A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on November 18, 2012.
1 Samuel 2:1-10
2Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. 2“There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. 8He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. 9“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. 10The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
People are moved to sing by experiences that affect them at the deepest levels. Whether the experiences are profoundly pleasant and joyful or unpleasant and painful, across the ages humans have expressed their feelings about what we’ve gone through by songs. The Negro Spirituals, the blues, country and western ballads, classical music, folk songs, rhythm and blues, peace songs, hymns, anthems, and hip hop share that common feature.
Hannah’s song is a national psalm of Israel that was inspired by the experience of the mother of Samuel, the prophet who anointed Saul and David, the first two kings of Israel. Samuel’s father, Elkanah, had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was unable to bear children, which may have been why Elkanah married Peninnah. Although Elkanah loved Hannah, a man was held in highest respect by being the father of children. Women who could not produce children were considered unfavored by God.
So Hannah endured the public pain and the private frustration of infertility. She was helpless as Elkanah took a second wife. When Peninnah began having children, Hannah’s pain increased. Then Peninnah taunted her because of her infertility.
Hannah was a praying woman. From the depth of her pain she prayed for deliverance from infertility. In her piety, she vowed that if God would grant her a male child, she would raise him to live a consecrated life from birth to death. Her prayer was answered. Hannah became pregnant. She gave birth to a son who she named Samuel. And after the boy was weaned from breast milk, she fulfilled her vow and presented the boy to serve God for the rest of his life.
From the opening words, Hannah’s song is a poetic expression of thanksgiving for divine deliverance. My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory (1 Samuel 2:1). This is gospel singing about being delivered from a painful situation. This is good news about what God has done.
God changes situations as only God can. There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God (verse 2). The song proceeds to describe how God operates. … [T]he LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor (verses 3b thru 8). He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail (verse 9).
People who have known the sting of injustice can sing Hannah’s gospel. People who’ve been forced to stand aside while others advanced recognize the arrogance of privilege. People who’ve been mistreated on account of their backgrounds or situations know what it feels like to be delivered from second-class status.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is built on the experiences of people like Hannah. This is because the Hebrew-Christian Bible really is about how God brings people out from and through oppressive situations. The story of Adam and Eve presents us with how God works with displaced people. The story of Abraham and Sarah, like that of Hannah, tells us how God delivers frustrated people. Jacob’s story teaches us about how God transforms people who’ve blown their past opportunities. Joseph’s story teaches us about how God operates even when we’ve been rejected by those closest to us.
Share your testimony. Hannah’s song is another installment in the long gospel narrative about God’s delivering power to produce justice for people who suffer moral, social, political, and other oppression. Testimony is important because other people need to know we’ve been delivered. Others need to know that there is no Rock like God.
- They need to know that God breaks the strength of the powerful and protects the weak.
- God lifts the downtrodden and humbles the proud.
- God brings down those who boast in their privileges and elevates those who’ve been subjected to poverty.
- God makes a way when no way seems possible.
- God does help.
- God does answer prayers.
People who’ve experienced divine deliverance have a testimony to share about God and for God. Testimony isn’t done to convert others. It is shared to describe one’s own experience with God and explain why God is obeyed.
Testimony is our way of explaining to others why we live for God, trust God, and live with divine hope. We recall times and situations that weren’t favorable. We recall how we felt. We recall how we were delivered. We recall the difference that only God made in our situations. That is what we mean by testimony.
I recall racial segregation. I keep my mother’s 1963 poll tax receipt framed and show it to visitors to my chambers at the courthouse. I keep photos of “White” and “Colored” signs in my chambers. I remember having to step aside when white people walked past. I know how that history changed. I remember an experience like that of Hannah.
God changed that experience. In a time when most black people were denied equal opportunities to vote, God moved and nine white men declared racial segregation in public education contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Despite southern entrenched opposition and foot-dragging, God moved on the hearts of Lyndon Johnson of Texas and northern members of Congress and the U.S. Senate. By God’s hand, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to outlaw discrimination based on race, religion, and sex. By God’s hand, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to outlaw the poll tax and other forms of voter suppression and intimidation. By God’s hand, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was enacted.
By God’s hand, we’ve come this far. By God’s hand, the schemes of the mighty are frustrated. By God’s hand, the rich and powerful are turned back by the poor and weak. The rich and powerful swore to defeat President Obama and then repeal the Affordable Care Act. They pooled their riches. Karl Rove raised hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve their goal. But God moved! Despite laws intended to suppress voting in several states, God moved! Despite politicians who cut back voting hours and days, God moved!
God moved and people came together to re-elect President Obama. God moved, and people of color came together with white women and men. God moved, and enough senior citizens joined with young people. God moved, and Latinos cast their votes alongside African-Americans. God moved, and gay people voted with straight people. God moved, and Mr. Romney’s infamous “47%” remarks to rich donors made the news and went viral. God moved, and on Election Night Karl Rove found even the Fox News anchors projecting that President Obama would be reelected. God moved!
Hannah’s song challenges us to sing about God’s deliverance. Let’s testify that God is good. Then people who are downtrodden will look up with hope. The proud and arrogant will be reminded that they are not God. The weak will know that God will be their strength. The powerless will know that God is their protector. The cruel and wicked will know that God is their judge and will vindicate those who are wronged.
In Jesus Christ, God has given us the ultimate testimony about divine justice and deliverance. In Christ, God has brought us out. In Christ, God has broken the power of sin. In Christ, God has banished hopelessness. In Christ, God has made a way beyond death. In Christ, God has turned the world upside down. The meek know we will inherit the earth. The peacemakers know we are children of God. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness know we will be satisfied. Those who mourn know we will be comforted. This is our testimony in Christ. This is why we sing. This is why we worship. This is why we hope!
Testify! Like Hannah, bless the Lord! Like Hannah, declare God’s goodness. Sing about God’s justice. Give voice to the hope that comes from your experience with God. This is your gospel! Tell it! Sing it! Share it! Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.