Tag Archives: St Paul

FEAR and FAITH (Proper 7B)

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.

 

kw266354

 

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?’

–ooOOoo–

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity:

 

 

SerenityPrayer22

 

 

However, the prayer does not go far enough in realising that the Lord is with us in our situation.

Our Bible story today tells of a storm at sea.  The disciples were panic stricken, but Jesus slept through it all.

The first point to note is that 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.

What a terrible thing it was that the disciples said to him ‘Don’t you care that we are about to die?’  And Jesus replied, ‘Why are you frightened?  Have you still no faith?’

 

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, 1632.

 

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

–ooOOoo–

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.

 

paulbay

 

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.  Let us live, then, not in fear, but in faith in him

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Sermon preached at Dumfries Northwest – 4 May 2014: The Third of Easter, Year A

The Third of Easter: Luke 24, verses 13-35 – the walk to Emmaus

 

image

Supper at Emmaus (1606) is a painting by the Italian master Caravaggio, housed in the Pinacoteca di Brera (Sala XXIX), Milan.

SERMON:  FRONT PAGE NEWS 

 Christ is Risen!

 He is Risen, indeed!

 Cleopas and his friend hadn’t read about it in that morning’s copy of the “Jerusalem Post”

It hadn’t even made the “Evening Shalom” which had hit the streets mid-afternoon.

 Oh, yes – there had been rumours – of course, there had been: weird bits of gossip floating about – stuff about empty tombs, wild talk about visions of angels… all very David Icke

 But the news hadn’t picked up on it.  Nothing in the papers.  Just more engravings of Herod and populist write-ups about Pontius Pilate (featuring his “sizzling” wife on page 3)  in the “Daily Star” and “the Daily Roman”

 The resurrection never made the front pages, as it were. Had there been newspapers in Christ’s day, it would not have hit the headlines.

 There wouldn’t even have been space for it tucked away amongst the small ads for donkeys, wine jars, and the like – somewhere near the end.

 It wasn’t in the news – not that it wasn’t news!  It was. and is, the greatest News of all, the Good News!

 But It was so unexpected that these followers of Jesus were unprepared for it.

 The story was still of crucifixion and death and the events leading up to it from Palm Sunday to trial and arrest, then sentence followed by capital punishment – Roman style.

 So, here are Cleopas and his companion, who hadn’t read the news – it wasn’t in the news – wearily going home to their village.  For them, it was “Goodnight Vienna”

 It was a bad news evening.

The last full stop of the last sentence of the last chapter of the Jesus story had been written.

 The mark of a good journalist is to summarise or compress the whole point of a story into the first paragraph, even sometimes the first line.  The rest of the report may simply be filling.

 Sometimes, if it’s too long ,the editor will “cut it” – nowadays on a word processor by blocking off a section and pressing delete – in days of old, by literally using a pair of scissors to cut out the last couple of paragraphs.

You can’t do this with novels, of course – you can’t excise the last page, especially of thrillers or whodunits.

 I‘m old enough to remember “Hancock’s Half Hour” on the old steam radio and then on TV….. and I’m thinking just now about what happens when Tony Hancock gets a murder mystery  (Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto)  from the library.

 To his shock and horror he finds the last page torn out.  He and Sid James try to solve the whodunit, by tracking down people who had borrowed the book and even a visit to the author’s house with chaotic results.

  http://youtu.be/EPDH3t1L37g

 But the Jesus story isn’t fiction.  If the gospel report had ended with Christ’s death and burial, the whole point is missed.

 Let me tell you one of the best Easter stories I have ever come across:

The Franco-Prussian War  (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871), was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia

The Battle of Gravelotte, or Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. It was fought about six miles (10 km) west of Metz

On the eve of the battle, a group of French Infantrymen was sitting around a camp fire, smoking, drinking, anxious about the next day’s conflict.

Suddenly, out of the bushes came an old, stooped man carrying over his shoulder a bag.

 “Stop, who goes there?” one of the soldiers shouted, jumping to his feet

“Only a poor old bookseller”

“Books?  Pah! we’ve more on our mind than poxy books”

“No, sirs, these are good books – they will give you strength and courage as you face tomorrow”

One of the more “gallus” soldiers shouted over “Here, I’ll have one of your books”  and was handed a pamphlet form of one of the Gospels (probably Mark)

He took it, flicked through the pages and then, tearing out the last one, screwed it up, touched the flame from the campfire, and lit his pipe with it.  Much laughter all round …. apart from the old bookseller who retreated, sadly, whence he came.

The next day, the battle raged – with many casualties, including our “soldat” from the evening before.

Injured, he was carried off to a corner of the battle-field to await whatever medical help could be given.

Although, wounded, he wasn’t in too much pain and rummaging about in his kitbag for something to eat, he came across the little book which had been given to him the night before, and about which he’s completely forgotten.

With so much time to spare before help would arrive, he started to read it – reluctantly at first, but the with growing interest.  Here was this Jesus guy who obviously had great leadership skills – and he could relate to that.  And these disciples were like a sort of army – tough guys most of them.

Hey, and they’re challenging the powers-that-be.  This is good stuff. Marching now on Jerusalem for a showdown with these so and so’s in authority.  Come on, get them and sort them out!

But wait – it’s going wrong: arrested – no!  condemned to death – no way!  The disciples will come and rescue him, surely. 

The Cross – death ….. he turned the page (but, of course, there was no last page; he had torn it out the previous evening)

The End.

He threw the little book away in disgust.

Now it happened that some while later, while in a field hospital, the same old bookseller came round the ward.

“Hey you!” shouted the soldier,” that was a terrible book you gave me – what drama, what enlightening stories, what a hero – and then… that’s it: anti-climax – he dies.”

And the old bookseller then explained what was written on that last missing wonderful and miraculous page.

 Had the story ended with the death and burial, then it would have been a tragedy.

 In his first Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul theologises the situation for us:

 “If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain”

 and, if that isn’t bad enough, he adds “You are still in your sins”

and “All those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished”

 (1 Corinthians, 15 verse 17)

 empty faith – faith  based on nothing

and no forgiveness

no promise of our living beyond the grave

 What a hopeless picture!

 The kind of hopelessness experienced on that sluggish trudge to Emmaus.

 If the story had ended with Good Friday, then it’s inconceivable that the Church would ever have arisen on the back of a dead prophet or wise man or shaman

 And, if our imaginary newspaper editor had cut the story at death and burial, should there not have been an editorial somewhere denouncing this fraudulent and false teacher?

 An editorial denouncing a misguided fanatic?  And I can imagine the comments on the online edition of the newspaper:  “whew! what a weirdo!”  And from those in power: “WE won!”

 And, you know – all the events which contributed to Christ’s death, all the events that enthral our pretend Jerusalem newspaper reader would always hit the headlines of life to the exclusion of any thing of value, beauty or truth.

 But, as we know, the story doesn’t end with the redacted last page:  “Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”

 the Good News of the Gospel, of  Easter, of all time is that He is alive.

THAT is the headline of all time!

 And, you know, Cleopas didn’t have to read about it.  Nor did Mary Magdalene.  Nor Peter. Nor Thomas.   They didn’t have to.

 They EXPERIENCED it for themselves.  They SAW their Risen Lord; they talked to him, walked with him, ate with him.

 He was real – not something dreamed up by some journo – REAL!!!  

 That’s the kind of news that they just couldn’t keep to themselves.

 Can we?

new hymn:

 I walk the dark Emmaus road

With God so far away.
Despair has left me broken here
Too weak and blind to pray.

One comes to me I cannot see
And helps me understand.
Through passing sorrows now I know
A wise and loving hand.

When pain or loss consume my joy,
I cry for quick relief,
But God would treat a deeper need:
My fear and unbelief.

You know my need, You know my path
With all that lies ahead.
Stay near, my Lord, my God, my Host,
And break my daily bread.

Words by Ken Bible

© 2007 by LNWhymns.com. CCLI Song #5009905.
Common Metre tune – Stracathro

 

BENEDICTION

May you see God’s light on the path ahead

When the road you walk is dark.

May you always hear,

Even in your hour of sorrow,

The gentle singing of the lark.

When times are hard may hardness

Never turn your heart to stone,

May you always remember
when the shadows fall—
You do not walk alone.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

 

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May 4, 2014 · 13:20

An Easter Sermon (preached at St.Andrew’s in the Grange Church of Scotland, Guernsey on 4 April 1999) adapted

Jeremy Bentham,one of the pioneers in the field of political economy, was a member of the Board of Directors of one of London’s great hospitals, and gave a vast amount of time and interest to it.

After his death in 1832, it was discovered that he had bequeathed his considerable fortune to the hospital.

He also stipulated that his skeleton, stripped of flesh and dressed in his well-worn business suit, should be mounted on a moveable platform and rolled up to the head of the director’s table, whenever the Board met.

To complete the display, a death mask – on top of which was his old hat – crowned his skeleton.

For more than one hundred years, the Secretary of the Board added this line to the minutes of every meeting, “Jeremy Bentham, present, but not voting”

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Every Easter, there is a danger!  We listen again to the Gospel narrative of Resurrection and – rightly – we wonder at the Miracle…. but so often many of us leave it at that, insofar as we don’t really see nor understand how it impacts on our life in a practical way.

“Christ present, but not voting”?  Not challenging, guiding, revealing, directing us here and now.

Paul in his Letter to the Colossians takes us away, as it were, from that outlook: the one that almost turns Ester into a tale of nostalgic magic and tells us of new life – that we are raised to new life BECAUSE of Easter  (see especially Colossians 3 verse 1b: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above” – he is bringing Easter into the context of our own daily life!)

Easter gives us a new insight into ourselves, what we are, and what we can become.

 

–ooOOoo–

(two weeks before this sermon was preached) There was a documentary broadcast on Channel 4.  It was entitled “Who killed Fletcher Christian”  He, of course, was the leader of the mutineers on the ship, “The Bounty” in 1789.

The programme re-told the story of the mutineers and their Tahitian friends who fled to the South Pacific Island of Pitcairn, following the mutiny..

It was a dark tale of murder,promiscuity, drunkenness and despair.  The nine mutineers who fled to Pitcairn Island (those who stayed on in Tahiti were captured and hanged) grabbed most of the twelve Polynesian women for themselves, and turned their six menfolk into virtual slaves.

Some time after this, with the help of the women, the surviving Englishmen killed the remaining Polynesians and shared ten women between them.

Of the men who had arrived on the Island three years before, only four were now left.

In the end,only John Adams remained to preside over the women and their 20 or more children.

Jesus said, “I am with you always”, although there’s been many a time we feel that he may be present, “but not voting”

But the spirit of Christ WAS there in benighted Pitcairn, in that Paradise Lost, where all seemed doomed……

…. for John Adams rediscovered the “Bounty’s” Bible and, although only semi-literate, began to teach from it – and was able to accomplish the Island’s conversion to Christianity.

 

John Adams

The Prayer of John Adams

Suffer me not, O Lord, to waiste this day in sin and folly

But let me worship Thee with much delight;

Teach me to know more of Thee

And to serve Thee better than ever I have done before,

That I may fitter to dwell in heaven

Where Thy worship and service are everlasting.

                                                                                         AMEN

Written on Pitcarn Island for the Lord’s Day morning.

Redemption came to Pitcairn because of the Risen Christ who can and does make us look at ourselves afresh and at those around us too.

We are raised above the selfish and self-centred and guides us into discipleship and service.  Jesus Christ came into this world for all; and he died for all.

–ooOOoo–

Sarajevo

When the conflict in Sarajevo was raging in the mid-nineties, a reporter saw a little girl shot by a sniper.

He threw down his pad and pencil and rushed to the man who was holding the child and helped both of them into his car.

The man holding the bleeding child said “Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing!”

Then… “Hurry, my friend, my child is still warm!”

then…. “my child is getting cold”

and when they got to the hospital, the child was dead.

sarajevo-bosnian-genocide-1

Later, the man said to the reporter, “This is a terrible task for me. I must go and tell her father that his daughter is dead.  He will be heartbroken”

Amazed, the reporter said, “But I thought that she was your child”

“No”, replied the man, “but aren’t they all our children”

I don’t know what religion that man had – but, in him, Christ was present and voting!

Because of Easter, we work to defend the dignity and worth of all persons, because God has guaranteed our own worth.

In his scheme of things, there is room for all, because Christ came for all.  Christ is present, and he votes for life in all its fullness – for everyone!

–ooOOoo–

Easter calls us to a glory-filled life.  We are asked to seek “those things that are above”

It’s not pie in the sky – it’s here; it’s now; it’s for all of us!

(if you wish, you can still see what’s left of Jeremy Bentham, sitting upright, at University College, London.  It’s a pretty grisly and somewhat unappetizing sight.

And he’s as dead as dead can be – present, yes, but not voting.)

Today we celebrate Christ present forever; alive forever and voting for a better, deeper, broader, higher and wider life for us all. 

This is the beginning of a new day and a new life for all God’s people… for those who have gone before us, and for those who come after us, all united in Christ, the first born of creation.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above”  here and now!

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Compassion

Some people pity those whose well-being is worse than theirs  – particularly those who are distressed, depressed, suffering or disabled in mind or body

“compassion” is a better word; Compassion is the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.

Compassion is often given a property of “depth,” “vigour,” or “passion.”

The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.”

More involved than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.

The Dalai Lama has said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

St Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians describes God as the “Father of compassion” and the “God of all comfort.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

In  Jesus is the very essence of compassion and relational care. Christ challenges Christians to forsake their own desires and to act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need or distress.

Jesus assures his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount that, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan he holds up to his followers the ideal of compassionate conduct.

True Christian compassion, say the Gospels , should extend to all, even to the extent of loving one’s enemies.

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N T Wright and John Piper

 

for the layperson, this could be complicated; if you wish to find out what it’s about, Google it – or goto   http://www.fows.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=96:clash-of-the-titans-nt-wright

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September 10, 2013 · 08:14

Sermon preached at Dumfries Northwest – 18 August 2013: “Chaos, Fear and Faith”

Psalm 27, vv 1, 7-11, 13-14      Mark 4, vv 35-41

 

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

–ooOOoo–

 

But many people who find themselves ill 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 first came across a particular young woman  In the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries where  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 .  The young patient who I learned later 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.

That’s always stuck with me – even although it happened back in 1999 

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

–ooOOoo–

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

I’ve seen it so often elsewhere – folk who are in turmoil, frightened, anxious, disorientated, lost, adrift from family, divorced from happier days… and sometimes angry and guilty.

For some, all the old signposts have gone.  They may be disorientated and directionless.  Their feeling of wholeness, of    personhood has been fractured.  They are  isolated from his known worlds

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. 

 –ooOOoo–

 

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.

 –ooOOoo–

 Shouldn’t we as Christians, followers of the Great Physician of our souls and bodies,  enter  these predicaments, accepting folk 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.

–ooOOoo– 

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.

–ooOOoo–

 

 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’

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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’

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Faith not Fear

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.

 

 

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Canon

There is the tale of the proud Episcopalian clergy mum who was relating to a Presbyterian neighbour that her son had just been made a Canon. The neighbour, terribly impressed, said “Why, even Paul was only a pistol…”

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