Giving Good Gifts
Please forgive the typos in this sermon - check out the recording if you're finicky about typos.
A Homily for Easter 3
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
April 22, 2018
Text: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
This morning our first lesson is what is commonly called “Hannah’s Song.” If you read it carefully, you may notice that it is similar to a song or canticle that we often sing or read during Evening Prayer. The Evening Prayer canticle is of course, Mary’s Song, or the Magnificat which is found in the first chapter of St. Luke’s gospel. There is no mistake of this connection and we will round back to it shortly. For now, however, we need to understand the context in which Hannah is singing her song.
The first chapter of the first book of Samuel is concerned with Samuel’s mother, Hannah. Who is one of two wives of a man named Elkanah. The book tells us that Elkanah loves Hannah very much, despite the fact that she is barren. This is a story we read often in scripture, a woman who is unable to have a child, but still the beloved of her husband. These women are often either pitied by those around them or mocked.
In the case of Hannah, she is mocked. We are told her rival, probably the other wife, would provoke her grievously. We can tell from this first chapter that Hannah longed for a child despite the love of her husband, she wanted more. So, she went to the temple to pray for a son. She promised to God “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” And, so, she had a son. This is where we meet Hannah.
Chapter 1 ends with the following statement: “For this child I prayed and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” The song or prayer that we read is Hannah’s song that is filled with praise to God. It is her song of reaction of giving her much desired son back to God. It forces the question: Would we rejoice in such a way if we had finally received the thing which we have prayed for and then knew we were to give it back to the Lord? The thing that we had called out to the Lord in anxiety for? If we had, after many hours of prayer and lament, finally received the thing that our hearts desire, would we give it back to the Lord, and not only give it back to the Lord, but rejoice in doing so?
So often we have a hard time giving up the easy things in life or worse yet the sinful things. Yet, we all have things that we hold dear. So, we must ask – would we rejoice if the Lord called our only son to be a missionary in a foreign land, with the promise that we wouldn’t see him for a year or two or longer, and perhaps wouldn’t even have the joy of hearing his voice during that season? Would we rejoice in knowing that our daughter might be called to serve the Lord in a dangerous land? That she could die for her faith? Would we be willing to give up our country, our freedom, that we might serve the Lord in a foreign land? Would we give up our church building for the future of the church? Would you, with joy be willing to lay down your life that the gospel might be spread? The list of things that the Lord might ask one to surrender to Him for His glory can go on and on, and I won’t and can’t exhaust the possibilities, but this can be a tremendously difficult question, for we like our comfortable lives, and we delight in receiving even the smallest gift from the Lord but how often we cling to it, desperately.
Of course, we aren’t all called to lay aside that which we have been given to the Lord, but there are two important truths here. First we are reminded that the Lord asks for our first fruits, asks that we give back to Him from the first of what we are given. Too often when we read the story of Cain and Abel we think that the Lord preferred Abel’s gift because it was meat. This is simply not true – God preferred Abel’s gift because it was from the first. We read in Genesis 4: “In the course of time Cain brought. To the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the first born of his flock and of their fat portions.”
What isn’t said is as important as what is said – Abel brought the first born, Cain simply brought something from his harvest, the Lord was only pleased with Abel’s for Abel gave out of from the first he was given, and he gave in faith. We see pattern time and time again throughout scripture. The Lord wants our first, and even here, Hannah is giving to the Lord from her first and only son. We are to give in the same manner. We are to give to the Lord from our first.
This is a struggle – do we give to the Lord our first thoughts? Do we wake up in the morning and the first thing that comes to mind is a song of praise, a prayer to give to the Lord our time and love and service? Or do we think about all that we must accomplish that day, remembering the dishes we left over night, or the groceries that must be procured or the tasks on our list? Do we give our time to prayer, to praise, to reading the word of God, to doing acts of good works? Or do we give it to trite things like watching TV, reading trashy novels, or getting lost in our own self gratifying imagination?
Do we use the talents that the Lord has given us? We are watching a video on Wednesday nights, and perhaps I am enjoying it more than anyone else. However, the film maker uses the analogy of a band to talk about the church – each instrument has a specific sound, and when they are all tuned and playing together, a beautiful song is made. We are each an instrument that the Lord uses to His glory. When we are using the gifts that the Lord has given us, we as the Church are a band, no I would say an orchestra, which pays a beautiful song of praise to the glory of the Lord. Are we giving our gifts back to the Lord? Are we “lending them to the Lord for all the days of our life?”
Do we give our treasures back to the Lord? Please don’t misunderstand me when I ask this question. Some may be called to live in poverty, but this isn’t the call of all people. No, but we are to give joyfully. This is a struggle, even for me. When I write my tithe check, sometimes I rejoice, sometimes I think of all the things I could do with the money. I could buy a new bike, I could be putting it away in savings for a house, I could go out to several nice restaurants and not have to worry about cooking. Yet, this is not the posture that we are called to give from. No, we are called to give with a joyful heart.
These questions can be hard, perhaps your conscience has been pricked or perhaps not. We need to be aware, that we are called to be ready to give to the Lord that which he has blessed us with. The Lord asks that we give back to Him that which we are given, that we are to be good stewards with that which he has given us, whether it be much or little. Not only that, but that we give with the joy that Hannah had in her heart. For, although she had finally received her much desire son, she with a glad heart gives him back to the Lord.
And what comes up this? Samuel goes on to be a great prophet in the nation of Israel. He anoints two kings, he speaks truths into these men’s lives, whether they want to hear it or not. He works to glorify the Lord.
We don’t necessarily know what will come of the investments of our time. We don’t know if our prayers will be answered as we had hoped, we don’t know if our time of reading scripture, of doing good works will bear fruit. We don’t necessarily know if the use of our treasures and talents will bear fruit that we will see, and yet we still do it. Nor does Hannah know what will become of Samuel. He could just be an uninteresting servant in the house of the Lord, a mid-level priest who offers sacrifices, and lives a quiet life. Even this would be a good thing.
I told the Wednesday evening group this story – a story of not knowing what fruit might be born. After I became a Christian I asked my parents that I might be able to go a Christian school. Mostly, I wanted to be on the idyllic campus that sat at on a peninsula where two rivers converged, but I also wanted to drink deeply of the knowledge of the Lord, and how I drank. One day the headmaster asked me “who prayed for you?” I was a bit baffled by the question. He wanted to know who prayed that I would come to know the Lord. To this day, I am unsure of the answer, perhaps it was my grandparents, perhaps it was someone else? I do not know, but how thankful I am for their prayers. In the same way, the people who showed me the beauty and goodness of a Christian life, I no longer know, and they do not know what a profound effect their words and lives had on me but still, my heart is glad to have known them.
We may see immediately what the Lord is doing with our gifts and treasures and talents, or we may never know. Yet, we give in faith that He’s is good. To sacrifice that which we love for the deeper love of the Lord is a very good thing, even though it is also a very hard thing.
Remember earlier, I said there are two truths that we can glean from Hannah’s song of joy? Well, here is the second, it is that we are to serve the Lord with joy. We see her giving her son back to the Lord and she sings such a beautiful song of praise, yet we would expect a mother that desired a son with such longing would mourn giving him up. Could you imagine praying with all your heart for a gift and finally receiving it, and then knowing that you had to give it up to the Lord? That even though you received something so very good that it was not yours to keep? Would you be glad as Hannah was, or would you lash out at the Lord?
No, our service and giving to the Lord is to be joyful. This can be hard, or worse it can be rote. It can be easy to just do it because we know it’s what we’re supposed to do. Sunday mornings are for church, so we go to church, we may not be happy to be there, we may very well rather be golfing, or riding our bikes, or watching TV, or sleeping in, or eating brunch, so we sit in the pew and wonder when the sermon will be over, be annoyed that the last song is long.
Yet, worship is an active expression of our faith, and we are called to do it with joy. The same goes for our service and giving to God, whether they be acts of charity, giving, or just working around the church or doing a kindness for our neighbor – we act with joy in the glorifying of the Lord. For we know these acts serve the Lord.
As you hear these words don’t think that this is meant to be a guilt trip, but rather we need to understand the theology and posture we are to take in giving. For there are two errors that can occur in the theology of giving – first is the prosperity gospel error. Those who say that if you do all the right things the Lord will bless you. If you give to me, then the Lord will give to you. No, this must be crushed immediately. We give to the Lord because it glorifies Him. We do not expect a blessing in return, but rather recognize that we are giving from the blessings that we have already been given. The gift has already been given, our prayers, reading of the word of God, even the worldly possessions which we have are all gifts – so to given them back to the Lord is a natural thing, and from that simple action we expect nothing in return.
Secondly, there is the error that because Christ’s gifts are free that we needn’t respond. No, we respond with joyful service of our gracious Lord. We respond by living in the spirit, and letting him sanctify us, and we respond by following the direction we have been given in scripture.
Let us understand then, that our giving flows from our hearts and it is ultimately our hearts that we are called to be giving. We could be millionaires and leave all our money to charity when we die, but if our heart is wicked it does no good. We could have everything in the world and give it up, for acts of charity, yet, if we do not have the Love of the Lord in our heart, what good is it? So, we give out of the abundance of the Love that the Lord has place in our heart. Let it be abundantly clear – that our acts of charity must flow out of the Love of the Lord that is converting our hearts and minds. Let it be understood – that while we might only give a portion of our time, treasures, and talents to the glory of the Lord, that He desires our whole heart, and all of our mind be given to him. When this is the case, then we know the Lord, and know His will for us, and we, like Hannah sing praises to give back to the Lord.
Now, I mentioned that Mary, Jesus’ mother mirrors this song of praise in the gospel of Luke. We recognize it as the Magnificat which starts with “My soul doth magnify the Lord!” Mary is visiting her cousin, both are getting heavy with child. Yet Elizabeth knows that the there is something special about Mary’s child, in fact, John the Baptist, who is the child in Elizabeth’s womb knows this too. HE, that is the unborn child John, praises the Lord and Elizabeth does likewise, and then we have Mary’s song.
In this event we understand that St. Luke recognizes that Samuel’s being given to the service of the Lord is a foreshadow of that which is to come in Christ. We see that the Gospel writer is very intentionally drawing the two events together, that those who would read it would recognize that this is the messiah that has been long awaited and pointed towards throughout the Old Testament.
We also see that in some way Mary recognizes that the unborn Jesus will go on to do something great. To an extent, as we continue to read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s life, we see that Mary doesn’t quite understand what Jesus is doing, but she knows that he is anointed of the Lord. She knows that he is a gift which she is glad to bear and glad to give to the Lord.
What is this gift? The gift that Christ has brought into the world is that all those who trust in Him might have life. The gift is His death and resurrection. So, like Hannah, Mary gives her first born son, her mysteriously born son, who is obviously a gift of the Lord, to the service of the Lord. After his birth we see him learning and growing in wisdom and then using that wisdom to glorify the Lord. He teaches the truths of what it means to follow the Lord, what it means to follow him, he shows the truth of grace and compassion that we find when we give our hearts and minds to Him.
Then in what seems to be a final act he shows us what it means to Love. He gives up his life for the sheep. He is crucified. In that death he destroys death and in the resurrection he brings life to all who follow Him. He brings us the atonement for our sins, and life through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
Simply put, Christ’s death and resurrection is the gift that compels us to give ourselves to His service.
I realize a sermon giving can easily, and inadvertently sound like a guilt trip. This isn’t my intention and I hope it didn’t come across as such. No, to give means to give our hearts and minds first that we might love and know the Lord. This love and knowledge is the first gift and we are to give that love and knowledge to those who would accept it. Our call, therefore, is to first drink richly in the Lord’s gifts, and to share that cup by giving those gifts and using them to the glory of the Lord. It is in the giving of our selves, our souls, and bodies with utmost joy that we fulfill that which we have been called to.
We may be called to do grand things or we may simply be called to live simply and give an abundance of love to all those whom we meet. We may not be called to watch our first born son go overseas, we may not be called to bid good-bye to our families, we may not be called to give up all that we have to the glory of the Lord, but whatever we are called to, let us be sure that the Lord is the first thing in our hearts, that all that we do would glorify Him, that from our hearts and minds, we give to Him from our first fruits, not because we expect something in return, but because, through Christ, He has given to us an abundant blessing.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.