Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hello, it's me

1 Samuel 1: 4-20
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
November 15, 2015 – Stewardship Sunday

          It’s the one prayer you’ve said a thousand times. It’s the “please, please, please” when the lab calls with the biopsy result or the lines appear on a pregnancy test or you open the envelope from a college or, after the job interview or the big test or the audition. It’s the anguished cry in the middle of the night. It’s the “I can’t do this anymore” of the addict. It’s the “I’m sorry” in an empty room. It’s the “Where are you, God?” of the angry and wounded, grieving and frightened, and yet hopeful in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and Syria.

            It’s deep heartfelt prayer. It’s the prayer of Hannah. She bypasses the priest and the ritual. No intermediary for her. She grabs the Almighty by the collar, drags God into the holy place, puts the One who made heaven and earth front and center and finds her voice.

Hello, it's me
I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet
To go over everything
They say that time's supposed to heal you,
but I ain't done much healing

            Hannah is raw with intention.  She knows what she wants.  She’s had it with her husband’s lukewarm attempt at comfort (“Am I not more to you than ten sons?”) and her sister wife’s lording it over her with all her sons and daughters.  She knows her request is not impossible.  God promised a nation to Abraham and Sarah in the autumn years of their lives.  God heard the prayers of Rachel, also a much-beloved first wife, and she gave birth to Joseph, who saved his family and that nation, and Benjamin, a gift in his father Jacob’s old age.  God had come through before.  God had better come through now.

            If you were Hannah, if you were going to go straight to the Holy One, to the universe with your heart wide open, what would you say? Does it seem like God or the stars are near to you or far away? Does it really matter?

There's such a difference between us
And a million miles

Hello from the other side
I must've called a thousand times
To tell you I'm sorry for everything that I've done
But when I call you never seem to be home

            Hannah has such clarity in her longing, she is so full of intent that she doubles down.  “Give me exactly what I desire, fulfill my purpose, and I’ll fulfill yours, God.  You give me a son and I’ll give him back to you.”  I’ll give you the one who will anoint David.  Give me grace and I’ll give it back.

            What would it look like to receive the full measure of God’s grace and then give that grace back in full measure?  What would that look like in your life, God’s full measure of grace?  What would it look like to give it back? 

What would the full measure of God’s grace look like in our life together?  What would it look like for us to give back that grace in our life together as a church?

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, once wrote that church “intensifies what we bring into it.”  When we do church, like mission or worship, the experience intensifies what we bring into that encounter.  Do we expect God to be there ahead of us?  Or do we also bring God to church with us when we come to worship or when we serve at Hope Dining Room or stay for Code Purple or set up coffee or teach Sunday School or come to a meeting or work on the building?  What are our intentions when we gather as church?  Do we intend to receive grace and then share it?

Today is Stewardship Sunday, when we consider what our commitment will be for the coming year:  commitment of money, time, energy, what makes us come alive, what we’re good at.  And all of these and more add up to how we intend to be church in the coming year.  Each of these commitments requires conscious, mindful intention.  Being church requires conscious, mindful intention.  So in truth, we also need to be good stewards of our intentions. 

What do we really want for this church?  Who do we really want to be?  What would we say to the Holy One, as a church, with the heart of our church wide open?  Are we ready to hear what the Stillspeaking God will say to us, ask of us?

We have a thousand prayers, but God only has one.[i]  


[i] From Anne Sexton’s poem “Not so. Not so.” Sewell, Marilyn (ed.). Cries of the Spirit, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1991.

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