Monday, November 19, 2012

Hannah's Song

1 Samuel 2: 1-10, OT page 245 Hannah prayed and said, "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. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by the Lord actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; the Lord brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; the Lord brings low, the Lord also exalts. The Lord rises up the poor from the dust; the Lord lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them the Lord has set the world. The Lord will guard the feet of the faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! The Lord's adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; the Lord will give strength to the king, and exalt the power of the Lord's anointed." Sermon I once spent a long summer as a chaplain intern at the Metro State Women's Prison in Atlanta. My supervisor assigned me to spend one morning out of every week on the floor where the developmentally delayed women were held. One woman I remember clearly was 6 and a half feet tall, 300 or so pounds and her file told me that she had nearly killed a man with a rake. I can't say that I was completely at ease in her presence, and neither was I comfortable when the rest of the women from the floor gathered to meet me. After a while, one woman with pig tails and glasses told the guard that she was ready to sing. That sounded like a strange request to me, but the guard wasn't surprised, and quieted the group down and into seats while this young woman stood. She couldn't have been more than 20 and had probably never had an easy day in her life, but she stood before the whole group and sang, "His eye is one the sparrow, so I know he watches me." After that another stood to sing, then another, finally the big woman stood up, and I looked around the room to make sure there weren't any rakes. Then she sang, "Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home." She was said to have the mind of a seven year old, but she still knew well enough that someday the Lord would sweep her up and take her home. They all changed when they sang. Their expressions changed, their kaki prison issue jumpsuits became choir robes, and the room itself - cold, hard, cinder block walls became peaceful as though we weren't in prison at all. That's what music does. These songs they sang must have been learned at church, but even at the alternative school where my sister works, she says that all those kids with their discipline problems will get along well enough with each other to sing all the words to Justin Bieber when his song “Boyfriend” comes on the radio. His song might not have the same effect on us – though I’ve caught our organist Wilmoth trying to learn it. This ability to transform that music has is a power that mothers have always known about – how a baby so worked up, face contorted in discomfort and frustration, back arched – can be transformed back into that angle you know and love with the right song from the right voice. It’s this power that today’s scripture lesson posses, as I can tell you it’s not just a prayer as the heading to your pew Bible suggests. How would a prayer prayed for the first time have made it in the Bible – as no one was there to write it down, Samuel too young to do such a thing? No, this is the song Hannah, Samuel’s mother, sang to her stomach when it finally began to bulge with child. She waited for so long to have this baby. There were years of waiting, endless prayers prayed at the Temple, years of frustration, years of disappointment finally over. “My heart exults in the Lord” she sang to the long-awaited baby inside. Samuel had heard it so many times it was familiar to him before he was even born; it was the only thing that calmed him down when he woke up in the middle of the night, tired but too frustrated to sleep. Every parent knows you’ll do or sing anything to get that child back to sleep in middle of the night, but Hannah already knew what to sing – it was the only song that would do as she rocked the baby who would become Israel’s prophet in her arms. It’s a song he knew so well before he could even know his own name that even the first note brought a smile to his face. So when Hannah brought Samuel to the temple, so grateful for him that she felt she needed to dedicate him to God, it was the song she sang to give her the strength to follow through with this promise I bet she wished she would had never made. Singing this song one last time, a song Samuel knew better than any other, she wiped the tears from his eyes and walked away, no one to wipe the tears away from her own. Leaving her son at the temple with one last gift, a song. But it was a powerful gift that she gave him – a gift that transforms reality. This is the gift she gave him one last time the day she walked away from the temple leaving her son to be brought up in the House of the Lord. When he woke up cold and alone on the temple floor, it was this song that kept him warm. Homesick and hungry, nothing else could give him comfort or remind him of his mother’s love the way this song could – transforming his solitude, if for only a moment, to feel his mother’s arms around him once again singing the words: “Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.” Too small to defend himself against the abuse of the Temple priest’s spoiled sons, this song promised him a new day when the, “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.” And as he grew up, old enough to notice the pain of his people, the struggle of the widow, the plight of the poor, so frustrated he just wanted to escape a world so dark and cold, he would sing this song and know justice, for “The Lord raises up the poor from the dust; the Lord lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” You see, music transforms; and a song, the right song can tide you over until justice comes. This was the song that carried Samuel through his struggle. It kept the light of hope burning brightly, when it was hopeless all around. This is the power of song and our choir knows all about it. These children who just sang their song of Thanksgiving know the words and those words will be there on that dark night when they need them. That’s why music matters. The prophet Jeremiah asks, “Is there a balm in Gilead?” But slaves in this country boldly proclaimed that there is – that there is a balm in Gilead that will make the wounded whole, that will heal the sin sick soul.” The slave owners knew that song’s power, and so they took away the drums, policed the night for fear of such songs of freedom – but the slaves sang and they sang – praising God for a freedom that wasn’t yet here but was surely on the way. They kept on singing as Samuel did, even though the world tried to silence them, tried to teach them a different song to sing. Replacing songs of change with songs about how nothing will ever change. Replacing songs of Thanksgiving, praising God from whom all blessings flow, with department store jingles about over spending and buying happiness. Putting away songs of joy for songs of lamentation. Songs that tell us that there’s no use praising God for what’s on the way, for the good old days are long gone – that tomorrow should be feared for don’t you know it just won’t be as good as yesterday. So you’ve been angry, dissatisfied and frustrated. Maybe disappointed with who’s lost, and already skeptical about tomorrow. So Hannah comes with a new song to sing. A new song, so rich and so true that when Mary found that she was pregnant with the Son of God, though she was afraid, though she was worried, though she was certain that she would be ridiculed and shunned as an unwed mother there was really only one song for her to sing. Let us join her in singing Hannah’s song. Because with our heads bowed low and our worries fixed in our minds there’s nothing but that tired, sad, lonesome, boring song that’s sticks in your head and is never going to get you where you need to go! It’s time for you to sing a new song – a song about a new day that isn’t here yet – but you better know it’s on the way. A song about a new world of justice and peace – that isn’t here yet – but you can sing it as we walk this road until we get there. A song about hope, and change, and the God who is even now making a way, building up a new Kingdom, setting the captives free – and when that new day comes you better know the words to sing. “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.” Hallelujah! Amen.

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