Trinitarian Congregational Church

Summer of Praise: “Got Favor?”

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Hannah’s Story: Finding Favor When Hope Seems Far Away

We’ve all faced bullies from time to time. In the story of the birth of Samuel, Peninnah fits the part of the bully perfectly in 1 Samuel 1. She harasses Hannah because Hannah couldn’t bear children (v. 6).  The bullying is described in powerful terms: Peninnah (aka “her rival”) used to provoke her grievously to irritate her (v. 6).  Hannah experiences some of the symptoms typical of those who are bullied: emotional despair and loss of appetite (she “wept and would not eat” v. 7).   Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, is filled with compassion for her, but stands by helpless with questions that reminds us of the caring but somewhat clueless husband: “why do you not eat? and why is your heart sad?” (v. 8).  To add to Hannah’s trouble,  Eli the high priest mistakes her fervent and silent prayers for drunkenness! (v. 13).  The account underscores in quick succession that it was in fact the Lord who “had closed her womb” (v. 5, 6).  Her predicament seems even more hopeless when we realize the bullying from Peninnah went on “year by year” (v. 7).

What does Hannah do? For starters, she doesn’t hide her despair and struggles! Yet there is tremendous determination on her part to seek the Presence of the Lord: “she was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (v. 11). In all of this, she makes a startling promise that if she has a baby boy (=the end of the bullying), she will give him to the Lord “all the days of his life” (v. 10).

We know the rest of the story: she gives birth to Samuel (Samuel sounds like the verb ‘to ask’ in the original Hebrew text) and we don’t hear of Peninnah ever again.   But perhaps that is not the only point of the story.  The turn around moment and the relief of her deep distress doesn’t come when her prayer is answered and she fulfills her promise to dedicate Samuel to the Lord. 

Instead, the Word of God makes it clear the end of her struggle occurs long before any of the desired outcomes come to pass.   Instead, the relief comes when Eli gives her his high-priestly blessing, following her time of prayer in the House of the Lord: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him” (v. 17).  Hannah seizes the opportunity and immediately responds with a request.  She asks for favor, quite like Moses did with God in Exodus 33:13: “Let your servant find favor in your eyes” (v. 18).   Without any further details, Hannah (whose name means ‘favor’) then literally goes on her merry way, she regains her appetite, and her “face” is “no longer sad.”  It’s as if her prayer has been answered long before any of the rest of the story unfolds before us! (We know she ends up giving birth to three sons and two daughters!, 1 Samuel 2:21).

Our Story: God’s Favor Shifts our Perspective

Hannah’s struggle and appeal for favor offers a powerful lesson. How often have we felt like the underdog, pushed around by the ‘bullies’ of life!  Let’s name a few: any kind of chronic fruitlessness;  whatever plagues us on a consistent basis; and, yes even people sometimes!  But Hannah doesn’t get intimidated and takes her plight of desperation directly to the Lord in His presence and she appeals her case to a higher court!  Once she realizes that the Lord’s favor is on her life, her whole countenance changes. The Lord’s favor is also ours by faith in Jesus. When we appeal to the true High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, we will receive an abundance of favor (Hebrew 4:15-16) and our countenance/perspective on our situation will change too.  The original blessing of the high priest, Aaron, became reality in Hannah’s life and it is ours as well if we put our faith and trust in Jesus:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious (=favor) to you; The Lord lift up His face upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)*

At that precise moment, Hannah got a glimpse of the transformational truth of grasping God’s favor for herself (as Moses did before her). This is why Hannah receives peace even before Peninnah becomes a memory in the story line of her life and before the birth of her son. She walks away from this encounter with Eli convinced in her heart she had the favor of God!  Hannah then bursts into a song of praise (1 Samuel 2) in which she lauds the uniqueness of Yawheh (“there is none holy as the Lord”) and rejoices that the Lord raises the needy from the ash to make them sit with princes” (see also Psalm 113).  It is no coincidence Mary (whose song resembles the song of  praise of Hannah in Luke 1 is recognized as one “who has found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). 

Paul got favor too. This is why he was able to say to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances” (2 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  He learned to bask in the favor of the Lord, even in the face of adverse circumstances.

Reflections for the Week:

During this Summer of Praise, we praise Him for His favor. In our prayer life we know the variables: He answers in His way and at the time of His choosing (which is not always how and when we want it). Instead the certainty comes in the promise of favor  by faith in Jesus, our High Priest.  His favor will be enough to lift up our face, to give us peace, so that we too may face life’s bullies.

Take a moment to ask yourself if you have come to this moment of realization that the favor of the Lord is your’s by faith in Christ, even in the midst of adversity.  Favor is by definition not something we earn nor deserve.  Hannah couldn’t conjure up a change in her circumstances anymore than we can today.  But what we can change is our disposition toward the favor of the Lord and receive it with open hearts, just like Hannah, aka ‘Favor,’ did!

 

 

*This interplay of “favor,” “peace” and the countenance of Hannah’s face being changed also evokes the original blessing of Aaron.  This connection to the Aaronic blessing came to me as a result of a conversation with Dr. Carol Kaminski, founder and co-author of the Casket Empty Bible Study resources .

 

Summer of Praise: Praise for His Salvation

Read Exodus 15 and Colossians 2:11-15

A misguided view of salvation will inevitably lead to a misguided view of praise.  If we define salvation in political, social  or economic terms we will end praising the wrong things or wrong people.

The Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 celebrates Yahweh’s triumph over Pharaoh (“the enemy”) and his chariots (“the horse and rider”).  This epic passing from death to life  through the parted waters becomes the paradigm for praise: Yahweh alone is God and He alone saves. “Who is like the Lord among the gods?” Moses asks…The answer is (in a sort of silent responsive reading): NO ONE! and this is why we praise Him (Exodus 15:1, 11).

David Garland, in his comments* on Colossians 2:11-15 reminds us that the triumph of the sea over Pharaoh’s mighty wooden chariotry (600 of them!) is now the triumph of the Cross, also made of wood.  In fact the image of triumph in Colossians 2:15 is one that is directly represented in Roman imperial tradition where the victor rides into town on his chariot and white horses to receive praise and honor for his great victory.  Paul picks up this precise image in Colossians 2 and now makes the wooden vessel in the shape of a cross rather than a chariot.  King David essentially says the same thing: some trust (literally ‘remember’) in horses, some in chariots, but WE (emphatic!) trust/remember the name of the Lord our God! (Psalm 20:7).  Salvation is from the Lord; He alone saves us; therefore He alone is worthy of our praise!

*NIV Zondervan Study Bible (2015 edition)

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Pastor’s Note: Finishing well

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As we bring our study in the book of Mark to a close for now, we remember how the disciples don’t always ‘get it’ with Jesus. They’re not sure who He is, or even believe what He says (do take time to hear my colleague at the seminary Mateus de Campos on the Gospel of Mark and how the disciples continue to stumble “on the way”).

So we can imagine the shock the ‘inner circle’ of Peter, James, John and Andrew (with whom the whole journey started in chapter 1) when Jesus says something to the effect: ‘the light at the end of the tunnel is one big incoming freight train’ in Mark 13.  The world as they know it is about to end (the temple would be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans).  Jesus does not fill in all the details but He does tell them “the Holy Spirit” will enable them to face what/whom they will encounter.  In addition, He keeps telling them throughout the chapter not to be “anxious,” to be “on guard” and “to stay awake.”  The promise is that is “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).   Based on the track record in Mark, it’s hard to imagine these guys will pull it off.  Jesus also speaks of His Coming back “in great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).  So there is a lot more going in what He says then just the destruction of the Temple. He is talking about the End Game as in the End of the World!  In that Jesus fulfills all the ancient prophecies that history is not cyclical but things will come to an End at a time of God’s choosing.  We just cannot imagine what the disciples must have felt at that moment!

 For us, we may or may not face the intense persecutions the disciples faced but the central question comes right back to us: Will you finish well? We’ve all seen people finish well and others not finish well. What’s the secret?  Here Jesus puts emphasis on endurance and the Holy Spirit.  Other biblical writers fill in the details that are of great help to us today.  Jude is the one that speaks so powerfully  when he says: “keep yourselves in the love of God.”  Clinging to His mercy is what will get us through the biggest (and small) trials of our lives.  We too are “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus.”  So, just like the disciples in Mark and just like the tortoise, you and I may not start fast,  but Jude tells us we can finish well:

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Summer of Praise

About the Series

Summer is the time when many people come and go, “sent out” to meet new people, reconnect with families and friends, discover new places and/or settle into familiar hide outs.  For others the summer is a time to simply stay put and enjoy the weather right here in metro west.  As we all know, to keep a positive attitude in changing circumstances makes for a much better experience (whether on vacation or not!) than to pull the familiar complaining lever. We’ve all had these miserable road trip delays or other traveling ‘unmercies’ that have a way to change the mood in the car- or wherever- real fast!

In the Scripture, it’s amazing how often songs of praise come in the context of adverse circumstances.  Rather than getting frustrated and grumpy about his own delayed travel plans, Paul says to the Thessalonians: “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  The Song of Moses in Exodus 15 functions as a sort of go-to manual of praise when it says,  “The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation. This is my God, I will praise Him!” (Exodus 15:1-2).  The Psalms (the prayer book of God’s people) are loaded with praise and thanksgiving, even in the midst of great sufferings.  Over and over again, we are told, circumstances are the cart, and praise is the horse.  Yet all too often we we get this order confused!  Paul is himself in prison when he says  “do everything without complaining” (Philippians 2:14).

This summer, let’s make it our habit to give Him praise. It will be tested, no doubt about it, but as we praise Him we also make a statement that our lives are in His hands: “let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150)

So whether you are able to attend every week or are away for some of the time this summer, do check in either in person or via podcast and be sure bring a friend to visit TCC! Every week we will highlight moments in the Bible and in our lives where an attitude of praise and thanksgiving made all the difference in the world.

Summer Songs

A few of the songs we’ll be singing this summer:

 

Summer Worship Schedule

July 1
Summer worship in Phillips Hall (9:30a)
No LTA
DIVE Bible Study at 9:50a

July 8 – August 26
Summer worship in Phillips Hall (9:30a)
LTA and DIVE Bible Study at 9:50a

September 2
Summer worship in Phillips Hall (9:30a)
No LTA
DIVE Bible Study at 9:50a