“Giving with Gratitude”

Pentecost 25

Stewardship Sunday

November 15, 2015


Text: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; Hebrews 10:11-25


          The story of the birth of Samuel, our first lesson today, may seem rather a strange starting point for a sermon on giving. But when one looks more closely at the story, maybe it’s not such a strange place to start after all.

          It is a story that begins as many Old Testament stories do. There was a man named Elkanah who had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. You may recall that in many Old Testament stories where a man has two wives, there is jealousy between them. Peninnah had children, Hannah didn’t. Hannah appears to have been the one Elkanah loved more. Each year Elkanah went to the temple at Shiloh to offer sacrifices to God, and he gave portions to Penninah and her children for the sacrifice, and also a portion to Hannah. Peninnah made fun of Hannah because she hadn’t been able to conceive. This upset Hannah, she started crying, and Elkanah tried to console her.

          One year while they were at Shiloh, Hannah went to the temple there and prayed earnestly to the Lord, crying as she did so. She pleaded to God to give her a baby boy. She promised that if God did this, she would give the child to God.

          Sure enough, not long after they returned home, Hannah became pregnant. She gave birth to a son and named him Samuel. After he had been weaned, she took him to Shiloh and gave him to God, placing him under the care and tutelage of Eli the priest. And as we know, Samuel grew up to become one of Israel’s great spokespersons for God, known as prophets.

          So this is a story about giving. Because she was grateful to God for enabling her to conceive and give birth to a son, Hannah gave that son to God for his service.

          Now some would call this bargaining with God. A person says to God, “You do such-and-such for me, and I will do so-and-so for you.” Many people believe we should not do this kind of thing. They see it as a way of trying to manipulate or control God. However, it seems to me someone forgot to tell God this, for he accepted Hannah’s bargain and gave her what she wanted. And Hannah kept her promise, grateful for what God had done for her. A bargain with God is bad only if the person making the bargain does not keep his/her promise when God delivers on what is requested.

          That said, I do not believe we should base our giving on a bargain with God. After all, our salvation is not based on a bargain of the kind Hannah made with God. Our scripture from Hebrews today reminds us: “We have been made holy by God’s will through the offering of Jesus Christ’s body once for all.” Christ did not come to strike a bargain, saying, “I will offer myself as the perfect sacrifice for sins if you will live God’s ways for me.” Instead he offered himself as the one perfect sacrifice for sins for all time, knowing full well that we mortals would fail to live for God over and over and over again. Although in this new agreement God promised to place his laws in our hearts and write them on our minds, he also knew even this would not be enough to keep human beings from ignoring and disobeying God’s teachings. Therefore he also promised to forgive our sins, not holding our disobedience and rebellion against us, and to give us access to God through Christ’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.

          Thus our gratitude to God needs to be based on more than the keeping of a bargain with God, as Hannah’s was. Let us be grateful to God for going far beyond any bargain between God and humanity in the gift of his Son Jesus, the gift of forgiveness of sin, the gift of relationship to God, the gift of eternal life, gifts that nothing we can give can ever repay.

          Even though we can never give enough, we are invited to give. Hannah’s gratitude to God for a son led her to give that son to God. Obviously, this was a very costly gift to her. And yes, it was her end of the bargain she made with God. Yet she gave Samuel to God willingly. I would venture that most of us would find it difficult to give one of our children to God that way, especially to turn one over to a religious leader to raise and instruct from a very early age. In our day, if someone did something like that they would probably be subject to harsh criticism, ridicule, or perhaps even prosecution. I wonder what people back then thought about what Hannah did, especially considering how hard she had prayed for God to give her a son. I would imagine some thought Hannah’s promise to give Samuel to God, and her keeping of that promise, to be a bit over the top, to say the least. But Hannah did so, grateful for what God had done for her.

          Does what you are giving of your time, talent, and treasure show your gratitude to God for what God has done for you? Consider the amount you have written on the pledge card that you will soon be placing on the altar. Consider the commitments you have made of your time and talents to do God’s work through the church and beyond it. These things are not only acts of gratitude; they are what we are willing to invest of ourselves to do God’s work through the church. If we do not make these investments, the church will not succeed in what it was intended to do. Hannah was so grateful that she invested the child God gave her into God’s work. How will you invest yourself, knowing what God has done for you?

          Do the financial and personal commitments you have decided to make accurately reflect your gratitude for the immense ways in which God has given his very self to you? If not, I invite you to consider more deeply the ways in which God has blessed you, and to make appropriate adjustments to better reflect your gratitude. As you do so, please join me in prayer.

          Gracious God, the ways in which you have blessed us are beyond measure! We acknowledge that often we take these blessings for granted. Help us to be truly grateful, and to give of our time, talents, and treasure according to our gratitude, investing them so that your work may be accomplished through the church. Guide us as we do so. We pray in the name of Jesus, who gave his very life for us.


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