Meighan suggested several different scripture passages I could choose for this morning. I’m going to be honest with you and tell you why I chose this one: I found it hilarious. My first thought, “What has God been drinking? God sounds like a person who’s had one too many beers.”
Now this is only because I was reading The Living Bible translation. So let me just read it to you again as I heard it in my mind.
Isaiah 43: 15-20
I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator and King. I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a path right through the sea. I called forth the mighty army of Egypt with all its chariots and horses, to lie beneath the waves, dead, their lives snuffed out like candlewicks.
But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I’m going to do! For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert! The wild animals in the fields will thank me, the jackals and ostriches too, for giving them water in the wilderness, yes, springs in the desert, so that my people, my chosen ones, can be refreshed.
I can only think that because jackals and ostriches are specifically mentioned here, they must be the most ungrateful animals on the earth. So I was attracted to the passage because I found it funny. It’s as if I’m walking by the window of a restaurant. And I see this gorgeous display of dessert: chocolate mousse, crème brulee, raspberry tarts and I say, “Let’s go in here!"
But once I’m inside, I see that this restaurant is not really about the chocolate mousse, crème brulée or raspberry tarts. It’s about some deeply nutritious meal waiting for me. I can have the dessert, but I’m going to have stay and look at the dinner menu. I know that if I’m willing to go deeper there is something in there for me, even if I chose it because it made me laugh.
One of things that struck me about this was how God is promising to do all these brand new things. Now if we truly believe, that God/Spirit/the Divine dwells within us, that means we can’t sit around just waiting for the new thing to happen. We have to take part. We have to co-create, which I why I love our opening prayer.
We gather to learn about your way,
To feel your way stirring in our hearts,
To work with you to do a new thing.
Help us to hear your Word,
To walk in your Way,
And to share your abundant love. Amen.
For the past 35 years I’ve been a hospital and hospice chaplain. Right now I work at the University of Washington hospital. A couple of years ago I got a referral for a patient who had “emotional distress.” This can mean anything, it’s kind of a catch-all term. She described herself as “spiritual but not religious.”
These are my favorites kind of patients. This usually means they don’t go to church but do have some practice or awareness of something greater than themselves.
Anyway, this patient truly was emotionally distressed. She was diagnosed with cancer. “I just have no peace about this. I keep asking the Universe for peace and it doesn’t come.” Then she took her hands, palms up and laid them on the bed beside her. “I sit like this, or I lie like this in a receptive posture. And I receive nothing.”
Now when I was a baby chaplain I probably would have said, “Have you tried listening to music? Deep breathing? You know you can get Reiki treatments here in the hospital.”
But I’m not a baby chaplain any more so I asked, “Tell me about another really hard time in your life and how did you get through it?"
She gasped and said, “When my husband died! It was devastating. I was a mess. What did I do? Well, I—I talked—with a lot of my friends and my family. I bought lots of flowers. After people stopped sending them, I started buying them. I read poetry. I listened to music—that woo-woo stuff but also, ‘Ode to Joy.’ I listened to ‘Ode To Joy’ every single day. And although I missed him so much, I knew everything was going to be okay.” Then she paused and looked around her absolutely bare room and was silent.
So then I asked her, if she had talked with her friends and family. “No,” she said. “Because I wanted to feel peace before I reached out to them.” And then we had some more silence and she said, “I guess before I’ll have peace, I’ll need to get support from them.” And she looked around her room again and said, “And I’ll need to get some flowers. And my music.”
I’m going to let you in on the secret to being a cracking good chaplain: don’t talk much. In a situation like this, hardly talk at all.
At that moment, I was her witness, a fellow pilgrim walking beside her as she found her own answers. And as she told me this story and had her own realization, it was like watching a grimy, weary traveler, resigned to wearing dirty, wet clothes, open their suitcase and realize they have clean shirts and underwear and dry shoes, and fresh pants. I didn’t unpack it for her, I just witnessed her discovering and claiming her own power.
We co-create with the Universe/God/Spirit within. Together we make roads through our wildernesses, co-creating rivers through our desert.
Often, when we are leaving behind the wilderness or the desert, we forget to acknowledge what we are leaving behind. It’s important to do this. I learned this years ago from a little boy. I spent six months of my residency on the pediatric floor. And yes, that was really, really hard, but it was also really, really amazing.
So Jeremy was a six year-old diagnosed with leukemia. Every time I saw him he was clutching his bear—a Care Bear. Do you remember those? They were all the rage in the 1980’s. They came in bright colors and had an emblem on their bellies that described their personality. So there was Cheer Bear, Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Wish Bear, Tenderheart Bear, Good Luck Bear, Love-A-Lot Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, and Grumpy Bear.
So Jeremy had Wish Bear who was turquoise with a belly badge of a bright yellow shooting star. So the good news is that chemo was working and he was probably going home soon. The bad news was that somehow the last little bit of chemo spilled on Wish Bear. Nobody knew exactly how this happened and it happened when Jeremy was asleep.
Immediately Wish Bear was whisked away in a bio-hazard bag to be incinerated. Well, let’s say cremated. And just as quickly nurses and family members scurried around to find a new Wish Bear. This was before the internet—and cell phones. So they were running down to the pay phones and asking to use the unit phones. They were calling toy stores and discount stores.
But Wish Bear was very popular and not to be found. But his mother called up from the lobby and said she had found a Love-A-Lot bear. Love-A-Lot was pink and whose belly badge was a pair of red and pink hearts. I just had a really bad feeling about this.
A few hours later, Jeremy woke up and started crying when he couldn’t find Wish Bear. Immediately his parents whipped out Love-A-Lot and said, “Look! Here’s Love-A-Lot! He’s brand new! He loves you a lot!”
But Jeremy kept crying and asked, “What happened to Wish Bear? I want Wish Bear!”
His parents said, “Wish Bear had an accident! Some of your medicine spilled on him. We couldn’t clean it off.” Now he was just howling.
So there was mad scurrying around through the trash which had already been taken out. After about twenty minutes of hiccuping tears, his nurse comes in. She’s gowned and gloved and holding the Wish Bear bio-hazard bag. She said, “I’m sorry, I can’t take him out of the bag. I can’t let you touch this. But here he is.”
Just seeing Wish Bear he stopped crying. He looked at the bag for a long moment and then said, “Goodbye, Wish Bear.” Then reached over toward his mom for Love-A-Lot. He looked around at all us, then down at Love-A-Lot and said, “I have to say good-bye before I can say hello.”
I have to say goodbye before I can say hello. How many of us just want to move forward without acknowledging what we are leaving behind? The dry desert, the dark wilderness, somehow we must respect it and bow to it before moving on. Maybe some of us are even grateful for what we are leaving behind, because now we know our strength or we’ve learned something. There may even be some grief at leaving behind the familiar. That’s real. And we must attend to it.
So in this season of new growth, and fresh opportunities, where in our lives do we need to step-up and start co-creating? To what do we need to say good-bye so that we can say hello to the “brand new thing.”
And please, let us not be like those ungrateful jackals and ostriches. Let us always say, “Thanks be to God. Amen.”