October 31st, 2021      

“Good and Well on the Journey of Faith”

(From Psalm 126)

  When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
 then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
 shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

     For as long as I can recall, I have been drawn to the familiar words of Ecclesiastes 3 -“To  everything there is a season.”  As I have experienced both life’s ups and downs, I have been reminded that there is, indeed, a season for everything.  We cannot prolong the times we most enjoy; neither can we shorten those we would prefer to end more quickly.  The most we can hope is to be reminded that “this too shall pass”.  As my Grandmother sang to me in the words of one of her favorite Hymns, “Rocking My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”:  so high, you can’t get over it, so low, you can’t get under it; so wide, you can’t get around it, you’ve got to go through the door—you’ve got to go right up there and get into it all in order to find that door.

     Friday afternoon of September 3rd was an unremarkable day.  Then, around 2PM, I receive the phone call that would shape the course of essentially the next two months of my life.  The day before, I had completed my annual health screening with bloodwork. I felt fine, and I expected that nothing remarkable would be revealed in the blood tests.  To my surprise, my primary care physician was contacting me to inform me that my bloodwork came back extremely abnormal, and he had made arrangements to have me admitted to the hospital that very afternoon for further testing.  I believe that you folks already know that further tests revealed that my liver function was failing as the result of gall stones that had migrated through my digestive system so that it was not functioning properly.  The next several weeks have involved a series of further tests and surgeries to correct these issues.

     My message to you this morning is not about sharing all of the gory details of these surgeries. It is about sharing with you the importance of being vigilant in practicing self-care and regular health screenings.  Although I felt fine and believed everything about my general health condition was good, I was, in fact, not well.  Under the surface of my seemingly healthy exterior, I was harboring serious disease.  It is truly by the grace of God that my annual health screening with bloodwork came due.  My doctor shared that he had never seen liver function numbers as high as mine.  I was an inner ticking time-bomb just waiting for the next issue to come along and shut me down.  So, I cannot personally stress enough the importance of regular health screenings—even when you do not feel the need for them.  Our amazing human bodies have the ability to mask illness and maintain the appearance of health for some time—many months, in my case.  Our human bodies are also the tabernacles of our eternal souls; and as such, are sacred and worthy of our care and vigilance.  Please hear these words well and digest them thoroughly (no pun intended!), so that your body may truly be well and not just feeling good in the present moment.

     Now that we have discussed the importance of caring well for our external tabernacles, or bodies, let us turn to the eternal treasure they contain—our souls.  Through the process of my illness and recovery, the Holy Spirit showed me that the same truths about health and well-being that apply to our physical lives also apply to our spiritual lives.  We can be going along believing that everything in our spiritual lives is good, when in truth we are not spiritually healthy, strong and well.  When everything in life seems to be going along fine for us, we can miss the inevitable truth that we need to intentionally nurture the health of our eternal souls.  We sometimes get busy and distracted when we are immersed in the tasks of our daily living.  We may miss a prayer time here, and the study of a passage of scripture there.  We miss a few Sunday worship services without feeling the loss too greatly, but then the next thing you know we are becoming lost in the world’s value system, failing as Christians to follow the way of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  He, as our Hebrews lesson reminds us, is the true and perfect sacrifice for our sins.  In short, we become soul-sick.  We may not immediately our spiritual need, but in such a weakened state we cannot find the necessary spiritual strength to help us in our times of need.  We may think it’s all good, but we most certainly are not well.

     I have often said that I do not know how people who have no faith can survive in our world today.  I grew up in a family of faith, surrounded by loved ones who were on their faith journey and guiding me gently and lovingly onto mine.  I came to the end of myself long ago, and I decided to follow my Savior, Jesus, and to know God’s love through him.  I am intentional and prayerful, trusting the process as I journey in my faith.  Yet, these past weeks have sent me on a deeper faith journey than I could have imagined.  I have known times of difficulty, adversity and stress.  Yet, never before did I understand what it meant to fully trust God for each and every breath, and for every beat of my heart.  Each succeeding breath we take is a gift from God.  We can forget this most important point if we are not continually and intentionally focused on God and our faith. You see, one comes to appreciate these basics of life when faced with a serious and life-threatening illness.  Without life’s busy distractions, what also develops is a strengthening of our basic reliance on God in every moment and in every aspect of our day.  This is why many of our spiritual fathers and mothers spent time in the wilderness, secluded from the world.   In the solitude, I praised God for peaceful moments, and trusted God as I have never had to lean upon the everlasting arms of God’s strength and love.  It was during a cancer scare, which appeared in the form of a shadow on a test scan, I happened to open my Bible to Psalm 126.  I was feeling somewhat anxious about the further impending testing, feeling a bit down, when I read these words:

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
 shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

I was certainly experiencing a time of sowing some tears, and God knew my need.  I was reminded that we people off faith who face the tears of life also have the promise of joy-even if it does not seem to be available for us in the present moment.  We will all come home with shouts of joy, carrying our sheaves of victory, because we belong to God and God’s eternal kingdom.  That blessed assurance carried me through the days before the biopsy result.  I also bolstered my faith during this time by reading the Bible’s great faith and healing stories, like Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter, the healing of the Syro-phoenician woman’s child, and the woman who suffered from hemorrhages. When I receive the wonderful news that my biopsy was benign-I came home with shouts of joy carrying the sheaves of a harvest of newfound spiritual strength for living.  Last week, Rev, Lea reminded us that we need to open our spiritual eyes if we are to live according to our Christian faith.  The world is enticing and can lure us away from this lofty goal for our faith.  We must be intentional about protecting our eternal souls, as well as their holy tabernacles, our bodies.  If we do this well, we will both feel good and truly be well as we progress down our journey of life.  Amen!