Union Presbyterian Church

254 Shell Road, Carneys Point, NJ 08069 856-299-1724 "A Caring Family Of Faith That Loves As Christ Taught Us To"

1 Samuel 2: 1-11                                                                                                                                                                                       Hebrews 4: 1&2, 8-16

                                                                         Grace Here And There

                May the Lord be with you!  (And also with you…)

            Last Sunday I introduced, or re-introduced, to us the opening lines of the First Book of Samuel.  And those lines, of course, are the opening lines of the story of Samuel, the last official Judge of Israel.  It’s the story of the judge who appointed Saul and then David to be the first kings over Israel.  Justifiably, to say the least, Samuel’s time here on earth was a very, very historically momentous period for the Israelite nation.  And I say that because, at that time, the Israelites were actively going from that phase of teenager to immature adult.  Thinking that they had to be like everyone else, that they could do it all, that they knew it all, that they were ready to conquer the world even though they didn’t really have the first clue about how it was that the world actually worked.  Anyone who’s had a teenager as a child will probably have at least a bit of an idea about what I speak when using such an example. 

            But what we heard last week in those opening lines of that book was really about how Samuel kind of came into existence.  His mother had been apparently barren and because of that she was not only depressed, but deeply distraught.  As I told you, I believe last week, that for a woman or couple to have no children at that time, and this does still exist in certain parts of the world today, that it meant that their future really did have a pretty massive question mark hanging over it.  The big issue with this was that not only were their lives seen as lacking an important purpose, but then also that they’d have no one to take care of them in their old age.  And that could be, and can be, a very dangerous thing depending upon where you are in God’s creation.  But what was the even bigger issue of course for Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was that Samuel’s father, Elkanah, had married another woman and was able to have children with that second wife. Elkanah would be taken care of in the future, he did have children, but for Hannah there was some serious problem there, she had no guarantee of being cared for in the future, at least most likely not after Elkanah would die – if he was to die first.  ..And she’s distraught also, and perhaps especially distraught also, after being constantly picked on and teased because of her childless state by this other woman taken by her husband.  And so she goes to the temple, crying her heart out to God, asking him for a son, just even one, and then she promises that that son, if granted to her, would be given back over to God to be a servant in his temple.  As we realize, God hears her prayer and answers it with just what she had wanted, a son, a healthy boy who would certainly leave an incredible mark on God’s people.  (Just as a side note, Hannah actually ended-up having five more children after that important first – three boys and two girls.  For her sacrifice of giving this child that she clearly adored over to God’s temple as a servant she was blessed many times over, she herself became incredibly blessed.)

            And so our verses this morning from Samuel are now looking at the prayer that Hannah offers up to God after she and Elkanah leave at the temple this first child of theirs; Samuel, interestingly the meaning of Samuel is ‘heard by God’ – we’d probably be able to understand it better though by defining Samuel as ‘answer to prayer’.  And so this answer to Hannah’s prayer brings us to our topic today which is really centered on the issue of grace.  And ‘grace’ is actually a pretty big topic, and it’s not one that’s real simple either.  At its central core ‘grace’ is simply the ‘love of God’.  God showed his grace to Hannah because of her prayer that came from such a distraught place, his grace was shown in answering her prayer.  She then in turn responds to that grace by abiding by her commitment that she had made to God, she returned to God from the love that he’d shown to her.  And then for Hannah in our Scriptures her story essentially then ends, we don’t hear about her anymore, however, we are at least left with the knowledge that God did continue to show Hannah his grace by having given to her those five more children, five more children who gave her purpose and stability; all that she felt she craved and needed.  That certainly is an amazing gift of grace, to feel that you have purpose and stability in this life.

            Hannah declares that because of God’s grace, his love shown to her, that her heart rejoices in the Lord, that there is no one who can be relied on like how it is that she relies on such a gracious Lord.  That this Lord God sees all and hears all, understands all, gives life instead of death, lifts the poor up to a place of height, protects, provides….shows his love, and ultimately is giving us the prime example on how it is that we should love each other.  God’s grace is certainly abundant in this world….and it is abundant to all of his creation, not just certain parts of it.  God created this world in which we live, and I think it’s obvious that he would never turn his back on any centimeter of it.

            But now this is where this issue of grace can get a little confusing for folks, a little muddled.  It can get confusing for folks when they either look at others and perhaps deem those people’s lives as tragic and terrible and oh so hard to deal with, apparently lacking God’s hand of grace, or when folks themselves begin feeling that their own lives aren’t touched by God’s grace, God’s love. When people feel that their lives are chaotic and crazy and that they always seem to have things going on that feel just far from God.  Perhaps even asking themselves and even asking God, ‘Why me?’  ‘Why are you doing this to me God?’  ‘What have I done?’  ..Has anyone ever met someone with such thoughts or words, has anyone here ever had such thoughts themselves or perhaps, just maybe, have uttered questions like those?  I can say rather honestly that I think we’ve all probably had to have been there in such a place at one time or another…

            In our theology, in our Christian belief thought processes, it has been determined that there are some varying ways to look at how we can define grace and how we can consider just how it is that grace works in our lives.  We have what we call Common Grace, and what common grace is is the grace or love of God, that God shows to all living creatures on every centimeter of this crazy place that God now so long ago made.  Meaning, God shows his love to everything, he shows love to the animal kingdom when providing them with food and drink, he shows the birds of the sky his grace by giving them their ability to fly, and then also grace to the fish to swim, and he’s showing his grace to my dogs when I’m cuddling with them on the couch watching something on TV and giving to them from whatever it is that I may be snacking on – that’s also grace to me too actually though.  And also fitting into that thought is that God shows his graceful love to the materially fortunate, not just with what it is that they have, but then also when He gives to them a sense of responsibility for those less fortunate, in our own communities or for those far away.  Common Grace is the grace that is shown to everyone and all things simply because our God is a loving God, our God is a God that wants all of his creation to live joyfully and joyously.   God’s common grace allows us to see the positive in our lives, and it’s especially not something that depends on faith tradition or nation citizenship.  There are too many folks that seem to think that it does.

            ..You know, I always had to kind of scratch my head when I was living and working overseas, because so many westerners who would either visit or hear my stories would look at those folks that I was working with over there and would be almost brought to tears by the situations those people were having to deal with or for some of them with the impoverishment that they were having to endure.  But then at the same time, those who were bringing those westerners to tears from over there would always say to me and ask me, “How do you people deal with having to be so controlled by so much stuff in America?  And your families, they’ve fallen apart, there’s so much violence where you live too, we feel so sorry for you all.  You have it so rough, we’re so much better off.”  Suffering and impoverishment is always relative; everyone’s got some form of suffering going on in their lives no matter where they are in the world.  It’s just that it’s up to us to figure out how we’ll use what we think of as suffering, to grow closer to God so that it – in our eyes and minds – will then be truly seen as the form of grace that God means it to be, allowing us to always appreciate those wonderful things in our lives without getting hung up on the not so wonderful.

            And then we have what’s called Divine Grace.  And what divine grace is is essentially all of those things and all of those moments and all of those occurrences in which God is helping those of us who have faith in him, to have and maintain that faith.  I don’t think I have to state how difficult having and maintaining our faith in this life can be, especially when living in a society that tends to not only undervalue it, but also tends to completely de-value it; looking at faith and belief in God as something that only those simple minded thinkers may find some credence in.  Clearly I have to disagree with those who propose such a thought, I personally think it’s the simple minded that disregard God’s role in our lives.  But I will also put out there another point on the matter of Divine Grace, and that is this, that having faith in God’s grace in this life is also about having faith in and being privy to God’s heavenly kingdom.  Divine grace is that love of God that always lets us know that there is a God actively working in our lives, preparing us for and leading us to God’s ultimate gift of grace which is salvation in the life to come.  Something that we attain due to the faith that God has instilled and has helped us to maintain, as well as something made available because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.   

            I think it pretty clear when we hear Paul’s words to the Hebrews.  He tells them, “…the Good News of God is that God has prepared a place of rest.  For all who enter into that place will find rest from their labors, just as God rested after creating the world.  Let us do our best to enter that place of rest.”  Paul was teaching here about God’s gracious gift of salvation brought to us by Christ’s ministry and then sacrifice on the cross. 

            And so what Paul wants us to do, and certainly what God wants us to do, is to grasp onto God’s grace in the form of our faith, to recognize where God’s grace is particularly present in our lives and in others’ lives, and to then to be gracious in return, using our relationship with God and the example of Christ as our guides.  And I will say too, that Hanna was a perfect example of exactly that, and her example is one that we can follow as well.  And that doesn’t mean giving our children over to the church, even though there probably are times that we’d like to try.  Hannah prayed for God’s grace, God answered and then she responded in kind.  We too should always do the same.

            In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.