Tag Archive | St Paul

100 days – Day 53: Anniversary

100 days – Day 53:  Anniversary

15 years ago today, I changed direction in my Ministry; I left the Parish, to become a full time Healthcare Chaplain (or to be PC: a Spiritual Care Giver) to the Dumfries Hospitals – a post I held, and enjoyed, for thirteen years.

 

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Charlie Chaplain

 

 

Sermon preached at Glasgow University Chapel – “Medical Sunday” 3/12/2000

 

  • Psalm 27, v. 1, vv 7 – 11, v. 13
  • Mark 4, vv 35-41

 

CHAOS, FEAR & FAITH

Richard Trench was the Archbishop of Dublin at the end of the 19th Century.  In the last two years of his life he fought with great courage a progressive illness that left him increasingly paralysed.

As a guest of honour at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London, he was seen to be growing increasingly disquieted until someone asked if he felt well enough to continue.  ‘It has come at last’ he sighed, ‘complete paralysis of my lower left-hand side. I have been pinching my leg and cannot feel a thing.  And yet with Christ as my companion, I shall endure it with courage’

At this point, the lady sitting next to him leaned across and said ‘Your Grace, would it help you to know that it has been my leg you have been pinching for the last quarter of an hour?’

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference

But many people who find themselves in hospital are less philosophical.

For many, illness is a corrosive wretched traumatic time of inner turmoil and confusion.

On a summer’s day sometime in the past, I fist came across Jenny, though that’s not her real name.  In the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries there are beautifully kept grounds – lawns and flowerbeds with shrubs, plants, and flowers which are a delight to the eye.

Standing in the veranda of a particular ward I was talking to someone who had come to visit a relative who had been admitted there.  He mentioned the grounds and how attractive they were, and I responded by saying something along the lines of how the planners had designed them to be therapeutic.  They are calm and tranquil, and were created to have a beneficial effect upon patients.

Behind me there was a mocking voice – Jenny’s.  Jenny who I learned later was far from home, her child taken from her, her family only occasional visitors.  She was a troubled, confused, anxious, frustrated and unhappy young woman.

‘What the **** would you know about it?’,  she shouted.  ‘What’s the point of peaceful lawns, when you’re feel like this, when you’re not peaceful inside.’

And with that, got up and went back into the ward, slamming the door to the veranda.

So many people are not, to use her words, ‘peaceful inside’

It doesn’t have to be those who are in the mental health care sector.

‘I’ve just had bad news’ the elderly man in the striped pyjamas in the medical ward told me one morning.  He wouldn’t articulate what the bad news was, and even as subtly as I could I could get him to talk in specifics.  He was probably too frightened even to mention the words ‘tumour’ or ‘carcinoma’, though I guessed that was what we were talking, or rather trying desperately hard not to talk about.

And he was frightened, worried, anxious and more than a bit confused.  He was thinking not just of himself, but also of his frail wife – how would she take it, how would she cope?  He looked after her, he was the breadwinner – what a mess.  What a terrible and terrifying situation.

Let me take you to one of the surgical wards in Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary.  Here is a middle-aged patient, a woman, lying in bed the late afternoon before her operation.  She was admitted at ten in the morning, has had umpteen tests, has been talked to – perhaps talked AT would be more appropriate – by nursing staff and clinicians, and has basically had a whole day to get even more anxious and worked up about her surgery.

‘How are you feeling?’ I ask.  ‘Terrible’  ‘In what way?,  ‘I don’t know – just terrible’

We talked through it – we talked about her fear which was a reflection of her need, her powerlessness, her very identity.

This was a lady suffering not just physically, but emotionally, and spiritually.  Hers was a spiritual pain.

And lastly, come with me to the Alexandra Unit in the infirmary where I work.  This is our palliative care ward.  And here is Joe who up until a few weeks before had a good job and a wide circle of friends.  Joe was very much the social animal.  He was popular and carefree – although there had been some kind of fall-out with one of his grown-up sons a year or so ago.

Here is Joe who has now apparently lost everything and has abandoned hope.  All the old signposts have gone.  He is disorientated and directionless.  His feeling of wholeness, of personhood has been fractured.  He has become isolated from his known worlds – from his past which he will never regain; from his present (he has little or no control over his bodily functions; he has lost his power and control, his security, his dignity, his identity, his purpose).  His yet-to be-created future lies threateningly before him.  On top of all this – probably because of all this, he starts thinking about his estrangement from his son.  And it pains him.  It pains him even more because he feels nobody cares.  It pains him because his perception is that nobody will really take the time to listen.

Patients are, if you will, captives.  Prisoners of their illness, prisoners of their fears and anxieties.

Someone once said that being ill is like being in a state of chaos.  In a maelstrom of emotions.

The Gospel story from Mark which we listened to earlier tells of a storm at sea.  It’s perhaps interesting to note that the author or editor has placed this story of an actual literal storm immediately before three other events which involve people in chaos and confusion: the stories of a demon-possessed man, a young girl who is terminally ill, and a confused and despairing woman who has been haemorrhaging for some twelve years without relief.

In the boat the disciples were panic stricken, confused, frightened men who were at the mercy of elements beyond their control.  They were being tossed hither and thither on a turbulent sea, facing an uncertain future.  And no one seemed to care.  Christ was even asleep in the stern of the boat.

Yet Jesus was with them in the storm – he was with them in the same boat, as the strong winds buffeted the sail and the waves were crashing over the side. And he is with us in the storms of life.  He never abandons us.  He cares about us and our situation whatever that may be.

He enters into the chaos.  He is present with us in the chaos.  He journeys with us through the maelstrom.

As should the spiritual caregiver.  He or she involves himself, herself in the patient’s predicament, accepting them for what they are, with all their resentments, anxieties, anger, self-pity, unspoken needs.  Our aim is to instil faith for fear and hope for despair, demonstrating in the process God’s love and interest in his children, and responding always to the fundamental human need to be heard and understood.

We think of doubt and unbelief keeping people from faith.  Perhaps, more often than we realise, it is fear.

The fear of the disciples in the storm was an unbelieving fear – Jesus didn’t care about us, they thought

When St. Paul was being taken prisoner to Rome, he was caught in a violent storm which was so bad that Luke recorded ‘We finally gave up all hope of being saved’ (Acts 27, v. 20b)

Then one bleak morning Paul came out and said, “Take heart!  Not one of you will lose your life; only the ship will be lost.  For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship came to me and said ‘Do not be afraid, Paul!  You must stand before the Emperor.  And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you’ So take heart, men!  For I trust in God that it will be just as I was told”  (vv. 22-25)

Paul was trusting in ‘the God to whom I belong and whom I worship’ All of us can take heart – all of us will be safe.

But we too have to have the courage of our convictions.

A family was on holiday in a remote cottage.  There was no electricity and no running water.  The only gas was from a camping stove.

At bedtime, the young daughter was extremely brave about going upstairs with her mother by the light of a candle.

But a puff of wind blew the candle out, leaving them in total darkness.  The little girl was afraid.

“I’ll go back downstairs to get the matches” said her Mum, “but don’t be afraid, Jesus is here with you” “But Mum” replied the daughter, “Can’t you stay here and we’ll send Jesus for the matches?”

It doesn’t quite work like that!

We are called to live by faith and not by fear.  Living by faith means that, while we may not know the details of life, we can be sure of the outcome.

We can live by faith – for we know that God has promised to be with us.  His grace is going to be sufficient for us.  His Word will guide us.  His Spirit will be within us with enabling power.

‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear.  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid…..Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord’

100 days – Day 33: Sermon preached at Dumfries Northwest Church on Sunday, 25 May 2014

100 days – Day 33

this is an EXTENDED version of a sermon preached today – it is, if you like, “the Director’s Cut”

 

I’m very fond of watching films – old and new – comedy and drama – adventure and whodunnits.

I’ve got a handful of blurays and DVDs in my sitting room – as Neil will testify!

Plus Sky Movie channels and Netflix on computer.

However, I don’t like romances……  although this one scene from a classic movie is truly memorable.

This is  one of the greatest movies ever and an enduring classic – it’s not a romance, but this scene is romantic in a bitter-sweet way

 

Casablanca – at the airport Rick and Isla part…….

 

Ilsa: But what about us?

Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.

Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.

Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

[Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry]

Rick: Now, now…

[Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet]

Rick: Here’s looking at you kid.

 

“As time goes by”

 

It’s often very difficult to say ‘goodbye’ – especially if it’s a member of the family or a close friend who is going away for a while.  Railway stations, airports, bus stations and ferry terminals can be pretty awful places at times.

I used to live and work in Trinidad as a Church of Scotland minister to the four kirks on the Island.

Sometimes, my work – or leave, of course – would see me at Piarco International Airport, catching a plane to North America, or the UK, or the Island of Grenada, where I did a couple of stints as a locum.

Many times, there would be little groups of tearful Trini’s, bidding farewell to a family member or close friend, as they walked toward the departure gate to catch their flight to Toronto or New York or London – where, in all of these cities, there are large communities of ex-pat West Indians.

Sometimes, I’d overhear this – and it was said to me too, when I returned to Scotland on leave:

“Travelling mercies be upon you!”

What a beautiful thing to say, to wish for, to pray for!

And the reunions at that same airport when a loved one returned.  What welcomes!  what joy that the journey had been completed safely, and the loved one was back in the bosom of his or her family.

 

But……

……In our lifetime, there are many goodbyes and some of them can be hard, even painful.

Imprinted in my mind most vividly is my beloved wife asleep on her death-bed – just a matter of hours before she died.  I bent over her, kissed her on her forehead and said “Thank you; I’ll see you again soon enough somewhere, some time. You’ll be safe”

 

‘parting is such sweet sorrow’

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are forbidden to be together

Though they are sad they must leave, they look forward to the time they will be together once more, and therefore the parting contains both sorrow, and the promise of something sweet and beautiful.

My words to my dying wife again, “I’ll see you again soon enough – somewhere, some time…..”

 

There are many ‘goodbyes’ in the Bible…..

  • We’re going to start with that grand old man Moses who led the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt through the wilderness toward the promised land.

 Moses at the end of so many years of service to Israel, is not allowed by God to enter the promised land.  He looks back at what they have done together, then he looks forward, and bids them farewell.

He says goodbye to his people – ‘Happy art thou, O Israel’ he cries, ‘A people saved by the Lord.’

 

He knows that God has protected them in the past, and has no fears for their future – for he knows they are in God’s safe keeping.

  • Then there is Jacob, a very elderly man.  What a long and exciting life he has led; what a man he has been. 

Then had come the loss of his son Joseph, whom he had believed had been killed.  But years later, Joseph, now a great man in Egypt, was reunited with his family.

In his old age, Jacob moved with his entire household down to that strange land to settle there.  He lived in Egypt, but his heart was still in his homeland of Palestine.

Even as he lay dying and said his goodbyes, he begged that his body should be taken back and buried in the land he loved..

 

  • Then there is the parting between Jonathan and David. 

Jonathan was a prince, the son of King Saul, and David was a shepherd boy, and they became very close friends.  But David was perceived as being a rival to Saul, so the King forced them apart.  They met secretly to say goodbye, embraced and wept.

Then Jonathan said these last beautiful words:

    ‘Go in peace…the Lord shall be between thee and me…forever’

They had to part, but in their love of God, they would always be one.

 

  • There is the parting between St Paul and the elders of Ephesus 

The old Apostle, having done his work in these parts, is on the way back to Jerusalem.

He knows that he is running into danger, and, therefore, says goodbye to his friends.  Even grown men at such times can break down in tears, so Paul asks them to stop as they are making things harder for him.

How these Christians really did care for one another.

 

And, then there is Jesus addressing his disciples.  Today’s Gospel picks up immediately from where we finished last week, when looking at the first fourteen verses of the 14th chapter of the Fourth Gospel.

READING: John 14 verses 15 to 21

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

 

 This must have been terrible for the disciples.

He’s telling them that he’s leaving them.

Here was the one who had brought God into their lives in a real and living way, now saying his goodbyes.  What a blow that should have been.

Here is Jesus whom his disciples had known so wonderfully, and who had changed their lives forever, now going away from them.

But when they do part – on Ascension Day (which is celebrated this Thursday) – we discover that the disciples went back to Jerusalem, ‘filled with great joy’ ‘Filled with great joy’

Why? 

 Because they had his promise that although it was goodbye and an end of meeting together in the old way with him before their eyes, it was the beginning of his being with them in a new way.

He didn’t leave them bereft, nor orphans, nor alone and cast adrift.  He had promised them an “advocate” a “comforter” (and that word literally means someone or something that strengthens us – we get “fortify” from the same Latin root)

He would be with them, in spirit, always.  And not just with them, but with us too.

 

I started with a film quote; here’s another…… this time from “Spiderman 2” which I saw last week.

Poster_-_Spider-Man_TASM2

 

It’s the valedictory speech at High School given by Gwen Stacy, the classmate and former girlfriend of Peter Parker (Spiderman’s everyday persona): 

She says:

“It’s easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will be dark days ahead of us too, and they’ll be days where you feel all alone, and that’s when hope is needed most, no matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me, that you will hold on to hope. Keep it alive, we have to be greater than what we suffer. My wish for you, is to become hope, people need that, and even if we fail, what better way is there to live. As we look around here today, and all the people who helped make us who we are, I know it feels like we’re saying goodbye, but we will carry a piece of each other, into everything we do next, to remind us of who we are, And who we are meant to be.

 

And this –

 Mr. Holland’s Opus is a movie about a frustrated composer in Portland, Oregon, who takes a job as a high school band teacher in the 1960s. 

 

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Although diverted from his lifelong goal of achieving critical fame as a classical musician, Glenn Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss) believes his school job is only temporary.

At first he maintains his determination to write an opus or a concerto by composing at his piano after putting in a full day with his students.

But, as family demands increase (including discovery that his infant son is deaf) and the pressures of his job multiply, Mr. Holland recognizes that his dream of leaving a lasting musical legacy is merely a dream. 

At the end of the movie we find an aged Mr. Holland fighting in vain to keep his job.

The board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama programme. 

No longer a reluctant band teacher, Mr. Holland believes in what he does and passionately defends the role of the arts in public education. 

What began as a career detour became a 35-year mission, pouring his heart into the lives of young people.

Mr. Holland returns to his classroom to retrieve his belongings a few days after school has let out for summer vacation. He has taught his final class. 

With regret and sorrow, he fills a box with artifacts that represent the tools of his trade and memories of many meaningful classes. His wife and son arrive to give him a hand. 

As they leave the room and walk down the hall, Mr. Holland hears some noise in the auditorium.

Because school is out, he opens the door to see what the commotion is. 

To his amazement he sees a capacity audience of former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that reads “Goodbye, Mr. Holland.” 

Those in attendance greet Mr. Holland with a standing ovation while a band (consisting of past and present members) plays songs they learned at his hand.

His wife, who was in on the surprise reception, approaches the podium and makes small talk until the master of ceremonies, the governor of Oregon, arrives.

The governor is none other than a student Mr. Holland helped to believe in herself his first year of teaching. 

As she addresses the room of well-wishers, she speaks for the hundreds who fill the auditorium:

“Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent.

Rumour had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both). 

But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous. At least not outside our little town. 

So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he’d be wrong. 

Because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.”

Looking at her former teacher the governor gestures with a sweeping hand and continues, “Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus.
And we are the music of your life.”

 

Life is about the impressions that we make, like finger prints we leave everywhere.

Jesus left finger prints on the lives of people he met and laboured with,

Never underestimate that people will forget what you say and often forget what you may do for them but they will never forget the way you made them feel!
So leave good impressions like fingerprints of the hearts of people you meet 

 

A couple of weeks or so ago , a remarkable young man died – and what a legacy of hope and inspiration he has left us.

Stephen Sutton, raised more than £3.5m  for charity after news of his illness spread on social media.

Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer aged 15.

Rather than dwell on his misfortune, the teenager drew up a “bucket list” of things he wanted to achieve before he died.

This led to him completing a skydive and playing drums in front of 90,000 people before the Uefa Champions League final at Wembley last May, among various achievements

 

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  Someone wrote this about this extraordinary young man:

“In his last few weeks, Stephen Sutton aged only 19,was  unable to process the outpouring of emotion and compassion that he had triggered. He did not want to die, but his thirst for life did not manifest itself in gloomy or depressing ways.

“Cancer sucks, but life is great,” was his motto.

 Announcing Stephen’s death, his mother wrote that “her heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son”, and that the “ongoing support and outpouring of love for Stephen will help greatly at this difficult time, in the same way as it helped Stephen throughout his journey”.

Her pride undoubtedly has much to do with the fact that cancer never defeated Sutton, even though it took his life. He will not just be remembered for his fundraising or his refusal to be defined by his cancer.

 He inspired people to embrace life, regardless of the obstacles, to be full of compassion, and to look after each other. That is quite a legacy”

 

 image

 

 

We never have to say goodbye to Jesus, he is with us forever.

Remember what he said ‘ I am with you always, even to the close of the age’ And he is, as king of kings & lord of lords – and in that we can all rejoice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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