Sermon: “Sabbatical Learnings: AND”
by Pastor Todd Buurstra

Job 1:21;
I Cor. 2:9

Probably 30-40% of the emergency calls–when I was on a 24 hour on-call shift at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital doing chaplaincy work for my sabbatical–were to help people to die. To start us thinking about the topic of facing our mortality, here is 60 seconds from 60 Minutes

How do people of faith face death?

First let’s recognize that our whole culture fears death. We are even uncomfortable saying the word so we’ve come up with all kinds of euphemisms; i.e., roundabout ways to say death. Help me out here. I can think of kicking the bucket, giving up the ghost, meeting my Maker, passing away, an appointment with the Grim Reaper… Others strike you?… My RWJ supervisor, Rev. John deVelder would preach, It’s death! Say it: death, death, death!

Not only do we avoid death in speech, we avoid it in behavior. Even though we say we can’t avoid ___ and taxes; ____ being?… we do. We color our hair or take Viagra to mask our age. Why? To postpone dealing with death. (That’s a debate in our house. The wife wants me to color my beard, but I don’t because I have to face the Gray Reaper.) Which one applies? I don’t do hospitals/doctors/wakes… Why? Probably so I don’t have to deal with death. I learned even more how the healthcare professionals avoid death by having their default behavior be to hook a patient up to a respirator, or do CPR for an hour, or whatever, to avoid… Lastly, we’ll come back to this, most of us have not filled out an AD: healthcare proxy or living will.

And this fear of death is bankrupting our country in dollars and spirit. Three striking statistics from that 60 Minutes segment are:

  • $55B are spent in the last two months of life;
  • 20-30% of which is wasted! And,
  • 30% of hospital stays are unnecessary because the system rewards admittance and procedures.

And the fear of death costs in dollars because it first costs in spirit. I came into the hospital room, noticed the patient tossing and turning and said, John, you’re restless, what’s up? I’m afraid. What are you afraid of, John? Didn’t I tell you what the doctor said? If you did, I don’t remember. What did the doctor say? They’re calling in hospice. I’m not going to make it. I’m sorry, John, so that makes you afraid? Yes. I understand. If I had a dollar for every time that happens in a 600 bed hospital like RWJ, I could pay my kids’ college in cash. Death is scary

And so we turn to the only medicine that can help this fear: trust in God. And here’s where the biblical story of Job is helpful. You may remember that Job was a rich man, with a rich family life (7 sons, 3 daughters; 7000 sheep, 3000 camels)—the Bill Gates of his day. As Job and his family were enjoying the high life, Job was also happy and humbled by his blessings. Important, because one day, in the blink of an eye, he lost everything. In a fit of understand-able grief and anger Job’s wife told him to curse God and die! But Job had a different reaction. Maybe it was shock, but certainly it was a profound spirituality. His reaction was, please read it with me (Job 1:21)… Wow! Now that’s the power of faith. Indeed one commentator wrote:
A man may stand before God stripped of everything
that life has given him, and still lack nothing.

And when we trust in God we trust not only for the present but for the future. So the Spirit inspires Paul to write beautiful poetry of heaven (I Corinthians 2:9)…

I remember walking into Eva Jane Mosko’s bedroom for her last moments. Her husband of approaching 60 years sat in the single bed with her with his arm around her. She was uncon-sciously struggling to breathe her last, and he was sending her on to Jesus by saying things like: Soon you’ll hear the angels sing. You won’t feel anymore pain. You’ll be praising God. You’ll see Jesus face to face… You know, if you’re around for my last breaths, send me that way.

And so I invite you to do one thing: AND. Allow Natural Death. On the ledge and on the back table is what we used at RWJ, called Advanced Directives. By filling one out you can name a healthcare proxy, complete a Living Will, or both. Don’t be afraid. Trust God. AND.

Once upon a time, twin boys were conceived. Weeks passed, and the twins developed. Soon they exclaimed: Isn’t it great that we were conceived? Isn’t it great to be alive! Together the twins explored their world. When they found their mother’s umbilical cord they sang for joy:
How great is our mother’s love, that she shares her own life with us!

As weeks stretched into months, the twins noticed how much each changed. What does it mean? asked the one. It means that our stay in this world is ending, said the other. But I don’t want to go, said the one. We have no choice, said the other. But maybe there is life after birth!

But how can there be? responded the one. We will shed our life cord, and how is life possible without it? Besides, we know others have been here before us, but none have returned to tell us of life after birth. No, this is the end. And so the one fell into deep despair, If conception ends in birth, life in the womb is meaningless. Maybe there is no mother after all. But there has to be protested the other. How else did we get here? How do we remain alive? Maybe she lives only in our minds. Maybe we made our mother up to make us feel good.

And so the last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear. Finally, the moment of birth arrived. When the twins had passed from their world, they opened their eyes. They cried. For what they saw, exceeded their fondest dreams:
No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him.


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