1 Samuel 1: 4-20 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Hebrews 10: 11-25 November 15, 2015
“… since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Prayer: O God, you see us as we are, you know where we are strong and where we are weak. We come into your presence believing in your total welcome. In Christ we pray, Amen.
You ever go driving down the street, in a hurry, and all you keep hitting are red lights? It always happens when you you’re out of time, or you were supposed someplace 10 minutes ago. When Barb and I were first dating, she lived in Reading, I lived in Schuylkill Haven—40 miles in between and lots of stoplights. I used to play a little game to see how far I could go without getting hit by a red light. It was kind of like a pitcher and a hitter duel in baseball. I was the pitcher, the stoplights were the hitters. If I got lucky, I got hit by only by a handful of red lights. One time, I got really lucky and got a no-hitter… no red lights, green lights all the way home!
Wouldn’t it be nice if we hit all green lights ahead? Just once in a while, right? That would be simple and easy. But, life is not like that, is it?
This is what Hannah’s struggle is… she’s hitting all red lights in terms of what her culture says. She can’t get pregnant. She’s ostracized because she can’t get pregnant. She’s enduring Peninnah’s incessant bullying. Even in the midst of praying in the sanctuary, the priest Eli accuses her of being drunk because she was praying silently, moving her lips, but not saying words. I never thought about it… does one look drunk when one prays like that? Lips moving; no words coming out? Remind me to stop that.
But, Hannah comes before God in the sanctuary. She is present with all of who she is, with her human imperfections, her frustration, her tears. She prays from her heartShe pours out her soul to God. She even has an honest conversation with Eli. And, Eli, now understanding Hannah’s predicament, offers a blessing for her.
There’s something about receiving a blessing that lifts the spirit, wouldn’t you say? There’s something about being told that God has heard your prayers that puts hope in the heart. And for Hannah, all that has happened. And, the green lights seem to go on. In due time, one of God’s great prophets, Samuel is conceived and born from Hannah.
The problem with this story? We know better. We know that God doesn’t grant a green light to our wishful prayers just because we poured our soul out to God. It doesn’t work that way. We know that God isn’t a vending machine dispensing the answers we want or fulfilling our desires just because we got into the sanctuary and prayed our heart out. God doesn’t have a formula for us to follow that will ensure that we get what’s on our wish list. While it is true that God hears all our prayers, and we’re promised that God does answer our prayers, it is also true that God’s answers are always that it’s God’s will that is done, not ours, and often not on our timeframe.
What does happen when we come before God pouring our hearts out in prayer is an authentic relationship with God. We’re real with God, and God is real with us. This is where the green light goes on, I think… the very genuine, honest, real part of who we are connects with the very real heart of our Holy God, and that relationship has the green light to go ahead… to come alive, to grow with no boundaries, to live with andknow God’s forgiveness and love.
The author of Hebrews tells us that the green light for that kind of authentic relationship with God happens because of Christ. We can approach God with a true heart, authentically with all of who we are because we have a High Priest in Christ who finished his work of bridging the gap between humanity and God. All the other high priests couldn’t do that. This means we can come before God with unwavering hope that God will faithfully nurture this relationship as long as we nurture it, too. This is an ongoing process. And we have all green lights ahead to grow… to change… to align the totality with all of who we are with God.
At Chapel Hill, the previous church where I served, one of the most well-respected, long-time members of the church, an 85 year old named Dean, was really suffering with an aching back. Dean believed powerfully in God’s power to heal… especially in the ‘laying on of hands.’ He asked me one day if I believed in the power of prayer. I said I did. He asked me if I believed in the laying on of hands. I said I had hands laid on me in the context of prayer and sacramental ceremony a few times in my life, and I felt God’s presence in those moments… at Confirmation,
my Ordination, and ordaining others. He asked if I would lay hands on him to help with his aching back. Hmmm… OK, but please know, I said, “that I make no promises.” He said, “That’s OK, I’m not expecting any… But, I do expect that you will be all of who you are in prayer.” He was right, I could promise him that.
So, he and I prayed, I with all my human frailties, and Dean with all his human pain and both of us with our spirituality aligned with God. I laid hands on Dean’s back.
We both sort of realized during that prayer time that we weren’t so much interested whether or not God would heal Dean right on the spot, which God didn’t do, but we were more interested in feeling our faith at work, believing and trusting that we could come into God’s presence with boldness. We trusted and believed that we were connecting to the very heart of God and God was connecting to the very heart of who we were. I believe that God gives us this holy presence, and at any time we want, we can fill it, and that is what is needed. Our spirits experienced healing, no matter what happens to the body.
Dean and I felt spiritually authentic before God. We were moving with God. All the lights turned green for an authentic relationship with God.
I asked Dean two months later how his back felt. He said, “You know, I haven’t been in pain for several weeks.” Praise God!
Lastly friends, one more thought, in authentic relationship with God, even in the places where it appeared a red light was present, in faith we realize that those look green, too. Why? Not because I have a red/green color deficiency… which I do, but it’s only a little one. No, in faith even the red lights look green because we start to see that God’s purposes are at work even with the red lights. God sometimes uses the interruption, the delay, the slowdown for purposes that we cannot see. The red lights look like green lights because an authentic relationship with God means we are at God’s service. We effectively can say to God, “Help yourself to my life. You want to use me for your purposes at this red light? I’m yours. You want to move me along to another situation? Go for it. I’m your servant.”
I encourage us, as people of faith, as members of Christ Church, to move with God’s Spirit. It’s not up to us to decide how God will use us, or where God will send us. But we trust that God is at work in all our circumstances for God’s purposes, whether at a stop light or whether we’re moving ahead. On the spiritual journey, it’s all green lights ahead. Even the red lights are green. We strive to discern how God is moving in our lives and go forward on faith.
As new people join our congregation today, let us discern how we have all green lights ahead in welcoming them into our midst. Indeed the author of Hebrews gives us good advice as we welcome our new members today… “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day of salvation approaching.”
Indeed, good words for all of us on the journey of faith. Welcome to our new members—you are on the journey with us as servants of the living God. Everyone on of us has all green lights ahead. Amen