Mother’s Day 2016 (1 Samuel 1:1-20)

Hannah

I don’t know if you heard this, but last week a man in Haifa, Israel went to court in order to take out a restraining order against God.

According to the UK news organization, The Independent, David Shoshan of Haifa went to court because God, as he said, has been treating him “harshly and not nicely” for a period of time.

Mr. Shoshan did not go into detail.

However, he did apparently go into detail about how he has called the police to his home on at least ten different occasions to make a complaint about how God has treated him, only to be told by the police that they were powerless to help him and, finally, after squad car with sirens visit number ten, that if he thought God had some sort of grudge against him, he should go ahead and seek a restraining order, which is what he was there in court to do.

This is one of those stories where I feel like I just have so many questions. Right?

Well, to no avail, I’m afraid, because the case did not last long enough to get into any of that.

As far as the restraining order went, the judge did not agree…and he told him so-o-o-o. He called Shoshan “delusional” and threw the case out.

The punch line for much of the coverage, if you haven’t already guessed, is that, unfortunately, God could not be contacted for comment.

And while I don’t know for sure, I can’t help but think that this—God’s unavailability for comment—is probably not far from the root of Mr. Shoshan’s complaint, whatever the roots complaint actually actually be.

Think about it.

In those times when life is difficult, when it seems as if the power of the Universe is tilted against you, the lines can get murky.

Because God is, after all, well, God…it makes sense that we’re the ones who are supposed to be doing the changing. If the Universe seems particularly harsh and unyielding, surely the solution is to seek God’s instructions for how to get back on track.

But as we said, the lines get murky fast.

Because of course, God is not available for comment.

And because God is not available for comment, it can be incredibly hard to parse out.

Is it that God thinks we are somehow not doing our job?

What if we think we were? What if we were giving it everything we’ve got?

Because if we think we were doing our job, it doesn’t take long to wonder if actually, God is somehow not doing God’s job.

I can’t say I agree with that. But I understand the logic of it…or the temptation of that logic.

I wonder if that’s where Mr. Shoshan is coming from. That for some reason, God has decided to treat him like the supervisor from Hell.

Because if that’s what you think, it makes sense that the best thing for all concerned might be to take out a restraining order against God.

I get that.

II.

I think Hannah from this morning’s Scripture might be quick to say she gets it, too.

She doesn’t take out a restraining order against God, of course. Quite the opposite.

Her despair at thinking the Universe is tilted against her is what pushes her toward God.

If she went to court, instead of a restraining order, Hannah would be looking for a writ of habeas corpus for God.

But she knows what it’s like to be bewildered by what life, what fate, what God seem to have thrown at her.

And like Mr. Shoshan, Hannah wants answers, but answers turn out to be in short supply.

In addition, it turns out that empathy for her situation is in short supply, too.

Thus, whatever its source, in her deep, abiding ache to be a mother, Hannah discerns that only God can really get it.

Only God can understand where she is, emotionally and spiritually.

Hannah’s husband, Elkanah is sweet and loving and prosperous, a good enough man for the most part, but maybe, truth be told, a little clueless.

Elkanah sees his beloved wife in her distress and his instinct is to try to make it better, to say some sort of nice thing.

You know, there are a lot of us out there who just can’t handle it when a woman starts to cry. Elkanah is like that.

There they are on their annual trip to Shiloh, off to give thanks to God for all the good things with which they have been blessed, and there in the hotel dining room, one of the other wives can’t resist the opportunity…she can’t resist the opportunity to dandle her new baby on her knee, and let the toddler fish through her purse for crayons, while the boys are making the Tower of Babel out of the packets of Equal and Sweet and Low.

And maybe in a moment when Elkanah is otherwise occupied, maybe studying the menu, maybe over at the bar getting everyone’s drinks, the other wife looks over at Hannah, who is just barely holding it together, and the other wife catches her eye, and shoots her a long, cruel, knowing smile. She’s just one of those people who is like that.

So yes, we’re really talking about Hannah here, but for what it’s worth, poor Elkanah too.

When Hannah runs off from the dinner table there at the hotel in Shiloh, and he finds her back in their room, stretched across the bed sobbing, poor Elkanah can’t stand it.

And that’s when he says the stupid thing that he means to be nice.

Has anyone ever tried to say something nice and ended up making things worse?

Well, that’s Elkanah.

Because he sits on the edge of the bed, there in that hotel room with all the lights turned out and his wife just completely beside herself, and he says, “Hannah, why are you crying? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?

And I think it’s an important moment in this story because it’s at that moment that it just becomes so clear to Hannah that even the man who loves her most in the world doesn’t get it. He doesn’t see. Doesn’t understand.

Unfortunately, this turns out to be a theme.

In the next part of the story, she kind of pulls herself together, washes her face and goes alone to the Temple at Shiloh—a woman, alone—to pray.

And the priest of the Temple, Eli, sees her there all alone, and he sees her lips moving in prayer, and he assumes she must be drunk.

That is to say, he takes one look at her and assumes she must be some loose woman—that she’s there in God’s house, making a mockery of everything religion is supposed to stand for.

The point of that little detail is very simple: even the religious guy doesn’t get it.

Only God gets it.

But like Mr. Shoshan, our friend from the courtroom in Haifa, Hannah is desperately seeking a remedy for the ways in which life has been treating her “harshly and not nicely.”

And I bet when she Eli comes and tries to shoo her away, thinking she’s just some nasty hootchie-mama, Hannah is about ready to spit nails.

What she says is, “Not so my Lord. I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1 Sam 1:15-16).

And with this, something changes.

Maybe he’s another one who can’t stand to see a woman cry.

But in any case, the old priest of Shiloh, who is cynical and world-weary and surely not a credit to my profession, takes a second look.

This time, thankfully, Eli sees something in Hannah that moves him—her humanity, her heart, her soul—and he offers her a blessing.

All of sudden, it isn’t just God that gets it. Now he gets it too.

He answers her: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked.” And the story reports, “She went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast” (v. 17-18).

Something changes.

III.

Here’s why I think this story is important.

Because this story is talking about events that took place more than 1000 years before the birth of Jesus.

When this story happened, King David was still two generations from being born.

It’s an old story. But it’s not an unfamiliar story, by any means.

Because I’ll guarantee you, there’s not a woman in this room who doesn’t know what it is like to be treated as if she is invisible.

There’s not a woman in this room who doesn’t know what it’s like to live confined by somebody else’s story of who she is, and what she can offer, and what she should want, or have any right to expect swirling around her all the time.

There’s not a woman here who doesn’t know what it’s like to feel like nobody gets it, that nobody seems to care enough to try.

Even today, we know Hannah’s story all too well.

Now as it happens, Hannah doesn’t want anything radical for her life.

What she wants is to be a mom.

In fact, that was the expected path.

In wanting that path for herself, Hannah is not out there trying to blaze trails or crack glass ceilings or be a medical miracle or anything of the kind.

But in fighting for her chance to live an essentially conventional life, Hannah finds her voice.

She finds her voice before God and man.

And that proves to be transformational—not only for her, and for her family, but ultimately for the entire nation.

It turns out that her son, Samuel will play a significant part in Israel’s history.

But all that only happens, in a very real way, because Hannah decides that she has standing before God.

She decides that her heart has words that God needs to hear.

Most remarkably of all, she is brave enough to believe, brave enough to have faith that God is willing to hear those words, to receive her anguish.

She trusts somehow in her heart that God will not remain unavailable for comment.

That’s not anything that she would likely have been taught by the religion in which she was raised.

It’s not something she would have heard from the religion she expected to live out through all her days.

But nevertheless, she finds the courage to speak. And God hears her loud and clear.

So, the great power of her story is not simply that she does, in fact, become a mother—though of course, that is central to the story.

Rather, the key point is that the love and longing in Hannah’s heart are just too great for her to keep silent any longer.

She knocks at the door until God opens it.

IV.

That’s why I think it’s also important to remember her and honor her on Mother’s Day.

Because Hannah stands at the beginning of a long line of women, down through the ages—a long line of our foremothers in faith, who noticed people that other people did not see, who understood people that others did not bother to understand, and who stood up for a world where nobody has to live confined by someone else’s comfort zone.

She’s an early member of a long line of women who knew what that was like, but who refused to let the story just end there, and who changed the story for all of us.

That’s what this day is all about.

Mother’s Day calls us to remember the women who encountered a world that in so many ways, continues treat so many people harshly and not nicely, as Mr. Shoshan put it.

But in the face of so much harshness, rather than prompting us to seek a restraining order against the hand of God, it was the wisdom of Hannah, and the wisdom of our foremothers, that what we need to do is to find our voices.

What we need is an unrestraining order.

We need to claim the freedom of the Gospel. The freedom of life in the light of God.

We need to push back against the powers that be, in order to secure the good that must come.

The love and longing that are in our hearts must be trusted and must be spoken, even if at first, there is only God to hear it.

That is the wisdom of our foremothers. That is the wisdom of Hannah.

And it is the wisdom of a faith that moves mountains.

May we honor it and honor them not only today, but always.

 

Amen.

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