1 Samuel 1-2, 25th Sunday after Pentecost B, November 15, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
It has happened again. Terrorists have struck fear into the hearts of millions as they murdered at least 120 innocent lives in Paris. These extremists carefully chose locations where common citizens would be out enjoying the city. Those murdered were no threat to anyone.
Events like these can seem to be unfathomable. What could bring a group of people to chose to murder so many innocent lives? What could inspire someone to be willing to put on a suicide belt? What horrors must they have faced in their lives to create such horrors in other lives?
What happened in Paris is a great tragedy. It strikes a bit closer to home because those murdered looked like us. We may not have seen the names and faces of the dead, yet we know that those murdered were out socializing in Paris. So, many most likely were white and moderately wealthy. ISIS intentionally attacked a western nation and threatens more attacks to come.
The unsettling feeling that this makes in our gut is not dissimilar to what the Israelites experienced during the time of the judges, the time before our first lesson. After the Israelites settled in the Holy Land and before the monarchy was created, the people struggled to stay under control. The book of Judges tells of such atrocities like:
- Jael murdering Sisera by nailing a tent peg through his temple
- Jephthah killing his only daughter as a sacrifice for the Lord
- A group of men raping and murdering a concubine; then her master cuts her into twelve pieces and sends them across Israel.
After all of these terrible acts, often of violence against or involving women, we then hear the story of Hannah. She is living a comfortable life, happily married. Yet she is barren. Her greatest desire is to have a son. She wants this child not for her own protection or economic support. Instead, she desires a son because she is measured socially by her ability to bear children. Her marriage is not enough - she needs a child.
Hannah needs a child to bring her joy. She may be able to love her step children, but that is not the same as raising her own flesh and blood. Hannah saw how her husband and his other wife drew close as they watched their kids grow from babies to toddlers to children. Hannah wanted to have her own baby to suckle at her breast, her own child to smile at her, her own child to love her so deeply.
When the Lord finally heard her prayers and opened her womb, Hannah somehow knew that this child was destined to greatness. She dedicated her son at the house of the Lord at Shiloh. Her prayer is recorded in chapter two, what we read in place of the psalm. This beautiful poetry proclaims God’s mighty power to overturn the wealthy and lift up the lowly.
It may seem odd how one little baby can bring so much hope into the world. Can one child really make that much of a difference? Yes. I have seen this in my own family. The Scheibels are a pretty close family. What started as my grandparents, my dad, and his five siblings has grown through the generations to include about 45 aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins. We first cousins were each others’ best friends growing up. Even my mom, who divorced out of the family decades ago, continues to be included in all Scheibel events.
Then, in 2007, everything changed. Our happy family was struck with tragedy when my cousin J died suddenly. Just 30 years old and days before her wedding, a pulmonary embolism took her life. My family was devastated. J’s mother, my Aunt J, hasn’t truly smiled since then.
The Christmas after J passed away, we found out that my Uncle G had cancer. He passed away in 2009. If that wasn’t enough, about a year after that, J’s dad, my Uncle C, died suddenly, also from a pulmonary embolism. So, over the course of four years, three of my family members died tragically from natural causes.
Needless to say, family parties were a bit more somber after that. My family needed a reason to hope again. We needed to smile. We needed a child in our midst to bring us joy. In November 2011, my nephew L gave that to us.
With such a happy baby to pass around, we couldn’t help but smile. As he grew, we rejoiced with his progress. As he began to walk and talk, he brought joy into all our lives, even Aunt J. After grieving for her daughter and her husband, she still doesn’t smile much. But at least now she is not overwhelmed with grief when she sees us happy.
One baby can change family dynamics. One child can bring joy where there was only grief and despair. One little one can make a world of difference. Lukas brought some much needed healing to my family. Yet Hannah’s child did so much more.
Samuel grew up to be an important prophet. After the terrors of the judges, Samuel blessed the first kings of Israel, Saul and David. David would then bring peace to the people, a peace the likes of which they would never experience again. Samuel did not bring peace on his own, yet he pointed towards the peace that would come.
It is fitting that the song that Hannah sang when Samuel was born is very similar to the song that Mary sang when she was pregnant with Jesus. Both of these prayers rejoice in the new life found in babies. Both sing of God’s power to bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly. Both proclaim that God is in charge.
We need to hear Hannah’s song just as much as we need to hear Mary’s song. We need to hear that God will make all things right in the end. We need to hear that only God can judge terrorists just as only God can judge any of us. We need to hear of God’s mighty power. Because when terrorists have the ability to destroy anything or anyone, we desperately need to hear that God is in control.
When Hannah prayed her prayer, Samuel was still a young baby. She could not have known how Samuel would help to change the history of Israel. Even so, she hoped as she prayed. She trusted in the Lord.
When Mary sang her song, she had not yet given birth to Christ. She could not have fully understood how Jesus would change the world. She knew that Jesus was the child of God, yet even she could not know how Jesus would save the world. Even so, she hoped and she trusted God’s word.
Samuel brought peace to Israel, and Jesus brought salvation to the world. Yet despite all of this, there is still evil all around us, found this week in terrorists. Despite the life that Jesus gives to us, there is still death all around us, stealing away loved ones. We cannot fully experience the salvation that Jesus gives to us until we too face death. In the meantime, we trust in the Lord. We trust that the Lord is enacting justice. We trust that the Lord is in control of our lives and of the world. Most important, we trust that the Lord will give us life everlasting. Amen.