Summary: A Mother’s day sermon on the faithfullness of Hannah.
Have you ever had one thing that you really wanted to do in your life that seemed to be just out of your reach? Have you had one thing you really wanted to achieve only to watch the time for doing it sail on buy with no results? Have you ever found a major goal you had for yourself was just not happening?
If you did then you know how Hannah, the wife of Elkanah felt. So lets open our Bibles to chapter one of 1 Samuel and see what we can learn from her story.
In verse 2 we read: Elkanah had two wives, the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
There it is, in black and white: Elkanah and Peninnah had children, but Elkanah and Hannah had no children. Of the three people involved in the marriage relationship of this family, Hannah was the only one who had no children. And in a time and culture where a woman’s main role was to produce children, particularly male children, to be without children was a major failure. Hannah had no children, and the fact that Elkanah and Peninnah did have children only made it clearer that it was Hannah who was barren. All Hannah wanted in life was to be a mother, and that it appeared was denied her.
Now generally speaking, I pride myself on being a reasonably sensitive person and I usually know when someone is hurting. So I was surprised to find that someone I worked with once, who had convinced me that she and her husband didn’t want children, was pregnant with twins conceived using IVF technologies. What surprised me most about it was how well she had hidden her real desire to have children. It made me realize how deep and personal was the sadness of being unable to bear children – so hard to admit to that it was easier to pretend to yourself and others that you were childless by choice. For those of us who, like Elkanah and Peninnah, have had children it is a grief we can only imagine.
But Hannah was not the only one who was barren. When we are introduced to Hannah, Israel is at the end of the period in which God had raised up a series of national leaders, called Judges, to rule his people, and, as the end of the book of Judges tells us: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Not only had the people become corrupted by the nations around them but the priesthood had also. The temple at Shiloh was served by the priest Eli and his sons, and the bible describes his sons as wicked men who had no regard for the Lord. They treated both the offering of the people and the people themselves with contempt. When it came to spiritual insight and spiritual leadership, Israel was barren, and “in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”
At this point it would be easy to sit back in judgment and comfort thinking that was then and things are different now, but are they really? Just recently I was reading a description of the prevailing beliefs of our current western society. For example: Faith says the post-modern person, comes in a variety of different wrappings but inside each is the same gift. So everyone should be free to enjoy his or her own expression of the same cosmic truth. God is a god of variety not uniformity so faith need not require that there be a single way to God. Just as the boundaries between faiths are no longer there, so it is with the boundaries between other things. Now something that is really good is called ‘wicked’ and those that wage war can be called ‘peacemakers’. Words too in the post-modern world have no objective meaning but are interpreted by the circumstances, beliefs and feelings of the person using them: everything is relative and no absolutes, either internal or external, exist. The morality of any decision, then, may vary in view of the individual or situation, and is secondary to what will actually work. Consequently in the post-modern world in which we live, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are categories with no universal meaning, and everyone ‘does what is right in his or her own eyes’. Tolerance of all life-style choices and all faiths is the catch-cry, the mantra of our age. Like Israel in the time of Hannah, our society is no longer listening to God, and we wonder why we do not hear his voice! So maybe there is something here in this story not just for us personally but for our society as well.