“Bearing Thanks” 1 Samuel 1:4-2:10
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Like for Charlie Brown and gang, we often think of Thanksgiving as unbearable. Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are built up to be the most joyful times of the year, although we know that they don’t always end up being that way. The gathering of family or old friends, for many, can be unbearable, which the rest of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving shows. We also see Thanksgiving in a long list of movies showing family dysfunction around the Thanksgiving table. As you look at the week ahead, will you have a bearable thanksgiving?
Our Scripture for this morning, from 1 Samuel, provides us with a picture of how thanksgiving takes place in a dysfunctional family and the unbearable experience of being together. Just imagine what dinner around their table must have looked like. You have Elkanah sitting at the head of the table, with his wife Peninnah on one side, and his other wife Hannah on the other. Lined down the table are the sons and daughters of Peninah and Elkanah, sitting in a nice neat row. On the other side of the table, there is just Hannah. There are no wiggly boys poised to pounce on the baked lamb, no girls with pigtails shining the admiration of Hannah. What was around the table for them as they gathered was a big portion of pride, topped off with resentment, accompanied by multiple servings of envy. Peninah was jealous of Elkanah’s favoritism for Hannah, Hannah was jealous of Peninah’s ability to bear children, and both seemed to have equal amounts of resentment for the other.
Hannah did have resentment. If you were Hannah, how could you not with Fertile Myrtle sitting across from you with visual and verbal reminders of what you don’t have and what you haven’t been able to provide? Even still, I think there is more than resentment going on here. Hannah was disappointed, sorrowful, and discouraged about her inability to bear a child. With all of these emotions, she was still faithful to God. We find her here as Eli found her in the temple one day, with mouth moving with petitions and pleas for God to allow her to bear a child. She obviously never allowed dysfunction to get in the way of her faith for a better day. In a few sentences beyond her prayer, and in a G-rated version of a bedroom scene, we learn that Hannah’s prayer has been answered; that God heard her prayer and that she would soon bear a child.
It is amazing how much ground the author of 1 Samuel covers in one chapter. What begins with a soap opera storyline progressed to a fairy-tale ending. There is, of course, more to the story. Before we are introduced to the child Hannah will bear, we are provided with one of the most moving responses to God from any biblical character. Hannah takes the time to have thanksgiving. She is so full of gratitude, so mindful of God’s provision, that she breaks into song like a character in a Broadway musical, stopping the ordinary conversation of the play for a while with a musical interlude of reflection. Hannah sings praise not just for the gift, but for the Giver. The blue notes of her resentment, discouragement, and insecurity were drowned out by the the crescendo of her praise, as she begins her song with My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Maybe Hannah had sung before this occasion. Maybe she sang in the past to vent her frustrations of fruitlessness. We aren’t given those kind of details, but what can know is that she never sang like this before. The song of thanksgiving she sang that today may have been meant just for God or for her congregation, but it reverberates through the ages into the ears of our souls today. And her song inspires and instructs us to do the same, on how to have a bearable thanksgiving.
I am afraid that we know very little about bearing thanksgiving. Erma Bombeck’s quote about Thanksgiving is telling, Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence. As consumers, we woof down our turkey and move right on to getting ready for Black Friday. We can go the whole day without stopping to bow our heads in gratitude to our Provider. We can go all day, all year, or even all of life without stopping from the script of our lives to sing a solo of thanks like Hannah. We tend to be this way, don’t we? How can we become singers?
We will sing like Hannah when we forget about old Peninah and about what we don’t have and consider that we are all pregnant with the potential of God’s blessing in our lives. It is easy to get stuck in a rut of low self-esteem, dwelling on what we don’t have. We allow what other people have or don’t have to shape how we think about ourselves. We look across the table and see the blessings in other people’s lives and can so easily think God has stopped the flow of blessings for us. What we can learn from Hannah is that God isn’t through giving blessings to us. God has the ability to enable us to conceive and deliver the plans He has for us. So, don’t look down your side of the table and despair about what is not there, but look there and see what is to be. See what God can create in and through you. As a Native American saying goes, Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.  Or William Wordsworth who wrote, All that we behold is full of blessings.
We will sing thanksgiving when we move beyond seeing and holding what we have been given to praising and thanking the God who gave it to us. This is the mark of spiritual maturity, is it not? It is what we teach our children when someone gives them something, to say thank you or to write a thank you note to show your gratitude. Givers like to know that their gift has been gratefully received. God, the greatest of givers, also looks to see if we are grateful receivers. He listens for a “thank you, God” on Sunday morning. He watches to see how we are using what He has given us, if we have placed it on a shelf somewhere or if we have are fully using it. He checks on us to see if we are remembering the source of the blessing or if we have become so enamored with His gift to us that we begin thinking–perhaps even saying to other people–that we produced it ourselves. May this week be one that produces many a bowed knee, full heart, joyful song of thanksgiving to the Giver.
We will also sing thanksgiving when we, like Hannah, see that what God has given to us is not just for us, but for the world. Thanksgiving is not a day, but an unending action. It is not a reservoir, but a river. It is an outward manifestation of an inward recognition. As William Faulkner said, Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all. That is how it was for Hannah, as she went from receiving to giving in a seamless act of consecration to her God. It is to be seamless with you and me as well. What God gives to you is intended for other people around you, not just for you. The way you will enjoy what God has given you the most is by sharing it with other people. Perhaps the reason so many people in our land of plenty are so unhappy is that they haven’t discovered this maxim for living. Have you found this to be true in your life? What an awakening we can have when we live by this rule of God’s kingdom! What a difference in our world we can make if we would allow what God places in our hands to be shared with people around us who have nothing yet in their hands. That’s what we are all about here at Church for the Highlands, seeking to bless this neighborhood with what God puts into our hands, flowing out of the unceasing love of Jesus.
I began this morning with a video clip of an unbearable thanksgiving. I conclude with a challenge to you to consider what a clip of your thanksgiving will look like. For Hannah, it was a documentary of whole-hearted thanksgiving. May yours and mine look like hers.