Friday, November 20, 2009

My sermon...

 I decided to post the sermon I refrenced Here .  A warning the format is written for the ear not the eye, and reading a sermon is never the same expereince as hearing it, with that said here you go. 

Hannah Why do you Weep? 1 Samuel 1:4-20

In today’s scripture reading we encounter Hannah, a barren woman, who is described as having had her womb closed by the lord.
We encounter Hannah in the midst of her deep, mournful, and extreme pain and grief over her
Not only must she face knowing that she cannot bear children with her husband,
But she lives with Peninnah (pe-nm'nah) her husband second wife who had birthed many children.
Peninnah the second wife torments and provokes Hannah over her barrenness,
Which only compounds Hannah’s pain and grief.
We also encounter in the text Hannah’s husband Elkanah (el-KAY-nuh), who by all accounts loves Hannah, takes care of her, and seems prefers her to his second wife
and yet he too cannot fully grasp and understand the pain that Hannah experiences.
Although well intentioned he, somewhat dismissively asks, “Hannah why do you weep?”
“Why do you not eat?” “Why is your heart sad?” “Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
“Hannah…why do you weep?”
In biblical times the inability to conceive a child was accompanied with a great deal of shame and disgrace and that shame and disgrace was always associated and attributed to the woman.
The primary role and function for women in ancient times was to bear children, particularly male offspring, and this is illustrated several times throughout our scripture.
This importance of heirs is further illustrated in the very fact that in order to have heirs men would take a second wife to fulfill the duty the first could not.
Additionally, as we see with Hannah, described as having her womb closed by the lord,  barrenness was associated with some type of moral deficiency in character, just as many children were a sign of divine blessing, the lack of children was viewed as a sign of divine displeasure.[i]
So the shame and guilt and pain was multilevel, not only were woman like Hannah denied the status and joy that went with motherhood but they were also made to feel as though they had somehow caused the barrenness.[ii]  And this mythology still persists even today, Serene Jones in her book Trauma and Grace Theology in a ruptured world writes, “for women the experience of reproductive loss particularly [in light of] those social myths that lead women to feel that if they cannot produce children, they are not only failed women but are also failed persons” (133-134).[iii]
Hannah why do you weep?
Hannah, weeps for her reproductive loss. Just as many men and women today weep for their own reproductive loss. 
According to the American society for Reproductive medicine, 6.1 million Americans experience infertility, 25% will experience a miscarriage, and one in 8 pregnancies will end in a still birth. 
Hannah knows the pain of infertility.
She is described as deeply distressed, weeping bitterly, bargaining with the lord, crying out… “[God] if only you will look on [my] misery, and remember me, and not forget [me] your servant, but will give [to me] a male child. [If you do God}] I will set him before you until his death as a devoted follower of you Please God remember me”
Hannah is bearing her soul and her grief to God, she is vulnerable and exposed. This is her pain and current reality, and she doesn’t understand why her?
And yet today, despite the pain and the grief associated with reproductive loss we are often guilty of minimalizing and politicizing matters related to reproduction.
Infertility and the medical treatments associated with it are sensationalized by the media with couples like John & Kate plus 8 and the woman from southern California who gave birth to octuplets this last spring, with little education that these cases are the exception not the rule.
Society feels the need to debate and discuss individuals faced with reproductive issues as though they were voiceless, faceless, and void of any sacred value.
The New York Times in an October issue ran a series of articles related to infertility and the reproductive technology used to treat the many medical conditions attributed to infertility, by chronicling the journey of couples who used reproductive medicine to conceive their children.
And the political debates and judgments surrounding the issue of reproductive loss were evident in the several hundred comments left by readers.
            Ann from MI, “If they can’t have children get over it and adopt”
                         “Hannah why do you weep.” v. 8
            Laura from Atlanta writes, “These people are very selfish…”
                         “Am I not more to you than 10 sons?” v. 8
XC from Greenwich writes, “Selfish people. Insurance shouldn't cover any of their egotistical folly. An astronomical waste of resources and money.
            “Why is your heart sad?” v. 8
C.E. from MI, “Perhaps some women just aren't meant to bear children?
            “…The lord had closed her womb.” v. 6
Kathy in FL, “Hard to sympathize with fertility-clinic patrons…”
            “she wept and would not eat…” v. 7
John from NYC “Fertility treatments should be outlawed. It is selfishness. If you can't have a baby without treatments, you weren't meant to have a baby. Grow up and deal with it. You'll just keep passing down the same problems to your kids. Anonymous sperm and egg donations should be outlawed as well. There are too many people in the world.”[iv]
“Hannah why do you weep?” v. 8
You’re selfish, egotistical, not meant to bear children, get over it, grow up, deal with it, maybe it’s God’s way and nature telling you something…”
There were hundreds of comments in regards to the article, with the positive supportive comments coming primarily from those who are part of the 6.1 million who face reproductive loss?
Where is the justice? Where is the mercy? Where is the compassion and care?
Instead it’s a debate about selfishness, greed, money, and egos.
In the realm of the political we lose the personal.
We forget about the very real pain of many facing this kind of loss.
At one point in the text Hannah is praying so ferverently and with such emotion and passion that Eli, the priest suggests that she is drunk. (v. 14). 
Imagine what that type of prayer must look like.
As Hannah, “…pours out [her] soul before the lord.” (v. 15).
            Hannah responds to Eli, “Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (v. 16).
            Hannah why do you weep? (v. 8).
We live in a broken world and it’s up to us to work towards justice in an attempt to put some of the pieces back together, using the examples and life of Jesus. Jesus had compassion for women, Jesus had compassion for men, he cared for those on the margins, he reached out and touched those others avoided, looked through or past.  He saw their pain he saw their suffering, he saw their sacredness. And we are called to live into that example, we are called to see the sacredness of each other in our shared humanity, to recognize the pain of others without dismissing or turning into a political debate the very real realities of others.
            It is far too easy to forget there are names and faces and stories attached to the many politicized topics, As we prayed in our prayer of confession today,
Lord indeed forgive us for our ignorance.  As we have not tried to understand or even know about what is happening and what has happened to others.  Yet, we have formed our opinions.  Lord Grant us the willingness to listen to other principals, ideas, and stories. Open are hearts and minds to greater understanding of the many things we would rather not talk aloud.

The church should be a safe place where men, women, families who have experienced this loss are safe.
A space to name that loss, to cry out in pain and anger, at the powerlessness, at the unfairness, a place where as Serene Jones names, “[they can]…in their grief experience the death of hope, the thwarting of an expectation.”
Hannah why do you weep?
            “A husband and wife, sit, silently, in quiet anticipation for the doctor. They receive their diagnosis. They will never have a biological child together. Tears roll down their faces, as they walk silently, clinging to each others hands, digesting this new reality, the loss of their planned future together.”
            Hannah why do you weep?
            “A woman delivers her twins at 23w far to early to survive even with the best medical intervention. One is born still the other lives for only a few minutes…”
            Hannah why do you weep?
            “A same sex couple is denied fertility assistance because the doctor is uncomfortable with their sexuality”
            Hannah why do you weep?
            “A woman experiences her 4th miscarriage …. Yet another loss”[v]
            Hannah why do you weep?
I know why Hannah weeps, the pain, and loss are real and the scars are forever present.
In the case of Hannah, “in due time” she conceives and bears a son whom she names Samuel. The ending is happy, Hannah is finally a mother to her male heir. Just like she prayed.
            Yet, the pain and scars of her infertility mark her forever, she is forever changed. She remembers her promises to the lord those times when she so fervently prayed and she intends to make good on those promises and soon as her son is old enough.
She is forever changed by the experience.
And, today, just as with Hannah many, not all, but many who encounter loss will experience some kind of success, whether they conceive through invitro, IUI, use donor gametes, or chose to adopt or make the decision to remain childless.
But they too are forever marked and changed by the experience.
Returning to serene Jones she comments that, “…there is a failure of the church to speak in theologically pertinent ways to people who have suffered the traumatic loss of a hoped-for child.” (xiv). We miss out on sitting with, and by those who suffer and grieve when we dismiss or politicize the issue.
            The pain is real, the loss is real, and the loss of a child is at the root of our tradition.
            As Jones so beautifully and poignantly describes. God too knows the loss of a child. She writes, “I imagine [God] holding [these men and women], curling her own ruptured body around them and rocking with them. “I know” she says “I know”  For those who have faced this loss, “…there’s a solidarity with this God who has born such loss,… [as together] they grieve the loss not only of a child but also of the entire world. Jones goes on to note that, “What these discussions miss… is a rather ironic fact: the image that most effectively captures the nature of God’s redeeming grace in not an image of mothering, but an image of maternal loss” (150).
            So too should we find the faces, the voices, and the reality of all of those who grieve reproductive loss. Stop politicizing women’s bodies, stop the dismissal, stop the judgments, and allow space for this loss to be experience and expressed.
For God is with us in all our pain whispering silently, “I know, I know…”
 And This. This, is why Hannah weeps.  Amen.

[i]  Davies, Eryl W. The dissenting reader feminist approaches to the Hebrew Bible. Ashgate, 2003. 75
[ii] The dissenting reader 74-75
[iii] Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace Theology in a Ruptured World. Westminster John Know Press. Louisville, KT, 2009.
[iv] All reader comments from
[v] All stories of loss are true. Names were avoided to protect the identity of those experiencing the loss.


~Jess said...


Christi said...

Jess said it...beautiful. I can see why it touched members of the congregation so. I have been blessed with no struggles and it still hits home. For the record, I am from MI and not all Michiganders are as heartless as the quotes used in the sermon. People really need to think before they speak..or type. Thank you for sharing.