The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
A Homily for Easter III
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
May 12, 2019
Text: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning we meet a woman named Hannah praying – but perhaps a better way to describe it is a praising for this is really what she’s doing. Some people go so far as to call this, not a prayer, though that is what the text calls it, but a song. Yes, prayer should be praise, just as praise should be prayer – but we see her calling out to God and giving thanks for all the good He has done.
Now, if we want to understand her song, or her prayer – we need to step back and look at who Hannah was and what brought her to the point of singing this song.
In First Samuel One we learn first, not of Hannah, but of her husband Elkanah. Now, Elkanah had two wives – we know one was Hannah and then the text tells us the other’s name was Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah is barren, unable to have children.
Within the cultural context of the day – this would have had a dramatically terrible effect on the marriage. To be unable to bear children would have led to an unpleasant existence for the wife. However, Elkanah seems to care tenderly for his wife Hannah. We learn when he would go to make sacrifices he would give Hannah twice that of what he’d give to his other wife, and her children. We even see him doing what we are so often tempted to do when someone we love is struggling and asks “Am I not enough for you?” Not the best words of comfort for someone who desires more – but we long for those whom we love to rest in what we can provide for them.
I have known a handful of women who have suffered through some form of infertility or another and perhaps there are those here today who have as well, or who will listen to this some day down the road. I am not sure that I know of a greater long than that of a woman who longs for a child and yet cannot bear one. The sorrow she faces – and even today the social pressure she comes under is so hard to see. So, even within our cultural context we can understand that deep ache of Hannah.
For Hannah mourns not for her marriage but longs for a child. In this struggle she finally calls out to the Lord “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
She makes a vow to the Lord – that if he fulfills this desire of hers, if he gives her a child – she will dedicate that child to the Lord. So, this is the first challenge to us today – if we are longing for something – if the Lord gives it to us – are we willing to give it back to the Lord – if the Lord gives us a good gift – what do we do with it?
We learn that finally, Hannah bears a son whom she calls Samuel, who will become a great prophet in the land. But her act isn’t to coddle the son, isn’t to hide him away – but to bring him back to the temple and dedicate him to the Lord, to give him to the Lord that Samuel might serve the Lord all his days.
This is where we meet Hannah, having just given the Lord her only son, and she cries out to him, not in bitterness, not in anger and anguish – but in joy and in praise and in recognition for all the good that the Lord does. And is this our attitude when we give? Is this how we come before the Lord? Or do we come half heartedly? Do we come with bitterness because the good gifts that he gives us aren’t good enough? Or what we want?
Here is the first thing that we learn from Hannah – it is easy to give ourselves, our souls, and our bodies grudgingly to the Lord. It is easy to give our time, our talents, or our treasures to the Lord when it is convenient for us – but not every moment of every day, whole heartedly.
The Lord calls us to whole-hearted obedience, calls us to give every last ounce of ourselves to Him. So, whatever it is we are giving – whether it be in our tithing – which is an act of worshipping the Lord, or in our service to the least among us – the homeless, the poor, or the downtrodden, or our volunteering to use the talents that God has given us to His glory, or even the God ordained work that he has called us to – we are called to do that with joy-filled hearts. We are called to do all that we do – not selfishly – not looking out for ourselves but in acts of glory to God.
This is a hard thing – I count myself privileged to have a job that is all an act of service to God – but even some days – my heart feels hard and heavy. Even some days – it is hard to get up, come in, open the church up for the daily office, or to sit and listen to another person’s problems, when the weight of my world already seems to much. Even some days it is hard to have compassion.
The devil, I think, seeks to weigh us down, seeks to plant discontentment in our hearts and minds, seeks to tell us – surely God doesn’t want you to give Him your all, God doesn’t want you to praise him in the dark seasons. It’s okay to grumble, it’s okay to be unhappy with how life turned out.
But God calls us to joy – even in the rainy seasons, even in the seasons when it seems that a little dark cloud seems to be following us around. God calls us to offer everything we have up to Him, to trust that He is good, and to know and believe that He will bring us through those days and to another day – to that final day when we will see how good He really is.
So, whether it be in tithing, in serving your family, your church, or your community, wether it be in a secular job, or in using your talents to help others out – do all things with a joyful heart – even on the days you don’t want to be joyful. For we see with Hannah an example of this. I cannot imagine any of those whom I know who have struggled with infertility giving their toddler to the Lord and then singing this song. Yes – they are faithful and good women, I will not deny that – but this must have been a truly hard thing for Hannah – and if Hannah can praise the Lord for this – we too can praise the Lord in all that we do, even the profoundly difficult things.
Hannah starts her prayer out with an statement of exultation towards the Lord for she knows that all she has comes from the Lord. This is the basis for our praise to God as well – for all that we have – our bodies, our souls, the breath that is within us, the food on our table, the roof over our head – our cars, our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our clothing – every last thing comes from the Lord.
It is easy to become guarded about the gifts that we have been given. It is easy to say this is mine! But throughout scripture we are reminded of the fact that the Lord has given us every good gift that we have. So we praise the Lord, even if all we have left is breath.
Now, as Christians, especially Christians in the west, we try to be uncomfortable the idea of having enemies, but the reality is most of us can think of at least a handful of people who have hurt us. Who perhaps we would rather not think about – or in thinking about we feel anger, or hatred boiling up towards them. We are told by our savior Christ to love those people. Perhaps the best act of loving them – is to pray for them, for prayer is the strongest tool we have against all enemies.
But – in Hannah’s praise we are told that the her enemies are derided – not because she goes up to them and laughs at them in their face, not because she scoffs at their foolishness – but because she praises God, because she rejoices in all that the Lord has done for her. The strongest witness Christians can have in the face of the darkness of the world is to remain joyful in the Lord. The time will come when Christians must choose – do we continue to praise the Lord despite what is going on around us, or do we walk away? The glory goes to God when we praise the Lord in the darkness. The glory goes to Christ when we let our lights burn in that darkness and care not what the world says.
The light of Christ that he has implanted in our hearts – reveals the darkness of the world, when we do not grow weary – our enemies – or the enemies of Christ are shown for what they are, our acts of giving praise to the Lord is not only a light and beacon to those who hurt and need heeling but reveals the darkness for what is it. So do not grow weary – do not grow faint – do not grow bitter or angry – but trust the Lord and praise Him always.
But now we see an even higher thing. It might be tempting to think that we need to praise the Lord in all things as a sheer act of will, an act of defiance against the wickedness we so often see but here Hannah gives for us this amazing reminder “there is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”
When we intellectually approach God – that is to say – when we contemplate God – we want to contemplate the totality of God. In our modern or post-modern western mindset we very much like the Love of God, but we neglect his other attributes. Even in First John we learn that God is love, and we delight in sharing this with people – and what good news it is that God is love – but First John also tells us that God is Holy and through out scripture we see a greater picture than merely a post-modern picture of Love.
So when we read the claims of God’s Holiness we want to know what is meant by this – God is pure – there is not one ounce of wickedness in God, there is not one ounce of maliciousness – for all our sins – God has none. God is completely apart from the evil that we so often see in the world. This does not mean he can’t redeem evil, it does not mean that he is not sovereign over the world. What is means is that for all of our imperfections and impurities, for all the ways in which the world is fallen – he is perfect and pure. He is set aside, and although he can redeem it – he can have no part in wickedness.
There is a goodness in God’s holiness – for when we think of the pagan gods of old, the gods that the nations around Israel would have worshipped – we see that they are petty – that they are just like you and I, but the God of the Bible, the God of the Father Abraham – the God we know in Christ – is not petty, but good, and set aside – he is pure, and has no evil within him.
This is as good as His love – and we see our vision of Him become broader and more fleshed out. We see God not as a two dimensional being but as someone who is worthy of our praise, because as Hannah reminds us – he alone is like that. There is none besides Him.
Not only is he Holy – he is our rock – he is steadfast – unchanging – always there – always beside us. This is a very good promise – for we are inclined to create gods for ourselves that look like us – that are fickle – that are changing. But the true God is a rock, who stands firm, whom we can cling to even in the storm, and if we build our house, with Christ as our cornerstone, there is nothing that can shake us – and we can join with Hannah in praising God – no matter how dark the days get.
The middle section of Hannah’s prayer is a section on social justice. This term in our age has been perverted to mean fighting for whom ever we feel bad for today. There is an element of truth left in the modern understanding of social justice – but this is not what the Bible is pointing us back to. It is not merely to fight for someone but to care for the least among us – so that they too will be in a good and right relationship with God. It is to care for their life – which resides first and foremost in the grace of God found in Christ.
When we read the prophets they almost always lay the same complaint in front of the people – you have failed worship God well, you have failed to worship him properly – and you have failed to love your neighbors well.
The root of sin – that is to say – the causation of sin is not greed, or selfishness, these are in fact sins themselves – no, the root of sin is a failure to place God in His proper place. It is a failure to take the posture of Hannah and praise God in all that we do. For when we come to see that every good gift that we enjoy comes from God it is that much easier to give those gifts back to God. It is that much easier to pour out our praise and thanksgiving to God, in loving our neighbors. A good life that pleases the Lord comes from right worship and the right love of God.
But Hannah reminds us too – that ultimately – it won’t be us that heals the sick, mends the broken, and comforts the sorrowful – but that it is God and God alone who can do this well.
Here she also exhorts the proud to humility – many of us have accomplished so much in our lives and of course we want to do well, but we are exhorted to not be proud. This is hard because we are so often tempted to exhort those who do not meet our expectations to have a little pride. I think for the Christian there is a better approach here. It is not to exhort someone to see their own selves as the end all, and be all of being – but to see God as the source and center of their life.
We want to strive to do all things to the glory of God. So when we are struggling to do good – we do not continue to struggle so that our pride is stoked but continue to struggle so that we might glorify God. When we are struggling to do our job or our school work well, we struggle not for our prides sake – but to the glory of God.
Now – Hannah reminds us a hard truth – “the Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol ( that is death), and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.”
When things are going well, we are always tempted to think “ahh, we finally have it made!” In fact this is one of the first things that pastors are warned about. It is easy in this job to grow complacent, and think “this is good enough,” and we all do this I think. “Finally, I have my dream house,” or “my dream wife,” or “my dream job.” And we forget how good God has been in bringing us to this place and worse yet we place our hope in that thing. None of which are worthy of our hope.
We see this with the devil in Job – the devil thinks that if God takes away all the good things that Job has been given then Job will curse God and die. In fact – this is the advice Job’s wife gives him. Job laments, Job is confused, Job feels exceptional pain – but he doesn’t curse God. However, both Hannah’s prayer and the Book of Job reminds us that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. We may be rich today and poor tomorrow, we may be alive today and dead tomorrow, we may have everything we want right now, and lose it all in the blink of an eye. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
But it is the opposite as well – we may be poor, we may be hungry, we may be lonely, we may be hurting, we may be spiritually dead today – and tomorrow he could provide in ways we can’t imagine. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away – let us bless the Lord.
Now – here is our surety in this – we must not trust in any other person, any possession, and gift that the Lord has given, because they come and they go – but we must trust in the Lord alone. Trust that He is good, that he will provide, that he will bring us through.
We must also take an eternal vision clinging loosely to the things of this world, forgiving sins quickly, loving those in our lives well – because we know what eternity has in store for us. We know that no matter how dark the day gets - no matter how good the day is – no matter what comes today or tomorrow – the eternal promise is that we get to have right and good fellowship with God, through Christ. We get to bask in His kingdom where chaos has been destroyed – where hatred has no place, where all our sins are cleansed, where all our tears are made dry.
Our ultimate treasure is this eternal vision. Our ultimate treasure is when we finally, fully know God, and all is made right.
Now there are two more thought that Hannah gives us – I want to reverse the order of them – not because they need to be reversed, but because sometimes when we talk about the hard things of God – it can be discouraging. I do not think this is necessary, but it happens.
First – Hannah reminds us that God is just. Like God’s Holiness we sometimes want to forget this other attribute – we want to forget that God is justice but if God is loving and holy – then he also must be just. For it would not be good for God to allow injustice, wickedness, unrepentant sin to continue forever unchecked. But rather – there will come a time when God will pour out his justice and his wrath upon the earth, and all will be made right.
Our response as Christians to this is that we pray for our enemies, if we find ourselves in the situation where we have a chance to be kind and gracious to them – then we do that too. Not because what they did is insignificant – but because we do not long for them to come under God’s wrath. But those who do not repentant, who are recalcitrant in their wickedness they will be unable to reside within the Holiness and love of God, God’s very nature cannot allow for this and so they will face God’s judgment.
Yes – this is a hard thing to hear – yes – this can make us sad and should make us sad, it should make our hearts burn with compassion for those who remain stubborn. (What I speak here is foolishness – I know that those who have been faced with trauma at the hand of someone who remains unrepentant – this is so hard to hear – and I do not wish to diminish that pain or say that your desire for justice is unmerited – it is merited – and I encourage you that in that pain cry out to God for His guidance and love and mercy – and he will hear you). But it is for mercy and justice that we are driven to proclaim the love of Christ who took upon Himself God’s wrath for us. This taking upon Himself is the gospel which we enjoy.
But this is also good – for we know that if we are faithful in our duty of praising God in all things – if we pray for those who hate us, who persecute us, who seek to destroy God and His church – we will rejoice with the angels and all the saints at the end of the day – because all will be made right. A loving God cannot stand sin, because sin destroys relationships, sin tears down people, sin causes more pain that we can imagine, and places us in a spot that we do not belong, and is not good for us to be in. So the God of Love sent His son, to die in our place, that we might have an avenue to escape sin – to escape that which destroys our life and our relationships.
So we reside in Christ – and Christ in us and we find forgiveness for all that which we have done.
And this truth brings us to the final promise – God will guard the feet of his faithful ones. We have just seen that our salvation comes from Christ and our faith comes from Christ – so we reside in this gift of faith that the Holy Spirit is growing in us, and it is God who guards us. If God is guarding us – what can we possibly fear? There is no terror, no depth, no sin, no evil that can separate us from the Love of our God.
So, we come back to where we started. Rejoice always – again – let us rejoice in all things. For the days of darkness may come – days of joy may come. Days of pain may come, days of ease may come but regardless of what God brings us to – let us rejoice – let us do all to His glory – let us serve him and give all with joy-filled hearts that those in the world around us might also see all that the Lord has done, and praise him always.
My friends - rejoice and be glad in all things.
In the name fo the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.