Sermon by Martin James 27.03.2022

1 Samuel 1:20-28

 

Novice preachers are given this advice. An excellent sermon begins with a joke. A good sermon begins with a story. An average sermon begins with a text.

My text today is…………..!

 

There was nothing average or ordinary about this woman called Hannah in the Bible reading we just had. Nothing even half hearted about the way she made and kept her promise to God. Only total commitment/dedication in the way she kept her word.

 

I think it’s fair to say that we do have problems with keeping promises - I know I do. We start off with the best of intentions and then - all of a sudden, we’ve lost it.

 

But not Hannah.

 

Before we get to today’s passage in 1 Samuel we need some background to her story. She had years of being childless. And during that time she was taunted by the other wife of her husband who having children by him. Then in her distress she made a promise to God that if he would grant her a son she would give him to him to use in his service.

 

From this quite remarkable story, we can see 3 things:-

How Hannah prayed and made her promise,

How God responded.

And how Hannah kept her promise

 

So first, Hannah’s prayers and promise to God. In her desperation for a son she didn’t turn in on herself about it. She turned instead to God.

 

It’s not always easy to turn to God when we are so anxious about something. But the truth is he is always there. He understands and longs for us to turn to him for comfort and guidance. 1 Peter 5:7 -“Cast all your cares upon him because he cares for you.”

 

Now, when Hannah made her promise to God she wasn’t bargaining with him - you know “I’ll do this if you do that”. As a devout believer Hannah knew that you just didn’t do that with him. No, she just wanted a son and she put her trust in God. And God granted her request. Hannah was prepared to hand over to God the son she had prayed for, the son she had asked him to give her.

 

God handed over his son Jesus to be crucified for us, to save us from our sins and to promise eternal life. And that is particularly poignant for Mothering Sunday today as we heard in our Gospel reading from John 19. Jesus was hanging and suffering on the cross. But then in the midst of that came this lovely gesture - 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

 

So, Hannah’s prayer and promise. Now we come to today’s passage. Verse 20 - Hannah conceived and bore a son. She called him Samuel. And that name means “asked of God”. Names and their meanings were so important in the Jewish culture of Hannah’s day. They were always chosen with care.

 

Now God’s response to Hannah’s prayer and promise. She was safely delivered of her son. That was a kind of guaranteed delivery. “Guaranteed delivery” has overtones of Royal Mail. But that’s not a good analogy today with the current postal problems.You can get proof of posting, but no real proof of delivery until, hopefully, it turns up. My apologies to anyone in the Post Office if they’re here this morning!

God had promised Hannah through Eli the priest that her request was granted. When God promises, he delivers. The preacher and writer Colin Urquhart wrote this - “God is the God of promises. He keeps his word, even when it seems impossible, even when the circumstances seem to point to the opposite”.

 

And what a joy it was for Hannah to receive that promise of God. To have the baby she had so longed for for such a long time. Moreover, she enjoyed having Samuel as a baby for probably 2 or 3 years before the time came for her to fulfil her promise to God. What fun that must have been. All those sleepless nights! Seriously, for those who’ve experienced it, having a baby around in your family is so wonderful.

 

But now for Hannah the time for fulfilling her promise to God was approaching. It was time for Samuel to leave home.

 

Our children of course don’t leave home as young as that. Seeing them go off to university at 18 can be hard enough for parents.

 

But Hannah knew she would be leaving Samuel in the safest hands possible. Eli the priest - the man of God, who you can read more about in the next few chapters of 1 Samuel.

 

So, Hannah’s prayer and promise and God’s response.

Now, for Hannah, the crunch time has come. It was time to keep her promise to God. After she had weaned him she took him to Eli in the house of God. Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord as she had promised. That was a totally selfless act, for him to go into God’s service. And what a service it was to be. Samuel became a great prophet. He was to be the last of the judges, those men who ruled over Israel before the days of the kings. Samuel was to be the man who anointed both Saul and later David as kings of Israel. In devotion and obedience to God, Samuel stands out as one of the great Old Testament characters. If you want to know more, read the whole of 1 Samuel. It’s exciting stuff, although at the same time it doesn’t gloss over the defects of some of the other main characters in this part of God’s story and the history of the Jewish people.

 

For Samuel, it all began when Hannah gave him to God and his service. She dedicated him to the Lord. She said - 27 For this child I prayed; and the Lord  has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord. Hannah knew that Samuel had in a sense come from the Lord. He gave. So she gave him back. “All things come from you and of your own do we give you” as we sometimes say at the offertory.

 

For us today there is no greater thing than to make our own promise to follow the Lord and live for him. To receive his guaranteed delivery - the new life he gives. To keep our promise and so know more and more of his promises.

 

Martin James 20.3.22