Stories – 19 March 2017

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Rev’d Jonathan Gale

1 Samuel 2: 1 – 10

Hannah’s Prayer

Hannah 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.
3 Talk 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.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
5 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.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
8 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 honour.*
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.
10 The 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.’

Acts 3: 1 – 10

Peter Heals a Crippled Beggar

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,* stand up and walk.’ 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

John 4: 4 – 26

4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)* 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’



We all have a story. On a personal level it is important to know our stories. If I know where I have come from, I am better able to understand where I am and where I might be heading.

When it comes to journeying with God, knowledge of and insight into our story makes us more receptive to where and how God might want to lead us.

Hannah was a woman who desperately wanted to have children. She was one of two wives and we read in 1 Samuel 1: 6Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So it went on year after year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.

Hannah’s story was one of suffering at the hands of Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife.

Hannah’s story was painfully embedded in her mind so when accosted by Eli, the High Priest, she is able instantly to articulate where she had been, where she was and where she wanted to go. Eli, informed as to her journey, prayed for her and she fell pregnant with little Samuel.

Hannah’s sense of subjugation prior to her pregnancy had given her a strong association with those who are downtrodden. She cries to the Lord,

8 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 honour.

Hannah’s strong sense of her story and her ability to articulate it, gave her access to God’s blessing and enabled him (in the process of providing her with a child) to steer her heart towards sympathy for the poor.

Her sense of gratitude led her to donate her boy Samuel to the temple when he had been weaned, where he was provided with the experience of God he needed to become one of the most effective forces for God in Israel’s history. A woman whose life had been shattered by disappointment and abuse brings great blessing to many.

But Hannah more than simply knows her story (the chronological events of her life). She understands her story within the context of God’s purposes.  That makes the difference.

When we know our story, God can lead us into new stories which bring blessing to more than ourselves. God is into interrupting our stories and altering their direction. And he does so because he sees beyond our limited vision. He sees the big picture.

We could look at these same principles in the story of the crippled man at the Gate Beautiful who was healed when Peter and John prayed for him, but in the minutes left let’s examine the story of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well.

The woman at the well knows her story. She knows that this is Jacob’s well, that he and his sons watered their flocks there. She knows that the water is too far down to reach without a bucket, that the Jews despise Samaritans and that they differ theologically. But more importantly she knows about the Messiah and her own spiritual need. She has an inkling of God’s purposes.

As a result when Jesus offers her the water that he will give that will become in her a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman says to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Then Jesus does something strange. He says, , Go, call your husband, and come back. Jesus is slowly drawing out her story – the honest one – not the veneer she might be tempted to use to cover the account of her life. It is in her confessional honesty, that she begins to see God’s purposes.

Her understanding of the love Jesus must have for her (a despised Samaritan) in offering her eternal life, and her knowledge of her own life lived outside of God’s laws, opens her to him, and that has profound consequences for her.

In her edging towards understanding Jesus’ identity, she refers to the Messiah and Jesus knows she is ready to receive his words.  26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’

The woman at the well has an interrupted story – interrupted by Jesus because the trajectory of her life is altered for the good. Jesus, who gave her a new story, one of living water that bubbled up into eternal life, gives her more.

The bit we didn’t read goes like this:

28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,* can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.

The town of Sychar’s first evangelist! A woman whose life was shattered by failed relationships has a sense of what her story lacks, and in a growing experience of the Messiah, brings great blessing to her town, and who knows where else she spread the message about Jesus.

When we know our story, God can lead us into new stories which bring blessing to more than ourselves. God is into interrupting our stories and altering their direction. Sometimes that is uncomfortable, but it is always good.

Each of our stories is important as they form a basis of our self-knowledge – especially what we might lack. If we have no sense of our story, no sense of the reality of our condition, we will never be aware of our need for God. When Jesus offers us the gift of eternal life we will be blind to both it and what we might do with it. Worse still, we may turn away from the direction in which he might want to steer us, for both our good and the good of others.

Having a story is important as it gives God something to work with, even if he shatters our illusions. It gives him the opportunity to rework it, to make it a blessing and to make us a blessing.

This is good news. It means God places great value upon each of our lives, and the places we have been. But here’s the thing: God is happy to take our stories and send them in a beautiful direction, a direction that beautifies us and others around us as we learn, like both Hannah and the Samaritan woman at the well, to speak them out, to share them.

If you are willing, God can change your story too.


Now all the protagonists in our readings today: Hannah, the man at the Gate Beautiful and the woman at Jacob’s well, all had one thing in common: they were prepared to give something of themselves in expressing their need:

  • Hannah in her weeping before God and the High Priest Eli
  • The man at the Gate Beautiful in asking for alms
  • The woman at Jacob’s well in asking Jesus for living water

What I’d like each of us to do when we come up for Communion is to bring our piece of beach glass to the front. That piece of glass this morning represents the imperfect you. Bring it up to the front and drop it into this vase of water. As you do so, say quietly to God, “Lord, take me as I am. I am willing for you to change my story.”