Today’s text is from 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10.
This reading from Samuel can be broken down into two different parts and I’d like to do that today – to focus on Hannah’s pain in the first section and to focus on her joy in the second section.
To get to the hidden pain that Hannah is experiencing I would like us to put on our history hats today. I wasn’t here last weekend because I was visiting Boston. Now I’ve never been to New England before and I was excited to see what history the city had in store.
There’s something fascinating and eerie about standing in the midst of locations that have hundreds of years of memories. There’s something strange about standing in a cemetery staring at headstones that have dates from the 1700s written on them. There’s something strange about standing on the exact spot that the Boston massacre took place. There’s something odd about being in the church that helped signal the start of the Revolutionary War.
It’s odd because now these locations are surrounded by a bustling city. These historic spots are now buried within the city itself. A city and a people that are so far removed from the events that no one is able to remember the pain of the events that took place at these locations.
The pain, suffering, and death that once happened in some of those spots is lost and hidden away in the past. They’re stored away, never to be seen again. And if we can agree that it’s difficult to see this history on the crowded intersection where people walk absentmindedly over where the Boston massacre took place – where there’s a giant stone medallion marker on the ground pointing out what took place on that spot – then imagine what people are like.
People, unfortunately, don’t have these giant medallions or markers on them that point to the history they have gone through. The people around us don’t have plaques that remind us what they’ve gone through in their lives and that they’ve fought their own battles and perhaps are in the midst of fighting one right now.
Often we’re like the city and people that have slowly overtaken these moments of pain. Often it’s simply easier to pretend that everything is fine in our lives, but especially that everything is fine in the lives of the people and world around us.
We’re told that Hannah is in pain this morning. We’re told that in her deep anguish and bitter weeping she prays to God. She prayers for the pain to go away.
Her pain stems from that fact that she hasn’t been able to have any children. Now a helpful piece of our reading is missing today from the verses just prior to the start of the text – and I’m going to warn you now, if you’re against polygamous marriage then turn away for a moment – because Hannah is upset that her husband’s other wife has been able to have a lot of children.
But this is more than simply a rivalry between who can have the most children. Hannah has none and would just like one. Now, it’s pretty easy to read stories in the Bible and come to the understanding that having children is a blessing – we heard this about Abram and how he was going to be blessed with descendants as numerous as the stars.
And for people who have lots of kids nowadays they’ll often say that they have been blessed by God. Now, this troubles me, and apparently Hannah as well, for a couple reasons: First, claiming children are a blessing from God is a very specific theological claim; and second, if having children is a blessing what does that mean for Hannah and for women everywhere who are simply unable to conceive? Or don’t want to conceive? Or were raped and forced to carry this so-called blessing?
See, Hannah is in deep anguish and pain because, for her, infertility is often seen theological as a curse. And it’s a pain and burden that is hidden away in Hannah. See, it’s not obvious that there’s this history with her.
Sure, people probably ask her why she’s not pregnant yet. Sure, people probably joke with her that “she’s gotta start having kids soon before she gets too old”. People probably recognize that there’s supposed to be this blessing there because theologically and culturally we’ve been trained to assume that women have kids and if they don’t then something’s wrong with the woman.
I always love when stories of women appear in the Bible because they’re few and far between. Women in the Bible aren’t held in very high regard. Their place in society is near the bottom – they basically don’t exist. Case in point: The feeding of the 5,000 is 5,000 men. And you’d think that after all these centuries and millennia since Hannah lived something would’ve changed. And certainly some things have changed for women. But then other things have stayed the same.
And this is where Hannah’s joy is made. Because while Hannah’s society doesn’t value her, God does. While women today as often still treated and talked about like sexual objects with no value, for God there is infinite value to be seen.
God steps in and flips the script and tells Hannah that she is worth everything to God. God steps in and does what God always does – reverses the status quo. God steps in and lifts up the lowly and crushes the rulers. God steps in and takes nothing and makes it everything and takes those with everything and makes them nothing.
By this point this shouldn’t be all too surprising. We see it with Hannah here in the Old Testament and we’ll see it in two months with Mary in the New Testament. We’ll see it with Jesus walking this earth and doing things that didn’t make sense like eating with sinners, healing on the Sabbath, bringing the dead back to life, providing forgiveness where there was once judgment.
Because when Jesus and God look upon you – when they look upon the world – they see the markers of the past pain, suffering, and agony you have gone through. This hidden pain and suffering that Hannah was experiencing was not hidden to God. God was with her in the midst of that fear and terror. She who was once lowly has been lifted from the dust.
For Hannah there was a happy ending. In this lifetime she was lifted from the pit and received the answer to her prayers. But not all of us are as lucky. This life changing reversal that Hannah experienced through prayer isn’t really a formula that we can simply repeat and then expect to have the same results.
Sometimes we don’t see this reversal until we’ve left this earth. Sometimes the pain and suffering we see in this world just won’t go away. No matter how hard we pray, or how faithful we are, sometimes the answers just never appear.
At least, sometimes they never appear in this lifetime. But as we’ve seen from God from creation through Abram – we worship a God of promises and covenants. We worship a God who has given us the amazing gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the character of God.
That God is a God who reverses the script. God turns the world on its head. God takes systems of power and oppression and crushes them. God takes what was outcast and left for dead and provides abundant life.
This is that promise to you. And it’s a promise for the world. Our challenge this morning is to live our lives seeing the markers, medallions, and sign posts in the lives of our brothers and sisters that are often hidden from view. Our call is to move out into the world to see the hidden pain and suffering that exists all around us and to give away the blessings and promises we have already received from God.
For then, like Hannah, we can sing praise to God. For in Jesus Christ you have been lifted up to new life and through Jesus Christ you have the same power to lift our brothers and sisters in this world to a life that is filled with the joy and peace and grace of a God who changes everything.