeroham, his grandfather was Elihu, and his great-grandfather was Tohu.
Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Although Peninnah had children, Hannah did not have any.
Once a year Elkanah traveled from his hometown to Shiloh, where he worshiped the Lord All-Powerful and offered sacrifices. Eli was the Lord’s priest there, and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas served with him as priests.
Whenever Elkanah offered a sacrifice, he gave some of the meat to Peninnah and some to each of her sons and daughters. 5 But he gave Hannah even more, because he loved Hannah very much, even though the Lord had kept her from having children of her own.
Peninnah liked to make Hannah feel miserable about not having any children, especially when the family went to the house of the Lord each year.
One day, Elkanah was there offering a sacrifice, when Hannah began crying and refused to eat. So Elkanah asked, “Hannah, why are you crying? Why won’t you eat? Why do you feel so bad? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
When the sacrifice had been offered, and they had eaten the meal, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli was sitting in his chair near the door to the place of worship. Hannah was brokenhearted and was crying as she prayed, “Lord All-Powerful, I am your servant, but I am so miserable! Please let me have a son. I will give him to you for as long as he lives, and his hair will never be cut.”
Hannah prayed silently to the Lord for a long time. But her lips were moving, and Eli thought she was drunk. “How long are you going to stay drunk?” he asked. “Sober up!”
“Sir, please don’t think I’m no good!” Hannah answered. “I’m not drunk, and I haven’t been drinking. But I do feel miserable and terribly upset. I’ve been praying all this time, telling the Lord about my problems.”
Eli replied, “You may go home now and stop worrying. I’m sure the God of Israel will answer your prayer.”
“Sir, thank you for being so kind to me,” Hannah said. Then she left, and after eating something, she felt much better.
Elkanah and his family got up early the next morning and worshiped the Lord. Then they went back home to Ramah. Later the Lord blessed Elkanah and Hannah with a son. She named him Samuel because she had asked the Lord for him.
The next time Elkanah and his family went to offer their yearly sacrifice, he took along a gift that he had promised to give to the Lord. But Hannah stayed home, because she had told Elkanah, “Samuel and I won’t go until he’s old enough for me to stop nursing him. Then I’ll give him to the Lord, and he can stay there at Shiloh for the rest of his life.”
“You know what’s best,” Elkanah said. “Stay here until it’s time to stop nursing him. I’m sure the Lord will help you do what you have promised.” Hannah did not go to Shiloh until she stopped nursing Samuel.
When it was the time of year to go to Shiloh again, Hannah and Elkanah took Samuel to the Lord’s house. They brought along a three-year-old bull, a twenty-pound sack of flour, and a clay jar full of wine. Hannah and Elkanah offered the bull as a sacrifice, then brought the little boy to Eli.
“Sir,” Hannah said, “a few years ago I stood here beside you and asked the Lord to give me a child. Here he is! The Lord gave me just what I asked for. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will be the Lord’s servant for as long as he lives.”
The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of our Lord shall stand forever.
Immediately following this passage is Hannah’s Prayer. It’s one of the famous prayers—like Miriam’s Song in Exodus or Mary’s Prayer in Luke—and its placement marks the transition of Samuel under her care, to Samuel being handed over to Eli as an instrument of God.
Sometimes when I’ve read that prayer my heart breaks for Hannah. I hear her sorrow because she’s giving the child she prayed so fervently for, over to another to raise. But most of the time, I read that prayer as a prayer of gratefulness, of joy for the gift God’s given to her, for the blessing of new life, for and the promise of more to come, and her trust in God that it will.
The name Hannah in Hebrew is translated as “to be gracious, merciful, compassionate.” No matter the interpretation of Hannah’s prayer, as her name suggests, in her graciousness, she gives back to God the thing she wanted the most, the thing she loves the most, her precious child.
It’s hard to imagine a love that would take such risks. Could you ever do what Hannah did? Could you ever risk a love that strong?
And yet when Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment in the Gospel of Matthew, he responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22: 37). I think Hannah exemplifies what loving God with your entire self looks like. She literally gave her first fruits to God. And I pray that I can be so bold. That you can be so bold. That the church can be so bold. That, like Hannah, we would be willing enough and trusting enough to give God our first fruits, instead of what we had left. The time we hadn’t already filled up, the patience that wasn’t already expended on our secular tasks. The first check of the month instead of what is left at the end.
The second part of the commandment that Jesus gives says this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
My favorite part of this story comes in that first scene in Shiloh. Peninnah torments and mocks Hannah for her barrenness, and Elkanah, though a loving husband, discounts her suffering by assuring her he is all she needs. Hannah, who has silently suffered all these years, finally has enough.
The scripture reads, “Hannah rose up.”
There is such strength in those words: Hannah Rose.
She has had enough. She gets up. She takes a stand. She rises up.
What Hannah did was against protocol. It was bold.
For me Hannah’s rising up isn’t just about standing up for herself against the hate and bullying she endures, but it represents that second command that is equal to the first: To love your neighbor as yourself.
Do we like Hannah, not only risk loving God with every fiber of our being, but also risk loving our neighbor?
There’s nothing that makes me “eye roll” more than when I hear Christians say, “The church shouldn’t be involved in politics.” To that statement, I want to say two things.
FIRST) I want to shout, “Have you read the Bible?!” The Egyptians were fleeing from—Pharaoh!
The Israelites were exiled when their kings encouraged the worship of other gods and the people stopped taking care of the widowed and the orphaned.
Jesus flipped the tables over in the temple when he saw the face of the Caesar on the coins of the money exchangers.
Jesus was crucified when he became a threat to the legalistic religion Judaism had become.
SECOND) I want to say this. The definition of politics “is the total complex of relations between people living in society.” If we are called to care for and love one another, “To love your neighbor as yourself,” then we are called to care for the complex of relations between people living in a society.
But our rising is always based in love of other. We are called to RISE UP and profess Jesus’ radical gospel of redemptive love and reconciliation in the face of all that is contrary to that.
There’s a story that has stuck with me for years and illustrates what this looks like.
My first year here in Florida, I was attending some kind of function at First Presbyterian in Sarasota. I don’t remember who the speaker was or what the program was about. But after most people had cleared out I was talking to the The Rev. George Chorba, a retired minister in this Presbytery, and he shared this with me.
“A number of years ago in Ethiopia, two warring tribes had spilled far too much blood to continue their decades old feud on into the future. Elders of the tribes met to declare a truce and to design a pact for peace as neighbors. While all the factors behind the truce are not known, what is on record is the decision the tribes made to seal this pact for a future of peace.
At the appointed time, the warring tribesmen met to create a symbolic barricade of saplings and spears, which were driven into the soil. When it was completed, women and children of the two tribes came from opposite directions to stand across from each other for the first time. After the truce was read, mothers with nursing infants passed their child across the barricade to the arms of another nursing mother, where each child was fed. The spears marking their past and saplings their future, and trusting their infants to each other across the barricade, was a memorable symbol of the life these tribes chose for their children’s future.”
They chose to RISE UP and RISE OUT of decades of fighting and take a stand for peace. They risked trusting one another, and put in the arms of their enemy that which was precious and most vulnerable. Their babies, their future.
Today I’m not ready to say good-bye. I’m not ready to say goodbye to youth and children who have become like my very own, to families that have welcomed me into their folds, to a staff who are more than colleagues, but have become my best friends. Because the journey hasn’t been what I’ve imagined, I’m not ready to say goodbye to the people of Peace, who have not only taught me how to be a better pastor, but how to be a better friend, a better pray-er, a better listener, a better Christian. I think this unimaginable journey in these last six weeks was a blessing. I have been reminded of how much I love you. How much I love this Church. How well you have loved my family and me.
I have always, if not immediately, been able to look back at the journey this young church has been on and seen VERY CLEARLY, the hand of God at work here. I have always been able to see how you live out Jesus’ greatest commandment to love God and one another. And so my prayer for you is that you continue to be God’s faithful people. That you continue to love God with all you are and show others how to love God, too. May you continue to RISE UP out of love and be the voice of peace in this community.
May it all be so and more.