November 4, 2012 - 1 Samuel 1.4-20

“Our Future with God”

1 Samuel 1:4-20

November 4, 2012

 

4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters;5but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.6Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.7So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.8Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

9After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord.10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly.11She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.13Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.14So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, 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.”17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.20In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

 

Our story is that of an old woman, childless – therefore in that time and that place, futureless. Children are our future and here is a woman who has aged out of the possibility of children.
     Then God shows up and Hannah is given the unimaginable gift of a child. Recognizing that her baby is a gift, Hannah immediately dedicates him to the Lord, names him Samuel, and the rest is history.
     It is a story about a woman who is given a child and she in turn gives her son back to God. Hannah thus turns her good fortune into a vocation. Her child will not simply serve her needs in her old age; her child will serve God and be a part of God’s loving work in the world.
    We don’t always know what the future holds. It’s a safe bet that the future will include both joy and sadness. However, in Jesus Christ, whatever the future holds, we know who holds the future. God is with us not only today but tomorrow as well.

Scripture attempts to teach us to narrate our lives as part of God’s work with us. The life I’m living is not necessarily my own: God has desires, choices, and efforts that help to make my life something that God wants.  I read the story of a Professor at Seminary who taught a class called “Introduction to the Christian Ministry.”  Each student was required to write a paper called “My Life with God.”

Well, the best paper in the batch was one that began, “I was a teenager from hell. I made my parents’ lives miserable. They weren’t surprised when, only after a year, I flunked out of the University of Texas, drinking and partying my way into oblivion.”

The professor knew he was in for a treat of an autobiography and he wasn’t disappointed.

“I hung around Austin for awhile and strangely, got involved in a nearby United Methodist Church. I thought I was rebelling against church but I loved this church, adored the pastor, and got more and more involved. Then one Sunday afternoon I drove back to my little town in Texas to tell my parents the astounding news that I was going back to school, that I was going to become a Methodist preacher.

“When I sat my parents down and told them the incredible news, I was shocked when my mother immediately broke into tears and said, ‘I’m so embarrassed. I’m so ashamed.’

“Embarrassed? Ashamed? I thought. What did my mother mean? Then she spoke, ‘Do you remember that I had two miscarriages before I was pregnant with you? When I got pregnant with you, I prayed to God that if he would only help me bring this baby to term I would dedicate him to the Lord. And I would call his name Samuel, just like in the Bible.’”

And I said, “You did what? You sure could have saved me a lot of trouble if you had told me that story sooner!”

“I didn’t know it would work,” she confessed. “We’re Methodists! We don’t take this stuff literally.”[1]

 

I tell you this story to warn you, just in case you think you are hearing ancient history when I read you the story of Hannah and Samuel, that stories like this still happen. That is, God continues to give people unimaginable gifts. In Hannah’s case, God gave her a child in her old age. In so doing, God gave Hannah a future that she thought impossible.

But there’s more. Hannah knows enough about the way God works to know that God’s gifts often entail God’s assignments. When God intervenes, God also often calls. Hannah didn’t just get a baby boy, she also gave the boy to the service of God.

Rarely does God give us gifts that are solely for our personal benefit. God, gives us gifts so that we may be better givers to God and our neighbors.

On Sunday morning we pray: God give me better health. God, please give my family some peace and stability. God help me to be faithful in my marriage. God, enable me to achieve the goals that I have set for myself.

But if we are to pray faithfully, then our prayers must not be only about what we want but must also be about aligning our lives to what God wants. We must therefore also pray: God, prod me to use my good health for someone other than myself. God, give my family a meaning greater than my family. God, help my marriage to be in service to the needs of others. Lord, help my eagerly sought goals to also be your goals.

 

God intervenes, steps in, and makes a way when we thought that there was no way. God has not only been with us in the past, but God is also with us in the present, enabling us to be with God in the future.[2]

 

At every graduation you have ever been to, there is always someone who gets to give a commencement speech.  You usually see something like the speaker standing at the podium and in his address will urge the graduates to have a dream, to follow their dream, to let no one or nothing deter them from their life’s dream.  Perhaps it is good no one has ever asked me to speak at a commencement ceremony.  All this sort of talk about “following your dreams” is fine but it is not particularly Christian. Christians are people who are attempting to live out God’s dream, to live their lives in such a way that God may get what God wants.

 

The Germans have an expression, “every gift (gabe) entails an assignment (aufgabe).” I think that is what Hannah embodied. I think that’s the lesson of this ancient, beloved story for us today.[3]  We have great gift in our future ahead of us.  That future is wrapped up in what God has called us to do.

 

Now you might be thinking, “OK, so Hannah was given a future by God and she was grateful and all, yadda yadda yadda…but what about me?

Your whole life has led up to this moment right now.  God has a plan for your future.  Don’t believe me?  God said so.  Jeremiah 29.11  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Your future lies ahead of you.  Your past doesn’t matter.  Your present is right now.  What will you do?  “Every Saint has a past and every Sinner has a future,” the saying goes.

You might be the type of person that finds it hard to let go of your past.  Maybe you find it hard to forgive yourself.  This makes no sense.  I understand it, but if you believe in Jesus and his death for you, this makes no sense.  God wants to forgive you, but you won’t forgive yourself?  Exactly what does Jesus have to do in order for your sins to be forgiven?  Are you saying that Jesus’ death on the cross isn’t enough to forgive your sins?  If GOD can forgive your sins and put your past behind you, then you can do it, too.  God has a great future for all of us, but in order to grasp it, we have to let go of our past.

 

Years ago Fred Craddock, professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, was on vacation with his wife in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. It was the last day of vacation, and they’d stopped at a favorite little café called the Blackberry Inn. They didn’t want to be bothered.

Well, this old country fellow walked in, just talking to everybody (you know the type). Fred thought, curses, as he hid behind the menu. Sure enough, the old guy came to Fred’s table:

“You folks on vacation?”

“Yes.”

“Having a good time?”

I was, thought Fred.

“Gonna be here long?”

“No, not at all.”

“What do you do?”

 That was the question Fred had been waiting for, because he could shut people down with his answer: “Well, I’m a professor of homiletics and theology.” The old man lit up and said, “You’re a preacher man! Well, I got a preacher story for you!” He pulled up a chair and sat down.

“Yeah, I was born back in these mountains. My momma wasn’t married. We lived in a shack outside of town. The other women in town used to spend their time guessing who my daddy was. And I didn’t know who my daddy was. That was a real problem back then.

“My momma worked a lot. Other kids weren’t allowed to play with a boy like me. I would hide in the weeds at recess, and I ate my lunch alone. They said I wasn’t any good and I’d never amount to anything.

“Kids used to call me Ben the Bastard Boy . . . Ben the Bastard Boy . . . I thought Bastard Boy was my last name.”

The old man was weeping now, but he collected himself.

“Well anyway, there was a church in Laurel Springs. It had this preacher. His voice was big like God. I knew church wasn’t a place for boys like me.”

(We know at church they wouldn’t call him Bastard Boy; they’d find other ways to say the same thing.)

“Sometimes I’d sneak in and sit toward the back so I could sneak out before the service ended. But this one day I just got lost in what the preacher was saying. Before I knew it, church was over. The aisles got all jammed up. Folks were looking at me. I was making for the back door quick as I could when all at once I felt this big hand on my shoulder.

“This big voice boomed, ‘Boy!’ It was the preacher man himself! He said, ‘Boy!’ I froze. He talked so loud everybody heard as he said, ‘Boy, who’s your daddy? Boy, I know who your daddy is.’ That was a knife in my gut, and I wondered did he know who my daddy was. He said, ‘Boy, now let’s see . . . why, you’re a child of’ . . . he paused and everyone listened, ‘Boy, why you’re a child of God, and I see a strikin’ resemblance!’ Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Now you run along and go claim your inheritance.’”

Fred looked at the old guy. He seemed familiar, so Fred asked, “Sir, what’s your name?” The old guy said, “Ben Hooper.” Fred replied, “Ben Hooper . . . Ben Hooper . . . Oh Yes! I remember my daddy telling me about you, the illegitimate boy elected twice the governor of Tennessee.”

Old Governor Hooper looked up at Fred and with tears in his eyes said, “I was born that day.”[4]

 

Are you ready?  Your entire life that God has waiting for you is yours to take.  Respond to God’s invitation today.



[1] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, November 4, 2012.

[2] Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Nov. 4, 2012.

[3] Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Nov. 4, 2012.

[4] Fred Craddock, Preaching Today (audio), as recounted in a sermon by Tony Campolo. Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, CA. January 1988.

 

 

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