Through the Storm

Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand: I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.
There is something about these lyrics when accompanied by its slow soulful music which resonates deeply in our hearts. How many of us, feel tired, weak and worn as we have been inundated with the ongoing violence in this country.. .worn down from the effects of the succession of the natural disasters which have inundated us these past years. How many of us have become weakened and feel helpless as the need for assistance at the community Market continues to grow.

On the personal level, I suspect there isn’t a person in this sanctuary whose life in recent years has not been put into turmoil and despair due to cancer or some other form of catastrophic illness or death. 

Again this week, more have died due to gun violence. Hate crimes have increased on our college campuses. In the midst of these ever growing statistics we feel numb, overwhelmed. . . . we feel helpless.

Yes, we resonate with Thomas Dorsey’s word because we too have been there, we too have felt what he felt as he wrote this hymn just months after his young wife and newborn son died in the midst of childbirth.

Let’s be real, life is hard,and at times down right frightening. And yes, we are tired, we are weak, we are worn and we see no end in sight. 

 To make matters worse,in this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells us to expect basically the same between now and the arrival of the kingdom or reign of God. We just heard Jesus tell his followers that between now and the kingdom the Temple will be destroyed, nations will rise against nations, there will be earthquakes, plagues and other portents or phenomena that will precede the coming of the kingdom. But how long are we to hold on for? Better yet, how much longer can we hold on for when our arms already ache from fatigue.

Unfortunately, I cannot say, stay tuned until next week and the answer will come when we celebrate the Last Sunday of Pentecost, now more popularly referred to as the Feast of Christ the King. Next week’s Gospel brings us to the crucifixion, not the resurrection as we may expect.  

So how are we, in the midst of Christ’s suffering on the cross, to find hope and celebration? Some will say in the midst of the crucifixion we can come to understand what the reign of God will look like, how leadership and power is understood. Some argue that the crucifixion offers comfort because we believe in a God who not only understands the burden of human suffering, we believe in a God who has experienced our suffering first hand. If we were in the midst of reading St. Mark’s or St. Matthew’s Gospels, I would say this argument bears exploring as they depict the final words of Christ being words of total desolation and despair, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” St. Luke, however, ends his telling of the crucifixion differently. He ends with words of divine surrender. “ Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

If we were to step back from the crucifixion and allow ourselves to see it within the fuller context of Salvation History, the epic war between God and Evil, what Luke conveys is that the victory of the cross does not come when Jesus allows himself to be nailed to the cross. Instead, the victory comes at the final moment, when tired, weak and worn, Jesus gives up his control and surrenders to God. 

In the midst of his own pain and grief Thomas Dorsey prays, “Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.” There is no greater moment of peace than when we are finally able to surrender our lives to God by letting go of all the burdens and all the control of our lives. More often than not, those moments only come when we become so tired and weak, worn down by the battles of life that we can no longer carry on on our own and God becomes our only option. 

The Late African American Theologian,Howard Thurman saw how spiritual surrender changes people, “Into their faces,” he writes, “comes a subtle radiance and a settled serenity; into their relationships a vital generosity that opens sealed doors of the heart in all who are encountered.” 

There have been several times in my life in which to some degree, I have experienced the desolation contained in Precious Lord and subsequently the consolation and peace of which spiritual surrender can bring. 

One such journey began on September 30th, 2011. It was the day when the world as I knew it came to an end. I still remember the call from my brother late that afternoon. My father was in the ER at Hartford Hospital, he was septic, and in critical condition. As his medical proxy I needed to come home. When I arrived twenty-four hours later, the scene was devastating. My father, lay in an induced coma hooked up to numerous machines with a respirator doing his breathing for him. In a corner of my father’s intensive care room, my mother sat looking bewildered and very much afraid. 

 Two years prior to my father’s illness, my brothers and I noticed Mom was having memory issues. What we did not know, was,to what extent. It appears Dad did a really good job covering for her dementia. It quickly became clear that my mother was unable to make decisions for my father as she asked me over and over again what was wrong with him and was he going to die.

There is an odd feeling that comes over you when you realize your parents are no longer able to provide the emotional comfort and care they had given you all your life and are now dependent on you. As the depth of my parent’s reality set in, my older brother Ken seamlessly assumed his role as power of attorney, and I struggled with the hospital to take charge of my father’s medical decisions and the weight of holding responsibility for his life. 

I wish I could say a rhythm developed during the early weeks of his illness, but ICU’s do not have the consistent coverage one would expect and decisions often have to be made quickly and in as convenient a way as possible. For the first few weeks most decisions were pro forma, permissions were given for chest tubes and testing. Throughout these weeks, the chest tubes would look as if they were working as they drained the infection from the plural cavity . . . only for the infection to grow back rapidly within twenty-hours. After six weeks of little change it was evident, the protocol was not working and thoracic surgery was needed.  

The surgeon however, was not convinced. Yes surgery was the best option, but my father was too weak to survive, the surgeon wanted to wait. As the days passed and still no real change, there was no way around it, surgery was the only recourse to recovery, but not necessarily survival. My younger brothers had no concerns, the risks for them were worth it. For my older brother and me, there were more questions to be answered. No one could tell us what life after surgery would be like for my father. After several weeks in a coma, no one could answer to what level my father could recover physically and mentally. . .and was it worth putting my father through surgery if it would only kill him anyway. After many long conversations with family and finally with my own doctor, I came to a decision if and when surgery was decided by his doctors. In my prayers the next morning, my words to God were at first, “forgive me, because I really don’t know what I am doing,” and then, I did what I should have done eight weeks earlier, surrendered my father’s life into God’s hands. After all, this is where his life had been all along.  

As I finished my prayers , the peace Howard Thurman speaks of came over me. In that state of peace I accepted whether my father lived or died, it would be alright. If he lived, he would still be with us, if he died, he would be with God.  

Two days later the surgeon developed a third option to treat my father. He decided to attempt the surgery robotically. It was a procedure he had never done before, but felt the chance was worth taking.  

My father lived another five years after the surgery. As I look back over that experience, I realize this was the first of many difficult times ahead for my brothers and me in regards to our parents. I accept, that even as a priest, my life is not immune to tragedy and suffering which as today’s Gospel tells us, is, and will be part of our life here on earth. The good news I find in all of this, is, when life brings us to the brink of devastation and questioning if we can carry on, this is often when we are most open, most ready to surrender and take God’s hand to help us stand and to lead us home.

Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand: I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Dorothy Pierce says:

    I love this sermon, Craig, and sure do miss you!

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