Through the Storm

I don’t know about you but I am tired of most of the news I read on a daily basis. I read some of it still, but for the most part it is too much. The same goes for social media. I have never been a huge social media person to begin with, but my time on it has diminished even more. I will be honest and tell you that it’s not the political stuff I see out there though that’s not exactly joyful news either, but it is the onslaught of the shame culture that I cannot and refuse to read, watch and be a part of.
Trust me, when I say I know that shame has been around for a long time and that with the combination of social media and television studios in your pocket or purse it has only become worse. People post videos of something the see someone doing and get others to jump on the bandwagon to shame that person and others like them. Because of the pandemic it has gotten even worse than before because people are passionate about all of the expectations placed on each of us, and I mean both sides of the debate.
I don’t see it as much anymore but the whole ‘Karen’ series of videos was probably one of the things that broke the straw for me. I am not here to debate or discuss the rightness or wrongness of the whole topic, but I am here to say that the amount of shame that we place on people is too much already and it’s getting worse. I am here to say that in a time when everything is already hard and people are doing and managing families, work, and life in ways that they have never had to do before is not a time to add shame and anger to it all.
I said that shame isn’t something new and even though we don’t read it in today’s assigned text, there is a lot of context that we don’t get in the story about Hannah that is really important. Elkanah has two wives Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah has children and Hannah doesn’t. That right there is most of the information we need to talk about this topic of shame. The whole reason for getting married was to raise a family so that you can have children to pass everything that you have earned in this life and to have them both help you and learn what your trade is so they can make a living.
The role of the wife in all of this was to bear and raise the children and keep the house in order. Obviously the husband, Elkanah, had children from Peninnah so his family line and passing things on went to the children he had, but Hannah had nothing to show as a wife and personally and socially that was a huge area of shame for women. Her entire social status was missing and we see that the other wife, Peninnah, makes sure that Hannah knows full well that she knows it. In 1 Samuel 1:6-7 we see Peninnah in the NRSV that she would provoke her severely to irritate her because of her barrenness and in the CEB it says that she would make fun of her mercilessly just to bother her. So not only was there this societal stigma looking down upon Hannah for not having children for her husband, but the other wife Peninnah was right there making sure that Hannah knew that stigma and shame every chance that she got. The shame that she felt even caused her cry and have no appetite.
Finally out of all that shame and sadness and grief she prays to the LORD for a son. What she prays is incredible. She doesn’t pray for a son that she will keep and watch over and be able to proudly show off in society, but she instead says that he will be dedicated to God. He will be that first fruit that is given back to God as a recognition that God is the source of goodness and life. As we see, she does indeed conceive a son and dedicate him to the temple and hand him over to the service of God and God’s house.
The next part that we do get in our text is Hannah’s song which is similar and yet very different from Mary’s song and we could discuss or preach on that alone, but there are two things that I think are vitally important about this song.
First, Hannah doesn’t pray her song when she finds out that she is pregnant like Mary does. Hannah prays/sings this prayer after they go back up to the temple the next year for the annual sacrifice and she makes a sacrifice and dedicates him to the LORD. I think this is so significant because her song comes when Samuel is given back to God not when he was conceived and not when he was born. The praise for God and everything else she says in the prayer comes when God receives the child Samuel. When she has given him back to God and she no longer has direct care over him. To me that means that the joy and removal of shame doesn’t come from raising the child and having him train under Elkanah to carry on the family trade. It doesn’t come from this public showing of her son, but simply that God remembered her in her distress.
Second, this prayer/song is all about reversals after the initial praise to God for all that God is for the world. Hannah’s prayer is all about taking down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. It is about putting the proud and wealthy in their place and making those who are low to be exalted. Her song reflects her own life of being one marked with shame for so long and then was lifted up becuase she came to God in prayer.
Just like Peninnah, the words that we share from our mouths have the ability to lift each other up or tear each other down. I don’t think that shame will ever leave our world, nor do I think that people will ever stop trying to use it to try to put others down while trying to lift themselves up, but I do believe that as followers of Christ we have been called to avoid it.
The whole reason Christ was born, the whole reason Mary sang her song was because of the mighty works that he would do. The final mighty work that he did on this earth was to sacrifice himself on the cross so that we would be free from sin, death, and the devil. One of the many sins that keeps us down and from a full and complete relationship with God is shame. Just as Jesus conquered it and cast it aside, we too, need to rid ourselves of shame and not just for ourselves, but for one another. To lift each other up. To help each other out. To remind one another that it’s ok if we mess up. It’s ok if we’re not perfect. It’s ok if we don’t always get along. It’s ok, and it’s more than ok becuase Christ loves us and wants nothing more than for us to be free from the bonds of shame and sorrow so that we can fully live into the promises of life and life everlasting with God our Creator, Jesus Chris our Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter. Amen.
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