Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Where does it hurt?
I’ve Been Meaning to Ask, a 4-week summer sermon series from “Sanctified Art” on questions that open us to curiosity, courage, and connection, week 2 of 4
Preached August 15, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
This week, we continue our sermon series from “Sanctified Art” called “I’ve been meaning to ask…” Each week, we are invited into a question we’ve been meaning to ask of ourselves or each other. Each question is a sign of our curiosity, an invitation to respond with courage and vulnerability in hopes of growing and deepening our connections.
Last week, we asked “Where are you from?” and learned we are all from the dust of the ground. We are all from the breath of God’s nostrils. No matter which vein of humanity we come from, this God puts our different stories, theologies, beliefs alongside one another and uses them to weave us together into one community. Everyone who enters is invited and safe to share their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs, and together, we help regrow God’s garden.
This week, we ask … where does it hurt? Everyone carries some hurt and everyone has the capacity to acknowledge how others hurt. I believe we can sometimes sense God close to us in moments of suffering, so this question invites us to be vulnerable about our own hurts, and compassionate toward the hurts of others.
Before we read scripture today, a note. This story of scripture is about a woman who hurts because of infertility challenges. Infertility, miscarriage, the loss of a child are painful and are suffered by many people, often silently. This story we will read is the story of many women, so let’s read it gently as reminder to be compassionate to those who carry hurts like these, and as a reminder to anyone with these hurts, you are not alone.
Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from...
Scripture 1 Samuel 1:1-18
1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion,[b] because he loved her, though (it seemed) the Lord had closed her womb.
6 (Hannah’s) rival (Peninnah) used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because “the Lord had closed her womb.” 7 So it went on year by year; as often as Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, Peninnah used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord.[c] Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite[d] until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink,[e] and no razor shall touch his head.”
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”
15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, 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. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great angst and exasperation all this time.”
17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; may the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to God.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant (also) find favor in your sight.” Then Hannah went to her quarters,[f] ate and drank with her husband,[g] and her countenance was sad no longer.[h]
Sermon Were does it hurt?
I ache for Hannah. She has a pain, one of body, one of spirit, and she is having to carry it alone. The reason we have relationships, connections with one another is to celebrate with one another in good times and to support one another in bad. She is in a bad space but others are not hearing her and supporting her.
You’d think she could count on her spouse, but Elkanah gaslights her. She has every right to feel sad. Her hope and vision of a family of her own are melting, and there’s a grief when we begin to see something we’ve hoped for slip away. What she needs from Elkanah is compassion, but he tries to convince her she shouldn’t feel that way. She should be happy. After all, she has one half of him, and surely that’s worth more to her than ten children would be. Hannah is rebuked for showing him where it hurts.
You’d think she could count on her family, but her rival, the other wife in the household, Peninnah, picks on her instead. Peninnah probably perceived the way Elkanah loves Hannah, a term never used from Elkanah toward Peninnah. Peninnah might have noticed the double portion Elkanah gives Hannah compared to her own single portion. Elkanah set up this competition and sparked this jealousy, but Peninnah is responsible for her own words and actions. What Hannah needed from Peninnah was sympathy, but Peninnah pokes a hot dagger into her soft spot. “Elkanah might love you, but apparently God doesn’t, otherwise God wouldn’t have closed your womb. I wonder what you did to make God so angry.” Peninnah dares to claim the Lord closed Hannah’s womb. Mind you, they didn’t understand the science of fertility, but Peninnah had a choice to show sympathy and speak of a God of mercy and hope, or to show judgment and to speak of God of vengeance and intolerance. Hannah is judged and belittled for her family seeing where she hurts.
You’d think she could count on her God. I love the way she doesn’t take Peninnah’s word for who God is. If Peninnah’s judgmental God had been on the mind of Hannah, she might have prayed, “Please God, tell me what I have done, and let me make amends. Show me my sin, and I promise to repay you and anyone I’ve injured thirty-fold!” That would be the prayer if she believed God was judging her, punishing her, closing her womb for some reason.
But that’s not Hannah’s prayer. Instead, she prays to a God of grace and miracles, a God of mercy and compassion. “Please God, look at the tears on my face. Listen to the trembling in my voice. Look and see my struggle and suffering and show me mercy, please! Please don’t ignore me or walk by me. I’m hurting and I need you. If you will give me the miracle of a child, I pledge to raise him in your ways.”
She came to church hoping to hear a word from God, but instead, a pastor sees her rocking, weeping, mouthing a silent prayer and tries to shoo her away for being drunk.
That does it. Her husband has no compassion for where she hurts. He family has no sympathy for where she hurts. She wanted some time with God to go over her hurts, but some arrogant pastor is telling her she’s acting like a drunk person.
She snaps out of her prayer and snaps back at Eli, “No sir. I have not been pouring and drinking wine or whiskey. I have been pouring and drinking my own tears. I have been pouring out my own soul for GOD to taste, so don’t you dare look down your nose at me as some drunken floozie. I am sick and tired, and I am praying God might listen, because God knows, nobody else will!”
The Bible is full of male-dominant language and culture, is full of patriarchal assumptions that males are more worthy or better than women. It's all hogwash of course, and not how God made humanity, male and female both from God’s own image. Still, so much of humanity did and still does try to exist with males over females instead of unique but co-equals with one another.
That’s why I love it in the Bible when a story like this one didn’t get edited out. This man, Eli, a priest, barks out at this woman Hannah from his bad assumption, and she barks right back. She’s blunt and vulnerable and real, and holds him accountable to a higher standard of compassion and understanding.
Men of power don’t always react to being corrected as Eli does. Sometimes, men who expect to have a certain power over women get quite defensive when scolded and corrected by a woman. For some reason, let’s call it God, Eli awakens to her pain. He sees her and believes her. His heart cracks open and he exhales the first reaction of judgment, and inhales a fresh breath of sympathy for her. Like some men are reported to do, he avoids saying “I’m sorry.” But, he does say, “Please, when you go, be at peace, no longer troubled in your spirit, and may the God of Israel grant the prayer you have prayed to God tonight.” That’s a start. That’s something. But Hannah doesn’t just want God’s respect. She wants Eli’s too. “I hope I also find favor in your sight.”
“Hannah’s pain is rooted in her not being seen. The moment her pain is acknowledged, heard, accepted, and blessed, she finds peace.” She goes home and is able to eat. Her face is not as long, or her eyes as quick to cry. She was finally able to tell someone where it hurts, and they received it, and prayed over it with her, and now carry it with them so she doesn’t have to carry it alone.
In her reflection on this story, Rev. Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum, a Pastor in Atlanta, GA, writes, “How many of us are hurting in silence, hiding our pain…? Maybe we have been taught that certain afflictions are not for polite company, and we have learned the painful, practiced art of smiling through platitudes. Maybe our pain has been invalidated or ignored so many times that we begin to believe there truly is something disgraceful about our feelings or experiences. Maybe it feels easier to bury our emotions for fear of how they will be perceived… Would we, like Hannah, be able to share our pain with a humble and dignified honesty…? … Hannah finds some peace after she explains her feelings in her own words, and she is (finally) respectfully acknowledged… Even as Eli himself is not able to provide an immediate solution for Hannah, he is able to accept her hurting and pray for her… If we are ever to be people who bring peace and healing to this hurting world, we must be willing to pause and bear witness to pain—to our own and others. Like Hannah, with dignity and honesty, we can embrace our stories without shame, trusting that God is present and ever listening. In turn, instead of shirking away or delegitimizing, we can perceive and accept the pain of others, and like the God we follow, stand alongside those who suffer.”
There may be others in our lives who have tried, or are trying, to tell us where it hurts. Maybe we were like Elkanah. Whose pain have we questioned? Maybe, we have been like Peninnah. Whose pain have we mocked? Maybe we have been like Eli. Whose pain have we dismissed? If you can think of someone who tried to share their pain, or may need to, go to them and show them you are willing to let them tell you where it hurts?
Or maybe, we have been, or are, like Hannah, screaming for someone to hear and believe us as we tell them where it hurts. If you are suffering silently even now, please reach out to me or Caitlan or one of our Deacons. We can sit with you, listen, cry with you, pray with you, and if needed, connect you with additional forms of support.