Sermon
March 19, 2000
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Genesis 17:1- 7, 15 - 16     When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

    15 God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."

 

Psalm 22:1-31     To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

        Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

    2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

        and by night, but find no rest.

    3 Yet you are holy,

        enthroned on the praises of Israel.

    4 In you our ancestors trusted;

        they trusted, and you delivered them.

    5 To you they cried, and were saved;

        in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

    6 But I am a worm, and not human;

        scorned by others, and despised by the people.

    7 All who see me mock at me;

        they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

    8 "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver --

        let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"

    9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;

        you kept me safe on my mother's breast.

    10 On you I was cast from my birth,

        and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

    11 Do not be far from me,

        for trouble is near

        and there is no one to help.

    12 Many bulls encircle me,

        strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

    13 they open wide their mouths at me,

        like a ravening and roaring lion.

    14 I am poured out like water,

        and all my bones are out of joint;

    my heart is like wax;

        it is melted within my breast;

    15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

        and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

        you lay me in the dust of death.

    16 For dogs are all around me;

        a company of evildoers encircles me.

    My hands and feet have shriveled;

    17 I can count all my bones.

    They stare and gloat over me;

    18 they divide my clothes among themselves,

        and for my clothing they cast lots.

    19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away!

        O my help, come quickly to my aid!

    20 Deliver my soul from the sword,

        my life from the power of the dog!

        21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!

    From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

    22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

        in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

    23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!

        All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

        stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

    24 For he did not despise or abhor

        the affliction of the afflicted;

    he did not hide his face from me,

        but heard when I cried to him.

    25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

        my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

    26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;

        those who seek him shall praise the LORD.

        May your hearts live forever!

    27 All the ends of the earth shall remember

        and turn to the LORD;

    and all the families of the nations

        shall worship before him.

    28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,

        and he rules over the nations.

    29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

        before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

        and I shall live for him.

    30 Posterity will serve him;

        future generations will be told about the Lord,

    31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,

        saying that he has done it. (NRSV)

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Sermon: The First Half of Healing

 This morning we were once again privileged to share in the joy of a family as they brought a child into church for the sacrament of baptism.   It is truly a sacred moment which should bring to mind the hopes and dreams that all parents, and our own parents, share for the children they bring into this world.   It’s important also to recall the tender innocence of these tiny babies and how quickly they grow into people in their own right, young people with their own thoughts, their own dreams, their own destinies to fulfill.

 

It’s especially important to remember this when you are the parent of a teenager and you’re looking at the front end of your car which appears somewhat different, slightly altered, in the morning light than it did at 7:00 the night before.  Need I go on?

 

Actually, sometimes I’m thankful for the things my children put me through, because I think surely I’m shaving the years off purgatory for all the things I put my parents through when I was making my way through childhood.

 

Oh yes, I rearranged my father’s front end in a mighty big way one time when I fell asleep at the wheel and ran into the guardrail on the Connecticut turnpike just before the bridge at New London.  Fortunately, nobody got hurt and I didn’t have to worry about telling him what had happened since he was sitting next to me at the time. 

 

But really the biggest trauma I put my parents through when I was a child was something over which I had no control - I got sick, very sick.  It was the end of the summer in 1955 and it was Polio, and I’ve told this story before up here so suffice it to say that it was utter hell for my parents.

 

When you think about it, what more than the illness of a child or a loved one might make a person utter those painful words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  We know that Christ uttered those words from the cross, but how many more times have they been said from the clinic, the hospital ward, the bedside of the beloved as they suffer and slip away.  In addition to the burden of illness is added the burden of isolation, punishment, abandonment.  Who will step in to relieve this fear of being forsaken?

 

That question is what forms the substance of my sermon this morning, and let me state a premise right up front.  Overcoming the feeling of being forsaken is the first half of healing, and it is faith, love, and friendship that allows us to make it through this first phase of recovery.  Further let me assert that the church has a special role to play in supporting people in overcoming a sense of being forsaken and that we are fortunate to have many partners of many religions, and some of no religion but of great faith, to work with us in this task.

 

Before I got sick my mother had gone through the long illness of her own mother, who died of colon cancer in 1954.  I revisited that time in our lives this past Christmas when I was asked to speak at the lighting of the Hospice Tree of Life.  I revisited it because I went into the archives and did a little research on the place where my grandmother spent the last year of her life, a place called Rosary Hill in Hawthorne, New York.

 

I’m just curious, how many people here know Rosary Hill? 

 

Of course, I grew up knowing it existed, but I never really knew the amazing story behind it until a few months ago, and it’s a story about a faith based mission that those who suffer illness should never be forsaken or forgotten.

 

The story begins in one of the best know Congregational families in all of New England.  In 1851 Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne became parents for the second time.  This was the same year in which Nathaniel published The House of the Seven Gables and one year after his story The Scarlet Letter came out.  They baptized their child with the name Rose.

 

Rose did not have an easy life.  The family moved a lot and her father died when she was 13.  She began her adult life in a hard marriage to an alcoholic.  This marriage cost her what money she had, and her only child died at 5 years of age.  I suppose if anyone could say “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” it could have been Rose Hawthorne.  But it turns out all this was fertile ground where great faith, great compassion and a great mission for the poor and the sick could grow. 

 

After separation from her husband she moved to New York City.  She left behind her Congregational roots and became a Roman Catholic.   In seeking a practical and useful expression of her religious faith, she trained as a nurse so she could attend to the plight of the cancerous poor in New York City.

 

In those days cancer was thought to be contagious and those afflicted were feared and forsaken by family and friends and left to die in the poor houses, bereft of any spiritual or physical care. With almost no money, Rose Hawthorne moved into a tenement in the worst section of New York City and began to take in incurable cancer patients. She was joined later by a young portrait painter, Alice Huber, who had been seeking "a perfect charity" to which she could devote her life.

 

With the concerted effort of Rose and Alice the work prospered. Eventually other women came to join them and they became an American congregation of sisters in the Dominican Order - - the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer.

 

In 1899 the sisters purchased a building in New York City and opened St. Rose's Free Home for Incurable Cancer.  In 1901, the Congregation opened a second home, in Sherman Park, now known as Hawthorne, New York. That was, and is, Rosary Hill.

 

When my grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer, I don’t think there was any hope of a cure.  But I can tell you that she lived out the last year of her life in a loving and humane environment at Rosary Hill.   You could not feel forsaken there - you were surrounded by people who had given their lives to the love of God for the sick and dying.  The place wrapped you in a sense of serenity, acceptance, and belonging.

 

Probably today my grandmother could have been cured.  The fact is that as much as you need people of faith who care for the dying, it’s also great to have people of science who do the research to care for the living and improve the prospects of survival and recovery for those who become ill.  Not that science and faith are incompatible - in fact, they make a great team.

 

We live in a time when some formerly feared diseases, like Polio, seem ancient history.  But others persist, and we still need to create partnerships to provide support so no one needs to feel forsaken and so money is available for research and treatment. 

 

I think this is pertinent to the announcement that was made at the opening of our service this morning about the MS walk and other efforts like the Relay for Life which is coming in June.  These efforts are about more than just money.  They are also about breaking down barriers and creating a sense of community; they are about honoring all those who struggle and all those who serve; they are about overcoming a self-defensive avoidance which might cause us to turn away from all the sickness and heartache in the world and wrap ourselves in the protective illusion of our own invincibility and worthiness of health.

 

I don’t think you need a religious motivation to do this.  Many people who would not identify with a religious tradition have dedicated themselves to solidarity with the sick.  But being in a religious tradition and having a religious motivation is all the more reason for involvement. 

 

In our daily work we may not be physicians or research scientists or nurses or involved in the many disciplines of therapy and healing - some here are, thank God, and we salute you for your skill, work, and dedication - but we are all here today, together, to learn from the one who came to call God’s children into a loving and caring community.  We are all here to serve the one who suffered being forsaken so that others might be healed. 

 

The beautiful thing about this work is that it brings people together and can provide some light-hearted competition among friends in faith.  I hope we’re not going to let Our Lady of the Lake get ahead of us on the number of walkers or the dollars raised!  Maybe what we really need is some uniforms and cheer leaders!  Come on First Congregational - Beat St. Francis!

 

But we really don’t even need our own team here.  It’s our privilege to be on the team with people like Danielle Leary and her 30+ recruits from SMS.  It’s a labor of love for her, and she is an inspiration for us.  She needs to know that her mom is not forgotten, and we all need to know that people respond to the positive energy, enthusiasm, and true caring for others that her efforts represent. 

 

Let’s not worry about who gets the credit, but be content to be the good medicine to overcome isolation and eradicate fears of being forsaken;  let our hearts and hands, our feet and our wallets, be instruments of mercy and love. 

 

Some healing is in the hands of doctors and nurses, and some only in the hands of God, but the first half of healing, that’s something we have the power to provide.  Let us do it, as our Lord said, so that the works of God might be revealed and no one will be left alone with the bitter taste of those terrible words: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Amen.

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