7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple. [b]10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, [b] saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”21 When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.” 23 “Do what seems best to you,” Elkanah her husband told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him. 24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah [3/5’s of a bushel] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. 25 When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.
As an educator in public and private schools I developed a keen sense of what it means to be a part of the nurturing and growth of children. First as an elementary school teacher and later as a middle school teacher, I witnessed firsthand the importance of parental involvement in a child’s life. Even now as a college educator, I have seen adults who have either remained bitter for the lack of their parent’s involvement in their life, or deeply appreciative for their parent’s continual support in their lives. In either case, the actions parents weigh critically on the lives of the children they raise. My experience allowed me to gain a key appreciation for the life of the elders in the life of the children.
Many of us are familiar with the sacrifices that parents make for their children. Some leave their careers and jobs behind to relocate for better schools, others sacrifice time and money and other energy to pay for camps, piano lessons, sports activities or any of a host of activities for their children. But in every one of those situations, the child is already with them (that is to say the child has been born and is already present). The parent sacrifices for the child because the child is present asking for (or needs) the sacrifice to make a better way in the society; at least that is what we tell ourselves.
Along these same lines, we live in a time and place where a great deal of our life has been made easier. Computers, iPods, iPads, cell phones, social media and technology as a whole has made the world manageable and we can get ‘da bighead’ sometimes as my grandmother use to say. We (and many of our younger counterparts) often carry a sense of entitlement and ownership even though we have done nothing to deserve the trappings that we possess. Our self righteousness can get us in trouble in a lot of ways. I have seen young people cross the street as if cars aren’t going to them. Some treat food and shelter as just standards for life and there are even times when we actually think that we are too young to die. Youth left unchecked can be a dangerous thing and the irony is that it takes age to realize it.
More than anything else, I came to learn that the life of any community is its children and it is the responsibility of the elders- parents and non-parents alike to invest in the life of the community. The nature of that investment is the future of the community and that future along with the destiny of the community, lies in the yet unborn. And it is the unborn that our text speaks of today.
The story of Samuel is one that is framed in the context of the larger community; namely that of the story of Israel. Hannah is a wife without an identity. Yes, in the ancient near east (as in many places) the purpose and function of the wife is to produce a child for the husband. To be more specific, in this time period, the identity of any female is a function of how many male children she has produced. The more boys she has, the more status she attains in the society and our Hannah, has none and thus no status.
Now this notion of identity is important for two reasons. One, Hannah’s desperate yearning for children leads her to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh. She comes year after year putting her hopes and prayers on the offering that her husband Elkanah offers to God. She knows and believes God for her identity. Secondly, when we find her in the text she has decided to plead with God as her ultimate help and hope. It is the cry of a desperate woman, a woman without focus or direction or… identity. She feels this pain so much that she makes an offer unto God. Given that she has no status because she has no child, she is willing to forsake that status for the blessing of a male child. So great is her desire and her faithfulness in God that she gives not only, the child she desperately wants, but also, she puts her life’s purpose, her identity, into God’s hands.
When her child is finally born she calls him Samuel because “she asked the Lord for him”. Samuel’s name is from the verb to ask and refers to God hearing her cry and answering with this son this same verb also means to lend. Samuel is the answer to many prayers, hopes and dreams and indeed his mother’s future rests on him. Being true to her promise though, she returns him back to God for God’s purposes and the Bible says that he was God’s “helper” in the temple.
Hannah shows us that her faithfulness to God is so strong that she is willing to invest everything that she is into bearing a child. She puts all of her being into the fulfillment of that purpose. So much so that her child will be God’s child- living for God’s purposes. Parents and community elders, are you willing to invest all that we are into a prayed for future? I am talking about the one thing that all of us hold most dear: OUR CHILDREN AND OUR YOUTH.
If that is the case, then the only hope for any lasting legacy, any future, any hope for the continuation of our lineage and community is with our children. Yes, these young people who we sometimes find confusing, disoriented, clumsy and down-right lazy are the promise of our tomorrow. Truth-be-told all of us at one time or another were seen as confusing, disoriented, clumsy and always lazy! But even then, someone was laying their hopes on us. Believing that God would straighten us out and put us on a path toward God’s self and so here we are.
We are all elders in our communities. We protect, lead and guide our future through our present actions, behaviors and cares with our children. There is a verse from James Weldon Johnson’s Lift every Voice and Sing that provides us a true vision of truth on this day:
Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet
come to the place
for which our fathers died?
We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out from the gloomy past,
till now we stand at last
where the white gleam
of our bright star is cast.