EPIPHANY 4, A, The Presentation of Our Lord – February 2, 2014

SCRIPTURES – 1 Sam. 1:21-28; Heb. 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-32

(District Pres. Rev. Tim Yeadon, preacher)


“The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.” 1 Samuel 1:21–28


            It is nice to be with all of you again today, although this is the first time I have ever been in the Lord’s pulpit here as District President.  I remember one of my absolute favorite times here at St. Peter’s about ten years ago.  It was the baseball playoffs and on a Sunday when there was a District meeting here which I attended the Red Sox were down three games to none to the infamous Yankees.  In fact, not only had they lost three games but they were humiliated with huge defeats.  But I remember my predecessor who was also here saying that yes, the Sox may lose game four.  But he predicted that if in fact they could win that fourth game that they would win three more in a row to take the series. That is exactly what happened, the Red Sox went on to the World Series that year, and they broke the 86 year old curse of losing.  My sons who are die hard Red Sox fans have always remembered that story and they think that you as a congregation are the dead center ground zero of wonderful prophesy.


            I thank you for being one of our Churches with a long history of serving the Savior with us in New England.  I thank you for your Pastor.  He is not only a good man as a shepherd of the Lord but he is also one of our Vice-Presidents in the District.  He is also one of my friends who keeps my head above water.  Granted, he pounds me on the golf course on a regular basis but one day, yes, one day I will in fact beat him in a round of golf.  That day has yet to come but I know it will someday. 


            So on a day like today as I fill in for your Pastor I hope and pray that I do justice to the ministry of this congregation and to Pastor Beinke’s faithfulness to all of you.  I pray I do justice to God’s Word this morning with its message for us all.  So reading through this account of Hannah and her young son Samuel I am reminded of a young mother I knew when I was Pastor up at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Hartford, Connecticut.  She told me of her son who could give her the greatest joys in life but could also put her in the insane asylum with some of his antics.  She told me that she had days when she just had to take her son in her arms and throw her arms around him.  “I put my hands together and hold him tight and I don’t let go, Pastor,” she told me.  But then she added, “And I hold him tight and put my hands together to keep my fingers from strangling him!”


            Anyone who has children probably understands these mixed feelings you can have on certain days.  Hannah had mixed feelings as well about Samuel because he was literally a miracle child who meant everything in the world to Hannah.  In fact, Hannah’s story is something that speaks to so many hearts today that I want to begin by telling you what led up to our text this morning.


            Hannah was married to a wonderful man named Elkanah.  The indications are that he loved the Lord and so did Hannah.  They also loved each other.  But they endured a predicament that so many people in our world also endure.  They had no children.  They had no children and it troubled them.  Now I want to say off the bat that for some of us this is not a problem and I recognize that fact.  Some couples are perfectly content to remain childless and many single people are equally content in that life;  I don’t want to make assumptions that everyone without children is miserable.  But so many couples even today struggle when they discover that they cannot have children.  In fact, in the Bible there exist many couples who wrestled with that problem.  Abraham and Sarah were one couple and in the New Testament the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth struggled.


            Elkanah did what some people did in the ancient world;  he took a second wife.  You and I don’t live with this situation but it could happen fairly regularly in the world of 3000 years ago.  Through that other woman children were born to the family.  But this situation only made life more miserable for Hannah. The Bible describes the other woman as her “rival” and it says that the other woman continually provoked Hannah and never let her forget the reality of her life.  Elkanah loved Hannah deeply and since he was happy he could not understand why Hannah was not.  But Hannah was miserable.  In only a few verses of the Bible these are the words the Bible uses to describe Hannah’s continued misery:  It says she “wept and would not eat”, her “heart was sad”, she was “deeply distressed,” she “wept bitterly”, she was “troubled in spirit”, she “poured out her soul before the Lord,” and it says of Hannah that she had “great anxiety and vexation.”  This is a woman who is deeply depressed about life.  Brothers and Sisters, if you have ever been there in this situation, or even are to this day, you have an understanding companion in Hannah.


            But God remembered Hannah and in His mercy He heard her prayers, just as He hears yours.  Hannah found that she was at last going to have a child and the baby boy was born to her.  His name was “Samuel” which means “God hears”; and my encouragement to all of you is to never give up in your prayers but know in your heart that your loving Father always hears you when you cry to Him.  He never forsook Hannah in her sorrow and He will never forsake you.  And because of His goodness to Hannah you and I have some of the most wonderful lessons for raising a child, or a grandchild, who was as loved as your child is loved by you.  For now we are ready for our text today at long last.


            And we learn a wonderful lesson about parenting not from Hannah but actually from Elkanah.  Following the reading from 1 Samuel we discover that Elkanah “and all his house” went up to the offer the Lord their yearly sacrifices as they faithfully fulfilled their promises and vows to the Lord.  It was the father of this family who set the standard for this family’s devotion.  Men of God who are my brothers, I am not saying that all things ultimately depend on you but this is a responsibility that God gives to husbands and fathers.  Do not dump your spiritual responsibilities on your wife.  I’m glad you are here in worship today;  don’t make your wife or the mother of your children a spiritual widow.  For the indications are that when the father of a family is faithful in worship of God there exists a far greater chance that the children will grow up to be faithful as well.  When a father does not worship regularly the chances of his children growing up to do so drop like a rock.


            This is not to say that Hannah had no part in all of this.  I love her commitment to the Lord as a mother when she promises that the first chance she has she will be bringing her beloved son to the Lord.  She wants him to be in the presence of the Lord.  Why?  She isn’t only thinking of earthly things. She says, “So that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” Hannah understands what every parent by grace should understand.  We are talking about eternal things in the lives of our children.  We are talking about things on earth that forever impact our children. 


            Now having said that you and I may now get pale as a sheet because that is an awesome responsibility that is almost too great to bear.  Thanks be to God because Elkanah comes to the rescue - his prayer is found in the words to Hannah his wife: “Do what seems best to you... only, may the Lord establish His Word.”  Thanks be to God you are not alone as a parent.  We are reminded that God is not just God but we use the name “Father” for Him.  God is the One Who establishes His Word. God is the One Who plants faith in the heart of a child.  God is the One Who sustains us in faith until old age and into eternity.  And God is faithful.  Even when we are not God is faithful.


            And so Hannah eventually did bring her child to the Lord – and she did it not reluctantly or in a grudging way but she did it because she recognized her boy as a gift from the Lord.  As she explained his miraculous birth in our text, “The Lord granted me my petition that I made to him.”  People of God -- every child is a gift from God no matter how that child came into the world.  No child is a mistake from the Lord, even if the circumstances that brought this child into the world were not the best.  You may yourself have even entered the world in that manner and at times perhaps you even felt unwanted in life.  But God never felt that way about you.  Ephesians says that from the foundation of the world God planned your salvation.  He formed you and He knew you even in your mother’s womb.  He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  In fact, what more wonderful words can be given of your Father in heaven’s love for you than those of Isaiah 49: 15-16: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.”  And that engraving occurred on the cross as nails went through Jesus’ hands because He loved you.  He chose to take on your death and your hell so that you would never be alone and never apart from God Your Father.  And since St. John’s Gospel tells us that those wounds which were shown to Thomas by the resurrected Jesus are still there in His hands, whenever Jesus on His throne of glory in heaven looks at His hands He sees that engraving there with your name on it.


            And so when Hannah in her ultimate example to you and me does what she does at the end of the text, she tells you and me that if a child is God’s gift to us then what is the greatest gift we can give back to that child?  It is found in the words, “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord.  As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”  Hannah loved Samuel as any mother loves her child.  But Hannah knew something:  her son was hers for a while.  But he was the Lord’s forever.  And the greatest gift which she could give to her son was to give Him to God.  She brought him to God, she committed him to God, she saw him as God’s child-- she gave him to God.


            To bring a child to God in baptism is the first and greatest responsibility God puts upon a new parent.  To encourage parents to remember God in their home with daily prayers and prayers at the dinner table and in discussions about God is something I urge all of you from this pulpit of your church to do.  To bring children to Sunday School and to confirmation as a privilege and honor because you are bringing them to God flies in the face of the comments we sometimes hear about what a pain it is to come on Sunday morning or whenever confirmation class occurs here.   See it as the joy and honor and privilege it is – and see it as your joy and honor and privilege because you parents and grandparents and single people are also children of your Heavenly Father.


            For look at how it ends today.  It is the description of Samuel and it is the hope and dream of every Godly parent such as yourself if you are one, or the dream of a Godly grandparent if you are one, or the dream of any Christian who calls St. Peter’s his or her Church family.  “And he worshiped the Lord there.”  Samuel worshiped the Lord.  The next generation carried on because the torch of God’s love was passed to them. 


            Yes, I know that even with the most dedicated Christian parents not every child grows up to love the Lord. That hurts you when it happens.  It hurts God too.  But God never gives up on them and don’t you give up.  For the Lord has that awesome ability to pop up in their lives when we least expect it.  And if your children are faithful then rejoice and sometime today say a prayer of thanks to God for it.  For it means that we’ll be together forever in heaven and heaven will indeed be a family reunion like you and I could never imagine! 


            Someone, maybe a parent, once brought you to God.  They told you about Jesus.  They showed you a Savior. They prayed for you.  They loved you enough to give you the greatest love ever – the love of Jesus Christ.  If you are a Mom or Dad you have a chance to do the same thing.  And the peace comes in knowing that in the end it is not your burden to make them believe; it is God the Holy Spirit’s burden.  And if you worry about your child, and no matter how old they may be what mother or father doesn’t worry at times? - God the Almighty watches over them and He will never leave them nor forsake them.


            God bless our families.  God bless our parents, grandparents, and single people.  God bless our children;  for they are His children , now and forevermore!!!  Thanks be to Jesus. Amen.