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Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Mother's Love (1 Samuel 1-2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - May 12, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Come, Christians, Join to Sing" (Don Wyrtzen)
Song of Praise: "Everlasting God" (Brenton Brown)
Song of Praise: "Good to Me" (Craig Musseau)
The Word in Music: "The Blessing of a Mother's Love" (Childrens' Choir) (Becki Slagle Mayo)
Hymn of Sending: "A Christian Home" (FINLANDIA
Postlude: "Prelude and Fugue in F Major (J.S. Bach)

"A Mother's Love"
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Text: Romans 6:1-3,8-13

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

On this Mother’s Day, I thought it appropriate to choose a text that had something to do with a mother, in particular a mother who demonstrated love in the context of faith. And so I chose Hannah, whose story is told in 1 Samuel 1-2.

There are two things you should know about Hannah as we begin; and my hope is that these will be points of connection with you, whether you are a man or woman, of child-bearing age, older, or a child yourself. Hannah was someone who endured great disappointment and sorrow; and she was someone who earnestly and perseveringly entrusted her unfulfilled desires to God.

There is a third thing that makes Hannah extraordinary, and it will be our focal point in terms of faith and life. Having received an answer to her deepest prayers, Hannah did not move on past her faith in God, but pressed in even further in faith, entrusting her fulfilled desires to God. Let’s hear her story…

Disappointment and Sorrow

Hannah was a woman full of tears. She was unable to have children – barren – in a time when bearing children was everything. Children were economic security, inheritors of whatever the father was able to pass down, means of increasing position and wealth through marriage. And in many ways, sadly, a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to have children. This doesn’t mean that Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, didn’t love her. In fact, we are told he loved Hannah very much. But it was the case, as happened more than a few times in the Bible stories, that Hannah was unable to have a child. And presumably, as was the custom in those times, Elkanah had another wife. One common reason for a second marriage in that culture was the infertility of the first wife.

And so we can sympathize with Hannah, perhaps some of us even knowing the great disappointment of infertility, though perhaps not the dynamic of a second wife whose fertility provides regular shaming. We read, after all, that Hannah’s “rival… would provoke her bitterly to irritate her.” (v. 6) Elkanah probably was trying to help by giving Hannah a “double-portion” at the time of sacrifice, but we can imagine how that went over with Peninnah, who no doubt took out her jealousy and anger on Hannah with even more taunting.

And it didn’t just happen once; it happened year after year. The same scene, see there in verse 7: “…year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, Peninnah would provoke her; so she wept and would not eat.” It was disappointment and sorrow, seemingly without end.

I am reminded both of Abraham and the dynamic between Sarah and Hagar and of Joseph and his brothers, who reacted with such hatred to their brother who was shown favoritism by their father. Indeed, barrenness is a fairly common theme throughout the scriptures, as is God’s response in His time.

I would also broaden the application of this story out and invite you to consider how you connect with it, not just with a specific example of infertility, but with ANY situation that has caused or is causing you great disappointment and sorrow. Keep your eye on Hannah (and God!) to see what this faith-filled woman does with sorrow too deep for words.

Entrusting Sorrow to God

In 1 Samuel, we read of Elkanah’s love of Hannah and the double-portions, and we read of Hannah’s tears. Elkanah, seeing her tears, asks, “Why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (v. 8) This only distresses her more and she leaves the dinner scene and goes to the temple of the Lord. There she pours out her distress and tears to God, with prayer and with a vow: “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” (v. 11)

Basically, she was dealing with God, something almost all of us have probably done at one time or another. Often it comes out as, “God, just give me this one thing I want and I’ll do anything you ask.” In this case, she was very specific: if God would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord. Not shaving his head was part of the “Nazarite vow,” a vow Hebrew people sometimes took to consecrate themselves especially to God in service and devotion, either for a period of time or a lifetime. Samson and John the Baptist are two examples of men who took this vow. So Hannah vows in advance that if God would give her a son, she would consecrate him in this special way.

But my focus isn’t on this “deal,” but on what Hannah did with her disappointment and sorrow. She had more than a few options. She could have taken it out on Peninnah and her children. She could have taken it out on Elkanah or looked to him to provide the joy she was missing. But she went to the temple to pray, perhaps many times, but at least this time.

What she did may have been born out of desperation, out of faith, or perhaps both. But she entrusted her sorrow to God. That’s what I want to highlight for you here. She had enough faith to name her disappointment and sorrow to God and ask for help.

There is a little extra detail here that is interesting. We read that she continued in prayer, silently “speaking in her heart” so that “her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard.” (v. 13) The priest of the temple, Eli, observed all this and thought she had been drinking too much. And he confronts her. But she explains herself. That took some courage, I think. She could have fled in more shame, but she, in effect, entrusts her situation to the priest of God. She explains that she is greatly discouraged and was just “pour[ing] out her soul before the Lord.” (v. 15) Eli recognizes the truth of her words and blesses her, adding his prayer to hers before the Lord.

When Hannah returns to her family, she now is able to eat and her burden has been lifted, for “her face was no longer sad.” (v. 18)

Too many times, I think we try to bear disappointment and sorrow alone. Hannah reminds us of the great value in turning to God and trusted others, entrusting our sorrow that we might be reminded we are not alone.

Pause for a moment and consider what it would mean for you to entrust a disappointment or sorrow to God. Can you think of one? You don’t have to make a “deal” with God (in fact, I would discourage that.) But what would it mean to share or give that to God?

Entrusting Joy to God

We read that shortly after that Elkanah and Hannah conceived a child, specifically that “the Lord remembered her.” (v. 19) When the baby was born, she named him Samuel, explaining that it is “Because I have asked him of the Lord.” (v. 20) Samuel is not easily translatable, but means something like “name of God” or possibly “offspring of God.”

And we read that the time came (a year later) for Elkanah to return for his yearly sacrifice. Hannah decided to stay home with the nursing child, telling Elkanah that she would take him to the temple once he was weaned. At that time, babies usually nursed for 2-3 years. It is interesting to note that Elkanah supported Hannah’s vow, even asking what her plan was. But it was clear from her words in verse 22 that she intended to leave the child at the temple with Eli.

So finally, when the time came (v. 24), she took Samuel with an offering to the temple. She reminds Eli of her prayer several years past and her commitment to fulfill her vow. She says to Eli, “For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” (vv. 27-28)

That little boy, Samuel, grew up in the temple with Eli, interestingly replacing his two rogue priest sons, and Samuel became a faithful and devoted priest whom God would later use to anoint King Saul and then King David of Israel.

What I want to highlight now, though, is Hannah’s second great act of faith and trust. It was a significant and faith-filled act to entrust her sorrow to God. But having had her prayers answered and her joys fulfilled, it would have been so incredibly difficult to give that very child up to the Temple. But she did just that. I can well imagine Elkanah not wanting to go along with the plan, but he also supported the fulfillment of her vow.

The way I’d like to describe what Hannah did is this. If before she had entrusted her sorrow to God, she is now entrusting her joy to God. And while our hearts may struggle with the idea of giving up a child like this, and all the more so because of the difficulty in having that child, Hannah and Elkanah did not seem to view it that way at all. God had clearly given them this child and their giving of Samuel to God by living in the temple was not “giving up” Samuel, but “giving to” (or entrusting to) God.

And here’s the reason this is not scandalous: God is not a thief. God would not rob us of joy, but brings joy and shares it with us. God is the one who answered Hannah’s prayers, received her cries out of disappointment and sorrow, and remembered her through the birth of this child. We would twist God’s motives to think in terms of God stealing Samuel away. What Hannah did was not only loving toward Samuel, but ultimately loving toward God: she trusted God enough to share her joy with Him.

And in an even greater sense, is that not what God did with us? He did not keep His Son, His joy, for Himself, but gave Him to us in love?

Pause for a moment and consider what it would mean for you to entrust a joy to God. Can you think of one? What would it mean to share or give that to God? I know that’s not an easy thing to figure out, but keep pondering that.

What each of us can learn from Hannah extends beyond motherhood; she is full of human yearnings, hopes and sorrows, willing to bring all that to God, and willing to share even her joy… especially her joy… with her Lord and God. She invites you to do no less!

Epilogue: Hannah’s Song

I’d add a short epilogue to this story. In chapter two of 1 Samuel, we read a prayer or song of Hannah’s, thanking God for who He is and what He has done. With the opening word, “then,” this prayer-song is indicated as being offered after Hannah has given Samuel to God to live in the temple with Eli. I won’t read it now, but during the offering today, Katie Meeks will read it over some instrumental. Listen to it, not only out of the details of the story, but out of the soul of one who grieved deeply, trusted extravagantly, and rejoiced freely, knowing that all life belongs to God. Many generations later, a young woman named Mary would pray a very similar song (Luke 1:46-56), giving God thanks for the miraculous life and joy God was entrusting to her. Amen.

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