More Is Possible – Gratitude Sunday 11-15-15

1 Samuel 1:4-20 When the time came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions to Peninnah and her children, and a double portion to Hannah, for he loved Hannah, even though YHWH made her childless. And because YHWH closed her womb, her rival constantly taunted her.  As a result, she grew gravely depressed. This went on for years.  Every year they made the pilgrimage to YHWH’s Tent of Meeting, her rival taunted her to tears and she refused to eat. Elkanah, her husband would ask, “Hannah, why do you cry, and why do you refuse to eat?  To grieve?  Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Hannah rose after one such meal at Shiloh, and presented herself to God.  At the time, the priest Eli was sitting on a chair by the door of YHWH’s Tent of Meeting. Hannah, deeply distressed, wept greatly, vowing, “YHWH Omnipotent, look with pity on your handmaid.  Don’t forsake me.  Remember me.  If you will give me a child, a male, I will dedicate him to you.  For all the days of his life, he will neither drink wine nor liquor, and no razor will ever touch its head.” As she kept praying to YHWH, Eli noticed her lips. Hannah was praying silently—her lips moved but they made no sound.  seeing this, Eli decided she was drunk,’ and said to her, “How long will you continue remain in this drunken state?  Sober up!” Hannah replied, “Oh no!  It isn’t that!  I‘m a woman with a broken heart!  I have drunk neither wine nor liquor..  But I have been pouring out my heart before YHWH. Don’t judge me as a terrible person.  I am simply pouring out my feelings of grief and misery.” Eli said, “Go in peace.  And may the God of Israel grant you your wish.” Hannah replied, “You are most kind.”  Then she left. Early the next morning they arose early and worshiped before YHWH and then returned to Ramah, their home. When Elkanah made love to Hannah, YHWH remembered her. She conceived, and gave birth to a son.  She named him Samuel, for she had asked for him.

Last Sunday we talked about Ruth, a woman whose loving kindness extended family ties  to her mother-in-law in a desperate time. Today, we read about Hannah, another remarkable woman in Hebrew scripture, who teaches us about God’s ability to make a way out of no way when times are really tough. First, listen for the word of God from Hebrews, enjoining us to hold firm in the hope we profess.

Hebrews 10:19-25 Therefore, sisters and brothers, since the blood of Jesus makes us confident to enter the holy place by the new and living path opened for us through the veil—that is to say, the body of Jesus— and since we have the supreme high priest presiding over the house of God, let us enter it filled with faith and with sincerity in our hearts, our hearts sprinkled and cleared from any trace of bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us keep firm in the hope we profess, because the One who made the promise is faithful. Let us always think how we can stimulate each other to love and good works. Don’t stay away from the meetings of the community, as some do, but encourage one another; and do this all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

November 15, 2015

More Is Possible – Gratitude Sunday

One of the hardest years of my life was the year before I decided to go to seminary. I don’t really want to tell you about it… But I’ll give you some highlights – or lowlights. I had been working as a community organizer for several years in Kensington and North Philadelphia. I had worked myself up to director of an organization that I admired a lot, and I was really proud of myself.

But I was way out of my depth and I made some mistakes that included -unintentionally – disrespecting the managing director of Philadelphia, Wilson Goode, while he was running for mayor. Meanwhile I had a girlfriend who wanted to get married, who called me from the hospital to tell me she was having a miscarriage. I was a royal mess! I couldn’t even begin to sort it all out.

I don’t tell you this as some kind of therapy, but just because I’ve been thinking about gratitude this week and wondering if you can be grateful for times like that in your life – times when things go really wrong. I couldn’t feel grateful for it at the time, but that royal mess kind of chased me into seminary, which were some of the best years of my life and led to a really enjoyable career as a pastor.

God can make wonderful things happen out of the worst occurrences of our lives. That might not make us completely grateful for those difficult experiences – I still have trouble going that far – but I sure am grateful to God for making a way out of no way in my life.

 

God did that for Hannah too, in the story we heard this morning from I Samuel. Hannah was married to a guy named Elkanah, who had a second wife named Peninnah. Hannah did not have any children, which was her most important obligation to her husband in that time. And Peninnah taunted Hannah about her barrenness because Elkanah still loved her and treated her well.

Now this story reminds me of us – even though I don’t know anybody here who has two wives. Still it reminds me of us because we have messy lives. We don’t want to admit it – and maybe that’s why I don’t know about any of the two wives situations, but most of us go through pretty messy times. So we might want to pay attention to what happens next.

Hannah goes to the temple to pray and she was in the Temple crying her eyes out and talking to God because Peninnah was always being nasty toward her and she couldn’t have any children and she just felt horrible.

And Eli the priest, seeing her lips moving and noticing her distress, puts on his most sensitive priestly manner goes over to her and says, “What are you doing in my temple, you old drunk?” When Hannah tells him her story though, he blesses her and promises her that God will be good to her, and Hannah is actually grateful to him.

And then when she conceives and has a son – Samuel, who becomes a great prophet in Israel – she is more than grateful. She is overjoying and proclaims the song which becomes the basis for Mary’s Magnificat when she becomes mother of the Messiah.

She might not want to go back to that time of heartache and trouble, but she is grateful to God for bringing her through it and turning her life around.

 

I worked for a while with a wonderful man by the name of Lawrence Taylor who was living with the AIDS virus. And he was actually grateful to God. He said, “I wouldn’t trade these years of my life with AIDS for anything because it turned my life around and helped me find God’s love.”

I’m saying that we might not be able to go that far and be thankful for cancer or thankful for addiction, or thankful for a car accident. I have trouble being grateful for the ache in my hip or the struggles in my life in the present.

But when we read about Hannah, we might want to notice that God can make fertility come out of the barren times in our lives as well. In fact, God can make a way out of no way. God can make fertility come out of any barrenness and any barren times.

God can make good things come out of depression. Some people say, in fact, that gratitude is one of the best ways God has to help people work their way out of depression.

God can make good things come out of needy, dramatic, pushy people – who make us act on our faith when we are inclined to be stingy. God can make good things come out of empty pews and a crisis in church attendance.

God can make good things come out of global climate change or the struggles with immigration and inequity that led to the shootings in Paris this week. God can ease our fears and our terror & move us to care for the immigrants who are fleeing from the Isis terrorists rather than treat them like they are the terrorists.

God can make fertility come out of any barrenness or struggle. In fact, God can make good things come out of death itself. God in Christ brings hope and new life out of every death.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn   399      Take My Life, and Let It Be

And that’s only part of why we offer our lives to God – not just the gifts of our wallet, but gift of our whole lives. That’s why today, we offer our pledge of faithful giving to God in 2016 – because God makes a way out of no way, because God will make things grow – even in the most barren parts of our lives and our world.