http:/Sorry, everyone for missing the past couple of weeks. I've been a little preoccupied with some personal dilemmas. Please keep me in your prayers! Here's this weeks sermon.
September 24, 2017
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
To help emergency workers deal with the emotional impact of their work. There were some firefighters in a room sitting in a circle. They're not too talkative. To help emergency workers deal with the emotional impact of their work, there is a psychologist and former firefighter there with them.
Then John tells his story. His squad had been called to the scene of a terrible traffic accident. One of the vehicles was a family sedan, but it was so badly mangled that you couldn't even tell what model it had been. It was obvious almost immediately that the parents, sitting in the two front seats and covered with blood, were dead.
There were two children in the back, and one of those was obviously beyond help as well. But the other child, a little girl of about 7, was sitting in the only corner of the car that was still relatively intact. Though not moving, she had no apparent injuries, and the firefighters sprang to work with high hopes. They were going to have to cut her out of the car, and so as not to injure her with their tools, John went around the other side of the vehicle, reached in across the mangled back seat and put his hand behind her head, gently drawing her away from the other door.
As he did so, however, he felt something, and the men on the opposite side saw it. A shard of metal was piercing her skull. The child was dead.
Of course, they still had to get her body out, and so for the next 20 minutes while his coworkers cut into the car, John remained where he was, holding in his hands this beautiful little girl, looking as if she were only asleep, her body still warm and the breath of life having fled her system only moments before.
Could you have done what John had to do and not be gripped by a sense of futility afterward?
This is not a story John could tell easily. The psychologist had worked around the circle. Some of the guys were talking, but not John. He'd just shake his head, declining to say anything. The man next to John gave a kind of shudder and said, "John had it really bad," and several of the others nodded their heads in agreement.
But then he talked, and told his story.
John and his fellow firefighters are among those who, when disasters occur, arrive to rescue the trapped, treat the wounded, retrieve the dead and eventually clean up the destruction. Sometimes, especially when survivors are found, the work can be rewarding, but more often, it's heartbreaking. Have you ever wondered what effect it has on rescue workers when they arrive to find there's no one they can save?
Let’s suppose there were a pill available that would erase the memory of that incident from your mind while leaving your other memories intact. Would you take it?
Let’s ponder that while we think about Paul's words to the Philippian Christians in the assigned passage. "Rejoice in the Lord always," Paul says, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Do this, Paul says, "and the peace of God ... will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
Sounds almost like "Don't worry, be happy," from the Bobby McFerrin song of the same name.
We doubt, however, that Paul intended his words to be taken in such a carefree and silly way as that song intended. Paul wasn't urging his readers to be mindlessly happy; he was telling them to "rejoice in the Lord," to be in touch with the One from whom real peace and well-being flows. When he spoke of letting our requests be known to God in prayer, he was not prescribing some kind of quick-fix formula or talking in prayer as a tool for feeling better; rather he was pointing his readers toward the One who hears our prayers and loves us. And when Paul talked of the peace of God, he wasn't referring to the state of being without concerns, but to the state of being in harmony with God and the order God has built into our world.
Nonetheless, given the awful things some of us have gone through and which continue to torture us each time we recall them and/or continue to live thru them, we might be excused for dismissing Paul's words here as too lightweight or too simplistic. We can even imagine a troubled Christian reading Paul's advice and responding, "That's all well and good for you to say 'Don't worry about anything' but anxiety is not something I can turn off with a switch. And don't tell me I just need to pray more, because I'm already praying daily. Yet the peace of God is eluding me." Sometimes, I know the feeling.
That gets at the problem with good advice, doesn't it? Probably most Christians would agree that Paul's counsel in these few verses is sound -- if you can actually put it into practice. But like much good advice, a certain mindset and emotional perspective must already be in place before you can really employ the advice to your benefit. John the firefighter needed to have some way to turn down the power of his memory of that fateful day when he held that little girl in his hands.
John's feelings weren't just a passing low. Possibly, coming on top of the other carnage he and his fellow firefighters had had to deal with, John was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is essentially a disease of memory. While PTSD is rooted in one or more actual traumatic incidents, the problem is that the memory of the trauma and the emotions associated with it stay fresh, repeatedly arising to impact the sufferer's present and future.
Earlier I asked if, under circumstances like John's, would you be willing to take a pill that would erase the painful memory. While such a pill isn't available yet, with the rate of science I am sure that it will be someday. We now know that remembering involves certain chemical changes in the brain, and recent tests with lab animals show promising results, where a drug can be given to erase specific targeted memories, leaving, as far as researchers can tell, the rest of the memory unaltered.
The promise of such a pill, however, wouldn't be limited to PTSD sufferers. There's hope that it could cure addiction, which is driven by the memory of what it felt like to be high. Possibly it also could be used to alleviate the condition where some sensory nerves continue to send pain signals even after an injury heals.
But beyond those uses, how many of us have something in our past that causes us to wince or feel a wave of shame or guilt whenever something happens to remind us of it? Might not we want to jettison such memories if we could by taking a pill?
But let's get back to current reality. At present, no such forget-it-all pill exists, and if one is eventually developed, it's not likely to be tomorrow. For now, we must still live with all our memories -- the pleasant and the unpleasant. We can't pick and choose. And even if we could, there are some reasons why maybe we shouldn't. For one thing, emotional pain is often instructive, and we learn from our mistakes, our hurts, our misadventures, our good-intentions gone awry and even our wrongdoings. But if we wipe out the memory of such things, we likely also eliminate what we have learned from them.
We should also think about how it is that God communicates with us. How many charities, helping agencies and church missions have been started because someone was able to feel someone else's pain and couldn't forget it? How many prayers for spiritual growth have been answered by God allowing us to walk through dark valleys? How many of us have gained the joy of forgiveness because we could not forget the shame of our sins? How many of us would still be putting ourselves in the place of God if we could not see where our selfishness got us?
No, in the end, it is probably better to take Paul seriously and rejoice in the Lord always, for who knows what spiritual gain may be waiting for us? (It may also help to remember that Paul wrote this testimony while in prison.) We may be unable to let our worries go, and we may not be able to stop remembering dark spots in our past, but we can rest in Paul's testimony that God really does hear our prayers. We can take comfort that there's something called the peace of God that guards our hearts and minds, even if at the moment it seems far from us.
Right before Paul says, "Don't worry about anything," he says, "The Lord is near." Paul may have been referring to the Lord's second coming. But he also experienced the nearness of Christ in his daily life, and we are best to hear this affirmation that way as well. When we can't forget our pains and shames, we can get some help with them from remembering that Christ was there with us when they were happening and is here with us now.
The other aspect I think Paul was trying to get at, is that even while we are in the muck; when life stinks and there is no other way to describe it, Jesus is right there with us. He is with us in those who care about us and are praying for and with us. It may not stop the pain or rectify the situation – at least immediately – but it’s Jesus’ way of trying to get through to us and let us know there is a plan. Paul did not stop believing while in the prison cell, and he wants us to know that we should not stop believing either.
The Lord is near to you, too.
Let us pray.
For the families and victims in the horrible earthquake in Mexico City that they find comfort, peace, shelter, hope and faith. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the Church will go forth toward those who are wounded and in need of an attentive ear, assistance, forgiveness, and love. We pray to the Lord.
That civil rulers will work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the development of the poor. We pray to the Lord.
For the conversion of all those whose lives are dominated by envy, violence, or hatred. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are unemployed may be protected from discouragement and may find gainful employment. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For the wellbeing, healing and comfort of all our loved ones who are suffering from illness. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, thank you for the countless proofs of Your gentleness. May we always praise Your name for its goodness and mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca./www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html