Kennedy at Seminary

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sitting in the Waiting Room

I'm glad I have a sermon to post. Otherwise, I would have dedicated this post to ranting about the Mavericks losing three straight to an inferior Miami team, led by media darling and referee favorite Dwayne Wade. The Mavs have no one to blame but themselves. In the end, it's not the refs' fault, even though certain calls were questionable. I can't help but have a bad taste in my mouth after an agonizing Game 5 loss in overtime. Hopefully getting back to Dallas will prove healthy for the Mavs.

With that said, here's the sermon I preached this weekend. This is also my way of telling you about some of my experiences at the hospital. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Sitting in the Waiting Room
Based on 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Preached June 17-18

Good morning. Happy Father’s Day to you.
(Sit in chair.) This is how I’ve been spending a lot of time lately. Sitting in a waiting room.
I’m not there for an appointment. I’m there to see the people who are in the waiting room.
This summer I’m working as a chaplain intern at St. Louis University Hospital. My area of responsibility is outpatient ministry. These are the people who aren’t staying overnight. They come in, get treatment or X-rays or pain medicine, and then they leave.
During a typical day, my strategy is to walk into the waiting room and survey the scene. I try to find someone sitting alone with an open seat next to them. My goal is to make small talk and hopefully end up talking about God. When they see my name tag that says “chaplain,” usually it’s not too far fetched to expect that we’ll discuss God.
So I look around the room. I see a young man with a mask over his face because his immune system is low and he doesn’t want to catch any germs. I sit down next to him and his dad. I visit with them for a few minutes before a nurse arrives with a wheelchair to take the man to the back for treatment.
I see a man reading a magazine and sit down next to him. He has been waiting for years for a kidney transplant. Over the past two years, he has lost 130 pounds so he’d be the right weight for the transplant.
As I’m talking with a patient, a worker at the hospital pulls me aside and asks if I’ll speak with a young girl. The girl is wearing a baseball cap because she has lost all of her hair from chemo. She and her sister follow me into a private room. The girl starts to cry as she tells me that the doctor told her that her illness is hopeless. She’s going to die.
I see a woman who has been sitting in the waiting room for a while. She tells me that she’s waiting for some paperwork to be faxed on here. She tells me that her biggest worry isn’t her own condition. She’s worried about her brother. Then her voice starts to crack and tears fill her eyes.
I take her back to another room and we talk. Her brother is dying of cancer in Florida. She saw him recently and he had lost a lot of weight. She’s afraid that her brother has strayed from God, and she doesn’t want him to die without faith. She and I pray and ask for God’s presence in her life and her brother’s.
On top of working in the outpatient waiting room, I’m on call several hours a week to attend to whatever emergency might be happening in the hospital. That often means rushing down the trauma center in the emergency room because someone has arrived who has been shot or suffered a heart attack or been in a life-threatening motorcycle crash.
One big questions I had for my supervisor was: What do you say to people in these circumstances? He told me the words aren’t really important. What’s important is being there with people. Being a comforting presence. It’s not about the words.
Sometimes words aren’t adequate.
At these times, I’m encountering people at the lowest points in their lives. For families who are called to the hospital in these critical circumstances, the frailty of life is painfully clear. For patients sitting in the waiting room or lying in hospital beds suffering and worrying, the truth is right in front of them: Life is fragile.
We’re like jars of clay, as St. Paul says in the Epistle reading today. Jars of clay. If you apply too much pressure to a jar of clay, it cracks or even bursts. Drop a clay jar onto the ground and it smashes. A jar of clay is a fragile object. So are we.
Sometimes we have the illusion that we’re invincible. Maybe you’re the type who can work 70-80 hours a week and still have the energy to play a round of golf at the crack of dawn Saturday morning. Maybe you’ve never had a serious illness or injury. Life has been good to you, and there’s no reason to think you won’t continue to be at the top of your game for the rest of your life.
But as human beings, we have to come to grips with certain facts about life. First, we’re all going to die. There’s no escape clause, unless Christ comes back before that. Or unless you get taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot like Elijah. But that’s unlikely. Every human being is headed for death. I don’t care how healthy you eat or how much you exercise. Eventually, the reality of death will catch up to each of us.
In the meantime, you and I suffer. We’re jars of clay, vulnerable to sickness and injury. Illness gets a hold of you, forcing you to miss a day of school or work, or if it’s real serious, sending you to the hospital. You’re trying to paint the outside of the house and you lose your footing on the ladder and come crashing down. You’re playing a game of pick-up basketball in the driveway and jump up for a spectacular Michael Jordan shot and you land on someone’s foot and sprain your ankle. Even if your allergies are driving you crazy, you’re getting a reminder of your own fragile condition.
We’re all going to die. In the meantime, we get sick and get hurt, reminders that we’re vulnerable, fragile jars of clay.
And it’s in this weak vessel that God has stored His greatest treasure. God has given us His Gospel, the story of God being strong because we are weak. The treasure inside jars of clay is the story of Christ.
In Jesus’ life and death, we see God Himself becoming vulnerable, subject to the same frailties we face. At His trial, Jesus was subject to man’s injustice. While He was tortured, Jesus was subject to man’s inhumanity. As He hung on the cross, Jesus was subject to mockery. And as He died, Jesus was subject to man’s end. Then, as He was buried, He faced the same indignity that all of us will face.
But there was a power at work in the life and ministry of Jesus that would not be denied. It’s the power of God, which enabled Christ to raise people from the dead, heal the sick, tell the crippled to get up and walk, and give sight to the blind.
The same power that was at work in Jesus’ life is now at work in our lives. Just as Jesus rose from the tomb, so, too, our bodies will rise from the dead. The power that allowed Jesus to walk past the guards outside His empty tomb is the power that empowers us to overcome the obstacles and opposition we face in our lives.
That’s the power at work inside of you. The power that rescues and transforms and gives hope to fragile human beings like you and me.
Even though we’re weak, God’s strength is enough for us. Paul says we might be hard-pressed on every side, when every area of life seems to be going wrong, but we’re not crushed. We might be perplexed, feeling like life is out of control, but we’re not in despair. We might be persecuted, feeling opposition at work and at home and among friends, but I promise you, we’re not abandoned. We might be struck down by all our difficulties in life, but we’re not destroyed.
Our weaknesses remind us of the fragile condition of our lives, but they also remind us of a greater reality. Our human frailty points in two directions. It points to us, showing us our brokenness and insufficiency. But our weaknesses also point to God. When we’re weak, we remember who is strong. It’s not us. It’s God who is strong.
The treasure inside of us is God being strong for us. God on the cross. God crucified and risen. God saving and rescuing. That’s the treasure.
Even in the waiting room, I see this treasure in jars of clay.
I see a lady sitting in a wheelchair. She tells me about her many ailments. Everything is going wrong with her body. But she says she trusts that God’s going to get her through it. He’s brought me this far, she says, and He’s going to bring me all the way.
Her attitude comes from a treasure inside of a jar of clay. Who else but God could bring such hope in the midst of suffering?
I sit down next to a lady who tells me about her fight with cancer. Then she tells me that even though she’s hurting and tired, God has been good to her. He has blessed her in so many ways. Even when she feels bad, she knows that God is looking out for her.
That’s a treasure inside a jar of clay. And this treasure is more than just an attitude. It’s the power at work inside of fragile humans, bringing about hope and peace.
I sit down next to a young man, 32 years old. He has a mental disability in addition to physical problems. Our conversation was simplistic. I asked what he knew about God. “God is a good guy,” he said. I asked, “What do you know about Jesus?” He answered, “Jesus died on the cross. Jesus is a good guy. He’s a very good guy.”
There’s a treasure inside this young man.
I want to tell you about one final person. I talked to a lady who’s in the process of getting a kidney transplant. She’s engaged, and her fiancé is donating his kidney to her. Both she and her fiancé tell me they haven’t been to church in a while. But she tells me that she wonders if all of this turmoil and suffering of having a kidney failure might be happening for a reason. What if there’s some plan behind all of it? What if God were responsible for bringing into her life this man who loves her and just happens to be a perfect match for a kidney transplant?
As she wonders if God is behind the scenes making the kidney transplant possible, I wonder if God is at work in another way, too. She says she hasn’t been to church in a while, but now she’s thinking of going back. The whole situation makes me wonder if God is showing this woman what sacrificial giving is all about so that she can understand a greater gift that has been given for her, the gift of eternal life that Jesus gave as He died on the cross. The very treasure that is stored in jars of clay like you and me and her.
As I was talking to this woman, she leaned toward me and asked me a question in reference to her fiancé: What do you say to someone who loves you so much in your weakness that he would make a sacrifice of himself for you?
The first thing that came to mind was “thank you.” But even “thank you” doesn’t seem to say enough. Especially when you’re thinking about the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for you.
Sometimes words aren’t adequate.
God’s blessings to you this Father’s Day. Amen.