Scripture Lessons: 1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10
When I picked today’s scripture lesson, I had visions about a nice little sermon about Hannah. She had it rough. She really wanted kids and she couldn’t have them. To make it worse, her husband had another wife who rubbed it in.
Then she prayed and offered a bargain to God- If you give me a child I will give him back. Eli, the local priest heard her, thought she was drunk, and then heard her explain that it was a prayer. He blessed her and sent her on her way…to get pregnant.
There was going to be information about how I think Eli was trying to start a conversation rather than actually thinking Hannah was drunk. I was going to make the case that Hannah’s song and Mary, mother of Jesus’ Magnificat in Luke are basically the same song, meaning that Hannah was likely a hero to Mary.
And, I would have surely talked about Hannah’s baby boy Samuel, the Kingmaker- of Israel’s first king Saul and Israel’s favorite king, David. All this because Samuel drew so close to God that his visions and the ways God’s voice came to him were astonishing clear, even for Old Testament times.
But, the truth is that cute little sermon just doesn’t seem to fly today. Today we stare at Hannah’s song and so much of it seems to ring hollow after the tragedies around the world, just on Friday alone.
Hannah’s song speaks on behalf of the feeble, the hungry, the barren, the poor, the low and the needy. But today, the blood of the feeble runs in the streets of Paris. Our city is hungry. The poor and the low and the needy are not lifted up.
One day, Jesus would proclaim from a mount that these lowly would be blessed. In the Gospel according to Matthew he said in chapter 5:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But, today we do not feel comforted, though we mourn. We do not see the meek inheriting the earth. No, this week it is the terrorists who seem to inherit the crown of blessing.
Where o where is this mercy that is promised? Where o where can a peacemaker be known as a child of God? And when, O Lord will the righteousness for which we hunger be given? When will we be satisfied?
In 39 days we will gather by candlelight and sing of angels heard on high about a savior born away in a manger on some silent night. Our hearts will melt and tears will swell as the words from O Holy Night echo in our ears…
“Fall on your Knees! O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night
O night divine
Terrorists be damned, the gates of hell cannot stop the power of Christmas Eve candlelight service. God puts on flesh and moves to the neighborhood, first stop a manger in a cave out back, swaddled in strips of cloth.
Kneeling at the manger is easy. Kneeling in Bethlehem demands nothing more than to see God in a baby. So, by all means, let’s break out the Christmas carols and have our hearts warmed, wrapped up in swaddling clothes and sipping on eggnog.
Anybody can see God in a baby. It demands little of us other than to hope in the future. It’s the thing babies do best.
We will sing of the Prince of Peace, a promise in which we hope, but not too much, and not too loudly, because at the end of the day, our hearts demand blood.
I confess that my own heart cries to unsheathe the sword, to cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.
How can such terror be permitted? How can we allow the innocent shot out of the sky and gunned down in the streets? If this cause to protect those in the path of ISIS is not just, then could a war ever be just?
But then there is Jesus. Like he did with Peter upon his arrest he commands us to put away our sword. And, it leaves me speechless.
Kneeling in Bethlehem is easy. Kneeling in Jerusalem is much, much harder. Being faithful to Christ’s command all the way to Golgatha…well, it seems we have always left him there, alone.
My heart grows cold and demands revenge.And somewhere outside the cock crows. I have denied him again.
The Christ who comforted me in the worst of times, the Christ who called me to proclaim the Good News, the Christ who goes to the cross for me…and for you.
The cock has crowed, and I hide in shame, because yet again I cannot go to Golgotha. I cannot stop my own hatred for those who bring terror. My heart is not ready to love my enemy and to pray for them.
How about you? Can you lift ISIS in prayer alongside those who were slain?
This Jesus we sometimes think is easy to follow…demands so much from us. He says “take up your cross and follow me.” I don’t know about you but I get pretty cocky about my willingness to do so. Do you know where that guy is headed? Do you know what they do to him there?
And then when something like this happens, Christ’s words ring in our ears as he calls his disciples to be witnesses to the Kingdom of God; and we struggle to remember the sort of word we are supposed to proclaim and the sort of song we are supposed to sing.
And there, right there stands Hannah. Hannah who proclaims God’s healing in her own life brings us truth. Hannah brings us hope. Hannah inspires you and me…and even the mother of the Christ.
Hear her song…
God lifts up the needy from the ash heap
and makes them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
Oh, God, please let it be so. With advent on the horizon we need your Good News and we wait for it with baited breath.
We desire a savior.
We desire a healer.
We need a messiah.
We desire the one who brings peace.
Oh, God, our fidelity to your word and your commandments are weak, but you are strong.
Lord have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Paris was not the only place where life was lost last week. Here is a prayer written by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to consider as we remember all of the tragedies…
CALL TO PRAYER AFTER TERROR ATTACKS in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad
November 13, 2015
God of mercy, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance,
in the midst of unfolding violence and the aftermath of terror and loss,
we seek the grounding power of your love and compassion.
In these days of fearful danger and division, we need to believe somehow that your kindom of peace in which all nations and tribes and languages dwell together in peace is still a possibility.
Give us hope and courage that we may not yield our humanity to fear.., even in these endless days of dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death.We pray for neighbors in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad, who, in the midst of the grace of ordinary life–while at work, or at play, have been violently assaulted, their lives cut off without mercy.
We are hostages of fear, caught in an escalating cycle of violence whose end can not be seen.
We open our hearts in anger, sorrow and hope: that those who have been spared as well as those whose lives are changed forever may find solace, sustenance, and strength in the days of recovery and reflection that come. We give thanks for strangers who comfort the wounded and who welcome stranded strangers,for first responders who run toward the sound of gunfire and into the smoke and fire of bombing sites.
Once again, Holy One, we cry, how long, O Lord? We seek forgiveness for the ways in which we have tolerated enmity and endured cultures of violence with weary resignation. We grieve the continued erosion of the fabric of our common life, the reality of fear that warps the common good. We pray in grief, remembering the lives that have been lost and maimed, in body or spirit.
We ask for sustaining courage for those who are suffering; wisdom and diligence among global and national agencies and individuals assessing threat and directing relief efforts; and for our anger and sorrow to unite in service to the establishment of a reign of peace, where the lion and the lamb may dwell together, and terror will not hold sway over our common life.
In these days of shock and sorrow, open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to the movements of your Spirit, who flows in us like the river whose streams makes glad the city of God, and the hearts of all who dwell in it, and in You.
In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.
Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Laurie Ann Kraus
Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance