Sunday, May 11, 2008

If Hannah Were Here - Mother's Day 2008

*Note* This was a draft of the sermon I presented for Mother's Day at New Hope. Because I changed direction in the last two days before Sunday, I had to compress a week's work into a shorter period of time. Writing out my thoughts in a manuscript helps in that. So while there are many elements of what eventually came to be the sermon for Sunday, there were also areas where it did not synch with this. -end note

If Hannah Was Here

It was February, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky, as a mail carrier was making his way through the small group of people always centered on the watering hole. "What's happening around here?" "Oh, nothing ever happens around here." "Oh, there is some talk of a national bank." "Some people said that there is trouble brewing between the United States and Britain." "Mister, nothing ever happens around here." "We did hear some news about Nancy Hanks and Tom Lincoln having a little boy last night. But nothing ever happens around here."

You never know, do you, what the children God grants you will turn out to be. In Mary Todd Lincoln’s case, little Abe grew up to be the man who saved a nation. The more I read about old honest Abe, the more amazed I grow at just how perfected he was fitted for the task he had. But there was no way that his mother knew what faced him.

You should know that I was not planning on a Mother’s day sermon. No, I was going to continue looking at those blind spots that prevent us from seeing how the world sees us. But in the last couple of days, as I’ve prayed about today and thought about why it is such a big deal for so many people, I really believe that God would have me share from His Word on this topic.

Turn with me to 1 Samuel Chapter 1.

When I looked for a text to use today, I had a lot of options. Mothers and Motherhood are spotlighted in the Scriptures again and again. And over and over again, the children of those Mothers went on to make an impact we still read about today. Now remember, in the culture of that time, children were critical for the survival of families and of nations. Having children was considered a sign in the Jewish culture of God’s blessing.

5 But he gave Hannah a special portion because he loved her very much, even though the LORD had given her no children. 6 But Peninnah made fun of Hannah because the LORD had closed her womb. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Hannah would finally be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

8 "What's the matter, Hannah?" Elkanah would ask. "Why aren't you eating? Why be so sad just because you have no children? You have me—isn't that better than having ten sons?" 1 Sam 1:5-8 (NLT)

So Hannah was clearly loved by her husband. That’s obvious from the way he went out of his way to honor her and how he was very attentive to not only her needs but her feelings. And how “male” is that last verse there? That could have been said by any of the guys here today. We always want to remind you women just what you’ve been blessed with, don’t we? “You’ve got me…”

But that wasn’t enough. Hannah wanted to be a Mother.

Now this is where I’m supposed to make some comments about how a woman can be perfectly fulfilled in life without getting married and without having children. And after the experiences I have had so far in seeing women overcome adversity, I am sure most can cope. But there’s a reason the Hollywood stars with everything culture has to offer suddenly put their lives on hold and have a baby- or two. God created men and women to complete each other and to continue His work of creation by having children.

As you and I read this today, instead of a culture where childbirth and motherhood is celebrated, we live in a country where 1/3 of babies conceived never make it to birth. Large families are thought of as somehow “not right.” Young men and women decide to favor a career or more stuff rather than sacrifice themselves and their ambitions and greed and bring another miracle into this world.

If Hannah were here today, the first thing she would tell you to do is:

“Turn Away From the Culture.”

Hannah endured ridicule for YEARS. She could have turned bitter. She could have blamed her husband. She could have blamed God. But if you’ll notice, she and her family kept going to worship God. In her culture, if a woman had no children it was assumed that there was a reason – that God had something against her. No, just as when Jesus was asked “who sinned, this man or his parents” when He was about to heal a blind man and Jesus went on to say, “this happened so that the power of God might be revealed through Him”… Hannah is struggling for a reason alright – and God had one - to get her to completely rely on God in a culture that was just phoning it in.

Friends, it’s not a coincidence that you are alive today. We who are followers of Jesus have a great opportunity to live out our faith in a culture that no longer embraces the values the Founders wrote into the Constitution. We are here to make a difference – to show the world what really matters – how to live for things that have eternal value, like the sanctity of human life.

Up on the screen is a picture of an operation that took place in 1999. Surgeons intervened within the womb of a woman to save the life of a baby. Other doctors had told the mother she would be better off terminating the pregnancy and killing the baby within her. But a team of surgeons believed they could save the baby’s life.

The picture is one of the most amazing ever taken in my opinion. If you look closely inside the yellow circle, you’ll see that a tiny hand of 21 week old Samuel Arias has grasped the finger of the surgeon working to save him. The surgeon said that that moment would be burned in his mind for eternity. He prayed a silent prayer that God would grant him success. The operation ended, the womb was stitched up, and little Samuel was carried to term. Here he is six years later meeting the photographer who took the picture.

Our cultural value is for the quick fix, the easy way, whatever makes sense. Hannah should have just shut up and blamed God, or lashed out and become bitter. She did neither. She turned away from that culture. We need to turn away from ours and toward God.

Go back to the passage again with me.

9 Once when they were at Shiloh, Hannah went over to the Tabernacle after supper to pray to the LORD. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance. 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made this vow: "O LORD Almighty, if you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the LORD, his hair will never be cut." 12 As she was praying to the LORD, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 "Must you come here drunk?" he demanded. "Throw away your wine!"
15 "Oh no, sir!" she replied, "I'm not drunk! But I am very sad, and I was pouring out my heart to the LORD. 16 Please don't think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow."
17 "In that case," Eli said, "cheer up! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him."
18 "Oh, thank you, sir!" she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad. 1 Sam 1:9-18 (NLT)
If Hannah was here today, she would tell all of us to not just turn from the culture, but turn TO God.
Hannah kept going to the Tabernacle, kept drawing near to God. Unlike so many of us – men and women, instead of withdrawing into self pity and wondering whether God is even there, she prays one of the boldest prayers in the OT.

She is in essence asking God to glorify His name through her.

Look at what she says. "O LORD Almighty, if you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the LORD, his hair will never be cut." 1 Sam 1:11 (NLT)

She says to God, if you honor my request to be a mother, to join with you in creating life and bringing it into this world, I will honor you by returning to you what you have given to me.

She’s not just praying for her needs and desires to be met here. Now we’ve already seen that she has paid a price for years and has agonized over not having children, so it would be certainly understandable if she begged God for a child. But I get the sense from the text here that Hannah had been praying that sort of selfish prayer for a long time.

On this day, Hannah was broken and open before the Lord. Hannah had turned everything over to God.

This was no demand she made, and it certainly wasn’t the desperate cries she had made many times before. No, this time, on this day, Hannah called on God not just to meet her needs, but to generate through her the praise, glory, and honor due His Name. We’d call that publicity today, wouldn’t we?

Hannah vows to give her son back to God and to do everything in her power to present him as a true man, holy and set apart for God’s service. How would people know that had happened? Well certainly people would notice if Hannah was to become pregnant. Word gets around. And they would know her son by how he kept his hair uncut as a sign that he was a young man dedicated to God’s purposes.

It didn’t take long for someone to notice Hannah, did it? Eli was in his customary place that day at the Tabernacle entrance. No doubt he had seen thousands of people in prayer, and apparently had seen some who were less than holy. For his first thoughts upon seeing Hannah was that she was drunk. But Hannah poured out her story, and Eli rewarded her with what must have seemed like water on dry and thirsty ground to her.

17 "In that case," Eli said, "cheer up! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him."
18 "Oh, thank you, sir!" she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad. 1 Sam 1:17-18 (NLT)

It’s especially critical that you see Hannah’s reaction here. Remember, she was wailing and crying bitterly before. But now, she is trusting in God.

Listen very carefully my friends. "You can do everything else right as a parent, but if you don’t begin with loving God, you are going to fail."

It’s not enough to turn away from the culture, or to acknowledge God. You have to turn your life over to Him.

If Hannah was here today, she’d tell you to turn your life, and the lives of your children over to God.

I’m here today, doing what I’m doing right now, because God used my mother and her mother to steer me this way. It was my mother who read me Bible stories - the scriptures. It was my mother who taught me how to pray. And my mother who made sure I made it my practice too. It was my mother who enrolled me in Sunday School as a baby - they called it the cradle roll back then.

All through my life, she consistently applied both the gospel and at times the flat palm of her hand to my life, each where they would do the most good. I am thankful for what God did in my life through my Mother.

But I want to be clear on this, friends. The culture has told us this is Mother’s day, and we’re reading a passage that spotlights a mother’s faith, but not a single person in here has a pass on what Hannah’s example would show us – what God expects of us ALL. Had my Father been a Christian, it would have been his responsibility to be the spiritual leader of the household – to make sure His boys were placed in a routine of exposure to worship, instruction, and godly fellowship through the church to have the opportunity to come to know Jesus as savior. But he wasn’t a believer until after I was grown up, married, and on my own. So my Mother stepped up and made it happen.

What do you think it said to Hannah’s husband that the child she had pleaded for, endured ridicule in all those years of barrenness, when he came – was given away to the Lord? Remember, sons were a prize in a man’s life. We’ve already seen how much this husband loved Hannah. Is there any doubt that he would have loved this little one fiercely? But in those months after Hannah realized God had blessed her vow, they had plenty of time for Hannah to explain how she had given God sovereignty over her entire life – whatever happened. And how she would honor Him by giving Him back what He had given her. Elkanah knew it was still going to be hard, “may the Lord help you keep your promise.”

And she did keep it.

24 When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull for the sacrifice and half a bushel of flour and some wine. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they took the child to Eli. 26 "Sir, do you remember me?" Hannah asked. "I am the woman who stood here several years ago praying to the LORD. 27 I asked the LORD to give me this child, and he has given me my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the LORD, and he will belong to the LORD his whole life." And they worshiped the LORD there. 1 Sam 1:24-28 (NLT)

Here’s something I noticed upon rereading this story again – and thinking about the way that we so often live compared to how Hannah did. How many times have we asked for and received something from God that we really wanted. Then after receiving it, we held onto it so tight making it our very own, afraid even that God just might take it back.

When, in fact, the best thing we can do is to dedicate everything that He has given to us--give it right back to Him for service--our spouses, our children, our ministry, our homes, even our cars so that we can use them for His glory!

In doing that everything that we hold so dear is in the most capable Hands and taken care of better than we ever could. Hannah probably never even 'worried' about Samuel once she left him in God's wonderful care, where he was learning to serve Him. Her prayer seems to indicate a deep faith in God. Hers is the only prayer of a woman recorded in Scripture, and yet Rabbis use it as a model for how everyone should learn Jewish prayer.

Hannah’s prayer shows the depth of her faith in God as her advocate, her “Rock.” And down through the years, as Samuel grows up, she stays attached in his life. Her son became one of the most important men in the history of Israel. He was used by God to help the people of Israel transition from tribes of people to a monarchy. He was the most effective of the judges, anointed Israel’s first two kings, and is listed in the Hall of Fame in Hebrews chapter 11.

I’d say what Hannah gave back to God proved to be for His glory. Once she turned both the control and the destination of her life and the life of her child over to God, he used that act of faith in a mighty way. She had no way of knowing just how much her son would do for God.

A few years ago, wildfires struck the beautiful countryside of Greece. Fires like that hadn’t happened in hundreds of years. Several towns were overrun by the flames before they could be evacuated. One tragic event involved a Greek mother whose town was threatened by wild fires. She got her kids together and tried to flee. They were found to have perished together, with her arms around them. Her home was untouched by the flames. She made a decision. There's absolutely no way she could have known for sure that her house would have been spared. What she did, even to the last, she did out of love.

She meant well, she just didn't know. I’m rolling to a stop here, but I want to review what Hannah’s example is telling us. If Hannah was here, she'd tell all of us...

Turn FROM the culture. Don’t allow it to shape your worldview. Value what God values and teach your children to as well.

Turn TO God as your Rock, your Strength. We are so prone to rely on ourselves and our abilities - so prone to trust in ourselves. The Bible tells us that we all are deeply flawed and stained by sin. That there are none righteous, not even one. That we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.

It’s the final principle that Hannah finally learned that made all the difference.

Turn OVER your life to God.

All of it. Your marriage. Your kids. Your job. Your possessions. Your relationships at work, in your family, with your neighbors. All of them – all of it.

Life is a dress rehearsal of sorts to see if we are ready to meet God. We're given everything we need to succeed at it. The very Spirit of God takes up residence in us and gives us all the strength, courage, and wisdom we need - if we will surrender our ordinary days to Jesus.

At the end of our lives, I don't believe we'll be looking back on how many hours we put into that project at work, or how well we did in middle school band, high school chorus, or any of those things that we're valuing over walking with Jesus now.

When we stand in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, saying "I meant well" just isn't going to work.

Turn it over, all of it, to God. Pick up His plan, His scheme and walk in it. Don't get distracted by those things that ultimately won't matter at all.

Don't just mean well.

Follow Jesus.

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