Take HeartPosted: October 25, 2015
SLIDE 3: GROUND INTO THE DUST
Israel was a conquered, occupied people. They were being ground into the dust under the weight of Roman oppression. Taxes were driving small farmers off the land. The poor were sinking into hopelessness. The tax collectors had milked all of the charity out of the system so that the blind, the lame, the disabled were destitute and in despair.
SLIDE 4: BARTIMAEUS
Bartimaeus was a blind beggar of Jericho sitting outside the City gate along with countless others hoping for some alms that might buy him a crust of bread. Day after day he sat in despair taking whatever scraps of mercy that might be cast his way. And then one day he heard about a miracle working Rabbi in the Galilee. A teacher who told his listeners to have hope, because the Commonwealth of God was in the midst of them. God was near, and stories of miraculous healings and feedings swirled around this Rabbi. One account told that he had fed a large crowd of 5,000 people. Bartimaues took note.
Then one day he overheard some passers-by mention that this miracle working Rabbi was coming to Jericho, and the blind beggar resolved he would try to get this Jesus’ attention. He sat up attentive to the sounds around him. At first there was simply more traffic than usual at the gate, but then he perceived there was a large crowd moving together into the City. He asked someone near him what was happening. “It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” came the reply.
SLIDE 5: SON OF DAVID, JESUS, HAVE MERCY
With that Bartimaeus jumped up and began crying out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” But the people around him only told him to shut up! But this was the blind man’s only hope, so undeterred Bartimaeus continued, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Jesus heard him, stopped in his tracks, and asked the crowd to bring the blind beggar to him.
SLIDE 6: TAKE HEART
People in the crowd told Bartimaeus to “take heart,” for Jesus was calling to him. Take heart, in the midst of depression and despair, Jesus inspired hope. The blind beggar regained his sight. Jesus brought hope into the darkness of despair, and hope is perhaps the most important gift we can give to one another.
SLIDE 7: THINKING POSITIVELY CAN LEAD TO POSITIVE MEDICAL OUTCOMES
This Tuesday, I go back to see an orthopedist about my knees and my hip. As I am getting ready for that appointment I am struck by an article written by Dr. Charles Raison, CNNHealth’s Mental Health expert and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University. He writes: “Although the universe does not appear to be obligated to deliver 100% of our fondest hopes and dreams, it turns out that thinking positively really can lead to positive medical outcomes.”
The latest example of this effect comes from a recently published study that examines whether one’s expectations of one’s health status actually affects future health. Researchers at Duke University asked several thousand patients undergoing a cardiac diagnostic procedure what they thought about their likely future health and then followed these patients for 15 years to see what happened to them. A great strength of this study is that in addition to asking about specific health expectations, the researchers collected information on almost every imaginable factor that might also influence cardiovascular health so that the specific effect of these expectations could be isolated and explored.
SLIDE 8: OPTIMISTIC PATIENTS WERE HALF AS LIKELY TO DIE
The researchers found that the most optimistic patients were only about half as likely to die from heart disease as the most pessimistic patients. Of course, it’s easier to be optimistic about your future if your disease is not as bad, if you are not as depressed, etc. (Of course pessimism and depression may be linked.) Taking these factors into account weakened the association between positive expectations and enhanced survival, but the effect remained large — as large, in fact, as the effect of our most powerful medications. Hope is serious medicine.
SLIDE 9: HOPE SPECIFIC TO THE ILLNESS AT HAND
The practical implications of these findings — along with many similar results from earlier studies — are staggering. When disease strikes we should work on ways to develop and nurture a sense of hope for the future. And not just general hope, but hope that is specific to the illness at hand. And in fact, if our hope reaches beyond what the evidence suggests is going to happen to us, so much the better. We should look upon this as a therapeutic strategy, and if we find it difficult we should remind ourselves that other therapeutic modalities — such as surgery or chemotherapy — are at least, if not more difficult.
SLIDE 10: SO EASY TO GIVE IN TO DESPAIR
It can be so easy to give in to despair, especially when we are in pain, either physical or mental. Pain is debilitating. It drains life of joy and it can send us into the spiritual darkness of “life sucks and then you die.” These past three months I have had days when hope seemed like more than I could muster.
SLIDE 11: THEN I THINK OF BOBBY KATES
But then I think of our mutual friend Bobby Kates. Now, some of you are new enough to our community of faith, that you haven’t met Bobby. Two summers ago he came to United Church as a seminary student to spend a month getting practical experience in ministry. He preached. He visited. He led a Bible Study, and people came to really like and respect Bobby. Then he went back to Brite Divinity School in Dallas to finish his studies.
SLIDE 12: AFTER GRADUATION DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER
Late this spring just after graduation Bobby was diagnosed with cancer. By July he knew he had “Diffused Large B Cell Lymphoma,” a very deadly cancer. In July Bobby entered Parkland Medical Center in Dallas, where he began his first round of Chemo treatments.
Allow me to share his Facebook post from July 24: “Just received a call from Parkland. I have ‘Diffused Large B Cell Lymphoma.’ This is not great, but not totally bad either. I am being admitted into Parkland Monday morning to stay for a week or so and begin intense chemotherapy and possible radiation therapy. I am not sure whether I will be able to surf the web there or not. I have no idea how I will feel. I have no idea if they allow visitors during this week or not. But you can ask if you are so inclined. This type of cancer is very deadly unless they attack it with Chemo very early. Hopefully we are in time.”
SLIDE 13: FINISHED CHEMO AND NEXT DAY STOOD FOR ORDINATION EXAM
I have faith. I want to be with you all for at leat five or ten more years, plus I want to be ordained and have a church to love and hopefully nourish. Its sort of what I expected since this form of Lymphoma is a major killer of long time HIV survivors. The survival rate is not that great, but then again its not that bad if the cancer is aggressively attacked immediately. Hopefully we are not too late.
Two more rounds of Chemo treatments later on September 18th Bobby finished a week of Chemo in time to go before the Commission on Ministry of the Southwest Conference, the very next day after leaving the hospital, September 19, to defend his portfolio and request ordination – and he was approved! But then Bobby posted on September 21st: “Not great news. This is not over. I have another CT Scan scheduled, ASAP. At which time my Oncologists will determine whether I have to start a 4th Chemo Treatment on the 2nd of October.”
SLIDE 14: APPROVED AT ECCLESIASTICAL COUNCIL
On October 2nd Bobby began another round of Chemo treatment and then appeared before an Ecclesiastical Council on Saturday October 17th, where he was approved for ordination pending a call. This is what hope looks like in the flesh. No promises just putting one foot in front of the other in faith despite pain and nausea to embrace his goal to be called as a pastor in the United Church of Christ. Hope is powerful. I cannot imagine someone enduring all that Bobby has endured this year without hope.
SLIDE 15: CANCER SURVIVOR AS SHEPHERD
And I cannot predict what will happen with Bobby. Last night he emailed me to say he has a fifth and a sixth round of Chemo scheduled. It is amazing the Chemo hasn’t killed him, but Bobby has hope. Hope is a promise not an assurance. It is my prayer for Bobby that we will find a church willing to reach out to someone who has been very ill, a congregation willing to be shepherded by a cancer survivor who is hope in the flesh. For I believe that Bobby can help a congregation to aspire to greater faithfulness, sharing the gospel of hope with the larger community around them – a hope that heals.
SLIDE 16: HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT US
I do not know all of the challenges in your lives. I know some of them. And whatever your struggle may be, whether it is health, family relations, job, finances, take heart. Be encouraged. Have faith, and whatever you do do not lose hope. Hope heals. Hope makes life possible. Hope is the energy of faith.
Friends hope will not disappoint us, for in the hope of Jesus we are sustained, healed and saved. Remember hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they see? But if we hope for what we cannot yet see, we wait for it patiently! Hope!