1 Samuel 1:9-11 New Revised Standard Version
9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
1 Samuel 1:19-20 New Revised Standard Version
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
1 Samuel 2:1-10 New Revised Standard Version
2 Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.
2 “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
Have you ever played Monopoly? We did, my brother and sister and I. I don’t know how old we were when we received the game, probably for Christmas. We choose playing pieces, threw dice and tried to accumulate properties. The best part of the game was passing “Go” and collecting $200. I was seldom able to buy property, let alone put on a house or a hotel.
The original game was invented by Lizzie Magie in 1903 as a way to demonstrate that an economy which rewards wealth creation is better than one where monopolists work under few constraints. It makes me wonder what Mrs. Magie would think of our government’s current sweetheart deals with corporations.
The system that the board game illustrates is a closed system. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. There is not enough for everyone; some players end up with piles of pastel-colored money and some end up bankrupt.
Hannah lived in a closed system. The only way to be a real woman, to be a good wife, to have someone to take care of you when you lost your marbles was to have children. Hannah sadly had a closed womb in a closed system.
In some ways she was blessed; her husband loved her and he had been able to have children through his other wife, so he had, metaphorically, passed Go, and collected the $200, that is, he had children who would care for him in his old age and who would carry on his name. But Hannah was not part of that. She was without property and sentenced to the jail of barrenness and abandonment.
Have you ever been closed off from a system, from people, from happiness, through no fault of your own? Have you ever been prevented from reaching your goals, from using your talents to the best of your ability?
That prompts three more questions
Did you turn to God in prayer?
How has God saved you, helped you, encouraged you?
And—how have you thanked God?
Hannah turned to God in prayer. She gave birth to Samuel. And, in thanksgiving, she turned Samuel back to God, so that Samuel could grow up to serve God in full devotion. Samuel did, in fact, serve God his whole life, as one of the prophets who led the Israelites into the greatest years of their nation. Samuel anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. David became the ancestor, the great, great ad infinitum grandfather of our own Savior, Jesus.
God answers prayer. The answer is not always apparent to us. Hannah probably died before Israel became a monarchy. She did not know that a Messiah would someday arrive, directly descended from her womb.
God answers prayer by making us the bearers of Good News.
We do not always know how God uses us. Sometimes we can reflect on our lives and see where we touched someone with kindness, when we inspired someone, how we changed someone through what we thought was simply doing the right thing. Give God some credit. Just as God opened Hannah’s womb, God opens our hearts to make God’s Kingdom present in the lives of our communities. Sometimes we serve within our own communities, with a helping hand, with a friendly conversation. We never know how much good we do. A helping hand can allow the good deed to be paid forward. A friendly conversation can lift a person out of despair and banish their loneliness. Sometimes we serve beyond our communities, by our personal choices, such as choosing leaders who build God’s kingdom rather than their own, by making decisions that protect God’s creation or God’s people.
As the recipients of God’s greatest gift, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we are freed from the bonds of sin to stretch our abilities and talents and even our timid inclinations to bring others into the Kingdom.
Let me reiterate: Hannah turned to God in prayer. I don’t know how prayer works. I don’t know why God doesn’t answer every prayer the way we thing it should be answered. But I know that God answers prayer in such a way that God’s Kingdom is established here and now, where it is most needed. The Kingdom isn’t needed in heaven—-everything is perfect there already. The Kingdom is needed here and now, the blessings of the Kingdom, the gifts of the Kingdom are needed in our own time, in our own place. The hungry need to be fed NOW. The oppressed need to be freed NOW. The homeless need to be sheltered NOW. The hopeless need to be inspired NOW. The ugly, the disgusting, the losers need to be loved NOW. That is what the Kingdom looks like. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence with a kind of kingdom in mind. The second sentence reads :
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Happiness can not be pursued like a goal. Happiness is established not by the individual, but by the community. That is how we Christians operate: in community. We call that community the Kingdom.
Hannah had only one earthly resource to help her achieve happiness, her husband, Elkanah. He did not have the ability to give her the much wanted child, Samuel. God did. Hannah turned to God in prayer. God answered not only Hannah’s prayer, but the prayer of salvation for all God’s people.
Let us turn to God in prayer, not to ask for what we think we need but for what God needs. Let us ask God to make us instruments of peace and plenty.
I learned this lesson from my father. Everyday he would rise early, get dressed, go out the back door and face east. Everyday, he prayed, “God, what do you have for me to do today?”
That is how the Kingdom is established, by each of us praying, daily, in our own way to be the workers in the Kingdom that God is building. That Kingdom is possible because sin and death have been vanquished by the greatest answer to prayer ever, the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through the incarnation of God on earth, we have the privilege and the power to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. How? Take it to the Lord in prayer. Amen.