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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Church news, 11/21: "Hannah -- Blessings through perseverence and prayer"

We continued our study of women in the Bible on Nov. 15 with an examination of the life of Hannah.

When one thinks of heroines of Scripture, Hannah is not one of the first to spring to mind. But Fr. David pointed out that she was an inspiring example in her own day, later to the Virgin Mary, and continuing to the present. "You may remember Heidi Smith, a missionary to Chile we supported, along with her husband Russ. Heidi always looked to Hannah for an example of Godly living," he told us.

Hannah was a woman who felt the sting of the Jewish convention of allowing men to have more than one wife. We recall this started with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. God promised Abraham and Sarah an heir, but rather than trust God, they "tried to settle God's mind," Fr. David said. "They decided to fulfil the promise for God by adding a second, younger wife, Hagar." Of course, Sarah did eventually -- even in her old age -- give birth to the promised heir, Isaac. And the contention between the wives ended with the banishment of Hagar and her son Ishmael.

Society, sadly, didn't learn from this and other polygamous marriages. Wives became more like property and less like partners. A man's wealth and power were measured in part by how many wives he could support and how many children they bore him.

So Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah, felt doubly cursed. Not only did she have a rival in Elkinah's other wife, Peninnah, but she was also childless, something that Peninnah constantly alluded to. Moreover, Hannah was only entitled to a single portion of Elkanah's sacrifices and other goods while Peninnah received portions for herself and all of her children.

Hannah became so distressed that she stopped eating, went to the temple, and prayed passionately but silently, since women were expected to be "seen and not heard". And even in the temple, society judged her wrongly. Eli the priest assumes she's drunk because her mouth is moving as she prays. He harshly asks her how long she'll live as a drunken person.

Now, after all the scorn heaped on Hannah, one might expect her to run away, curse God, and declare the priest an unfeeling hypocrite. But instead, she courageously corrects his wrong impression of her and Eli apologizes and blesses her, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him."

Fr. David pointed out that Hannah wasn't praying to make a deal with God, but simply that God would remember her and her situation. "We see the same language with the thief on the cross, who asks Jesus to remember him. This isn't about the mind remembering, but the soul."

Hannah understood that everything belongs to God because it comes from God. She prayed to be allowed to give God what was already his -- the son she longed to bear. She offered her son-to-be as a Nazarite, a consecrated priest for life whose hair would never be cut. And then she left the temple, washed her face, resumed eating and a happy normal life -- the evidence of true faith, giving the problem to God and considering it solved.

And in fact, God did give Hannah a son, Samuel, the great priest and prophet who heard God's audible call at a young age in a time when God's direct intervention was rare. Hannah's Canticle of thanksgiving was recorded, and the Magnificat of Mary would later echo it. From a place of utter helplessness, Hannah let God raise her up to cast a light down through history.

"Hannah shows us where the Lord is at times in life when we're made to feel less," Fr. David explained. "Women in particular are familiar with this feeling, an attitude of society that needs to be broken in Christ, where there is neither male nor female. We are all far more than society would make us, and as we realize this we will be willing to offer back to God the gift of ourselves, to be the answer to part of our own prayers."

NOTES: Parish annual meeting is tomorrow, Nov. 22, following worship. Lunch (submarine sandwiches, sides and soda) will be available in Room B and the meeting is scheduled to conclude at 1:30. We will elect parish officers, hear a treasurer's report, and discuss our future in relation to the rector's Covenant Agreement, transition of ministries, mission and calling of the parish and future plans for worship and meetings. Please plan to attend this important meeting.

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