1 Samuel 3; John 1:43-52
Can anything good come out of Ghana?
Two weeks ago a 26-year old soldier raced repeatedly into a burning Bronx apartment building, saving four people before he died in the flames. His name was Pvt. Emmanuel Mensah and he immigrated from Ghana.
Can anything good come out of Haiti?
Alex Idrache graduated from West Point last May. He was at the top of his class in physics.
I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me, I could not help but be flooded with emotions knowing that I will be leading these men and women who are willing to give their all to preserve what we value as the American way of life.
Can anything good come out of Atlanta?
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Philip found Nathaniel and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
Can anything good come from a barren woman?
But he gave a double portion to Hannah, for he loved her even though the Lord had kept her from conceiving.
On one occasion, Hannah got up after they ate and drank at Shiloh. The priest Eli was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple. Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, “Lord of Armies, if you will take notice of your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.
While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her mouth. Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!”
No, my Lord, I am a woman with a broken heart, I haven’t had any wine or beer, I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord. Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.
Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request you have made of him.
And the Lord remembered her.
The pressures we face are real. Hannah suffered one of the most significant indignities of her day – she was childless. Many suffer under the same unfulfilled dream today. Elkhannah, her husband, held her in high regard, he loved her. His other wife continually goaded Hannah compounding her grief. Where would she find consolation? Who would help her with her pain?
If it wasn’t enough that her home life was a constant battle, when she went to worship the priest exhibited little compassion and empathy. No wonder the historian remarked that the word of the Lord was rare.
In fact, it was worse than that. Eli is said to have failing eyesight. Sometimes our reading is exclusively literal to the degree we miss the indicators in the way the story is told.
Take how Eli could not see Hannah’s suffering. Instead, he mistook her grief for being drunk.
She was not drunk; she was desperate.
Often we miss the indicators of human desperation. We mistake long, risky journeys in hopes of a better life and a better place for some nefarious intent. We think the sinister plot is to replace you or me. Sadly this infests the church. Rather than influence for the good, we receive the fear of others and miss the God of love.
My how insecure we are with the abundance of God.
Somehow we think grace is in short supply. Give ours away, and we lose. We lose our vision and rely on those who do not see the Kingdom of God. Instead, they only see the human kingdoms that are bent to take. This danger would be Samuel’s warning to a people who could no longer imagine God as their king and longed for another.
Today, our desperation leads us to drunkenness. We are drunk on the delusion that human power may lift us up.
Indeed we are in a battle. Our vision is blurred. The battle we face is with ourselves. Israel suffered the same. They presumed it would be better to follow the patterns of earthly kings. What we miss as we read the Story and the promise to David is that David is not who was promised. He was representative of the Promise to Come. His lack created the desire for the Real. His failures fueled the drama for Better.
Since we know too well our battles, we should not be surprised that Hannah called on the LORD of Armies – she needed someone to be with her in the battle of and for her life. Hannah needed someone to fight against her enemies for her. She could not correct her barrenness. Hannah could not silence her adversary, the voice always in her ear, magnifying her grief. She experienced her pain as an affliction, heartbroken, anguished, resentful.
Too many today face these same battles. No, not everyone cannot have children, but no matter how hard they try it seems the fruit of their labors ends in disappointment, difficulty. They receive life as assault, anguish, resentful.
From where does her help come?
We are stuck in debates over where people are from. What we must realize, we need to be very careful condemning others for where they are from. It was no fault of theirs. We cannot then insult them for the incidence of their birth any more than we should ridicule the place of their birth.
We err if we think the leader of the Free World came up with this way of looking at others. It is already deep within us.
That is our question. It is not a matter of where we are from or anyone for that matter. It is a matter of where does our help come? How does it happen to us?
The shift in emphasis is essential.
For years people who lived in Israel did so as fragmented tribal groups. Their successes and failures were often associated with the decisions made as to how they would view the world. Sometimes they pledged allegiance to YHWH. Other times it might be they gave in to surrounding pressures to follow Ba’al. We should not be too hard on them. As it is, we often move between firm confidence in God, the Father of Jesus, and any number of substitutes to rescue us.
From where does our help come?
As with most stories, we could fixate on the principal characters. In this case, we could find great empathy with Hannah, anger with Eli and hope in young Samuel. These are important. But, they serve to remind us our help comes from the Lord.
When the Songwriter asked the question, “From where does my help come?” The penetrating question came with the equally important response, “My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”
The Songwriter is well aware that God can bring Good News out of nowhere. For those saved by the 26-year-old from Ghana, good news came out of nowhere. For the privilege of leading people to protect America vested in the young man from Haiti, good news came out of nowhere. For those whose lives are markedly different today and for the inspiration for the future lead by a young Pastor’s Son from Atlanta, good news came out of nowhere.
And, for a people whose future resembled a fading candle, good news came out of nowhere.
For all people everywhere, Good News came out of a nowhere place like Nazareth.
The LORD, Maker of Heaven and Earth, does not see where we are from, the conditions of our geographical location, our lack of facing life’s pressures. The LORD of Armies sent his Son to battle the powers that would make it about where we live, our geographical location and our frailties. He came to defeat and one day destroy the Powers of Sin and Death that indeed do not respect anything about us.
This is a Good News that came out of nowhere at just the right time. And, in a nowhere Country, occupied by the powers of its day, on a hill outside of town, giving evidence of weakness and not power, God responded to our desperation by fighting for us and with us on a Cross.
Our hope does not hinge on a change of government from tribes to a monarchy. Our hope does not stem from a new leader, from Eli to Samuel, the writer of this bit of history wants it clear from the beginning, the Story reveals a God who listens and speaks. When God speaks a new world emerges, a new way of seeing in that world, and that God restores people who suffer the consequences of human frailty.
Our hope is a God who listens and speaks.
Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last day, he has spoken to us by his Son.
And, there we are with young Samuel, learning to listen and to speak when we hear the God who listens and speaks.
So fearful are we of someone suggesting how ridiculous when we use the language of faith to say we are talking with God and we are listening. Rather than internalize their disbelief and look for something else, what if we followed the Story and discovered the Promise God made about David comes fulfilled in Jesus?
The means by which others may hear is in the way in which we are faithful to the God who is faithful to us. It is not we who bring help, but we who live out of the help we receive in Jesus. And, as those who are made new in Jesus, we help others learn to respond, “Here I am. Speak for your servant is listening.”
We will then show up faithful in the midst of human desperation not disparaging others but pointing them to the LORD of Armies that remembers us in our pain.
*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.