Service Recording: February 24, 2019
February 24, 2019 ~ 10:30am
The People of Peace Church
Karen Sheldon, ASL Interpreter
Amy Sullivan, Lay Leader
Jim Pospisil, Music Director
Nathan Holst, Faith Formation Minister
Dr. Beth Bartlett, Guest Preacher
Rev. Kathryn Nelson
Prelude “Shower the People You Love” by James Taylor Leon Rohrbaugh, Tom Wilkowske, Dale Shimmin, Kirby Wood, Jessica Olson, Dave Winchester
Greeting One Another
Ringing of the Peace Bells and Lighting of Candles by Acolytes
God is Revealed as We Gather
Choral Call to Worship “Have a Talk with God” by Stevie Wonder
*Responsive Call to Worship ~Rumi (13th century Persian poet)
Today, like every other day,
we wake up frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
*Opening Hymn “Awake! Awake…” (#107)
Responsive Prayer of Confession from UCC Worship Ways
Holy One, your call is deceptively simple: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And yet we cling to self-serving ways which separate us from your beloved creation. You call us to turn our lives around, to risk repentance and learn forgiveness, to work with patience and diligence to prepare the way for your Reign, but we get discouraged and give up too soon.
Lord, have mercy.
You call us to be full of joyful confidence to create community where all have enough for abundant life,
but we burden ourselves with anxiety and fear.
Christ, have mercy.
You call us to speak out in the presence of injustice,
but too often we do not challenge words and actions
rooted in hate.
Holy One, have mercy.
Assurance of Pardon
Story for All Ages
God is Revealed in the Word
God’s Word in the Psalms: Psalm 108:1–4
Anthem “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Rutter
God’s Word in the Gospel: Luke 6:27–36
Sermon “How to Save a Life” Dr. Beth Bartlett
Sermon Transcript - Beth Bartlett – How to Save a Life
Why did I want to give the sermon today? 25 years ago today I was in University Hospital in the Twin Cities receiving a new heart, and it seemed important to commemorate the 25thanniversary of my heart transplant, and this seemed a good way to do that. 25 years. It’s an arbitrary number really – important because our culture gives it importance – based on decimals, hundreds, a quarter of a century. It’s our silver anniversary. But of what exactly is it an anniversary? Of survival? New life? Hope? Or is it an anniversary of a death? For my donor Jodi’s family, it is 25 years since she has been gone from them. On that night 25 years ago, as Dave and I waited for the helicopter to take me from St. Luke’s to University Hospital in the Twin Cities, we were very aware that as much as this was a time of hope and celebration for us, somewhere another family was grieving the loss of a loved one.
On February 20, 1994, a friend of Jim Lowe’s arranged for his family – his wife and her two daughters, and Jim’s two daughters – they were a blended family — to make the short trip from Hannibal, Missouri back to Kansas City on a small private plane. Jim was supposed to be on the plane, too, but that would have made the plane too heavy, so he drove, planning to meet his family at the airport. It was an uneventful flight, but as the plane came in to land, the wings suddenly rocked side to side, the airplane pitched nose up briefly, then dropped to the ground, landing in a sloping pasture. The pilot, along with Jim’s wife and one of her daughters, and one of Jim’s daughters – Jamie, all died on impact. Jim’s other step-daughter suffered two broken legs, but survived. Jim’s younger daughter, Jodi, survived the crash, but she had suffered severe injury to her brain. For three more days, she clung on to life – she had such a deep desire to live — but the injury was too severe, and after three days, Jim, and Jodi’s mom, Connie, let her go.
Jodi Lowe. Nine years old. A happy fourth-grader who loved her friends, loved to laugh. As her Aunt Barb wrote, “To the woman who holds the heart of someone I loved very much…She was the light of our lives. She was the funniest child I have ever known. She loved to wisecrack and the cornier the joke, the more she loved it. She would tell you her joke of the day, and then just fall on the floor and die laughing at herself. She had the biggest eyes you ever saw. … She always loved to read out loud in class, and was considered both the class clown and the class philosopher. She always asked the most incredible questions….”
Had she lived, she’d be 34 now – the age her mother was when she lost Jodi. Had she lived, today would be an ordinary day. Maybe she’d be taking her kids sledding, or cooking dinner with friends, or visiting her family – telling jokes, making them laugh. Maybe she’d be the teacher she had hoped to be when she was nine. Maybe she’d be a comedy writer or a philosophy professor. Or maybe she’d be a firefighter, or a nurse, or a doctor. Maybe today she would be saving a life….
She did save a life. She saved many lives. Several of us received life-sustaining organs from Jodi that day. I imagine most, like Jodi, were children. Her life connects us all, and I often wish we could meet each other. And it wasn’t just our lives that were affected, but the lives of all of our loved ones as well. The ripples go on infinitely.
What does it mean to save a life? Is it the province of doctors and lifeguards, EMTs and firefighters who keep us from perishing from riptides and fire, injury and disease? Or is the deliverance metaphysical — the province of ministers and priests, of spiritual leaders and healers of all faiths and beliefs.
What does “save” even mean? We use the term “save” in so many ways. We save time, save money, save energy, save room, save space, save the date, save that thought, save the redwoods, save the whales, save the planet. While writing this, every time I made changes to this document, MS Word asked me if I wanted to save them . The definition of “save” takes up pages and pages in the Oxford English Dictionary. “Save” –verb – “to deliver or rescue from peril or hurt; to keep safe, secure; to keep whole, healthy; to be careful, economize; to keep for a particular purpose; to protect from danger;” or, as a noun – as in hockey, “an act to prevent the opposite side from scoring.” One could easily write a whole sermon just about that last one.
When I want to get at the underlying meaning of a word, I seek its origins. It’s a treasure hunt that often reveals hidden gems – like this one did. I loved what I found. “Save” – from the Latin salvia – or sage. Sage – a plant used from time immemorial for its healing qualities, its abilities to restore us to health and wholeness, to deliver us from injury, to keep us safe. I imagine most, if not all of you have used sage in one way or another. Perhaps you’ve grown it in your gardens, used it as an herb in your Thanksgiving stuffing, or smudged. In Anishinaabe culture, as in indigenous cultures around the world, in the act of smudging, sage is burned to purify a space, to create healing, to prepare us to enter sacred ceremony. One of the four sacred medicines – sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, and sage — sage is used to heal, to make whole physically and spiritually, knowing that the two are inseparable. To smudge is to save a life – to make it healthy and whole.
Salvia — the root of salve – an ointment that heals wounds; the root of salvage – to find what is usable after all else has been destroyed; and the root of salute. In US mainstream culture, saluting has somehow become narrowly associated with the military, a gesture in recognition of status and rank. But originally saluting was simply a way of greeting one another, of wishing each other good health and well-being – as in the toast in French, “Salut,” or the now infrequently-used greeting, “Salutations!”
Salutations. If you’ve ever read Charlotte’s Web, it’s impossible to hear “Salutations!” and not think of the spider, Charlotte. It was how she first greeted Wilbur, the pig who shared her home in the barn, and whom she wanted to befriend. As it turned out, it was a portentous choice of word, for when Wilbur learned that he was being fattened up to be killed, Charlotte took it upon herself to be sure he remained safe from peril, healthy, and whole. “You shall not die,” said Charlotte to Wilbur, who was beside himself in grief. “I am going to save you.” She dedicated her life to saving the life of her friend. How did she do that? By weaving words in her web above his stall — “Some Pig,” “Terrific,” “Radiant,” – she showed the world his intrinsic worth. People came from miles around to marvel at “some pig.” Charlotte saved Wilbur by helping people to see Wilbur not as a resource, as a commodity valuable only for what he would fetch on the market as bacon, pork chops, and ham, but rather as being worthy of life and love in and of himself. What a gift. What an amazing grace that any of us can extend to our friends, to strangers, to the earth – to help us see the intrinsic worth of all the beings, and of the earth itself. Truly, this is a gift of salvation. And yes, like save, salve, salvage, salute, and salutations, the word salvation also comes from the Latin, salvia.
“This, then, is salvation,” wrote the 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart, “when we marvel at the beauty of created things and praise the beautiful providence of their Creator.” This was Charlotte’s gift to Wilbur, and perhaps more importantly, it was also her gift to all who now came to see the beauty in him, and to marvel. One of the greatest gifts of having my life restored, and perhaps my true salvation, was a heightened sense of wonder and awe. As I wrote long ago in my reflections on my transplant, Journey of the Heart, my then six-year-old son, Paul, told me that everything is a miracle. “A miracle that we can see the light of the stars billions of light years away;…that by running our hands up and down piano keys, we can make of sound a melody that stirs the soul… that we can be warm even when the outside temperature is 30 below…that with the slightest variation in our facial muscles we can convey fear, anger, delight, disgust, sorrow, joy,…that we can cut our finger and the skin grows back, ..that we can be so very angry and still love….it is all a miracle.” Even as I was writing this, I was stopped, stunned by the beauty of the sunrise unfolding before me. The other day when I was watching the sunrise through the snow-covered tree branches, I told Dave that I felt like I was living in a painting. I was filled with such amazement and with a gratitude that takes me to my knees. As Rumi said, “there are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Every day, every sunrise, offers us this opportunity for wonder, for salvation.
I could go on and on exploring the many definitions and meanings of “save” in the abstract, but what did saving my life mean to me personally? Certainly, as in the dictionary definition, it meant deliverance from imminent death, the restoration of health and wholeness. “My heart is steadfast, Oh God, my heart is steadfast,” wrote David in the Psalms. The Psalmist wrote so often of his heart trembling and in torment. I’m sure he had heart trouble, and as anyone who has suffered the discomfiting anxiety of heart palpitations knows, undoubtedly those days when his heart was steady filled him with enormous relief and gratitude. I remember clearly one day a week or so after the transplant, sitting on the couch, feeling the sun pouring in, and placing my hands over my heart, marveling at its regular rhythm. I didn’t even recognize it as my own. I hadn’t felt a steady heartbeat in my chest for over twenty years. I can’t begin to describe that feeling, that tremendous liberation, except to quote the Psalms: “My heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I awake the dawn! I will give thanks to thee, O Lord, among the peoples. I will sing praises to thee among the nations. For thy steadfast love is great above the heavens, thy faithfulness reaches to the clouds.”
Most immediately, saving my life has meant – to paraphrase Rent — “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,” times twenty-five – or, thirteen million four hundred thousand extra minutes, so far, with my loved ones – my dear husband, sister, brothers, nephews and nieces, cats and dogs, – family and friends – and of course, my son, who was just a year old when all this began, and was still a young child when I got my new heart. It meant being able to be there for all the special moments – from his first lost tooth to his first kiss — from Peter Pan to the Peace Church Christmas cantata – but even more, for the ordinary everyday moments, and the fact that they could be ordinary – from tucking him into bed every night when he was little, to the middle-of-the-night conversations when he was grown that so often began, “Mom, sorry to wake you, but could we talk….” It meant the chance to watch him grow into a beautiful man, and being able to travel a thousand miles just to hear him sing.
It meant time – time together with family and friends — all the life that we’ve shared; all the love that we’ve shared. I’ve not wanted to squander a moment. There have been days I’ve succeeded in making every moment count, given back in some small measure, been present to the wonder — and days I’ve taken life for granted, grumbled, been so sick or sad or discouraged that life felt burdensome. And then a sunrise, or a snowfall, or that blue lake, or a simple gesture of kindness, stuns me that into gratitude of living to see this day.
There is another meaning of “save” that has at times felt like a heavy burden, a responsibility almost too huge to carry, but also a sacred trust: save –”to keep for a particular purpose.” My life was saved – kept for a particular purpose. I heard that over and over, every time I came back to life after a cardiac arrest, immediately after the transplant, and pretty much ever since. “God’s keeping you alive for a reason.” “You’re meant to be here.” “You’re still here for a reason. ” So what was the reason? What was my purpose? And why me? Why not Jodi? Why not my friend, Steve Chadwick, who was doing so much good work in the world when he died so young of a brain tumor not long after my transplant. Or my friend, Fran Skinner, who died about the same time, if not the same day, as I received my heart. Why had they died and I lived? Did I need to carry on all their work in the world? What was my work in the world? Perhaps, as Rilke said, I just needed to live the question and someday live into the answer. Working for justice and peace; saving the earth from human destruction; healing the wounds of people and the world — those are tall orders. All of these had called me even before I had ever gotten sick, and now I felt their insistent pull even more intensely. But ultimately, I don’t know that my purpose is any different from or more important than anybody else’s — the purpose of all of our lives — in the words of physicist Brian Swimme – “to become love in human form.”
That’s what Jodi and her family did on that day 25 years ago – became love in human form. In the midst of her grief and loss Jodi’s mom wrote to me: “What a joy that I feel for you and your family to know that you once again are able to experience life and live to the fullest.” They embodied what Meister Eckhart said of compassion: “We must rejoice in their joys as much as in our own joys, we must long for their honor as much as for our own honor, and we must love a stranger as our own relatives.” This, he said, is the kingdom of heaven.
Ironically, one of the definitions of “save” is “to economize — to avoid spending, giving.” But Jesus tells his followers to give, and not just to give, but to give exorbitantly. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….Give to everyone who begs from you….expecting nothing in return…..Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” We are instructed to give abundantly, extravagantly – in full measure. And not just to those who love us, not just to family and friends, but to strangers, even to those who have harmed us.
When family members are asked to decide whether or not to donate their loved ones’ organs, they have no idea to whom those organs will go. They may give new life to someone whose values, politics, or practices are at odds, even abhorrent to the donor. But none of this matters or ever enters the equation. They simply give this generous gift of life – to whoever needs it most. I can’t imagine how difficult that decision is – to say farewell to your loved while their heart still beats, kept on a respirator long enough to make new life possible for others whom one doesn’t even know; to give their very heart. This was brought home to me again just a few weeks ago when the family of Elsie Cook had to make that decision for another nine-year-old little girl, their daughter Helena, when she died suddenly from an overwhelming brain tumor. Or maybe the choice seems clear. As Julie Eckman, my dear friend and spiritual director, wrote to me recently, reflecting on her own decision to donate her daughter, Inger’s, organs after a tragic skiing accident took her life many years ago: “For me, as a mother of a child, similar to Jodi, the gift of restoring human life is oddly amazing, sacred, and really just a given.” It reminds me of the indigenous ceremony of the give-away, in which one gives away to another something that has meaning and value to them, something that is a little difficult to part with. It is an exercise in generosity – a giving that requires some kind of sacrifice, or in other words, a giving that is made sacred. “Give to everyone,” said Jesus, “…expecting nothing in return.” Give and it will be given to you, in full measure.
I hope that those who give this gift know that it is received in the same spirit – with an attitude of reverence, as a sacred gift. I recently asked my nephew, Mark, a thoracic transplant surgeon, what it is like to hold that heart in his hands. He told me what he experiences every time he lifts a heart from a body — the gratitude and care with which he holds it, and he told me as well of the amazement, awe, and wonder he experiences every time the heart first beats again, enlivened, in the body of another. May we receive every such gift, large and small, from the earliest rays of the sun to a child with a handful of dandelions, from the wounds that heal us to a comforting touch to a salutation from a stranger with such an attitude of reverence and care, enlivening it with our gratitude and love.
“How do you measure a life?” asked composer Jonathon Larson, who died unexpectedly the night before his musical, Rent, opened. “Measure your life in love,” the song replies. Not by your fame, fortune, status, or rank, but by how much and how well you have loved, by how much you have given of your time, your energy, your gifts, your love. Measure your life in love. By this is your life made sacred. By this is your life made healthy and whole. By this is your life saved.
Earlier, I quoted part of the poem by Rumi, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” It’s quoted often, but do you know the rest?
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain, let’s buy it.
How do you save a life? Spend it, extravagantly.
Hymn “What Shall I Give?” (#18 P&W Songbook)
We Respond to God’s Presence
Sharing Our Prayer Concerns, Silent Prayer, Pastoral Prayer,
Jeshua’s Prayer (sung–see insert), and Choral Amen
Sharing our Offerings
Offertory “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
*The Thanksgiving “We Give You…” (#785)
*Prayer of Dedication
*Closing Hymn “Amazing Grace” (#547)