Given the opportunity, I think we should tell the stories of the women in the Bible. If their names have been remembered and written down, we can tell her story had meaning even in the ancient days, that her life was something that leaders, who were all men, wanted to remember, because so many women are just given descriptions of their jobs, husbands, sons, city that they lived in.
But Hannah gets a name and a story. It’s a story about the men in her life but we’ll take what we can get!
We actually jumped a bit into the middle of her story with our reading today, but let’s put a few things in context for us. Hannah comes to us toward the end of the age of the Judges. The enslaved Hebrews were freed, met God in the desert, decided to be in covenant relationship with this God, and they immediately screwed it. God, recognizing that the Hebrew people were going to fail to live up to the expectations set again, started sending judges to bring this unorganized loosely connected tribal people back to the worship of their God. Hannah’s story lands about the time the people of these tribes decided that they would be better suited in the world if they had a king to organize them.
So, at the end of the judges and just before the kings, we find Hannah, one of 2 named wives of El-kan-ah. El-kan-ah loved his wife Hannah, which is so nice, except he loved her more than his other wife, Peninnah. Peninnah was jealous of the place Hannah had in the household and with El-kan-ah, because Peninnah was the wife who had given their husband heirs. In the ancient world, the command to be fruitful and multiply was life and death. Babies didn’t always grow to adulthood, adult children worked with their respective gender parents to maintain food, position, the economy, or the household and children, and eventually they cared for their parents in old age or widowhood. Without children (male children) you left the world nothing, and you would be forgotten. At that time, as it has been other times throughout history, a woman’s primary role was to bare children. Peninnah give El-kan-ah children, Hannah had none—no doubt, Hannah felt as if she had failed.
And I need you to hear me right now, because we’re not going to linger long: Women, your primary call is to live into the fullness of who God made you to be, and if you long for motherhood and haven’t been able to conceive, it says nothing about you as a women, it is not your fault, you have not failed, you are not less than. And I’m sorry for your pain and struggle. I know, some would still say that motherhood is the goal of womanhood, I would like to declare that a lie of the patriarchy and Hannah lived under different expectations than we do today. Not having a child put her place within the household now, and when El-kan-ah died at risk, it would affect her place and safety in society. Motherhood was as much, perhaps more, a function of survival than it was being a mother.
So, Peninnah mocked Hannah, made fun of her. I imagine she sent her sons to play around Hannah, rubbing in the existence of these boys. Hannah wept in her pain and her longing and her desire. When they went to make sacrifices she cried before the altar, she was so inconsolable that when she prayed, no words escaped her lips. The priest of the temple thought she was drunk and tried to send her away, imagine the humiliation piled upon her when she couldn’t even pray correctly.
Have you ever longed for something? Longed and prayed and wished and hoped? Has it ever seemed hopeless? Hannah was, in the words the bible sometimes uses, barren, without new life. Have you longed for new life in something, and just seemed to wait and wait?
On rare occasion, I have stared at an empty word document, desperately trying waiting for the words to come for one more sermon, but more likely the newsletter article, every month. And what’s worse, is recognizing that there are those around you who just produce Writer’s block is real, friends, and there is a barren-ness to a wordless page while we long for poetry and language.
Or maybe you have found that one spot in your yard or garden where nothing grows and you’re half convinced it must be cursed because you try every year. My grandma could take a leaf and turn it into a huge potted plant, and the rest of us are lucky if the cactus survives, let a long blooms. There is a barrenness while we long for life to blossom and bloom.
Or, I knew I was called into ordained ministry. It’s been a lot of years since this process started, and I have watched people pass my by while I continued to wait. There is a barrenness while we long for the work and the struggle to be complete and celebrated.
Or, in the midst of a pandemic. We’re waiting for life to resume in a way that is safe, yet the numbers keep getting worse. Some school districts have empty classrooms and we long to be together. Some of full classrooms and are still longing to teaching and learning safely. There’s a barrenness while we long for community, connection, physical touch, new normalcy.
Or, realizing it’s 2020, a year that used to mean the distant and hope-filled future, and we are still having the same conversations and the same fights for racial justice and reconciliation, for full inclusion of LGBTQII2A persons into the rights of the constitution and society, for gender equality in workspaces that we have been having for decades? 100 years? Since the founding of this nation? There is a barrenness while we long for justice, equality, a place, safety, to be accepted, to be heard.
Hannah lived in the longing, but she did not resign herself to barrenness. She did not settle herself into the place where she didn’t believe or hope that life was possible. She did everything she could, and then she gave it up to God. She lived in hope, even as she didn’t see any evidence that her hope would be met with reality. She lived in hope, even in the midst of abuse and suffering. She lived in hope, even in the barrenness.
Where does she find it? She found it in the God that when all seemed lost—enslaved forever, dry in the desert, wandering forever, overcome by others, God set her people free, who provided food in the wilderness, who lead them to their own land, who saved them from their enemies. She found hope in the God who had already been faithful. She found hope that God had brought her and her people safely thus far, God would carry through what would come. She trusted that God would bring about renewed life in a place where there was none because God had brought life before.
This is the God who is dependable, a rock. This is the God who raises up the poor and gives them what they need. This is the God who hears the prayers of those some might call lowly, even a woman like Hannah, and answers, lifts her up.
God was faithful again, God heard Hannah’s cries, even those that didn’t make it past her lips, Hannah bore a child, a son. And she made one of those promises to God that we, honestly we do hoping that we’ll get what we want, but we probably shouldn’t, because, we’re not always as faithful as Hannah, who gave her toddler back to God. The child would grow in faith and study, would become the prophet who anointed kings and held kings accountable.
God brought forth life, that life brought forth more hope for a people who needed it.
Sometimes, it is hard to have hope. Sometimes it is hard to believe. Somedays the barrenness, the dryness, the emptiness and the longing that comes along with them is so much we find ourselves crying out or at a loss for words.
And the God who heard Hannah, hears you. The God who set free, gave water, offered rest, and saved is still faithful. This is the God who has seen you safe thus far, this is the God that resurrected life, renewed life, brought forth life from what had seemed dead and hopeless in raising Jesus, this God can renew you, can renew our lives, can renew our hope. This is the God that with a word brings forth life and was the word that lived among us and can fill the empty page. This is the God that causes the set the seasons to come in their time and the trees to drop and renew their leafs and can make the flowers bloom. This is the God who is faithful to our calling, who keeps calling us, and makes so that nothing we have lived, experienced, learned is wasted but becomes part of how we live abundantly in the world. This is the God who of the long arch of Justice, still raising up prophets today to call us back to the covenant relationship we have made to love one another.
The days are growing shorter, beloveds. And how easy it is to give in to despair, that what is today will always be. But that’s not the God we worship, so today, may you have hope, unreasonable hope, hope in things yet unseen, hope that the God who began a good work in you, you brought you safely this far, will be with you always, renewing, reviving