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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, October 31, 2008

2008-11-02 Hannah's Song

2008-11-02 Hannah's Song
1 Samuel 1, 2:1-10
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

This Stewardship Season, we're looking at songs of the Bible. Hannah's song, Mary's song, Zechariah's song, and the angels' song. This week is Hannah. There are a lot of songs in the Bible, a lot more than most people realize. A lot of the Bible reads like a Broadway musical. You know how in a musical, all the action and dialogue is just lead-up to the big number? Lots of the Bible is like that. The songs are the thing. And that tells us a lot about our faith. We're a singing faith. The people of God are singers. Always have been. Why? It just seems like singers are always a little closer to God than the rest of the population. That's why the choir's up in a loft. They're just that much closer to the Almighty.

When we first meet Hannah, she's low. She's singing the blues. She's
crying. She's weeping. Hannah's weeping because she feels like a
failure. Her husband's other wife was a breeder. Big time. She taunted Hannah for having no children. Made her life miserable.

If you were a woman back in Hannah's time, having children was your job.
Working outside the home meant having your baby while you were harvesting crops. Having MALE children was huge. If you were a woman and you didn't
produce male offspring (and isn't that such a sweet way of putting it?) -- if you were a woman and you didn't produce male offspring
for your husband, you failed.

When we first meet
Hannah, she's weeping. She's weeping because of the mean things her husband's other wife, the...
not-very-nice-woman... was saying to her. Her husband tried saying comforting things. He tells Hannah, "But you have me. Am I not worth more than ten children?" And then she really starts crying. Thanks a lot, Mr. Sensitivity.

Like so many women in the Bible, Hannah turns her blues into a prayer. She prays and prays and prays. She prays to God and says, "O Lord, if I can just have one child, I'll give him back to you. I promise." With the help of their priest, who apparently was an excellent marriage counselor, Hannah and her husband eventually do have a baby. She names him Samu-el, which means, "I  have asked him of the Lord."

For three years Hannah nurses the child - not uncommon in those days. For three years she cares for Samuel even as she's preparing him to be given away. After three years, she takes him by the hand up the mountain, and does the impossible. Hannah keeps her promise and gives the child up to become a member of the priestly order.

I would think that at this point, Hannah would be singing the blues more than ever. I'd expect her to be moaning the blues. But she doesn't. Her song has one stanza where she even mentions herself, and that's all. After one brief self-mention, Hannah launches into an anthem of praise where it's all about God and God alone. Mama's blues are just the opening chords of worldwide praise.

Hannah is an extreme example of stewardship. Her story's a large example so we can see what's involved. Hannah's song of stewardship has three verses: Wanting something very badly, getting what you want, and realizing what you've got wasn't ever yours to begin with. It's not the easiest song, but it's one that's sung and re-sung all throughout the Bible.


Are any of you big fans of the blues? I wouldn't expect so in a church so... pale. Until Yanni comes out with a blues album, most of us aren't going to have a lot of it in our collections. Anyone have The White Album? Figures. But from The Beatles to Elvis to Clapton to Sheryl Crow, all the great rock and rollers were birthed by the blues.

As close as I can figure, all blues songs are variations on about three themes. I ain't got no baby, I miss my baby, or my baby done me wrong. They're pretty much the same themes as pop music, and a lot of country music, too. Hannah was singing the I ain't got no baby blues.

Of course, it doesn't have to be so literal. We all understand what it means not to have what we want. It doesn't have to be offspring. It could be a fulfilling job. A golden retirement. Getting into the college you really had your heart set on. Hannah's blues can apply to anybody. Your baby might be any number of things you've had your heart set on that you believe if you could somehow get or achieve or give birth to, you'd be successful, you'd be a success.

And so the first verse of stewardship is realizing you don't have everything you want. The first verse is about unfulfilled yearning. And if you don't have this first step, you can't enjoy the second verse.


The second verse in Hannah's song is a total change of tune. Instead of the wallowing in the blues, she gets what she wants. She has her baby, Samuel. Now what's she singing? If she's like most mamas, she's singing lullabies. She's learning the Barney songs. She's buying Wiggles videos. Her songs are songs of fulfillment, songs of hope. No more blues. She's singing happy songs. "I love you, you love me. We're a happy fam-i-ly."

Do you ever feel guilty about having nice things? You work, you save until you can get what you want. And then there's always someone who says, "Well, when I was you age, I sure never had a... flat screen TV." That's because they were only invented five years ago. I'm pretty sure the church has had something to do with why we feel guilty about having good stuff. You know, Jesus never had a cell phone, with unlimited texting. WWJB, What Would Jesus Buy?

The Bible doesn't say a word about Hannah and Samuel's home life, but I'm guessing that after wanting this child so badly, her years with him were pretty happy. One of the gentle mercies of this story is that God doesn't yank the child out of her arms as soon as he's born. God lets Hannah set her own schedule in fulfilling her promise. God lets her enjoy the child she's waited so long to have. God shares. God can wait.

I think all of us know our life isn't permanent. I think we all know that God's going to be calling us home. Some of us have returned to God sooner than others. We can either live our lives with dread of what's coming, or we can enjoy every single day for what it is, a gift. We can appreciate what we have with gratitude because we've sung the blues verse and we know how good it is to have our empty hearts filled.

The second verse of stewardship is song of rich joy. Not a song of ha-ha-look-what-I-have-that-you-don't, like the other wife sung to Hannah for so many years. But a song of joy for whatever good things have come our way. A song of realizing how much value the good things have. Because if you don't have this verse, you can't sing the third one.


The third verse in Hannah's song is the hardest. It has to be. After praying and praying for a child, and then after having Samuel and caring for him for three brief but joyful years, Hannah fulfills her promise to God. She packs up young Samuel and trudges up the mountain to place where Eli the Priest lives. Can you imagine how long that walk must have been? Can you imagine Hannah's heart, her mother's heart, being broken in two? Walking up the hill to the place where she's going to give away the most precious thing she's ever known, her baby boy?

I can imagine Hannah singing the blues, like never before. I can imagine Hannah singing a children's song, wiping off the tears between each line. But it's at this heart-breaking, climactic moment that the Bible really, truly bursts into song. In the Bible, this is where Hannah really, truly finds her song.

And it goes,

"My heart rejoices in the LORD;
       in the LORD my strength is lifted high."

And it goes on,

He raises the poor from the dust
       and lifts the needy from the ashes;
       he seats them with princes
       and has them inherit a throne of honor.
       "For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's;
       upon them he has set the world.

 He will guard the feet of his saints,
       but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.
       "It is not by strength that one prevails;

Hannah's song in its fullness, in its third and concluding verse, is different. It's not the blues, and it's not about her joy, although that's where it picks up after verse two and starts. The third verse of stewardship isn't about sadness or about joy. The third verse of stewardship is about praise. Praise. Praise of God. Praise for all God has done. Praise for God doing what we can't. Praise for God lifting up the poor and weak and hurting. Praise for God silencing the proud in justice. The third verse of stewardship its about taking what's most valuable... and giving it away. Giving it away not because we're expecting something in return, but because we've yearned for it, we've enjoyed it while we could, and now we want that joy to grow. Now it's someone else's turn.

A few years ago, Sting had a song called, "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free." ("Free, free, set them free.") As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with Hannah, or Samuel, or the Bible for that matter. But it has everthing to do with this last verse of the Bible's stewardship musical. Setting something you love free isn't about turning your back on them, or pretending they never existed. It's about watching them toddle up that hill in front of you, knowing you've done everything you can, and now it's up to them. Setting free what you value is about taking what you've cultivated, and sharing it. Setting free those valuable things is about releasing your hopes, your labor, your good gifts, and letting them grow... in God's hands.

In the third verse, the one who has lifted us from the blues and shown us good now receives back what never was ours in the first place. The song of stewardship comes full circle as you take what you have and help someone who's yearning and singing the blues.