Barren and Blessed (2018-0610)

. 5 min read

June 2018, Christ Mountain Top, baptisms
the Psalm, 1 Samuel 2.1-10
pouring the baptismal water, praying
1 Samuel 1.1-28
a year after we were married, Robin and I began to work at making a baby.  (Although, perhaps “Work” is not
quite the right word to use.)  It did not
take long for her to become pregnant.  We
lay together on the old couch and asked each other, “What should we name
our baby?”  I said,
“Elizabeth”.  Robin said,
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. 
What about a middle name?”  I
said, “Anne.”  She said,
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. 
What about a boy’s name?” 
“I don’t know.”
      Soon after the announcement of her
pregnancy, what we feared most came upon us. 
Our baby was miscarried, early, a bloody mess filling the toilet over
several days.  Down the drain–our baby,
our hope, our joy.  The little girl we’d
always hoped to have, Elizabeth Anne.
Hannah, what do you say to us now?  We
staggered and prayed as if we were drunk. 
And we heard many would-be and well-meaning Eli’s, attempting to get us
to conform to standard forms of religious expression:  “It must have been God’s will”  “It’s nature’s way–making sure our
children are fit and healthy for the world”.  Well, if it was Father God’s will, it
certainly was not ours.  And if it was
Mother Nature’s way, we rejected it flat out: Give us our baby and we will care
for her.
      At first Eli, like most of us,
misunderstood the anguish and prayer of a barren woman. But Hannah reminds us
of the blessing Eli offered, once he was confronted by the raw prayer that
Hannah offered: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you
have asked of him.” 

there a barren place in your life? 
Perhaps it is a womb, perhaps it is the missing places at your family
table, perhaps it is the loved one who is absent at the holiday celebrations,
perhaps it is in your soul.  Sometimes
the response we get is little better than Eli’s “How long will you keep on
like this?”  But that is not what
Hannah remembers.  She remembers the
blessing of peace and the hope of fulfillment: “Go in peace.  May the God of Israel grant you what you have
asked of him.”
our lives, one of the barren spaces is the missing persons in our family
portrait, and our barrenness has a name, “Elizabeth Anne”, later to
be joined by “Maria Jayne” and “Lydia Rose”. 
What is the name of the barrenness in your life?  There are other barren spaces, but Elizabeth
Anne is one of the most significant. 
Only a short time after our miscarriage, Robin was scheduled to teach on
Hannah for a women’s group.  That’s what
you could call God’s rather interesting timing.
      But it was in the time of our grief, of
our pain, of our barrenness, that we began to know the blessing of God.  I can’t explain it, but I can tell some of
the story, and tell the story of Hannah, and tell the story of the cross. And I
can pray, pray the prayers of the saints, of mother Hannah and Mary the mother
of our Lord who uses and adapts Hannah’s prayer as the “Magnificat”.
      I can pray: “He gives beauty for
ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair”
(Crystal Lewis, “Beauty for Ashes”). 
Or, in the words of the psalmist, “You have turned my mourning into
dancing for me, you have put off my sackcloth and dressed me with
      Or, in the words of the blessed apostle
Paul, “This thorn in the flesh (this barrenness, this pain and suffering)
was given me to know that ‘My grace is made perfect in weakness'” and,
“the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, the weakness of God is
stronger than human strength.” 
Paul, what is that foolishness and weakness of God?  It is the cross of Christ – his barrenness,
our blessing!
      Truly, we were weak, truly we felt
foolish, truly life was in ashes, truly we were dressed for mourning.  Just as truly, we were made strong; just as
truly, we were led into the depths of wisdom; just as truly, we were raised up
out of ashes into honor; just as truly, we were dressed in gladness.  Barren – and blessed, and somehow, both at
the same time. The baptism story includes both these themes. My old Baptist
preacher would say at each baptism, riffing on the apostle Paul, “Buried with
Christ through baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.” God declares
over Jesus at his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved” and those words are
the very same words spoken to Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his son.
The “attaboy” and the sacrifice, rolled into one, the barrenness and the
      Notice, I did not say that the barrenness
goes away once we are blessed.  Sometimes
that does happen, I suppose.  But most
often, it seems, we retain at least some measure of barrenness despite the
prayer – the prayer we prayed this morning – is a wonderful prayer of triumph;
a prayer that demonstrates how quickly God turns tables on us, for us; a prayer
that places God’s favor squarely on the poor, the barren, the hungry, the
stumbling.  Yet, it is far from simply a
shout of triumph.  It says, emphatically,
God’s grace is with the poor.  Christ’s
blessings are for the barren.  Spirit
fullness is for the hungry.
      We must remember that she prays this
prayer after she gives away all she has
to the LORD
, after she gives away her heart’s one greatest desire.  The barren woman has a miracle baby – great
headline.  The barren woman barren again,
gives her child away.  She has come in
touch with the reality that she is blessed, that her blessing has a name,
“Samuel.” His name means “on loan from God” and, once he was
weaned, he was “on loan to God.” It is that total surrender, however
it is expressed in our lives, that is the supreme work of faith.
blessing has a name, “Elizabeth Anne”.  She has been God’s gift to us, she has been a
means of grace in our lives.  And someday
we will meet her face to face. 
“There is no holy one like the LORD, truly, there is none beside You;
there is no rock like our God.”
      I invite you today to give your barrenness
a name.  How are you barren today?  Has your barrenness been a means of
grace?  That is, has God touched you
through it?