Sermon for 23 Pentecost Yr B, 16/11/2003

Sermon for 23 Pentecost Yr B, 16/11/2003

Based on 1 Sam 1:1-20

Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, AB

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


Someone once observed: “When God wants to change things, a baby is born; babies are God’s earthquakes.” One apt sermon title for today, based on our passage from 1 Samuel is, to edit Shakespeare: “To be a mother or not to be a mother, that is the question.” It certainly is not easy to be a mother and raise children today. A mother was talking to an old college friend and said, “I remember before I was married that I had three theories about raising children. Now I have three children and no theories!” J


In today’s first lesson, we are told of the story of Hannah’s difficult journey towards becoming a mother of her son Samuel. This is a most engaging story, with much wisdom and inspiration packed into it. First of all, we learn that Hannah is not a very “happy camper.” She is, by every definition of that day, a second fiddle, second best. At least that’s how she feels. She is the second wife of her husband Elkanah. At that time in Israel’s history, men were permitted to have more than one wife. Right from get go, we are told of the tension between Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah was blessed with children and Hannah was not. In a society where children were regarded as a blessing, Hannah’s infertility was a big problem. Peninnah makes matters worse by rubbing it in, and taunting Hannah to no end every time the family made their yearly trip to the temple at Shiloh to offer their sacrifice to the LORD. On one particular year, Peninnah’s taunting really upset Hannah. Elkanah, feeling caught between the conflict of his two wives, tries to express his love to Hannah by offering her a double portion of a meat meal they ate after the sacrifice at the temple. Then, he tries to console her by saying: “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” But such words were of little comfort to Hannah. She was still barren and therefore felt the pain and sorrow of not being blessed by God with a child.


Even in our day and age, infertility is still a problem for many couples. Some of them would want nothing more in life than to have a child, but they are unable to conceive. Then, when they’ve nearly given up all hope, they might decide to adopt a child, only to discover that they are suddenly able to give birth to their own child. Whether couples are fertile or infertile, we as Christians are called to provide love, care and acceptance to people. The story of Hannah’s infertility reminds us also of at least two other biblical women, Sarah the mother of Isaac, and Elizabeth the mother of John the baptizer. In both cases they too, like Hannah struggled with their infertility. In all three of these cases, the LORD chose to work a miracle and reverse their infertility to give them a child. In all three cases, the LORD chose Isaac, Samuel and John to accomplish his special purposes.


Coming back now to the story of Samuel’s birth, Hannah in her upset and near desperate state goes alone into the Shiloh temple and pours out her soul to the LORD in prayer. The high priest, Eli, observes her and at first misunderstands her completely, by supposing that she was drunk. Hannah was not drunk at all. In fact, in her pain and desperation, she makes a vow to the LORD. She vows that if the LORD favours her by allowing her to give birth to a son; then she will give him back to the LORD as a nazirite all of his life. A nazirite was someone who vowed not to drink wine or other intoxicants, not to cut their hair, and not to touch the body of a dead person.


In any case, after Hannah tells Eli that she was not drunk but praying to the LORD, Eli then realises that here is a very faithful woman and so he says to Hannah: “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”  And Hannah does just that, leaving the temple sanctuary as a new woman, in an entirely different state than when she had entered. Now Hannah felt and trusted that her prayer was in the process of being answered. So, she went back to her husband, to eat and drink a meal in joy together with him. When they went back home to Ramah, Hannah was, in due time, able to conceive and give birth to a son and she named him Samuel.


This prayer of Hannah tells us a lot about her faithfulness. First of all, we learn that the LORD honours and answers the prayers of his faithful people. And it is through the humble prayers of his people that the LORD is moved to work miracles and bless his people. So we too, like Hannah, need to remember to pray, trusting in the LORD like she did; that the LORD will answer our prayers in wonderful ways. The LORD is able to do marvellous things for us through prayer. So, brothers and sisters, keep praying like Hannah, asking the LORD that he will continue to bless us as a congregation and he will, I am certain of that!


Secondly, we notice in the vow of Hannah that she speaks not one single word of revenge against her rival, Peninnah. Even though Peninnah treats Hannah very shoddily, and constantly taunts her about her infertility; Hannah does not pray for anything hurtful or negative towards Peninnah. We learn that Hannah was “provoked severely” and was “irritated” by Peninnah, but nowhere do we learn of any revengeful words or actions against Peninnah on the part of Hannah. In one sense, this teaches us again the golden rule, to do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Yes, people may irritate us to no end; and we may not like what they say or do towards us. But Hannah is a model for us of the golden rule; of not responding to her rival with similar, hurtful words and actions. Instead of taking revenge, we like Hannah, need to turn over our hurts and pains to the LORD in prayer and ask him to heal and help us. We, like Hannah, will receive what we need to help us in such times of need.


Thirdly, we learn from this story of Hannah giving birth to Samuel that she remained a faithful woman and servant of the LORD. Often when people are in trouble, they will bargain with the LORD and promise their faithfulness, only to abandon the LORD again once their lot in life has improved again for them. Not so for Hannah. Hannah kept her word. She gave her son Samuel back to the LORD after the LORD had given him to her, as she had promised. Oh how difficult that must have been for Hannah to give up her son, probably at the tender age of three, after she had weaned him! But, we do learn that she still faithfully travelled to Shiloh every year to visit the temple, make the sacrifices, and spend some time with her son, bringing with her a new robe for him each year. This generous, sacrificial giving of Hannah reminds us of the supreme generosity and sacrifice of God himself through the suffering and death of Jesus. 


In Hannah’s faithfulness, love and generosity towards the LORD, we learn that the LORD blessed her son Samuel. He was to play an important role in Israel as a faithful prophet, priest and Israel’s last judge. Hannah, we also learn in I Samuel 2:18-21, that the LORD blessed her and gave her three more sons and two daughters. So she too was blessed of God and carried on the role of a faithful Israelite woman. May our LORD also help us to be faithful, like Hannah was, and bless us, like Hannah and her son, Samuel. Amen. 





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