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Monday, May 27, 2013

Remember This (Joshua 4.1-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - May 26, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty" - Martha Gardner, violin (arr. Taranto)
Song of Praise: "Come Thou Fount/We'll Feast" (arr. Austell)

Song of Remembrance: "I Will Remember You" (Brenton Brown)
The Word in Music: "Canon of Praise" (Pachelbel/Hopson)

Offering of Music: "So Art Thou to Me" (K. Lee Scott)
Hymn of Praise: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" (FAITHFULNESS
Postlude: "Chorale & Toccata on 'Come, Thou Fount'" (Travis)

"Remember This"
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Text: Joshua 4:1-13; Exodus 13:1-14

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

I’d like to begin today with a question, not for you to answer out loud, but to think about: What is a challenge you are facing right now?

I imagine for some of you there is something that comes immediately to mind; for others, you may need to think for a moment, so I’ll give you that moment and ask again. What is a challenge you are facing right now?

Hold the answer to that question in your mind – you may even want to jot it down on your bulletin or in your Bible next to this Joshua 4 passage or in the back. As we study that passage I hope that remembering what God has done will help provide some insight and hope into how God will help you in what you are facing today.

Tomorrow our nation observes Memorial Day, a day in which to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to our country.  Indeed, when we come to prayer later in this service, we will remember and give thanks as well. Memory is a powerful thing. It is often tied to the emotion of the past; it can inform our present; and it can shape our future. The wise person remembers and learns from the past; the fool forgets the mistakes of the past, doomed to repeat them.

As I thought about a sermon text for this morning, I was struck by the role of “remembering” in the Bible. It is a significant and major theme, for all the reasons already mentioned and more. And there is an additional link to Memorial Day, for not only are their many reasons to remember the work of God in history, but we also have in Jesus the prime example of one giving his life for the sake of other, in service to the highest authority.

So, I’d like to look with you at one story in which remembering played a significant role and we will see how that “Memorial Day” can be a spiritual blessing in our own lives.

Remember the Jordan

In the text we heard from Joshua 4, the Israelites have just crossed into the Promised Land. This has been a looooong, multi-generational and wandering journey, but they were finally here. A whole generation had lived and died in the desert, because of the sins of those who first came out of Egypt. Even their great leader, Moses, had died and the mantle of leadership had passed to Joshua. The Jordan River marked the edge of the Promised Land and Jericho now lay before them. In this text, Joshua and the people pause between a miraculous crossing of the Jordan (ch. 3) and the “Battle of Jericho” (ch. 6) for an unusual and memorable celebration. It was their Memorial Day!

So what were they remembering? They were remembering what had just happened and what had happened long ago.

What had just happened was that the Lord had instructed them to take the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River and the waters parted so that the people were able to cross on dry ground. It was a sign that God was in their midst and going before them into this Promised Land. It was also a reminder of a similar miracle a generation earlier, when their parents and grandparents had come through the Red Sea.

And so Joshua told a man from each of the twelve tribes to take up a stone and mark the place where the Ark had rested during this miracle. And Joshua specifically instructed them about it: it was a sign, “so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’” And so this was to be “a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” (v. 7)

Think about that… imagine driving along the road and seeing a huge pyramid of rocks on the side of the road. And your curious 4-year-old in the back seat says, “What’s that, mommy?” And you could tell him, “That’s where thus-and-so happened; and our family was a part of it!” That marking of the passing into the Promised Land was what had just happened. What had happened long ago was Egypt…

Remember Egypt

In our call to worship today, we heard several verses from Exodus 13. That’s the chapter that establishes the memorial meal of the Passover. That is a different kind of Memorial Day that recalls what God did in bringing His people out of Egypt. Every Jewish family and child, from then until now, knows that story. They know it because it is remembered every year. Moses explains in Exodus 13: “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” (v. 3) When the children ask, tell them this: “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” (v. 8) And tell future children and grandchildren, “With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (v. 14)

The reason God’s people were finally coming into the Promised Land in Joshua 4 is because they had remembered Egypt. Had they forgotten that deliverance from slavery or the long-standing promises to Abraham, they may well have settled for desert or any number of places before they ever got to the Jordan. Or they may have not risked the crossing and facing the city of Jericho. But God had promised this land and had brought them this far. God had parted waters before and had defeated superior armies before. And they hadn’t forgotten.

And this story – this REMEMBRANCE – was passed on from parent to child. It was shared and told and re-told, so that the children would know both the promises and the faithfulness of God and be able to respond in faith when the day of action came.

And so I would ask you this question: What do you remember about the character or involvement of God from the Bible?

Jot a word or phrase down in your bulletin or there at Joshua 4. You may want to take it directly from these stories. In Exodus, God hears His people cry out in their suffering. God delivers; God saves. Or in Joshua, God goes before them; God is faithful to His promises. Or you may remember another story: Jonah and Nineveh, the fruit of the Spirit, the story of Lazarus. What was God like? What did Jesus do? What comes to mind. Maybe you want to write the question down and spend more time with it later… that’s a great start into remembering.

What do you remember about the character or involvement of God from the Bible?


That brings me to today and one more question: What do you remember about the character or involvement of God in your own life?

Where has God shown up before in your life? If you are a Christian, He has. Even if you do not yet trust in Jesus Christ, God has shown up; it may just be harder to see or acknowledge.  So ponder that question deeply. We’ve looked to the stories of the Bible to remember about God’s character and involvement. Now consider the story of your own life.

Let’s start with Jesus. His life was spent in perfect service and obedience to God. And all the more, His death was an act of loving obedience, given in service to God for the sake of the world. That’s what John 3:16 teaches us… God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes will not die, but have eternal life. And Jesus embraced that mission. Jesus gave his life out of love for God and love for you. If you can remember nothing else, remember that! That is why Good Friday is the ultimate Memorial Day! In fact, the night before Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, which is our ongoing “Memorial Day” remembrance of that ultimate act. It’s right there on our Table and most others: “In remembrance of me.”

And then for each of you, the story of God in your life is as individual as you are. Can you think of one example of God showing up in your life? Maybe it was an answer to prayer, or encouragement deep in your spirit when things looked hopeless. Maybe it was direction or guidance when you were confused and lost. Maybe it was an experience of closeness or “connection” in worship or a feeling of peace in the middle of great distress. I have shared with you before one example from my own life when I was all closed up and closed off in my 20s and after an extended time of spiritual and emotional dryness, God broke through, first in a dream and then in real life. What about you? Where has God shown up?

What do you remember about the character or involvement of God in your own life?


And finally, think back to the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon. What is a challenge you are facing right now? And with that in mind, let me ask one more question.

How do these memorials of God’s character and involvement inform the challenge you are facing?

What does remembering God’s character and involvement in scripture tell you about how God will meet you in your current challenge? What stood out to you in your remembering… that God was faithful, strong, near, forgiving, merciful, or something else? What about God’s involvement; what stood out… that God listens, delivers, saves, or something else?

What did you remember from your own life? What stood out? Is that something you need to be reminded of… to remember?

I would encourage you to write these things down, to ‘mark’ them both to help in the current challenge and to remember in the future. Scripture even says we can use such things to teach the next generation about God.  If answers to these questions didn’t come to mind in the short time I gave you to answer, I’d encourage you to write the questions down and work through them on your own.  Here they are again:

  1. What is a challenge you are facing right now?
  2. What do you remember about the character or involvement of God from the Bible?
  3. What do you remember about the character or involvement of God in your own life?
  4. How do these memorials of God’s character and involvement inform the challenge you are facing?
If you were able to respond, I’d encourage you to write those responses down in your Bible or some other place you can find them again. Maybe you could mark them “Memorial Day 2013” or have a special page in the back of your Bible for “Things to Remember about God.” That was the purpose of the stones Joshua put in the Jordan River… it was to remember and be reminded, both for himself and for the generations to come.

Scripture says that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)  Trouble is, our memories are short and we forget that. Beloved, hear the Good News: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Remember that and be encouraged! Amen.

==Spring 2013 Index==

Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
April 28 - May 26, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

God's Perfection (Ephesians 1, Philippians 1, Romans 12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - May 19, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Hymn to Joy" (Albert L. Travis)
Song of Praise: "Arise My Soul Arise" (Kevin Twit)

Hymn of Praise: "My Faith Has Found a Resting Place" (LANDAS)
The Word in Music: "Now You Make it Your Own" (Dawson, Austell)

Offering of Music: "Here's One" (Tom Fettke)
Song of Sending: "Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons" (Myrin/Redman
Postlude: "Toccata" (Frescobaldi)

"God's Perfection"
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Text: Ephesians 1:3-4; Philippians 1:3-11; Romans 12:1-2

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

Today’s sermon is for the Confirmation students.  It’s the story of God working in time and out of time to bring about the salvation of His children.  It is a promise to those who have trusted Jesus Christ and committed their lives to him – that means this sermon is also for you, if you have trusted Christ and made that commitment.  The promise is that God is working on you and in you, perfecting you until you are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  God is getting each of you ready for Heaven.  Finally, the sermon is for you, even if you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ, because it describes the great love and purpose with which God pursues His children.  May God give us ears to hear!

God Chose You in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4)

Today I’m simply going to talk about three different passages from the Bible.  The first is Ephesians 1:3-4.  There Paul writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.

This is the truly mind-boggling part!  God, who exists outside of time and space was pleased to choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  This is neither the time nor place to get mired down in discussions of fate, predestination, free will, temporal mechanics, or if-God-chose-me-what-about-the-other-people.  Today’s message is directed at YOU.  If you are a Christian, the Bible says God not only knew about you before the world was made, but God chose you for the purpose of salvation and being perfect in His presence – “holy and blameless before Him.” 

It’s that purpose of God that we are focusing on today… God’s perfection.  Why did God create human beings?  Genesis says that it was because He was pleased to do so, for mutual relationship, and for humanity to worship God.  Even with Sin and the Fall and all that seemed to mess that plan up, God’s plan was bigger – when the time was right, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and accomplish salvation for all who believe.  That means you, confirmation students.  That means you, brothers and sisters in Christ.  That means you, who may not know Christ, but who would believe in him.

And these words in Ephesians not only say that God purposed to rescue us from sin; God’s purpose all along is that we might be perfect to stand in His presence to enjoy relationship and worship of our God and Father.

God Told His Story to You (Philippians 1:3-11)

The second passage I want to mention is Philippians 1:3-11.  In short, this passage reassures us that God does not leave us on our own to accomplish either our salvation or the perfection of our lives.  This passage says that God is at work in you, willing and working in you to make you perfect.  There are two handy theological words to describe all this.  The one is “justification,” which describes the instant right-standing granted to us by the grace of Christ.  Christians are justified by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – we are forgiven and viewed by God as having the perfect righteousness of Christ.  The second word that describes God at work in us is “sanctification” – God has not only declared us holy in Christ, but is MAKING us holy through the work of the Holy Spirit. 

All that is a complicated way of saying what Paul says pretty simply in Philippians 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  God not only chose you and made you for salvation through Jesus Christ; God is in you, working on you to mold and shape you into the likeness of Christ, to do what the old hymn says, “fit us for Heaven to live with you there.”

This assurance of God-at-work is both testimony to what is going on in the lives of these confirmation students and hope for all of us as we look ahead.  Each of these students have been loved and raised in the church, some since birth and some more recently.  Like the young Christians to whom Paul was writing in Philippians, the seed of the Gospel was planted by parents, Sunday school teachers, VBS after VBS, youth advisors, church services, summer camps, and friends.  And now in hindsight we can see how God has been at work to cultivate faith, belief, and commitment.

And the hope for all of us as we look ahead is that God is not finished with us.  He will continue to cultivate and grow our faith, belief, commitment, purity, and holiness until the day we stand before Him in Heaven.

It’s such a great promise and such a relief!  We don’t have to get our act together to get into Heaven.  God has given us that gift in Christ.  Rather, God’s additional gift is that he continues to participate in our lives to cause us to become more and more like the one whom we call Savior.

Each Day You Will Follow (Romans 12:1-2)

All I will say about predestination and free will this morning is that the Bible makes it clear that there is a mystery – God is sovereign over everything, including our salvation AND He invites and requires our participation in life and salvation.  This work that He is doing in our lives is not the tinkering of a great inventor on inanimate robots; it is the interaction of a Father and a child. 

In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.  He goes on to challenge: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  These are concrete acts of commitment on our part.  This is what the confirmation students are doing today.  Most, if not all, of them trusted Jesus as their Savior a number of years ago.  I think all of them started this year as believing Christians.  But in addition to making absolutely clear what they believed, we also made it very clear that being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ, and that means committing our lives to him completely.  Each of them made that conscious decision, marking it in a memorable morning on our retreat or in conversation with Joanie or myself.

That’s what Paul is calling for in these verses in Romans – commitment.  Again, it is not so that we can earn our way to Heaven or clean ourselves up enough to please God.  Instead, and here is the great and mysterious connection between our will and God’s will… it is “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Our commitment to God helps us see and understand God’s commitment to us.  That is important enough a statement that I’ll repeat it:

Our commitment to God helps us see and understand God’s commitment to us.

God’s Perfection

So, what does scripture teach us?

It teaches that God created us with purpose. 

It teaches that God intervened in human history to provide a means of salvation through Jesus Christ – and that to accomplish His eternal purpose.

It teaches that God continues to be involved in the lives of His children, to lead us, mold us, make us, and shape us into the likeness of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

It teaches that our part in God’s plan is to respond to the great gift of grace by offering ourselves whole-heartedly in obedience and service to our Lord.  In doing so, we realize more and more how much God loves us.

God’s purpose is perfect.  God’s purpose is for you – for your life and your salvation.  He who began this good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus – that is what is good and acceptable and perfect to God.

You are God’s perfection!

Now You Make it Your Own 

To the confirmation students:

As I said earlier, God planted the story and the seed in your hearts.  For some of you that began as far back as you can remember.  The Bible said it began before the world was made!  When you were little children, you depended on your parents for everything, including your relationship to God.  You have all shown that you are old enough to hear Jesus’ call to “Come, follow me” for yourselves.  So now you take your parents’ faith and training, your church’s teachings, the testimony of the Bible, and God’s timeless purpose for you, and you make it your own.

Today you will publicly confess and demonstrate your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Several of you will be baptized as a living testimony to this decision.  I will challenge the rest of you to “Remember your baptism” – for all baptism is a witness to the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to God’s eternal purpose and plan for your lives.

Though you are still young and have some years before you are adults in the world’s eyes, today you become adults in your faith – choosing for yourselves to trust and follow Jesus Christ with your lives.  In a new way, you are our brothers and sister in Christ.

Now You Make it Your Own
By Gerrit Scott Dawson and Robert Austell, 1997


God chose you in Christ before the world was made
He came here for you... the Word was enfleshed
In Jesus, on the cross, your sins were laid
So dying, then rising with him, you are kept

Long love foresaw this day
Parents vowed before the throne
Friends in Christ showed the way
... now you make it your own

God told his story through those in your home
Christ showered love as water was poured
The Spirit brought friends, you’re never alone
So in the Church, you share one faith, one Lord


The world will insist that you turn its way
But dear ones resist, remember this day!!

Before God and us, you make holy vows
The name of Jesus you confess in Word
And in your heart.  Each day you will follow
The Savior whose call to serve you have heard


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.