Friday, November 13, 2015
Trust, Patience and Perseverance: A Song of Hannah and of the Church (RCL Proper 33B, 15 November 2015)
Trust, Patience and Perseverance
A Song of Hannah and of the Church
RCL Proper 33B
15 November 2015
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
More than twenty-five hundred years ago the tribes that Moses had led from bondage in Egypt to the land of milk and honey now known as Israel and Palestine were in the midst of a national crisis. Unlike the nations around them, these tribes had no single leader and relied on the wisdom and diplomacy of the ‘judges’, women and men who could mediate disputes and interpret the covenant God had made with the tribes at Sinai. At first the system worked well, but, after decades, perhaps centuries, of practice, things were going down hill rapidly. Things were going so badly that the Book of Judges, the biblical book which describes these events, ends with this verse: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21.25)
How could the tribes find their way out of the chaos and tribal warfare that ensnared them? The answer to this question begins to be given in today’s reading from the First Book of Samuel, the story of an amazing woman and her son. In later generations Samuel will be seen as a remarkable figure: a prophet, a priest, a seer, a war leader, a judge. [i] But it is not about Samuel that I want to speak to you today. I want to offer some thoughts about his mother, Hannah.
As the story unfolds today, we learn that Hannah, though she is loved and treated well by her husband, has failed in her primary duty as a wife: she has not given Elkanah, her husband, any children. Elkanah’s second wife, Penninah, whom he probably married because of Hannah’s failure, enjoys taunting Hannah and probably resents the fact that Hannah is still treated so well after so spectacular a failure.
But Hannah has not given up hope. She has borne the insults of Penninah as well as the public shame of being childless. She has put up with Elkanah’s self-centred kindness; he is oblivious to how difficult things are for Hannah. He seems to think that an extra ration of meat and his continued affection are enough to soothe Hannah’s woundedness.
So Hannah comes to Shiloh, the place where the Ark of the Covenant resides and where the tribes go up to offer sacrifice. She pleads her case before the living God and endures the sarcasm of Eli who thinks that she is drunk. But even Eli becomes aware of the fact that something special is going on here and he assures Hannah that God has heard her prayer. So Hannah leaves the sanctuary, goes home with Elkanah and conceives a child who will be the one who begins the transformation of the tribal confederacy into a national monarchy.
A nice story, isn’t it? Because of the persistence and passion of this remarkable woman, Hannah, a son is born and the people re-born. [ii] But what does this story have to do with us, Anglican Christians living in the twenty-first century in a constitutional monarchy and enjoying the benefits of an affluent society? There is a lot for us to learn here.
Forgive me for a moment of personal candor. There are moments when I look around our neighbourhood that I experience disappointment and sorrow. I know that there are people who are slaves to their mortgages and to the pressures of everyday living. I know that many people do not really know their neighbours. We all hear of the potential consequences of climate change on our economy and standard of living. We read about conflicts that create millions of refugees.
And what is my disappointment? What is my sorrow? I am disappointed and saddened that many of our neighbours have not yet found a community that can foster trust, patience and perseverance in the face of all these challenges. I am disappointed and saddened because I know that Saint Faith’s and the many other communities of faith that surround us offer just such communities of trust, patience and perseverance.
Hannah’s story reminds us that hope, a necessary virtue for a fully human life, is only possible when there is someone or something in which we trust. As followers of Jesus we have come to trust in the God to whom Jesus gives witness. We know that the way of God shown to us in Jesus, a path of proclaiming good news, serving our neighbours as ourselves and empowering ourselves and others to face the challenges of the future, generates hope even in the midst of uncertain times. For more than two thousand years we and our ancestors in the faith have walked this path and it has been life-giving.
Hannah’s story reminds us that patience is another virtue necessary for the life God intends for us. We have been walking this path for millennia and, throughout these many years, we have asked God, ‘Wouldn’t this be a good time for the promise to be fulfilled?’ And the God in whom we trust says, ‘Yes, it might. But not yet. Walk on.’ It is our hope, fuelled by our trust and honed by our patience, that enables us to walk on.
Hannah’s story reminds us that perseverance, the product of trust and patience, is not easily acquired. We have to learn our trade and to improve our skills, so we come, Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year, to praise, to pray, to study and to serve. And when it is tempting to turn aside, there is always someone by our side to encourage us, often someone whom we do not expect, possibly a stranger, who whispers, ‘Trust. Have patience. Persevere. The promise will be fulfilled.’
Although our times are not as difficult as those times experienced by the tribes in Hannah’s time, we are facing real challenges as a community who trusts in the God who beckons us on. Like Hannah, we have our Penninahs who find satisfaction when communities of faith such as ours struggle. I would not be telling the truth if I were to say that I never feel discouraged. But then my daughter will call. Her name is Anna, the English form of Hannah, and I am reminded of Hannah’s story and of the story of Anna, the prophetess in the temple who greeted the Christ Child in the arms of Mary and Joseph. I remember why we gave our daughter this name.
We named her ‘Anna’ because we trust in the God who gave Hannah a son. We named her ‘Anna’ because we await in patience for the fulfillment of the promise of God for a new earth and a new heaven. We named her ‘Anna’ because we persevere in sharing the good news of God in Christ. We named her ‘Anna’ because this is one of the names of the Christian people, the holy ones called by God to trust, to have patience and to persevere in the walk of faith.