Dunsford United Church – Sunday November 14, 2021
Pulpit Supply: Lisa Norman
WELCOME AND CELEBRATIONS
In the name of Jesus Christ, welcome everyone to worship at Dunsford United Church this morning.
If you are happy and you know it, welcome.
If you are sad and you know it, welcome.
If you are mad and you know it, welcome.
If you are excited and you know it, welcome.
Bring everything you are to worship this morning.
LIGHTING OF THE CHRIST CANDLE
Light of Christ be with us as we courageously and faithfully come to you in prayer.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE LANDS
We acknowledge, honour and respect this land and the Anishnabeg/Mississauga peoples with whom Treaty 20, Williams treaty, was signed, on the lands where I am, and we acknowledge also and give thanks for the lands and people of treaties and unceded territories of all who are worshiping. It is up to all of us to live into truth, respect and reconciliation with all our relations.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
Come singers, come jumpers, come God’s people.
Let us gather on this day to continue our journey worshipping the God of Love, the God of Mercy, the God of All.
MINISTRY OF MUSIC: “Closet Religion” Christena-Lynn
OPENING PRAYER (unison):
God of Daniel, God of the Angel Armies, God of us all,
You are more awesome than we can imagine,
You are greater than words allow us to express.
You poke us and prod us into new understandings,
Opening our eyes to your vision,
Our hearts to your compassion,
Our minds to your forgiveness,
And through your love, we grow nearer to you.
While we can’t take up the offering the usual way, we do appreciate the generosity you show us. Whether by PAR or other methods the support is real and meaningful. Envelopes may be left in the offering plate on the table as you leave the Sanctuary.
OFFERTORY PRAYER (unison):
We give of ourselves as stewards of your world and as servants in your love.
FOR THE YOUNG AND YOUNG AT HEART
How do you pray?
1 Samuel 4-20
4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion,[a] because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord.[b] 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[c] until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants,[d] and no razor shall touch his head.”
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters,[e] ate and drank with her husband,[f] and her countenance was sad no longer.[g]
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 Hannah’s Song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b43mO1fcWo
I want you to do something for me. Close your eyes. Whisper the word “God”. What image comes to your mind. Is it a fully formed figure, a shape, a colour, a hand, eyes, male, female, one image, many images?
As a child growing up I understood a few things about God.
- God was a “he”.
- God lived up there.
- God saw everything that I did.
- God would punish me if I was bad and reward me if I was good.
- Talking about God was reserved for special times- church, grace before holiday meals and if I was naughty.
Of course now I know that the man with the naughty/nice list, rewards and coal, who lives up there, and who we only really talk about at certain times is in fact – Santa Claus, but as a child, I clearly believed they were one and the same. Maybe some of you held this vision too.
As I grew up and listened to people much wiser than me, I began to hear some astonishing things about God.
- God loves me always, 24/7, when I am bad and good.
- God forgives me and keeps doing it.
- God is always watching me and is always with me, but that is because God loves me and doesn’t want me to ever feel alone.
- God is the truest friend I will ever have, and knows me better than I think I know myself.
- In my wildest imagination, I cannot understand all that God is.
- God is not a mean man frowning down on me.
- God shows up everywhere.
In short, God continues to become more accessible to me the more I do the work of continuing my faith journey. One way I do this is to listen for the stories that aren’t told, that I am not familiar with or that don’t seem to ring quite wholly true.
Take the story of Hannah. In the lectionary readings for this week there are two devoted to Hannah’s story, sort of a before and after look.
In the scripture passages preceding the ones I read this morning we meet Elkanah, Hannah’s husband. Except he is not introduced as such. Instead 1 Samuel commences with a genealogical history of Elkanah and that leads to the introduction of Hannah with these lines.
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.
And that is how these women are introduced. We don’t know if they are wise, kind, cruel, tall, short, wealthy, poor, hungry or well-fed. We know who they belong to and if they have brought forth children.
I point this out to help us contextualize the story. Hannah was a woman of her time. She belonged to her husband and her value/role was to produce children, especially male children. Her husband and her male children gave her status in society, financial security, and self-worth. This was the world in which Hannah was raised and in which she lived.
When I researched the story of Hannah three words kept popping up, “pious”, “faithful” and “mother”. I would argue that Hannah was a little bit more than this as I would argue anyone of any gender is larger and more complicated than labels or words assigned to them.
Hannah had for years been accompanying her husband and his second wife Penninah, to Shiloh to sacrifice to the Lord. Here we are given the opportunity to become voyeurs during one of these trips. What do we witness? What do we hear? How do we feel?
The characters in this story enter Shiloh and Elkanah performs the sacrifice to the Lord. While there, we see Penninah cruelly mocking Hannah about her inability to produce children for Elkanah and we realize that this has been going on for a long time and frequently. We realize that Hannah is being bullied and Penninah is the bully.
Perhaps we recognize ourselves in Hannah, , Penninah or both and we feel Hannah’s pain and her shame.
Then we see that Hannah is so upset and downtrodden that she is unable to eat even though Elkanah looks lovingly on her and gives her extra portions. While we do not doubt his love for Hannah, some of us might shake our heads a bit when his attempt to console her basically centres on him and how valuable he is to her. No he is not better to her than 10 sons because in her world her honour and security are tied to child-bearing.
We see Hannah’s pain and we feel her despair.
Filled with shame, pain, and despair, Hannah channels these emotions into a great longing, a longing for a son. This is Hannah’s great longing. What is yours? See, this story isn’t just about a woman wanting to have a baby, it can be about so much more if we read it expansively.
Like Hannah, we all long for God to intervene in our lives and make them better. That is why one of the most common prayers is simply, “Help”. Sometimes the first time we pray is simply “God help me”. And it is a great prayer. It opens us up. “God help me” is the crack by which the Light gets in.
God help me keep loving this child who is struggling with addiction and has become a stranger.
God help me find the strength to walk with my friend through her diagnoses with compassion and practical strength.
God help me to really listen and learn from the stories of others.
God help me make good decisions as a steward of your creation.
God help me put my feet on the floor and get out of this bed.
Now, we don’t always get exactly what we pray for. Remember God is not Santa Claus. If I am good and do a really fine prayer full of poetic language, I have no more guarantee of getting exactly what I want than if I pray the simple words, “Help me” while wallowing in a stinking mess of my own creation. But God has promised to be there. God has promised to listen to us.
Hannah went crying and wailing before God begging to give her a male child and in return she would basically give him back to God’s service. I find it hard to believe that this was Hannah’s first choice. When she married Elkanah she probably envisioned a life full of bouncing babies that she would nurse, rock and raise to adulthood. But that vision never materialized. Instead, we come upon Hannah, bullied, pitied and at the end of her rope. She has nothing left. She is empty except for this great longing. And in this longing, this great cry, “God help me”, she becomes a servant of God and discovers her power and her voice.
Has this happened to you? Have you ever been so distraught that the only way forward was through prayer?
I think back to this past Thursday, Remembrance Day. I can only imagine the terror of the soldiers, medical personnel and civilians during the horrors of war. I am sure there were many “God help me” prayers whispered, cried, screamed and sung during those times.
I remember standing in the hospital room at Sick Kids, looking at my baby daughter. I was 26. She was 16 months old. We were waiting for the biopsy results. Those results would tell us if we could fight this disease with chemotherapy and steroids, or if the most we could hope for were cherished moments with what would be our only child, and a peaceful death for her. There was no beautiful prayer that night. There were tears and snot and sobbing and simply the cry “Help me God” and ultimately, “ I give her care back to you, God as you gave her to me.” In that moment, I felt warmth, peace, beloved. God was there. Not to fix things, just to hold me as I fell apart.
And God held Hannah. When the priest Eli sees Hannah praying, silently moving her lips as tears and snot ran down her face, he probably turned away in disgust. We do know that he accuses her of being drunk and making a spectacle of herself. Perhaps at this point in the story some of us can see ourselves reflected in Eli. Have we ever looked at a person or group of people and imposed our erroneous understanding of the situation, of the truth? How many times have we accused others of being “drunk” without listening to discover the truth.
But Hannah has poured out herself in prayer to God and is no longer in despair and shame. Instead she finds her voice and blatantly tells Eli that she has been speaking out her anxiety, and her vexation to God. In short, Hannah has come before God to complain and ask for help.
Now God is not a fairweather friend, only there for the good stuff. God wants to hear it all, and God can take it. We see God’s mercy and compassion in the about turn of Eli who instead of continuing to chastise Hannah and shooing her on her way, blesses her by saying, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”
How does this story end? We learn that Hannah does become pregnant by Elkanah and around the child’s third birthday, she presents him to the priest Eli to be raised in the Tabernacle as a Nazirite. She and Elkanah visit him yearly during the sacrifice at Shiloh and bring him a new little coat during each visit. This child was Samuel, a great leader, prophet, and a man who under God’s direction, anointed Israel’s first two Kings, Saul and David. Hannah then went on to have another 5 children, whom she raised.
This story starts with the lineage of Elkanah and continues with the Kings of Israel, but in between was a woman. Yes a pious, faithful, mother. But also a woman of courage, who boldly goes before God to show her pain and yell “Help me God.” Through Hannah, God shows us how to pray. We don’t need fancy words. We don’t need priests to do it for us. We don’t have to go meekly. And we especially don’t have to wait until we get it all figured out. God is there for us. Plain and simple. We are beloved. So whatever, image helps you approach God. It is the right one. Me, I see God as many things. God is a pillow giving me rest. God is warm sunlight. God is in the feeling of community present in this building. God is in the sound of my name, when said by those who love me. God is in the air around me every moment of every day listening to my prayer and listening to your prayers.
HYMN: VU #374 “Come and Find the Quiet Centre”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
O Merciful God,
Today we participated in one woman’s story.
As we go forth, help us to engage with the stories around us.
Lead us to understanding, and away
from ignorance and our own preconceived prejudices.
Be ready God, we too will find Hannah’s courage
And come to you in prayer.
It won’t be pretty,
It won’t be poetry.
But it will be good.
It will be Truth.
And now hear the prayers of us gathered today.
We pray prayers of help.
We pray for wisdom to guide our political leaders in matters of the environment and worldwide health.
We pray for peace for those whom the pandemic has caused anxiety levels to sky rocket.
We pray for compassion at church meetings everywhere. We are in a time of change and transition. Let us lean on you, and not push and pull on each other.
We pray for our children for so many reasons. Let them feel your presence so they know that they are never alone and they are always your Beloved when they encounter the Peninnah’s of this world.
But we also pray prayers of thanksgiving to you from whom all of our blessings flow.
Thank you for the beautiful warm days during this autumn season. What a blessing to hold onto during cold and rainy times.
Thank you for the safe delivery of babies and the smiles on children’s faces as they munch leftover Hallowe’en candy.
Thank you for the many gifts shared in this congregation, so that a faithful community continues to grow in your love.
Thank you for listening to us throughout the eons with ears that never tire, and a heart that never closes.
Please listen now to the prayers of our hearts.
(Silence – pray from your heart)
Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we pray to you, our Holy Creator, Mother and Father.
THE LORD’S PRAYER (unison)
COMMISSIONING AND BLESSING
We are all children of God. May God’s love surround and guide us through all we do.
CHORAL RESPONSE: “Go Now In Peace”
DUNSFORD UNITED CHURCH
1981 Sturgeon Rd., Dunsford, ON, K0M 1L0
Church Office Hours: Wed. 9-5
Visit our new website: www.dunsfordunitedchurch.com