Sermon
November 16, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

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Sermon

As we celebrate Hospice Sunday, we give thanks not only for the medical services our Hospice Visiting Nurses and volunteers provide, but also for the emotional and spiritual support they offer to families and to the bereaved. This is especially important as the holidays approach. Holidays are always a time of fond remembrance, a time of joy and happiness. But they can also be a time of feeling once again the absence of someone we have loved. Those who had made the journey from loss to hope can easily understand the feeling expressed by W.H. Auden in his poem: Stop All the Clocks:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,

Put crÍpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

But the stars do shine, the dogs do bark, and the ocean keeps beating relentless onto the shore. Life does go on. And as the inches, yards, and miles of life pass under our feet, we find that in remembrance we can also find peace and gratitude and joy.

The joy we find is not only for what our beloved meant to us, but also for those who served them in their hour of need - those who gave them hope and comfort, strength and dignity. This service is the ministry of our New Milford Visiting Nurse Hospice program.

A formative part of my childhood was a weekly drive from New York City up the parkways of the Bronx and Westchester, around the Hawthorne Circle, and up a gentle rise to a place call Rosary Hill.

In the 1890 Rose Hawthorne, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, turned her attention to the plight of the cancerous poor in New York City. At that time cancer was thought to be contagious and those afflicted were feared and shunned 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 their concerted effort 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 extraordinary generosity of the public made it possible for the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer to purchase an entire building and they moved into their first real home... 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.

My grandmother went to Rosary Hill in 1953 with colon cancer. There she received what today would be called palliative care till the end of her life. My mother had brought her mother to New York City when the depression hit, and it was very hard for them to be apart. But Rosary Hill was a place of great compassion, serenity, and peace. The fact that such a place existed gave them a choice, and with a choice came a sense of freedom and dignity. The only difficulty was the distance and the separation.

Today we hardly think of cancer as incurable, and the choices that are available to families have certainly grown since my Nana was in Rosary Hill. And choice still brings a sense of freedom, and freedom brings a sense of personal autonomy, and autonomy is the foundation of dignity. But what is really different now is that the palliative care has been set free from the isolated institution. And so the distance and the separation are no longer the necessary trade off for families.

This is a great blessing in the lives of individuals who face illness and families who struggle with them. This is the blessing of hospice and all the services and values that hospice embodies. Instead of thinking that cancer is contagious, now we know that hope is contagious, compassion is contagious, love is contagious, and peace is contagious.


So let this Hospice Sunday becomes for us an occasion to say:

Let the clocks keep ticking -

Open the door so we can hear the barking dog.

We thought that love would last for ever: and though changed, it does prevail.

Let the stars come out and light up the night sky

Let the ocean roar, and the woods be stirred by the sweeping wind.

For all who care and serve show us the greater good that awaits,

All who care and serve keep bright the light of hope

all who care and serve give us good reason to live.
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