Tune My Heart

Rev. Sarah Buteux 
November 18, 2012
1 Samuel 1: 4-20; Matthew 6:24-34

You can watch the sermon here or on Youtube

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing Thy grace…

I’m going to start off this morning with a question for the ladies: how many of you have seen the movie “27 Dresses”?

It was pretty decent, right, for a Katherine Heigl romcom? Not bad.

Alright men, how about you? How many of you have seen the movie “27 Dresses”? Not as many. Tell me this, honestly, how many of you would publicly admit it, if you had? Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought. But you all know that expression, “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” right? Well, spoiler alert, that pretty much sums up the plot of the whole movie, so you can skip it if you want and just go watch “SkyFall” if that’s more your speed. However, that phrase  - “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” I bring it up because that was pretty much my little sister’s life for the better part of young adulthood.

I don’t know that she had 27 bridesmaids dresses in her closet, but by the time she hit 30, that poor girl was getting close. And I can tell you that at first, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, early on, picking out those dresses and getting the shoes dyed to match was actually kind of exciting. Heather would show up for a fitting and daydream about what sort of dresses she’d make her friends wear at her wedding. She’d arrive at the church all dolled up and ready on the off chance that her prince charming might be amongst the guests, but for whatever reason, P.C., never showed.

So Heather got serious.  She poured over advice columns in magazines, she went to therapy, she even read “The Rules.” You all remember “The Rules”? UGGH! She tried blind dating, speed dating, and dating services, all to no avail.

And yet still the invitations on the nice paper kept coming.

Now I think you all know that there are few things worse in life than having to go to a big party and make merry when you feel blue, but when that party is all about celebrating that someone has found the one thing you wish you had, it can be excruciating.

God bless her, though, Heather was a good friend, and she’d go anyway. Only after a time she wised up. When yet another bride to be, a lovely young woman by the name of Shannon, asked her to be in her wedding party, Heather agreed, but she did so this time with her eyes wide open. She’d buy the dress and the shoes and she’d go to the party, but she wasn’t going to go with any expectations. She wasn’t going to go a try to make something happen. There would be no more mental note taking about her own nuptials, no anxious scanning of the crowd for Mr. Right. She was just going to go and be her own fabulous single self with no agenda whatsoever, because as Heather said the night before that wedding: “You know what, I’m alright. I’ve got a good life and I like who I am. I’m ok. I’m just going to go to this thing and have a good time.”

And she did. Heather arrived at the reception, sized up the wedding party and said, “Alright, who’s single here?” A nice guy by the name of Sean said, “Um…I am.” And Heather, tossing those awful rules to the wind, said,  “Well then I’m hanging out with you.” And they did. And it was good. And I’ll come back to them in a bit because their story isn’t finished. But first, I want to talk to you about Hannah, the woman from our Bible story for today. 

As you may have noticed from the reading, Hannah, like Heather, had to go to a big party, only she had to go to this big party every year, and it….was…. awful.

The party took place at Shiloh and it was actually a great feast day, a holy day, a holiday, much like the one we’re about to celebrate around here. After the harvest was gathered in, but before people settled down for the winter, each household was to gather up their tithe - that is a tenth of whatever grain, new livestock, wine, oil, or whatever they had accumulated or made during that year - and make a pilgrimage to the tabernacle in Shiloh where they would offer their tithes to the Lord.

The priests would take the gifts and offerings, burn the meat on the altar - essentially cook it - and then after the priest took a portion of that meat for himself and the temple staff, each family would take the rest and go and sit down and eat together. As it says in Deuteronomy:

“You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain, or new wine, or oil, or the first-born of your herd or flock …But you shall eat them before the LORD your God … you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and (here’s the kicker) you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings” (12:17-18).

Did you catch that? “You shall rejoice.” After a long year of work and toil it was time to party. This was an event, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when everyone was supposed to be happy. But all that happiness only made Hannah more miserable because Hannah was already miserable because Hannah couldn’t seem to have children. Unlike her husband’s second wife, Peninnah, who had so many children we don’t even get a head count, Hannah was barren.

It might have been ok the first few times they’d gone up to Shiloh. Hannah probably even helped with Peninnah’s kids all the while dreaming of what she’d do with her own, but her own never seemed to come along. And so Hannah had to watch year after year at Shiloh as her husband made sacrifices to thank God for all his children, knowing acutely that none of those children were hers. She had to watch year after year as her husband would carve off a huge chunk of meat for Peninnah to share at the feast with all her little ones and then sit there in shame as her husband carefully cut off a delicate little share for her and her alone. He was kind man, was Elkanah, and out of his love for Hannah he’d always give her a double portion, but I bet his generosity only made her feel that much worse. I bet Hannah sat there feeling a little more helpless and little more worthless as each year went by.

Until the year finally came when she just couldn’t take it anymore.

All the laughter and the cheer, the children running up and down, the people singing, Peninnah’s smug smiles and her own grief, finally drive Hannah from the table. As soon as her duty is fulfilled she runs off to the tabernacle in tears and falls down before God and pours out her heart before the throne. She weeps. She bargains. She rocks back and forth and prays with her whole body, her whole being, till her tears run dry and there are no words left to say.

And then Eli shuffles in. He finds her so distraught that the old priest assumes at first that she must be drunk from all the revelry and so he says either the least pastoral or most pastoral thing any pastor has ever said:

“How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

Least pastoral perhaps because he’s obviously completely oblivious to this woman’s pain, but perhaps most pastoral because his unjust accusation arouses a righteous anger within Hannah; an anger that finally help her break through the fog of her grief and distress. “No, my lord,” she says with great indignity, I’m not drunk:

I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”

Did you catch that? Did you hear what Hannah said about herself, because thanks to Eli’s accusation, I think Hannah finally did. 

“Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman…”. 

Hannah tells Eli that she is not worthless… and in her effort to convince him, I think she finally convinces herself.  Something shifts in Hannah right in the middle of this story. Eli’s accusation breaks her out of her self-pity.  “I have good reason to weep,” says she, “every reason to be as vexed as I am anxious, but I am not worthless.”

Hannah at Shiloh, much like Heather before that wedding, has a major epiphany. She comes to realize in that moment that although she may not have the one thing in all the world she wants most, she doesn’t have to let what she lacks define her. She realizes in that moment that child or no child she is still worth something in God’s eyes and therefore still worth something in her own, that her life is precious whether she is a mother or not.

To paraphrase the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Hannah comes to understand that “just to live is a blessing, just to be is holy.” And there’s a word for that sort of realization, a name to describe that kind of understanding. I think what Hannah discovered in Shiloh at that moment and what my sister Heather experienced before that wedding a few years ago, was a little something called gratitude. Each woman found that she was grateful, in spite of what she lacked, not just for who she was, but for the sheer fact that she was. And each allowed her gratitude for what was, rather than her desire for what wasn’t, to become the driving force in her life.

Friends, I know we talk a lot about gratitude at this time of year, but know that gratitude, at least as I understand it, isn’t just a neat synonym for being thankful for all the good stuff. Gratitude isn’t the warm fuzzy feeling you experience when you finally get everything you want, because the truth is, you never do. No, gratitude is something you tap into deep within yourself that helps you find peace and hope no matter what.

 

Eli told Hannah to go in peace that day and prayed that the Lord would grant her a child, but Hannah, thanks to her new found sense of gratitude, left at peace already. She left Shiloh filled with peace long before her child was born. The Bible tells us that she “went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.”

Hannah didn’t know what the future would hold, she had no idea if she’d ever have a baby, but thanks to that moment in Shiloh she had found peace in the present, and that peace is what carried her home.  That peace was what enabled her to start loving her husband again with joy rather than desperation. And that peace remained hers before and even after her little Samuel was finally born.

Likewise, my sister went to that wedding. Heather talked and danced and shared a few drinks with that guy named Sean. She wasn’t trying to be what she thought he might want her to be. She wasn’t trying to make something happen. Truth is, she wasn’t trying at all.  She was just being herself because she’d finally learned to be grateful for who she was and at the end of the night he not only asked for her number, he actually dialed it the very next day. Let me just take a moment to say that men like that are rare and precious and we love them. I officiated at Heather and Sean’s wedding two years ago, baptized their first child last month, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

I’m glad Hannah finally had Samuel, and I’m thrilled that Heather married Sean, but what is truly precious about each one’s journey is that it wasn’t getting what they thought they wanted that made them whole. It was the sense of gratitude they experienced for who they already were and what they already had - long before either Samuel or Sean showed up - that helped them realize they were whole already.

And that is my hope for all of you this day, this week, and all throughout this festive holiday season. As you gather for various celebrations, I know this holiday will be happier for some of you than others. I know for many of you there will be faces missing round the table that you desperately wish were there.  I know that for others of you there will be faces around the table you desperately wish were missing.

I also know that for some of you it will be a challenge to count your blessings given the challenges, sorrows, and disappointments in your life.  But know this - although you cannot change the past or control the future anymore than you can force yourself or anyone else to be happy - no matter what your circumstance you can still practice gratitude.

Gratitude is not a feeling reserved for those time when everything is ok and all is well. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean that you stop working or yearning for those things you want or need… it’s simply about taking the time to pause no matter where you are in your journey and give thanks for the journey itself. Give thanks for what you do have. Give thanks for who you are and that you are. Gratitude is the simple realization that even when it’s hard, “just to be is still a blessing, just to live is holy.”

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: O Lord, as we prepare to celebrate and give thanks this year, may we find it in our hearts to be grateful no matter what. May we praise you for what we can do and praise you in spite of what we can’t. May we thank you for what is and what isn’t, for what is going well and for what is not. May we thank you for what brings us joy and even for that which brings us grief, for if our grief testifies to anything, it testifies to the depths of our love. Bless us and keep us dear God we pray, and turn our hearts ever and always toward your all encompassing light, you who are our creator and savior, our redeemer and friend…  amen and amen.