Messages of Hope

There must be a God somewhere

Published / by Sandy

A sermon at Pilgrim Church by Pastor Liz Dyson, 4 March 2018 

Over my head
I hear music in the air
Over my head I hear music in the air
Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

I work as a hospital chaplain. In hospitals, like in the largely Greek culture of Corinth – knowledge is highly prized. The knowledge of the Doctors is especially prized – though without the knowledge and expertise of all the other staff the place could never function sustainably.

Early in my hospital chaplaincy it took a while to get my head around who it was I was called to be in that place. I attended meetings with staff and began to learn a new language – the language of this medical world. I had nothing intelligent to say about clinical matters and initially no expertise to offer about what they were talking about. ‘What am I doing here,’ I wondered? What is the purpose of my presence?

I learnt though, that when the experts have come to the end of their answers that’s when the chaplain comes into their own. When there is nothing left to be done or when there are several options for the way forward and people can’t agree …everyone else steps back … And the chaplain is invited forward.

In time it’s become clear that my presence is my purpose. It’s not my role to give answers but to be a reminder of another way of being when the answers are hard to come by.

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

When I first started as a chaplain I was anxious about where to be. I felt the urge to sprint around the hospital looking for hot spots where I could be of use.

A wise woman offered me this … As you walk around the hospital … what would happen if you imagined Jesus walking next to you.

The moment I did that I realized that Jesus would not be sprinting. He’d be walking a whole lot slower. He wouldn’t be anxious or rushing.

He would be noticing. He would be pausing to enjoy people’s company. He would be stopping to listen and hear about people’s pain. He would be sharing a scone and a cuppa in the staff room. He would be living in the moment.

That changed everything.

If you were to distil the chaplain’s job description down to a few words it might be these … to notice, to listen, to value, to reconcile, to be.

Chaplains be with patients, as well as families and friends … and they be with staff – with the nurses, with the lady who brings the menus around, the man who lugs the dirty linen out of the wards, with the general manager.

Our text today repeats the notion of proclamation and of proclaiming Christ crucified. The function of chaplains is not to evangelise. The man who lugs the dirty linen is not at all keen for me to hole him up in the lift and ask him if he knows God.

But when people feel noticed and listened to and cared for, when people are reconciled to each other, or to God or to themselves, then they often sense something of the power of God spoken about in our text for today.

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

Generally chaplains are highly trained individuals.They’ve worked hard to gain wisdom and skill in their craft. Though these things are important the days when the real magic happens are the days when they throw themselves on God and say … I don’t know where to go today. I don’t know what to say today. Take me where you will.

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Starting the day in the way can take you to all kinds of unexpected places … Often it takes you to a bedside.

Recently a nurse at a nurses’ station told the chaplain that she struggles when a patient dies alone. Nurses often don’t have time to stay with patients themselves but it goes against the grain for the patient to be alone when others can’t be present. On this day there was a patient in that position not far away. Shall I wander in then? the chaplain said.

In the room the patient lay in a beautifully made bed. The patient looked peaceful and comfortable but was very low. It wouldn’t be long. What to say? What to do? But it seemed important just to be there for a while. Like an increasing number of patients in the hospital this person had described themselves as having no religion. Praying or singing amazing grace wasn’t an appropriate way to connect with this person.

I wonder what you like? The chaplain asked. I wonder what’s important to you?

And after a while of this the words to a song came into her head … so she quietly began to sing “somewhere over the rainbow, way up high… ” Strange that she would sing that song. It’d never been one of her own favourites. But it came to mind and it seemed okay to sing it.

After a while she went out to the nurses station and mentioned to the nurse what had just happened. Later in the day the chaplain received a phone call from the same nurse. The patient had passed away not long before. The patient’s sister had arrived and told the nurse that “Somewhere over the rainbow was one of the patient’s favourite songs.”

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

I would like to introduce you now to Jim (not his real name.) Jim is sitting alone in his hospital room. He’s pale and thin and sitting on the edge of his bed hunched over his overway. He needs oxygen to breathe freely and he’s a frequent visitor to the hospital. He has a wife, Mary, but they live in the country so he’s alone today and he’s feeling flat. A nurse comes in and notices this. Would you like to talk to someone? We have a chaplain here.

Not if they want to talk about God, he says. It doesn’t have to be about God the nurse says. It can be about anything. So begins a relationship.

That first meeting was a bit stop and start but the chaplain visited again and was well received. Jim went home and some months later returned. The chaplain saw he was in and visited him and he was pleased to see her. They didn’t talk about God. She found out he liked to paint. She met Mary, his wife. He told her about his favourite beach and how he loves to paint there.

Jim came and went, came and went. Sometimes he was unwell but jovial, sometimes he was weighed down. One day the chaplain felt brave. She found a picture of a man weighed down with a huge bundle on his back. She showed it to Jim and told him it reminded her of him. He said weighed down was how he felt. At the bottom of the picture was written, “Jesus said come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Nothing was said about that. Jim kept the picture.

One day Jim he rang the chaplain from home. He asked if there was someone like her near where he lived. Like me, she said. What do you mean? Someone who will come and talk with me.

She said there was a minister near where he lived – a woman. Would he like her to see if she would come and see him at home. He said he would give it a try. He received a visit. Then another. After a while Mary began to go to the local Church where that minister was leading. Then a while later he started to go too.

He would sit up the back because he was embarrassed about his oxygen bottle. He thought people would look down on him.

The chaplain told him that at any half reasonable church people wouldn’t be thinking that. Everyone is welcome.

Some months later the chaplain heard that Jim was in a different hospital and was very unwell. She visited him there and took with her a smooth wooden hand cross for Jim. Easter was approaching. She thought he might want something solid to hold in his hand. He was grateful. He told her he’d have to look out or Mary would want to pinch it, drill a hole in it and make it into a necklace. He said he’d been trying to paint a scene of good Friday but he couldn’t get it quite right.

Not many days after this she received a phone call to say Jim had died in the early hours of Sunday morning. Mary hadn’t known what to do or where to go after she’d left the hospital. She took the long lonely drive back to her country home and as she passed her church the cars were still there for Sunday worship. She went in and shared the news. The church mourned with her.

In the following days they visited her, drank cups of tea with her and helped her hang her washing on the line.

A few days later at Jim’s funeral – his life, which had been at times lonely and isolated and hard was remembered and celebrated . And the Church was full of people.

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

I don’t know if, like the Jews, you look for signs or, like the Greeks you search for wisdom. I don’t know what you believe about how God does or doesn’t connect with people.

What I do know is that in eight years of turning up to work in a hospital I have seen that Aslan is on the move. God is alive and well and lurking in the corridors of our hospitals and in the streets of our communities. And more than that, evidence suggests that God is open to me, indeed invites each one of us to be part of God’s plan for relationship and reconciliation of the whole creation.

I can understand if you think that is foolishness. There would be many in my hospital who would think the same thing. But I cannot help but proclaim today that when I walk slowly enough – slow like I think Jesus would walk … and when I notice the people I think Jesus would notice … and when I try to be present to people in the way I imagine Jesus might be present… Something happens. It’s like I can hear music. And I sense that other people can sometimes hear it too. Listen … can you hear it too?

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

Time of silent reflection

You can use this time as you will … or you might reflect on what God’s music might sound like? When do you hear it the loudest?
Or as we move through lent how would Jesus walk and where would Jesus walk. What might it mean to walk in step with that.