Sermon 11/18/2018

Scripture Passage: 1 Samuel 2:1-10

God Faithfully Answers Our Prayers and Then Some

Good morning! Again, I came across one of my favorite scriptures on the lectionary with Hannah’s Song! Actually, Hannah’s Song could easily be “Pastor Kitty’s Song”. This past year has been a whirlwind of a year for me, Wally and Shauny. It has been a year of both challenges and new blessings! The most dramatic challenge was having my position cut at First Presbyterian Church in Liberal, Kansas due to the church’s financial trouble. That, set us on a tail spin, of re-thinking what we should do with our future. It was not simply the financial problem at the Liberal church, but the whole financial and spiritual situation of the larger Church was rather dismal. I came close to receiving positions in Michigan, but either the climate was not compatible with our hay-fever conditions or the position was part time, and having a home here in California, it simply didn’t make sense, financially to re-locate there for a part time position. So, guided by my faith in God and very good mentors, we decided to come home to California and search for a part time position in Redwoods Presbytery, where 13 churches happened to be without pastors. It was an unusual and good time for us to be back in this Presbytery! After searching and praying for nearly 2 years, I finally found a long term pulpit supply position at Community Presbyterian Church in Calistoga, which began in August. At the same time, I realized, when returning from Kansas, that full time pastor positions were going to be difficult to find, and I really needed to discern about what might be second vocation for me. I began this discernment a long time ago, during the seminary years, when we were advised that being bi-vocational would be wise in ministry. Before moving to Kansas, I came close to taking a CNA, Certified Nurse Assistant, program at Santa Rosa Junior College, with a calling to explore nursing as a second vocation. My interest in nursing first began with being the primary caregiver for both of my parents and working part time as a caregiver for Home Instead, while searching for my pastor position. I see nursing as a related ministry, and it definitely calls us to administer Jesus’ compassion and love to those who are sick and most vulnerable, while we care for their medical needs. This is central to our calling as Christians! So, in July, I trained at the Santa Rosa Red Cross to be a CNA, and I found that nursing was very challenging but there seemed to be a calling from God for me in the nursing work! At the same time, I was preaching and leading worship at the Calistoga church. I was discovering what it was like to be bi-vocational in 2 demanding fields. Then, in October, I received an offer from Pastor Bob Conover and Pastor Jonathan Eastman to serve here at Knox as a Temporary Pastor! It was yet one more new endeavor in 2018! I believe that each of these challenges and new opportunities all came about, as a result of my faith and discernment through committed prayer.

We also see dear Hannah praising and thanking God in today’s beautiful song of praise, after she sees the consummation of events, which happen as a result of her faith and discernment through committed prayer! Just as in my life in 2018, Hannah faced many challenges and uncertainties. She was the lowly wife of Elkanah, who was challenged to the core with barrenness, or what Jewish women considered to be a curse. Hannah lacked one of the most important gifts for women in her generation. As a result, she was ostracized by Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah. She also held a low position in her patriarchal society as a woman. So, with all her anguish and vulnerability, she focuses on her one great hope: her faith and trust in God. Hannah’s story is not about power, privilege and human effort, but it is about God, and our need for dependence on God. Her story may be a challenge for those people and churches in a place of power or success to connect with; however, ultimately, every person and church will discover the same need for dependence on God and the same vulnerability as Hannah’s, as soon as disaster strikes! Also, those people or churches, who’ve already reached the end of one path of despair and have ‘tossed in their towel of hope’, may have difficulty relating to the story. However, Hannah’s story actually provides hope, even for them, since it’s a story about reversals; that is the beauty of this story!

So, for Hannah and all those who’ve come to a path of hopelessness, this God of reversals loves to step in, just when all hope seems like it already ‘went out the window’, yesterday, and turn everything on its head, so it is right side up, with God’s surprising grace! Unless Hannah had a close relationship with God and a deep faith, she could not have believed that there could be any more hope for her as a barren woman. Without her faith and the power of prayer, she would have believed it was a ‘done deal’. She would have thought that her fate in life was to be cursed with a closed womb and constant oppression by Peninnah. However, because of her remarkable faith, she pours out her heart and soul to God in prayer! Though she is in a culture, which repeatedly tells her that she is of little worth as a woman, especially a barren woman, Hannah somehow believes that she does have worth, and that she matters to God! This is why she has hope and bares her soul before God in prayer. Hannah is so honest and emotional in her prayer, that the priest thinks she is drunk! But, she was entirely sober and serious in her requests for God. God sees Hannah’s authentic expressions of grief and need, and God in all graciousness, compassion and justice, responds with a miraculous reversal! God shows Hannah, just as God showed Miriam and Mary, that when all hope appears to be gone, that it’s really just an opportunity for God to create new life and hope. For Hannah, that new life and hope was the birth of a son, Samuel, who went on to become one of the most important religious, moral and political leaders in Israel. More importantly, this answer to prayer, taught Hannah, the people of Israel and all of us today, the important lesson of humility and dependence on God. Hannah’s great triumph is not really that she gave birth to this important leader, but that she is a model to the people of Israel and us, of what it means to have a close relationship with God, and to draw upon that relationship through heart-felt prayer, in all circumstances of life-especially the ones, which challenge us to the core.

So, as I said Hannah’s story and song of praise is one of my favorite scriptures, and I learned from her example, to draw upon my relationship with God, through heart-felt prayer and trust, when I faced this year of challenges and new directions. It was my faith and prayerful discernment, which brought me, Wally and Shauny all the way back from Kansas. It was also the faithful prayers of so many mentors, family and friends, which guided us back to our home in Santa Rosa. It was faith and heart-felt prayers, which caused things not to work out with 2 Michigan churches, a part time position at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Benicia and a long term pulpit supply position at the Novato church. At the time, I felt some disappointment that these positions did not work out, but I also believed that as one door closed, others would open up, and that it must have been God’s plan for things to happen as they did. Well, now after nearly 2 years of searching and heart-felt prayers, I realize that God caused all the other positions to not work out because God wanted us to serve right here, in my own hometown of Santa Rosa! To be serving so close to our home is indeed a huge blessing, especially after relocating 1500 miles to Kansas! Now, we are dealing with fires instead of tornadoes, and we still do battle with hay-fever and asthma, but we are close to most of our family and friends, in much more familiar territory, and have nice weather, year-round. On top of all those blessings, we have a terrific group of faithful, caring people here at Knox to serve! I also have found a calling to a new vocational path in nursing and plan to become a pastor-nurse! So, instead of feeling lost, uncertain and worried this Thanksgiving, Wally, Shauny and I are feeling enormously thankful and blessed by God’s reversal of harsh events, turning the challenges into paths of new directions and hope!

I know that this congregation has also experienced some challenges and transitions, recently, and I hope that Hannah’s story and my story inspire you to also have hope of a divine reversal! I think that the 2017 Fires in Santa Rosa and California were a poignant reminder that no matter what position of power and wealth people had before the fires, this disaster became like a leveling field. Some, who had much wealth suddenly found themselves scrambling just to save their own lives, as they dashed away from dangerous flames. If Hannah’s story had not spoken to them before the fires, it certainly should have, after! The beauty of this story is that is provides each and every person, church and group, with a relevant and important lesson about our need for dependence on God. The story shows us that our joy and genuine blessings in life do not mostly depend on human effort, wealth or power; these things, which are the true success in life, ultimately depend on God, and our faith and trust in God, through honest and consistent prayer.

So, now that God has faithfully responded to my and my loved ones’ heart-felt prayers and to each of your heart-felt prayers, and brought us here, may each of us remember to respond to God with songs of praise and thanks, like Hannah, this Thanksgiving! May we remember that our God is about radical reversals and surprising grace, and the source of all hope, light and love, when the night is darkest. Happy Thanksgiving and amen!

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