You can tell a lot about a person – or family- by what you find in their refrigerator. What they eat – or don’t eat – provides significant information about what they think is important to put in their bodies and how they take care of themselves. Nutrition? Forget about it! But more important than the inside of the fridge, is what’s on the outside of the fridge.
On the outside of the fridge, you can see what people really value – what they love, what they want in life, some of their favorite memories of the best moments of their lives. But the thing is, most people have pictures of the people in their lives, especially children, all over their fridge.
In our Scripture today from Samuel I, Hannah has no pictures on her fridge. When she walks into the kitchen, I imagine there’s a Hannah fridge – and a Peninnah family fridge. Imagine Hannah’s frustration, her intense sadness. She can’t see her dream come true- but more than that, in the days of Hannah – she couldn’t fulfill her main job as a wife. She couldn’t extend the family line, or be part of the familial structure.
And it says that she’s taunted by Peninah, because the LORD had closed her womb.
So Hannah is frustrated. Hannah is sad. But it says that God has caused her to be in anguish, year after year, because she couldn’t have a child. It’s not that she biologically couldn’t but the author of Samuel understands that God caused this.
I have to admit: I find this incredibly disturbing. It troubles me that God would put this woman through this – but then again, I realize how this story ends so I know there has to be a point.
So Hannah shows up at the temple for the annual visit, and she’s praying. She’s in deep anguish. She longs to be made whole, to be given the challenge and responsibility of raising a child. It’s her dream, it’s her hope. And she knows in her heart of hearts that God is the one who can make this happen.
So, in her tears, she prays – bitterly – it says, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
Think about that for a minute. First, Hannah prays that God would see her misery and remember her, focus on her, make her a point of God’s holy authority. Second, she prays that God would give her a son – she is specific in the prayer she prays. And third, she promises to give her unborn son – a potentially claimed answer to prayer before it’s been answered – back to God.
My second favorite part of this story is that Eli thinks she’s drunk. Eli, the priest who turned out to be from a family of drunks, looks at Hannah who is praying fervently, and accuses her of drink. Her powerful, passionate, ridiculously bold prayer is so stupendous that the priest – who is supposed to be leading the people in worship of God – can’t wrap his mind around it. He defaults to thinking she’s drinking.
Sidebar: what is the prayer of your heart that is so dangerously powerful, so wildly crazy, so amazingly … out of the box … that people might think you drunk or out of your mind to be praying it? What would happen if you prayed that prayer with all you’ve got? What would it change about you? About your situation? About your faith and the faith of the people around you?
That’s the kind of prayer Hannah prayed. Hannah goes big with her response to the priest. “I’m not drinking wine or beer! I’m praying to God. I’m keeping it real.” And Eli, you can almost hear him stammering, responds, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
The next morning, Hannah returns home with her husband Elkanah – and they consummate their wedding again – and God remembers her. Hannah gets pregnant, and names her son Samuel, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
Now, I’ll get to Samuel in a minute. But let’s be clear about something – while it says that God remembered her – I don’t believe that God ever forgets anyone. God didn’t forget Hannah – but God did cause her to not get pregnant. There’s no getting past that. Instead, it seems in the radical struggle that is our love and faith in God, that God uses our trouble to draw us closer to God. We can see that when Hannah’s heart was opened to the deep moving of God, where she was seeking God with her whole heart – that God moved in Hannah’s life in a mighty way.
Friends, I don’t believe that God forgets any of us. In Luke 12:7, Jesus says, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” In I Samuel 16:7, God says, “”Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God doesn’t forget any of us because we’re on God’s fridge.
Your picture is on God’s fridge. Each and every one of us has a valued space in the memory of God – we are each valued as the child of God.
And here on Children’s Sabbath, we recognize the beauty of God’s dynamic relationship with Hannah, where her dream for a child resulted in her drawing closer to God. God drew Hannah closer to God. And Hannah gave her dream up to God. And the result is Samuel – the prophet who would hear God call him to a life of service as a child, and who would go on to appoint King David as the next king when David was merely a child.
All of this from one woman’s brokenhearted, absolutely raw, powerful crying out to God. God’s infinite plan for the world which will result in King David, and carry on down the line to Jesus – all starts with the cry of Hannah’s heart, with the desire for a child, with the ‘remembering of God’ for one of his children, Hannah, and the creation of another child, Samuel.
Who Hannah gave back to God.
This leads me to another point – where we have a collision of Children’s Sabbath and our Stewardship Sunday. I’ll admit it: I wasn’t sure how those two things were going to come together. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the celebration of life – of children – of families both biological and God made, with a Sunday dedicated to pledging.
And then it’s like the light went on, the elevator reached the top floor, the Spirit of God breathed into my reflections on I Samuel 1.
Hannah pledged Samuel back to God before Samuel was ever born.
Hannah recognized stewardship from the get-go; Hannah realized that Samuel wasn’t really hers to begin with, but that he was God’s even before he was born. Hannah was grasping onto a dream that would make her part of God’s holy work, and allow her desire to be a mother to be part of God’s mighty movement in the world.
As members of the United Methodist Church, we promise to participate in the life of the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Who better to remind us of that than Hannah who…
… prayed passionately for her Godgiven dream;
… presented herself at the Temple to worship God;
…gave her own child back to a life of Godly devotion;
…recognized her calling was to motherhood even if it involved sacrifice;
…and shared her faith with the priest who thought her drunk?
Friends, stewardship is about recognizing God’s gracious action in our past and the hope of what God will do in the future. That’s made perfectly tangible to us in the lives of our children.
As we gather together, we celebrate the life and beauty of children; we celebrate the way that they lift our spirits, that they remind us of the hope we once had and the hope that we can have again.
We celebrate the future for what it could be; we celebrate the power of God’s rolling, roaring kingdom in a world where Jesus himself said that the kingdom of God was like that faith of children.
And we celebrate that like Hannah, we can choose to be part of the kingdom, part of the movement, part of the renovation, redemption, revolution, and revival that God is working in the world.
And yes, we can do that here at Wesley Church. We can do it through our tithing back our money back to God – which is given to us in the first place. We can do it through giving our time, our service, and our work back to God – which is given to us by the life God gave us in the first place. We can do it through our prayers, lifting each other – and these children, our next generation, up in passionate, powerful cry to God.
Friends, these children are our future. They are the church of today and of tomorrow. We are called to love them – and care for them – because they are God’s gifts to us.
I pray today that you would recognize what God has given you – and that you will give it back.
I pray that you will recognize that God loves you – and that you will love God back.
I pray that you will recognize that God wants better for you than you could ever imagine – and that this will drive you to see your true potential.
It all starts with a prayer. With a heartfelt desire to be used by God, and the humble recognition that all we have is God’s.
Let’s help God “remember.” Amen.