Dec 31st: Finding Hope Through Service, with Rev. Kally Elliott.
A Part of the Series:
Finding Hope Through Service with Rev. Kally Elliott. Series: How Does a Weary World Rejoice? A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Luke 2:36-38.
Join us this Sunday as Rev. Kally Elliott explores how people’s wounds, like those of Anna, Mary, and others, might be used by God to heal others through acts of service and hope in their community.
The Christmas story continues when Mary and Joseph have to take their baby Jesus to the temple. And that’s where we pick up the Scripture today. from Luke chapter two verses 36 through 38. There was also a prophet Anna, the daughter of Faneuil of the tribe of Asher. She was of great age having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of 84. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment, when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the temple, she came and began to praise God, and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. climbers who make it may not know it, but under the snowpack sits an expanse of modelled grey rocks that once lay on the ocean floor 40 to 50 million years ago, Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world, sitting at over 29,000 feet just below the cruising height of a jumbo jet was formed when the continent of India and Eurasia collided, forcing the land upward. Because India continues to creep northward a couple of inches each year. According to an article in the National Geographic. Scientists claim that the ongoing impact with Eurasia is forcing the mountain to even greater heights with an estimated uplift of a mil meter to half a centimeter a year. Mount Everest is growing by a millimeter to half a centimeter a year, or half a meter a century 50 to 60 million years. That’s how long it has taken for the tallest peak in the world to grow to the height at which Everest stands today. Above all, trust in the slow work of God. These words which make up the first line in the poem, patient trust, were composed by Pierre Teilhard de shardene, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, the slow work of God realized and continuing in the majestic beauty of Mount Everest. Now keep this image in your mind, as I tell you a story. Last December, my dear friends, Catherine and Jacqueline gave birth to a baby boy named Brooks. Being a same sex married couple, they knew that having a child would not come easily, they did not have unlimited funds to endure all the medical interventions available to those unable to conceive. However, they saved all they could and tried a few methods. But nothing helped. Finally, just as they thought their opportunity to conceive was coming to a close, Jacqueline found out she was pregnant. excitement and joy buzzed through our entire community of friends. We all longed for Katherine and Jacqueline to be parents. This baby was to be, of course their baby, but he was going to belong to all of us. They would have him baptized and we would all take vows to nurture him in love, teaching him about God’s care for him, reminding him that he belongs to us, but mostly to God. Instead, that baptism took place in the NICU at Monroe Carroll Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, with very few witnesses. As Brooks Katherine and Jacqueline’s six week old baby boy, took his last breath. Brooks had been born with a heart condition and though his moms as well as the entire medical team at Vanderbilt did everything they could to save him. His little brave heart just couldn’t keep up. It tell you, Jacqueline and Catherine’s story, because as it unfolds, you’ll see how the long slow Work of God continues in both of them and in their family. I also tell you their story because I wonder if Anna, this widow from the scripture I read who barely gets mentioned in the Gospels. And I wonder if Anna shared a similar story, to the story of my dear friends, Jacqueline, and Catherine. The scripture says Anna was a widow, having lived with her husband seven, seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of 84. I can only imagine what it must have felt like for her to lose her husband at such a young age. And after only seven years of marriage. I know we all laugh at that, that saying The Seven Year Itch, you know, the year when you and your spouse are most likely to grow tired of one another. But in my experience, it’s seven years you and your partner are just getting started. There’s a whole lot of life yet to live together. Now, the text does not make this explicit. But it sounds like Anna did not have any children in those seven years that she was married, nor did she remarry, which would have been common in those days, if not for love then at least for safety and provision. So as I imagine, Anna, I imagine a woman husband, Lis, childless, elderly. And I imagine she never really got over her grief of losing her husband, or never been able to raise a child of her own. Though the years may have dulled the piercing despair, I imagine her grief still catches in her throat in the pit of her stomach in her heart, especially especially when mothers and fathers bring their new babies into the temple, the place where Anna had rooted herself since her husband died. And parents did do this. Often. The temple was the place that new mothers and fathers and all their extended family would come for the rite of purification 40 days after the baby was born. As I understand it, Jewish law dictated that mothers of newborns sons were expected to be purified in the temple. So I’m thinking it must have been a constant stream of families complete with their newborn babies one after another into the temple salt in the wound for Anna reminders of the future. She never got to live. And it’s there in the temple that Anna sees Mary, Mary, a new mother who didn’t even have to, you know, do the deed just got pregnant. It was that easy for Mary. I mean, it really wasn’t but and there is the husband, Joseph, the husband she didn’t get to grow old with and there there is the son that Anna never had. And though you would never know it by the enthusiasm in their voices, or the smiles on their faces. I have to think that when my friends, Catherine and Jacqueline are introduced to the babies, the new babies have their friends, while they smile and are genuinely happy for their friends that also must be deeply painful. Because today, today, they should be clapping for their sweet baby Brooks as he pulls himself up and as he cruises around as he tries new finger foods and plays peekaboo and instead, they’re just desperately trying to keep his memory alive. In this place, the place of a constant stream of proud couples and new babies, Anna roots herself. Why Why would she do this to herself? Why would she put herself in the place where the scabs of her wounds will be repeatedly ripped off, leaving her wounds to bleed over and over again? When Brooks was on the Akobo in the NICU, my friends Jacqueline and Catherine Brooks’s moms would read to Brooks each night. Jacqueline wrote to me, it brought us a sense of normalcy, getting to read to our baby, because nothing else was normal with our situation. When Brooks died, Danielle, one of the ECMO specialists was there with him. She was often with him. She along with several other nurses and specialists were his family. They knew him better than most of his actual blood family. Anna meets Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in the temple, a smile breaking out across her wrinkled face, she throws up her hands and with joy shouts at the top of her lungs. He’s here he’s here, the Messiah, the one we’ve been waiting for. God’s promise is here, he’s here. Now again, we have to imagine what she actually said as Luke does not record her exact words. But Luke does explain that she is excited and she is telling everyone who’s been waiting for God to help them about Jesus. Mary’s own mother didn’t do this. There is no mention of her celebration. Joseph’s brothers didn’t slap him on the back offering him a cigar when Jesus was born. To be fair, Mary’s mother and Josephs family and friends probably did have to distance themselves from the couple. After all unwed pregnancy was at best shunned and at worse, a death sentence. So Anna steps in as their family, celebrating Jesus’s birth, telling everyone who would listen, he is here, he’s here, praise God. He’s here. I wonder who if anyone was family to Anna, when she lost everyone? Everything. The text doesn’t say but what it does make clear is that Anna never left the temple. Praying constantly. Jacqueline continues her story writing. I would say that for me, it is the family I formed through the church that shaped me into the type of person who could face all of this. And that is true for Katherine to also those nurses, nurse practitioners and ECMO specialists who were the only family Brooks knew besides Katherine and me. I mean, he even peed and pooped and puked on them a few or a few times. And during the long days and nights in the hospital, there hugs felt like relief like maybe I am going to be okay. Many of them came to Brooks’s memorial service and to see these health care workers who have cared for hundreds of children, before Brooks and after, remember him and talk about him are so comforting. Something I didn’t even know I was missing. Did Anna to have a sort of Temple family? Did her prayer life shape her into a person who through deep, though deep in grief could also look forward with hope. After Brooks’s memorial service Danielle Brooks’s ECMO specialist called Jacqueline saying she had an idea. She knew Jacqueline and Catherine wanted to honor Brooks, but we’re having a hard time thinking of something. Jacqueline writes, Danielle told us that she never sees parents or guardians reading to their babies or children on ECMO. And perhaps they could start something with books and call it Brooks books. They could provide families whose children are on ECMO with books to read to them. Chocolate and Catherine ran with this idea of filing all the nonprofit paperwork forming a board of directors securing permission from the head of ECMO at Vanderbilt children’s raising money and collecting new books. They had a brand new book cart donated, donated, decorating it with decals and rolling it out at the hospital with the ECMO and the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit nurses on December 14 It, Catherine and Jacqueline are still waiting. They are still waiting on a world where baby hearts don’t stop beating a world where they can bring home a baby of their own. watch him grow up, go to kindergarten, graduate from high school, get a job, fall in love and have a baby of his own their grandbaby. But in the meantime, like Anna, Jacqueline and Catherine have rooted themselves in the very place where their own wounds still very deep might bring hope, or at least some normalcy to those who are similarly wounded. What if God really does heal the world through our own wounds. Back to Mount Everest, the mountain growing taller by a millimeter to a centimeter each year. The highest peak in the world can only claim that title because of two tectonic plates that collided, causing a wound in the earth. And from that collision over millions of years, a natural wonder was formed. Anna was in that temple for at least 60 years. It’s not so totally clear. After the loss of her husband, and her dreams of their life together. Mary had 33 years with Jesus. But then what seemed like a lifetime after watching him die. Jacqueline and Catherine lost Brooks they’re much much wanted to baby boy less than a year ago. And a planted herself in the place frequented by new families and babies praying constantly was she prayed for these new families and their babies? I don’t know perhaps Mary planted herself among her son’s friends, the disciples helping them to start the very first church. Jacqueline and Catherine are providing normalcy and family through books in the very hospital, the very unit in which their baby took his last breath. Henry now and writes who can take away suffering without entering into it. As we embark on a new year, I invite you to wonder how your own wounds might be used for the healing of the world. Stories like those of Jacqueline and Catherine and baby Brooks can make me wonder why God lets this sort of thing happen. I can feel anger and disappointment and distrust. As I wonder why God doesn’t show up why God doesn’t bring healing. And then I remember maybe God has shown up. Maybe God is bringing healing maybe that God is sitting right there in the hospital, reading books to children, the long slow work of God using our wounds to heal the world. Amen.