18 October 2020 Singing along with Hannah Martin Baker
1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10
1:9 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. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 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."
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the Lord."
2:1 Hannah prayed and said, "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. 2 "There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3 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. 4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. 8 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 honour. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world. 9 "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. 10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."
There is a joke that you have probably heard before - a number of times.
A teacher comes up to 8 year old Susie and says, Susie what are you doing?
And Susie says, I’m painting a picture
And the teacher says, what is it a picture of?
And Susie says, I am painting a picture of God.
And the teacher says, but no one knows what God looks like.
And Susie says, just wait, soon they will!
Perhaps for many of us, when we hear the word God, or read about God, we think of God not so much as Susie thinks of God, but we think of God as a feeling, or a thought, or an abstraction. Or an idea or a philosophy. Perhaps we think that being religious and thinking about God, are the same things.
But in some ways, Susie’s endeavour comes closer to our Biblical understanding of God.
Our ancient forebears in faith, when they talked about God, they were not talking about an abstract concept or a feeling or an idea. And they weren’t talking about some notion of being religious.
They were talking about something real - they spoke about God as a real person. Not a human being, of flesh and blood so much, not something you could paint perhaps, but something real.
So God - to be worshipped or defied, believed in or rejected, loved or hated, in real time. God was literally the one who made clothes for Adam and Eve, wrestled with Jacob, guided the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and discussed, as we heard last week, with Moses on Mt. Sinai about ten rules for living. The ten commandments.
A God whose name was so sacred – Yahweh - that even today, some groups of Jews would consider it offensive to utter that name. But still a name. Yahweh is our God.
For Bible translators this word God has been the most difficult word to translate. I understand the early missionaries in parts of China had only two possible choices. The word for emperor or the word for the most powerful god over many lesser ods. But neither of those words was a suitable translation of the meaning of God in Scripture. So they just left a blank in their translation.
When today we hear about Hannah praying to the Lord, she is praying to someone who she considers utterly present and real. And praying to someone who has some particular qualities – the God she prays to, we will discover, brings an end to hopelessness.
Hannah is the wife of Elkanah, a man of some means because he has two wives. We know very little about these women except their names and their reproductive statuses. Peninah has children; Hannah does not.
Many of us know the issues around infertility and the anguish and heartbreak around those things. We have ourselves, or we have friends, family who have been through all that. And there are some parallels to what Hannah is experiencing today. But not quite the same.
Scripture uses this image of bareness and fertility a lot. Incidentally, it was always seen a women’s problem. But in the ancient world there was this link between the bareness of crops and fields and vineyards and livestock and human infertility.
In the ancient world bareness was this symbol of hopelessness, and no future but also a failure of God’s promises.
Hannah lived under this cloud of shame. Those around her probably wondered what she had done to deserve such a punishment. This seems to be the case with her co-wife Peninah, who we are told "to make her miserable, would taunt her that the Lord had closed her womb"
It’s all very earthy.
We learn that Hannah was her husband, Elkanah's favourite - and though he loved her dearly, he didn’t seem to completely understand her situation or the depth of her despair. Hannah must have been aware that if Elkanah died, his sons through his other wife would inherit everything, leaving Hannah dependent upon their goodwill. She knew that without a child, and more specifically a son, she could end up in a very difficult place. That’s how things were then.
Years passed and Hannah remained without a child and her despondency grew. She finally reaches her breaking point and decides to go to the sanctuary at Shiloh to plead with God for a male child.
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. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 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 Nazarite, until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
So she promises her son will be a Nazarite. A kind of priest. But a very hairy one since they never cut their hair. And a very sober one because they did not ever drink.
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah slept with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.
20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
And then Hannah sings this song.
And it very similar to the song Mary would sing before Jesus was born. In fact Hannah, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary had a lot in common.
All three became pregnant in miraculous ways.
All three dedicated their child to God's service.
All three sing a song.
And all the songs were offered in response to God's gift of these children.
So Hannah, like these remarkable women who would come 1000 years after her, affirms that God makes surprising reversals: the strong become weak and the weak become strong. In fact, God does both negative and positive things: On the negative side, God “kills,” “brings down to Sheol,” “makes poor,” and “brings low.” The positive list, however, is longer: God “brings to life,” “raises up,” “makes rich,” “exalts,” “raises up the poor from the dust,” and “lifts the needy from the ash heap” to “sit with princes and inherit a seat of honour.”
And we find later Hannah says, “not by might does one prevail.” Not by might does one prevail.
It is a good time to ponder what this faithful bold woman is saying. Especially as she says it on the day after an election here , and another in a couple of week in the United States. Does anyone here believe what Hannah is saying? Does the Prime Minister, does the President believe Hannah. Do the white supremists believe Hannah.
If Hannah is right then the leaders of every authoritarian state will one day fail and be judged.
Mr President of China Xi Jinping, I just want to let you know that not by might does one prevail.
The question here is can we sing along with Hannah?
And if we go through what Hannah and Mary sing about we can say:
People who have known the pain and hurt of injustice can sing Hannah’s gospel. People who’ve been forced to stand aside while others advanced - recognise the arrogance of privilege - they can sing along. People who’ve been mistreated on account of their backgrounds or situations know what it feels like, with Hannah, to be delivered from second-class status. They sing along.
Those who have been treated poorly, been cheated.
Almost every day in the work done in our family’s ministry we see people who want, like Hannah, the simplest things. Safety, stability, welcome access to good health care, a home. A lot of people we are seeing don’t have those things. They are with Hannah. They are not bad people but simply seek the things many of us take for granted.
In fact the Gospel of Jesus Christ is built on the experiences of people like Hannah. This is because our Bible tells this story over and over, about how God brings people out from and through damaging, oppressive, hurtful situations.
Hannah is bold before God.
That joke I told at the start. Susie is going to finish her picture soon and then people will know what God looks like.
Hannah finishes her song and the song tells us what God looks like.
Boldness requires a confidence and clarity about God. Hannah has that confidence because she saw no part of her life as separate from God. She brought her ordinary, marginalised self, right before God and pleaded her case.
The boldness to stand before God and ask for what we want and then vow to give back to God with our whole selves.
Generosity, confidence, and boldness in this story they are all inter-related. All connected.
Hannah's faithful boldness sparks God to do a new thing. God does remember her and she bears a son. And history will trace what happens next back to this moment between Hannah and God. Her son Samuel will go on to play the decisive role in establishing a new order that will see the kingship of David, the defeat of the Philistines, and the establishment of Jerusalem as the centre of faith and power.
At the heart of our faith there is boldness. We stand with Hannah and Mary – we don’t simply accept things here or resign ourselves to some meek state of hopelessness.
Our story. In Christ, God has broken the power of sin. In Christ, God has banished hopelessness. In Christ, God has made a way beyond death. In Christ, God has turned the world upside down.
We are told that the meek will inherit the earth. The peacemakers will be known as the children of God. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness now we will be satisfied. Those who mourn now we will be comforted. This is our testimony in Christ. This is why we sing with Hannah. This is why we worship. This is why we are bold. This is why we hope!
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