November 23, 2014

Church of Peace, United Church of Christ

Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield

I Samuel 1:1-20

More Than Enough Possibility

What happens is that Hannah dedicates her baby to the LORD. Once Samuel is weaned, Hannah takes her preschooler to go live at the temple with the priest. Then she leaves him there. You have to wonder whether Sam waved at her when she turned on her heel and walked away. You have to wonder how she doesn’t stride bravely until she’s out of sight, then crumple into a pile of tears by the side of the road.

As the story goes, when Hannah gives up her little boy, she bursts into a song so much bigger than her. I know it seems like Hannah would sing the desperate prayer that goes, “Please let this be okay! I’m so afraid for him…”

Or maybe this is the moment she finds her praise. She could sing, “God thank you for answering my prayer and granting me my heart’s desire. You saved me from shame and set my life on the path of your righteousness.” That would be a great song for Hannah. It would make a happy ending to this story of heartbreak.

But this is not Hannah’s song. When she gives her baby to the LORD, then turns on her heel and walks away, Hannah sings a song so much bigger than her own worry or her thank you. In this moment so intimate and tender, Hannah sings to God:

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

The barren has borne seven

but she who has many children is forlorn.

The LORD kills and brings to life

He brings down to Sheol and raises up

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

God brings low, and God exalts…

And it’s not like we can’t believe in a God who does this. Of course, there is no Holy One like the LORD. We don’t need to be convinced God has the power to turn the world upside down. Tell me that, I can believe you. But what are we supposed to do about this?

We live here, in 2014, in the Quad Cities. Right here, we see the weapons of the powerful get stronger, and the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Our own lives are so busy and troubled. We can say the prayers of worry and the prayers of thank you, but how do our lives here have anything to do with God’s vision for the world? Another day, another shooting at a school, and you have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday…

What happens when Hannah makes this song her offering, she announces the almighty strength and power of the Alpha and the Omega, then she adds, “And you need me.” In her song I think we can even hear foreshadowing of the promise made by her son, “Here I am LORD; It is I LORD. I have heard you calling in the night…”

So we remember this God of revolution and justice is the same God who calls each of us by name.

She raises up the poor from the dust.

He holds out a dream for each of our lives.

Here in 2014, in the Quad Cities, even with our doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, we are the ones who come before the LORD with the prayer that goes, “You need me. Here I am LORD.”

These are prayers of discernment. What does God want with my life? This is the question taken up by writer and educator Parker Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. He describes his commitment to the promise that if you have faith, way will open before you, you will see what you need to do.

Only problem was, it wasn’t working for him. He was in a quandary professionally and personally, and he just couldn’t discern how God was guiding him. So he took his trouble to a wise Quaker woman, Ruth, and poured out his desperation in front of her. This is what Ruth told him: “In sixty plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me… But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.” [1]

Indeed, who doesn’t know what it is to experience the undeniable shutting down of possibility… Another rejection letter, another bad test result, another option that isn’t going to work. Another dream dies in the dust. Way closes all the time.

This place of cold loss is where our scripture begins. More than anything, Hannah wants to have a baby, but she can’t get pregnant. Her womb is closed by the LORD, and her way is closed too. In her context, your worth comes from the children you produce. Hannah’s sister wife Peninnah had children, so her husband Elkanah had children, but Hannah had no children.

It went on year by year. Hannah carried shame and sorrow in her closed up womb, and her soul got too full. Then the day came when she got up. Hannah went to the house of the LORD at Shiloh, and there she poured out her soul in front of God. Now maybe she reached the bargaining stage of grief or maybe she heard her own conscience say Here I am. But it was here in this place of desperation gushing out that Hannah made a promise to the LORD. If only she could get pregnant, then she would give her baby to God.

Can you picture this scene?! Hannah finding the words to make this promise and speaking in whispers no one hears but God. You’ve got to imagine, her eyes are puffy, her nose is running, tears are streaming down her cheeks. The priest Eli comes over and chastises her for being drunk. But Hannah is not drunk as you suppose. It is only nine-o-clock in the morning and she is seeing visions and dreaming dreams. The Holy Spirit got poured out and Hannah’s begun to prophesy.

In this prayer, Hannah comes before the LORD our God and she tries to change his mind. In doing this, her own mind gets changed.

She reaches out to God with all she has, her desperate longing. And could it be that our God knows what it is to long for a baby son and then give his life to the world? Could it be that Hannah’s longing meets the very longing of our God… Her heart breaks in the same place that God’s heart breaks.

Now in the story, things work out well for Hannah; she gets the baby she prayed for. Things work out very well for Eli the priest. The woman he wrongly accused ends up giving birth to the boy who comes to live with him and save his ministry. We could hear this story of Hannah and think if only I pray hard enough, and negotiate just the right deal with the LORD, then I will get what I ask for too. If only, right?

This story is not advertising a fail-proof method of prayer that generates successful results. Because what if the moment of hope is not when Hannah gets pregnant, what if the moment of hope happens when Hannah brings her desperation all raw and whispered and makes it her offering to the LORD?

Whether or not you have ever prayed for a baby like Hannah, I think we can understand the sharp edges of her sorrow, the panic of shame that makes her cheeks flush, the tightening in her stomach that teaches “Without this, I am nothing! Please!”

These are not the prayers to bury in the ground or seal in a stone cold tomb. These are the prayers to pour out in all the ugly sobbing and holy tears. Deep calls to deep. Our deepest longing meets the very longing of our God. Our heart breaks in the same place that God’s heart breaks. Then this is the moment when our bitter resignation turns into our offering. Our giving up can become our giving up. Here I am.

In our story today, Hannah dedicates three offerings to the LORD: her messy prayer, her little boy Samuel, and her song. She does not sing, “God thank you for answering my prayer and granting me my heart’s desire.” Hannah sings of the LORD who lifts up the lowly and topples the tyranny, who brings revolution and does not withhold her mercy. Her heart exults in God who turns the systems upside down and turns the world toward peace.

Could it be that Hannah believes our God can change the world because God came into her hemoraging sorrow and changed her mind.

See a new possibility emerge.

This is the day we join our voices in songs of praise and Thanksgiving. Which is just fine if you’re feeling grateful. If you’re not, please go ahead and bring your prayers too. We bring offerings before the LORD, pledge sheets and food pantry gifts, but also our desperate pleading and our deepest longing.

We remember this God of revolution and justice is the same God who calls each of us by name.

She raises up the poor from the dust.

He holds out a dream for each of our lives.

The world can change and our minds can too. For nothing will be impossible with God, Here I am, the servant of the Lord.

See when it comes to possibility, there is more than enough. Amen.

[1] Palmer, Parker. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 2000. page 38.

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