Back to series

Congregational Values
Value #6&7: Responsibility & Gratitude
April 2, 2017 (Lent 5)
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana

Text: 1 Samuel 1:19-20, 24-28

“There was a certain man from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah.  He had two wives: the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah.  Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”

Thus began our scripture passage a few weeks ago as we read the story of Hannah who had gone up to the shrine at Shiloh to pray fervently for a child.  There she met the priest Eli who, after some confusion, blesses her.  This morning we return to Hannah’s story some nine months later.

As we read this part of Hannah’s story and in the silence that follows think about a time when you’ve received a gift of immense value and what you did with that gift.

READ 1 SAMUEL 1:19-20, 24-28

Hannah by Sara NovensonFor years Hannah has yearned for a child.  For years she’s come to the shrine at Shiloh and poured out her heart in prayer.  God answers her prayer.  Samuel is born.  He grows into a fine, healthy young boy.  And what does Hannah do with this child she’s yearned for, prayed for, sought after with all her heart.  She takes him back to the shrine and entrusts him to the priest.  “For this child I prayed,” she tells Eli; “and the Lord has answered my prayer.  Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is given to the Lord.”

Next week, as we celebrate Jesus’ kingship with our palms and Hosanna’s, we will read how Jesus sends his disciples to commandeer a donkey.  “Go into the village ahead of us,” Jesus tells a couple of his disciples.  “You will find a donkey tied and a colt with it.  Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, just say this: “the Lord needs them.”

I love that story.  It sort of reminds me of those scenes in cop movies when the cop, having just survived their car blowing up, runs into the middle of the road, stops a car, flashes their badge, forces the driver out, and then drives off in the car.  Turns out police actually do this.  I do it too – although I’ve never done it with cars.  Did you just buy a brand new pop up canopy for your graduation party?  Does the church have an outdoor event coming up?  Hand over your tent.  The Lord needs it.  Did you just set aside a crib for the trash and treasure sale?  Is there a client at the Way Station who is about to have a baby?  Hand over the crib.  The Lord needs it.  Did you just go to Vegas and win big?  Is the church seeking to expand its ministries or make repairs to the building?  Hand over at least 10% – preferably more.  The Lord needs it.

Hannah brings her son, her only son, back to the shrine where she prayed for his conception.  “I give my son to the Lord.”  The Lord needs him.

All during lent we’ve been working through the church’s new statement of core values.  Today we come to the last two; which in some ways are one: the value of generosity – specifically toward the ministries of the church and generally across the totality of our lives.

We accept responsibility in the church’s growth; spiritually and physically. We show our acceptance through active participation and financial support.

We thank God for all things and give back to Him in gratitude; through prayer, presence, gifts, service and talents.

Jen wrote that last value so perfectly I’m jealous.  We’re so used to giving in order to get it can be hard to wrap our head around God’s value of giving because we have gotten.  Even the biblical writers struggle with this. 

After dedicating Samuel to the Lord, Hannah goes on to bear three additional sons and two daughters.  Was this continued fertility because she dedicated Samuel to the Lord?  Or does it simply reflect God’s continued grace upon her?  The story tellers can’t agree.  One tradition – that which was preserved by the rabbis who translated Hannah’s story into Greek in the 3rd Century BC – suggests that God repays Hannah for giving up Samuel.  Another tradition – that which was preserved by the European rabbis in the middle ages – suggests that Hannah’s additional children simply represent God’s continued generosity.   

Yet the apostle Paul leaves no doubt.  We seek the things that are above because we have been raised with Christ.  And we have been raised with Christ due solely to God’s good favor. We cannot buy our salvation.  Nor can we earn it.  Drop a million dollars in the offering plate, you’ll be just as saved tomorrow as you were before. Empty out your entire house to benefit the Trash and Treasure sale, you’ll be just as saved tomorrow as you were before.   Agree to be the coordinator for our church’s new education programs, you’ll be just as saved tomorrow as you were before. (Although I’ll be your new best friend.)  We who have been given new life in Christ give of ourselves to give new life to others.  We do that individually in relationship with our neighbors.  We do that corporately as a part of this church. We do that not out of guilt, not out of greed, but out of gratitude for how the Lord has acted and continues to act in our lives.

As Hannah drops Samuel off at the shrine, she doesn’t know that her son will grow up to be the last great judge of Israel.  Shiloh shrine was a temple to corruption and empty spirituality.  The priest Eli was old.  His son’s had incurred God’s wrath and would, in due course, loose the Arc of the Covenant to Israel’s enemies.  Without the sacred relic, Shiloh would fall out of favor as a shrine.  Yet, as Samuel lies at night in his bed not far from the sacred Arc, he would learn to hear the voice of God.  He would follow that voice, internalize that voice, until he became one of the most trusted leaders in all Israel: a spiritual anchor, a political uniter and a literal kingmaker.

We give out of gratitude.  We give trusting in the Holy Spirit, who can multiply our gifts, using them in ways we may have never envisioned, among people we’ve yet to meet.  We give in cooperation with our congregational leaders, whom we have called to lead us.  We give expecting nothing in return, but knowing – like Hannah – that in our openness to the Spirit we will continue to find blessing at the hand of our God.