March 19, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
I want to share a story with you. But before I do I ask that you remember this is not a story about me or the persons involved. It is about the one behind the story.
Many years ago, while I was actively serving a congregation, I received an early morning call. It was around 1:00 AM. One of the congregation’s families was at the hospital with the senior member of the clan. He was in his early 90’s at that time. My friend was in the emergency room. His family was greatly distressed. That was all the information I could glean from our short conversation. The family asked me to come quickly and pray for their father and grandfather.
When I arrived I was whisked into the sterile environment of the ER. The family was left in the hallway. I did not have time to ask anyone what had happened or what the situation was. This partially explains what I did next. The patriarch of the family lay on a cold stainless steel table. His head was turned, mouth open, tongue visible, eyes open and glassy. He did not appear to be breathing. The two attending doctors stood across the room and watched. I bend over my friend, spoke in his ear and asked for permission to pray for him. He did not respond. I proceeded to lay my hands on him and to ask God to restore this wonderful gentle man to his family and friends. As I said amen, something I will never forget happened. This elder’s eyes fluttered, he turned his head toward me and said, “Hello Fr. Dave, I am so glad to see you.”
Needless to say the doctors came rushing over. I was lost in the shuffle and went back to the family in the hallway. When they heard the news that their loved one was conscious their focus turned to the doctors. In the midst of the excitement I went back home, to bed. The approaching morning was Sunday, and I needed to be up ready to go in a few hours. Even so, I could not get what had just happened out of my mind.
The next day, after church, the daughter of this man asked me if I knew what had happened the night before. I responded “I think so.” I asked her the same question and she repeated my words. That was all we said, except to give God thanks. My friend lived for several years after that.
Here is what I can say with certainty about that night. I had the courage to pray as I did because I had not had the opportunity to speak with the family or doctors first. Maybe if I had, I would have prayed differently. I am convinced the outcome of that night was not about me, my abilities, limitations, or anyone else’s. It was about being open to the power and presence of God. Sometimes not knowing all there is to know is helpful. I was also reminded of the power of God which surrounds all of us at all times.
Life can be overwhelming at times. It can seem as if it demands more than what we have to give. This has probably always been true. But after years of watching the lives of the people I served, it seems especially true today. Those attempting to establish themselves in life cannot rely on the life maps of those before them. Those in their child rearing years must struggle with new questions and situations as they raise their children; all the while juggling the ever changing demands of their work. And those of us with more time behind us than before us are increasingly convinced that the digital revolution will be much more disruptive than the industrial revolution was ever thought to be. Where do we find the power and strength to cope with all that comes our way today?
Most of us have come to moments in our lives where we have realized we do not always have sufficient power within ourselves. One answer to this question of power sufficient for today is pointed to in the church’s prayer for this coming Sunday. The collect we will pray has ancient roots (approx. 600 AD). In that prayer we acknowledge that the power we are speaking of does not have its origins within us. It is God’s power, active and available through faith to all of us. It is the power that makes amazing things possible, even the power to lead a good and holy life today. We don’t even have to understand it – we only have to be open to its possibilities. “Help!” is a perfectly good and powerful prayer.
Third Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 218)