January 28, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” These words are taken from our reading today from Matthew, which we commonly refer to as the Beatitudes. If we listen carefully, we can hear the important themes of Jesus’ ministry. This is his great Sermon; we often call if the Sermon on the Mount as well, where he speaks to the crowds and offers a blessing for all those who suffer and struggle, who find themselves impoverished or grieving and yearning for righteousness. To all those who have felt on the margins or outcast or forgotten, he offers hope. He is a source of great healing for those he meets along his journey, healing in mind, body and spirit. Let us pray, O God of great mercy, open our hearts to your stories of healing and comfort, that we may better understand your mission of healing for our world. Amen.
Our Service today honors those who work in the healing professions, knowing that we all are affected at different points in our lives by the need for healing and hope. Many in our own congregation have shared their gifts of healing as nurses and respiratory therapists, as counselors and other caretakers. It’s such important work and when we encounter someone very special during a time of sickness or struggle in our own lives, that memory often stays with us as we recall their amazing and healing presence. My own family came to know an amazing nurse in the months following my grandmother’s stroke when I was in college. My father’s mom suffered a major stroke when she was 89 years old, leaving her unable to speak and paralyzed on her right side. For some reason, she remained at the hospital over many months before being moved to a nursing home, and during that time, she was cared for by a number of nurses. There was one nurse whom we came to know during that time who was particularly special to all of us as we know that she provided wonderful and gentle care to my nana during that time. About 8 months after the first stroke, my grandmother suffered a succession of minor strokes and eventually died in January of the following year. I remember that the night of her wake in Portland, the weather was really bad. It was cold and snowy and there were a number of people who tried to attend but were not able to get their cars up the hill in downtown Portland to the funeral home. Thus, we mostly sat together as a family for those hours. As things were winding down and we were preparing to leave, the door opened and in from the cold and snow came her nurse. She told us that she had walked over a mile to be there that night, because she wanted to pay her respects and say her goodbye to my grandmother whom she had grown to love. I can’t tell you how touched we were by her truly heroic efforts to show up that night. We will always remember her.
In 2011, I heard a wonderful interview on National Public Radio with a family doctor from Belfast, Maine named David Loxtercamp. He had been interviewed in 1997 after he published a book called, A Measure of Days: The Journal of a Country Doctor. This was a follow-up with the Maine physician, who shared that he continued to ponder questions of life, death and faith. At the conclusion of the interview, he was asked to read the 14 aphorisms that he has come to believe over the course of his years as a physician. He shared the following,
“Health is not a commodity. Risk factors are not disease. Aging is not an illness. To fix a problem is easy, to sit with another suffering is hard. Doing all we can is not the same as doing what we should. Quality is more than metrics. Patients cannot see outside their pain, we cannot see in, relationship is the only bridge between. Time is precious; we spend it on what we value. The most common condition we treat is unhappiness. And the greatest obstacle to treating a patient’s unhappiness is our own. Nothing is more patient-centered than the process of change. Doctors expect too much from data and not enough from conversation. Community is a locus of healing, not the hospital or the clinic. The foundation of medicine is friendship, conversation and hope.”
And now, I would like to invite Katie Koles to share her own stories as a nurse during her career in the Air Force.