October 14, 2012

October 14, 2012

October 14, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
Title: “Hannah’s Story: Desperation, Devotion & Declaration”
Texts: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 2:1-10
Gospel text: Luke 1:39-55

We continue our grand sweep through the God story! Part 6 of 37 Sunday’s in our “year of living storying-ly.”

From last week I hope you remember that one of the emerging themes in the God story so far is this: we are encountering a God who is always tipping the scales towards grace. . . THIS IS A BIG DEAL! Because in our little lives, we need a lot of grace, grace to cover us for those things we have “done and left undone” and grace poured into our lives so that we might pour out that same grace to one another.

So may I ask: “How are we finding ourselves written into God’s story of grace these days?”
– is that a new way of looking at things?
– “finding ourselves written into God’s story”

I was reading Eugene Peterson’s reflections on 1 & 2 Samuel this week and he offers a pretty great exhortation for how we are supposed to live, see and imagine our lives in the context of God’s Story. He writes:

“We need to realize. . . that our ego-bound experience is too small a context in which to understand and experience what it means to believe in God and follow his ways.”

He also writes:
“Most of us need to be reminded that these stories [in our scriptures] are not exemplary in the sense that we stand back and admire them, like statues in a gallery, knowing all the while that we will never be able to live either that gloriously or that tragically ourselves. Rather they are immersions into the actual business of living itself: this is what it means to be human. . . . these stories do NOT show us how we should live BUT how in fact we do live, authenticating the reality of our daily experience as the stuff that God uses to work out his purposes of salvation in us and in the world.”
(Peterson, “Invitation”, p. 61)

[this sure flies in the face of the “Bible = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” mentality – – ie. not how we “should” live, but how we “do” live – – think of Abe the doubter, Jacob the schemer, Moses the murderer, Sarai the liar – – these are not necessarily people who perfectly show us how we SHOULD live huh?]
But they sure have a way of showing us how we DO live!

So today, we focus on the story of Hannah, and we don’t hold her up as hero, but as someone who is just like us. . . ordinary, struggling, desperate. . . these are the kind of people – – this is the “stuff” that God uses to work out his purposes of salvation in us and in the world.

And in 1000 BC, God’s world and God’s exemplary nation, Israel, is in a mess. Last week we left God’s people at Mount Sinai, with Moses standing in the breach, and God relenting his wrath [changing his mind1], and staying true to his promise to make for himself a people that will “declare his glory to all the nations.” [God is tipping the scales…]

And Israel stumbles forward. . . sometimes with great fervor, sometimes with great folly! In the book of Joshua, Joshua leads God’s people into the promised Land, then in the book of Judges we read of how God’s people longed to be led by Judges to protect her from her enemies (how did that work out? Ugh!) at the end of Judges things get really bad. . . the voices of chaos reign and weigh down upon God’s people. It’s almost like another “fall” . . . we read in the last verse of Judges (21:25) “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

In the wake of this mess and chaos, the God story zooms in again on one pretty ordinary, yet faithful family. Now by faithful, I don’t mean exemplary. Remember? We’re not creating hero stories here, we’re encountering the God who uses the ordinary “stuff” of us, to restore his plan for humanity and the cosmos.

So we enter today’s text by meeting Elkanah and his two wives. And by no surprise, he has a favourite wife Hannah and a second-favourite wife Penninah. Penninah is named as Hannah’s “rival.” Yikes! It’s quite possible that Hannah was Elk’s first wife but since she could bear no children, he (because he was a man of means) took on a second wife who was able to keep the family lineage going.

And every year, on their spiritual pilgrimage from the rural areas of Ephraim to the central place of worship in the city of Shiloh, Penninah would provoke Hannah on the roadtrip.
Year after year after year. . . and then one year, Hannah becomes so desperate and despondent that she decides to take her plea to the [inner court] temple of the Lord.

Imagine this scene. . . think of one of the most desperate times in your life. A time when you were inconsolable. A time when you were a blubbering mess.
[ good Christian does NOT = strong Christian ok? ]

Or maybe you’ve been a witness to this kind of person at a family gathering. At a staff party. At a public meeting. You know, the kind of person that is embarrassing you because they just can’t “keep themselves together”?

Where did you go?
Where would you lead someone who was in this state of disarray?
Were you at ease in that moment. . . or was it grievously awkward?

THIS is the stuff that God uses to work out his purposes of salvation in us and for the world.

Seems pretty ridiculous doesn’t it?

And yet how do we handle this kind of “raw reality” of peoples’ lives as a people who live in churchland? In religious culture? When we act like blubbering, emotional “messes” are we embarrassed? When someone is having a meltdown in our church or our church services do we respond with gentleness and kindness or do we respond. . . . like Eli!

“How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine!”

aka: “Don’t you know this is the temple of the Lord? YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF! Show a little respect. . . for yourself and for YHWH!”

And Hannah responds:
“No! – – I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”

Eli, in a moment of Holy-Spirit inspired revelation (or because of his own embarassment for mis-reading a praying woman in the temple of YHWH), offers a priestly blessing and affirms the prayers of her heart.

Now before we move to the next chapter which contains Hannah’s song, I want us to again reflect on the “stuff” of our lives, that finds its place in this large story of God.
Q: How does Hannah’s story of desperation and devotion “bump” into the matters and the meaning of your life?

Q2: Who or what are the things in your life that have you dwelling in places of desperation?

You’ve heard me use that 1st century line from Philo of Alexandria. . . and again, it seems to be appropriate here:
“Be kind. . . everyone you meet is in the midst of a great struggle.”

So, maybe the rewording of the question might go like so:
What is your great struggle in these days?

For many of us in this church. . . ministry staff, church council, “everyday” Christians who have been a part of this faith community for 1, 5, 20, 50 years. . . our prayer is that this sacred space, this community of faith, this worshipping community would be a place where you can bring your “great struggle” or your desperation, week after week after week and find a place of solace, find a place of peace, a place of comfort, a place of welcome – – we pray that this would be a place where you can “fall apart” and encounter a God who delights in bringing new creation into the midst of chaos.

So whether you come in with a quiet desperation, or whether you need to fall apart on the ground like a blubbering, emotional mess. . . this is a place where God hears, God moves, God heals and God is with us. We believe that God meets us in suffering.

But it doesn’t end there. . . in that place of God’s providence and care, we believe that we can be transformed. . . healed. . . and changed.

For Hannah, we read in v. 18 that some kind of transformation happened in that temple prayer and in her interaction with Eli. We read that “her countenance was sad no longer.”

Now, this is not the basis for a quick fix, start a tent-revival-travelling ministry crusade. Nor is it a magic formula for barren couples to instantly start pro-creating because they said the right prayer. But in time, (a) healing and transformation did happen.

In Hannah’s story a baby, Samuel, is born. And as she promised, Hannah would stay true to her vow and return her child to the service of God in the temple of Shiloh.

So we see the Desperation & Devotion of Hannah. . . but there’s a third “D” word and I’ve included it in today’s sermon title: Declaration.

I want us to take a few minutes to reflect on Hannah’s “declaration”:
As we look at 1 Sam. Chapter 2, we read of Hannah’s Song (Hannah’s prayer). Either way, it’s Hannah’s public declaration about her God and the God of Israel. It’s a song that echoes (or is a pre-cursor to) other women songs in the Bible: the song of Miriam, the song of Deborah, the Song of Mary (as we’ve heard in today’s gospel reading). These are songs and prayers of our faith, of our people, of our story. Perhaps it’s a song that in small/large ways, bears witness to the state of our hearts today?

I want to offer some moments to sit with this song, to enter into this song, and then because it is God’s living word, allow ourselves to be propelled forth OUT of this song as a people who USE the “stuff” of our lives to work out God’s plan of salvation for us and the world.

Again, I want to use a Peterson quote to help us engage with this story that we find ourselves in. . .

“One of the many welcome consequences in learning to READ our lives in the life of Hannah is a sense of affirmation and freedom: we don’t have to fit into prefabricated moral or mental or religious boxes before we are admitted into the company of God – – we are taken seriously just as we are and given a place in his story, for it is, after all, his story; none of us is the leading character in the story of our life. Hannah understood this, as evidenced by her prayer (song):
[Peterson, “The Invitation,” pg. 62]

[1 Samuel 2:2, 6-9]

Nothing and no one is holy like GOD,
no rock mountain like our God.
Don’t dare talk pretentiously—
not a word of boasting, ever!
For GOD knows what’s going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens. . .
GOD brings death and GOD brings life,
brings down to the grave and raises up.
GOD brings poverty and GOD brings wealth;
he lowers, he also lifts up.

He puts poor people on their feet again;
he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—
a place in the sun!

For the very structures of earth are GOD’s;
he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!

Living in the light of this prayer, in the context of God’s story, is how we are called to live as God’s people today, this week, this year. . .

Now, let’s not forget, that this is a slow work. . . you hear us say ‘round here that: spiritual formation is a slow work! Even for Hannah, it might have taken 3-4 years (as she weaned Samuel) for this prayer, this declaration, this song to be formed in her heart, body, mind and soul.

So for us, perhaps it’s just one word, or one phrase that we hold onto in the midst of our present struggle, or desperation. May this story, and this song, be good news for all of us. . . words and images of ASSURANCE / HOPE / RESTORATION that transform us and transform the places that we live in. . . no matter how small or big those places might be.

I’d like to give each of us 1 more minute to sit with Hannah and her song. . .