CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
Our pastor decided that each Sunday during Lent, we need to have someone tell a story of how s/he met a faith trial. He asked me to start it off yesterday. He certainly tried my faith, by saying I had only “3 or 4 minutes.” For a preacher, that is agony. But I did it.
I don’t normally write anything down as I prepare to speak, for I figure if I can’t do my prep in my brain, I can’t expect listeners to comprehend with only their brains. I wrote it this time, though, so I could time it.
Here is what I said in worship yesterday:
I never expected to get cancer. My father was one of 7 children and my mother was one of 8. I have a thousand cousins. Never been cancer anywhere in that whole huge family. I lived a healthy lifestyle. Ate right. Ran marathons. Played third base. I was a preacher, for God’s sake. I didn’t get sick. I took care of other people who got sick. But the down-low pain wouldn’t go away, so on my birthday, at midnight, they took me into the operating room, and cut me open from Los Angeles to Boston. They took out a tumor and a third of my colon. Ever since I’ve been trying to learn the rules for how to use a semi-colon.
My first oncologist said I had one to two years. Two years sounded like so much more than one, and I desperately wanted that second year, because I had so much more I had to do.
I worked at it. I did chemo, for a whole year. I read that people who went to support group had a 50% better chance of getting well. I read that people who kept a journal of their feelings had a 50% better chance. I’m no dummy. That’s 100%. So I went to support group and kept a journal.
Annual Conference came, and I was talking to one of my children in the ministry. I have 23 children in the ministry. They say they became preachers because I made it look like fun. They all hate me. But Danny C0x was still talking to me, and when I told him about the cancer and all I was doing to get that second year, he said, “It sounds like you are having in-body experiences.”
I overheard the Gospel.
I realized why I had never been impressed by stories of out-of-body experiences. I was out of my body all the time. I was in the body of Christ, the church, trying to get it well. And in the body of the environment, and in the body politic, and in the body of my congregation, and… trying to heal every body but my own.
Our Gospel story this morning is about the temptations of Jesus. One of Satan’s temptations to Jesus was to be a Methodist. [The Greek is a little fuzzy there.] The quintessential Methodist temptation is to trust in salvation by doing. Jesus resisted that temptation better than I did. I was a good Methodist. I was fine as a human doing, not so good as a human being.
Brother Antoninus, the Dominican poet, says, “Our wounds are the apertures into which God’s grace is poured.” So it was for me. It was the breaking of my body that opened me up so that I could believe for myself what I had been preaching to others all those years, about the grace of God, about God loving us as we are. It was the breaking that made wholeness possible.
I once had a wonderful visitation minister on staff, Max White. When it was Max’s turn to give the pastoral prayer on Sunday morning, he always prayed, “Bless those of us assembled here.” I got goosebumps every time he prayed it, with that wonderful double meaning, not just those of brought together here as a congregation, from diverse lives and places, but those of us who are being put together in ourselves here, who have brought out broken pieces here so we can be reassembled in wholeness.
The issue wasn’t one year or two. The number of years made no difference if I only got a cure. Cure is great, but we all die. There comes a time when there is no cure. But there is never a time when healing is not possible. I realized I could be healed, even if I didn’t get cured.
God uses broken things. The chick can’t get out of the egg until the shell is broken. The atom cannot release its amazing energy until it is split. It is in the breaking of the bread that we can share in the Body of Christ. Whenever God sees brokenness— broken heart, broken spirit, broken mind, broken body—God sees that as an opportunity to help us become human beings instead of human doings.
That was 26 years ago, and under the circumstances, I feel pretty good. I feel broken, and I feel whole.
John Robert McFarland
If you want the 300 page version of this instead of the 3 minute version, you can read NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. It is published, in two versions, by AndrewsMcMeel. Audio by HarperAudio. Czech and Japanese translations.
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