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A composite image of Oscar Romero and the troubled face of a woman standing in for Hannah

Remember me

1Samuel 3:1-20

January 18, 2015

Year B

In the beginning, at Chapter 1, this story begins with Samuel’s mother, Hannah. It begins like this, the man had two wives and, the one woman had given birth to several children. The other woman, Hannah, had yet to conceive. Around the holiday this husband of separate lovers would travel to worship and offer sacrifice before God. As was the custom, there were portions of that sacrifice which were offered to God, and portions of it that would be shared within the family in celebration and thanksgiving.

The children always received plenty, along with their mother. As for the barren woman, well, she received more than her share because her husband loved her still. But you know how human nature can be; even in his desire to express his love, her lack of children came to the fore. He said he loved her. He said it every year as the gifts were dealt out, and the children toddled around the house, and the mother hovered about with a babe in her arms, and she always found ways to rub it all in. The one without child stopped eating and fed herself only with her sorrow as her husband tried to explain that his love should be enough, his love ought to be worth that of ten children.

It was in the depth of her loneliness, her confusion, her depression, her questions and her doubts, that Hannah rose and presented herself before God.

Hannah rose and went to have it out with God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebekah, the God of Rachel and Leah, and Jacob. Hannah and God. You can call it prayer. Some may call it an argument, a lament, a plea bargain, and as she went, Hannah wept bitterly. The struggling, the suffering, the distress – it was what her life was, and it was about her sorrow. In her crying out to God, her petition was a simple one.

Hannah cried out, “Look here, remember me. Give me a child and I will dedicate that child forever to you. Remember me with a child.”

Some conversations with God are timeless. Some prayers must echo forever in the halls of the kingdom. The prayer of a childless mother doesn’t just stick to the pages of scripture. It leaps off the pages and follows us through history. That prayer of a broken hearted soul: “Remember me,” stays with us.

Hannah’s tears didn’t go unnoticed. The temple priest there by the front door couldn’t really miss the carrying on. In fact, when the crying kept up, and the woman seemed to be moving her lips but not saying anything out loud, the priest accused her of being drunk. Maybe she didn’t find the proper place, maybe the assigned seating in the temple was confusing, maybe she didn’t assume the proper position, or have the proper dress, or maybe the priest wasn’t used to seeing someone lash out at God in prayer with desperation and anger.

For whatever reason this priest Eli accused her of having too much to drink. Eli is the one who should have understood family problems. He might have been more empathetic. He had plenty of family problems of his own. The pages of the sacred text say that his boys were known as scoundrels and they had no regard for God. Behind the scenes of the temple they were busy desecrating everything their father was supposed to stand for. They messed with the preparations for sacrifice, and they got into the food used for special celebrations. They were making themselves fat on those portions intended for God. They treated anything holy with a contempt that went far beyond what was acceptable.

Eli must have been worn down by anxiety. We all understand this part of the story. Even in his old age Eli was trying to get his sons to clean up their act. He was tired of hearing about it from everywhere and from everybody. Eli spoke but they would not listen. Eli shouldn’t have worried about Hannah being drunk. He should have understood her distress.

The story says that in due time God remembered Hannah, and she conceived and she had a baby named Samuel. After the child had been weaned, and remember in Old Testament stories, babies are 6 or 7 years old when completely weaned, it was then that Hannah took him to the house of God and offered him back to God, this time with another prayer and with a rather unbelievable act of faith.

Samuel became the devout son that Eli never had; he served Eli, and he served around the temple. The child lived there with Eli, a biblical boarding school of sorts. Every year his mother, Hannah, came to visit, and instead of cookies and dorm room stuff, Hannah made Samuel a new robe for his life and work in the temple.

Samuel was the product of a complicated mix in that nature/nurture debate. His father lived and practiced the faith, and he was influenced in his very early years by a mother who struggled with real problems in life, and for a very long time believed she would never have children, a failure that made her seem worthless in the society in which she lived.

In the midst of her struggle Hannah exhibited an honest faith in God that included more than a little anger and some ultimatums. In the midst of all of this Eli was growing old, and didn’t always get things done; his eyes had long since grown dim. This priest Eli was the mentor who was creating the way for the next leader. It was a mixed schooling with some stumbling along the way.

There couldn’t have been much passion involved in that daily temple life that surrounded the child Samuel. The atmosphere was far from one religious high to another. It was hardly the religious environment where miracles were too numerous to count. The reality, by all reports, was that experiences of God were hard to find. It wasn’t a particularly holy time. “The word of God was rare in those days and visions were not widespread,” as the scripture says. If they had been doing polls, they would have shown religion to be flowing like an ebb tide. In the midst of it all, Samuel was struggling to live, and to work, and to grow.

If you read ahead to chapter 3 this story continues with the call. The voice came early one morning, still before dawn, when the lamp of God had not yet gone out. The boy heard a voice calling his name, Samuel, Samuel! Not once or twice, not even the theologically crisp and Trinitarian-like three times, but four times. It was on that fourth time that God came and stood there, calling as before that Samuel responded. “Speak for your servant is listening,” he said.

What God proceeded to tell Samuel was enough to make your ears tingle. When morning came and the doors of the house were opened to the light of another day, Samuel told Eli all he knew. This revered church school scene, this call of Samuel, this tale of the prophets words, “Here I am!” and the scene comes to a close, but the old story carries on through our lives. For as the writer of 1Samuel concludes, “As Samuel grew up, God was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.”

The story is told again today. We heard that in those days visions were rare, and perhaps even more so today. But we are not without our stories. We have powerful tales of justice and truth.

Do you know the story of
Oscar Romero?

The movie presents the true-life story of Romero, El Salvador’s Roman Catholic Archbishop. Oscar Romero began his ministry as a simple cleric with a deep compassion for the poor and victimised members of Central America. Romero’s transportation from the meek, mild, quiet cleric priest, into the courageous, crusading champion of the gospel ends tragically.

In the beginning, Romero refused his appointment to move up in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He felt he wasn’t called to be an Archbishop, and indeed the hierarchy were calling him because they saw him as somone with no ideals. They thought he would quietly do nothing if appointed as Archbishop. He would cause no trouble, make no waves.

Eventually, Romero accepted the position of Archbishop and he changed, this call transformed him, his faith took on a different face. His eyes were opened to injustices against the poor and marginalised, the corruption of the military, and the complacency of the church. This new sense of call gave him no option, but to work at creating justice. He spoke out about the needs of the poor and the corruption of the government, until the enemy could no longer risk having him alive. Soldiers who worked for the US government, gunned Romero down, killing him, while he served communion. He died as Christ died, at the hands of those who feared him most.

There is this longing to hear the stories of our people; stories that make us proud to belong to a Christian community. If you read the United Church Observer, you will find stories in every issue about people who might not be killed for their faith like Oscar Romero, but who are busy answering the call of God in a wide variety of ways. Such stories move us to be a part of our own church story and we need to find ways to tell our stories.

In this time visions might be rare, but in this time and place we all know people who struggle to live, work and grow like Hannah and Samuel and Eli. Like Hannah we have all had our share of arguments with God and we sometimes push hard at the boundaries we call prayer. Most of us know that life can be hard and every day people ask, why or how. We all have, or we know someone, who has cried out to God and wept bitterly like Hannah.

This story goes on, this drama of God’s people. You and I live in a time where we might say that visions are rare and yet people of faith surround us. We might not all have the same vision but we can still create a vision for our future together.

The interim ministry is now ready to start a visioning process for St. Paul’s. We will do this work together starting at the circle conversation on Sunday, February 8. We won’t all have the same vision for the church, but at a time like this in our church history, there is plenty of room for creativity. Like Hannah we might be bold in our search for wholeness and not hesitate to ask for what must have appeared to be impossible.

Hannah’s request was not without risk and sacrifice. I suspect that will be true of our future church also. May we have the wisdom to recognise all of what we are capable of doing, and may we recognise the call when it comes and respond in faith and gratitude.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood