Following up on yesterday’s sermon

October 13, 2014
Brittany Maynard has announced publicly that she'll end her life on November 1.

Brittany Maynard has announced publicly that she’ll end her life on November 1.

In yesterday’s sermon, I connected perhaps the two biggest news items last week—Ebola and Brittany Maynard—with the scripture on which I was preaching, Elijah and the widow from Zarephath from 1 Kings 17:8-24.

The sermon was well received. One parishioner said she was surprised to hear a Methodist pastor speak with clarity and conviction on a hot-button subject like physician-assisted suicide, or so-called “death with dignity.” Is she saying that we namby-pamby Methodist preachers wouldn’t risk offending anyone? Perish the thought! Regardless, for whatever reason, Maynard’s story struck a chord with me. I blogged about it last week, and while I borrowed words from that blog post, I expanded on them, in part to address some thoughtful criticism of that post.

One commenter on my blog wondered whether I failed to express sufficient compassion for Maynard’s plight as someone dying of brain cancer. She was probably right. As I tried to make clear in yesterday’s sermon, however, my criticism of her decision and the cause that she’s advocating in no way detracts from my compassion.

In yesterday’s scripture, Elijah asks the widow to deny her maternal instinct to keep her young son alive and her human instinct to keep herself alive by using her last handful of four and oil to feed Elijah first. I asked, “Isn’t it hard to trust in the Lord like that? My faith has never been so badly tested… yet.”

Speaking of which, it is with great sympathy that I read last week—along with many of you—the story of a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Maynard, who is dying of a brain cancer in Portland, Oregon. She announced publicly through CNN that with the help of a doctor, she will end her life on November 1st. She says she wants to die with dignity, on her own terms, without going through painful cancer treatments, without lingering for weeks or months in hospice, without putting her husband, and family, and friends through the heartache of watching her die. And she’s advocating for the cause of physician-assisted suicide.

I promise I feel great compassion for her. I watched my own father take his last breaths in hospice care many years ago. And in my job as pastor I’ve seen people of all ages succumb to cancer and other terrible diseases, and I’ve ministered to them and their loved ones with a heavy heart and sometimes with tears. In spite of that, I’m deeply troubled by her decision to end her life like this—and since she’s made it a public issue in order to convince us to change our minds and change our laws regarding suicide, I don’t mind sharing with you why I think she’s wrong.

After sharing the insights from my blog post, including the words of Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl, I returned to a recurring theme in recent sermons:

You know, I’ve preached a lot recently about all these contemporary Christian martyrs who are suffering and even dying for their faith all around the world. And I speak of them with a sense of wonder and amazement at how courageous they are—that they can stare death in the face and simply accept it, as a consequence of their faith in Christ. And I speak of them as if their example and courage and witness are something unusual and exotic—something to which most of us would have a hard time relating. But that can’t be right. Because I’ve been privileged enough to be at the bedside of dozens of Christians who’ve faced their own death not with fear, but with this same kind faithfulness, and courage, and equanimity, and hope. They teach me—they teach us—how to die as a Christian.

I pray that Brittany will find this same courage, this same peace, this same hope, which comes from our Lord Jesus, before she makes this irreversible decision to end her life.

In the sermon, I also dealt with the implicit question that the widow must have asked herself: “If I give what the Lord is asking me to give, will there be enough left over for me?” Another way of asking: If I surrender my life to Jesus and seek to be faithful to him, will my own needs be met?

I can’t tell you how this last question resonates with me. Because I’m constantly frustrated that some of my “needs” (if you want to call them that) continue to be unmet by Jesus: my need for recognition, for instance—for awards, for praise, for the kind of objective “success” that other people would recognize and appreciate. After all, if I can’t be “successful” as a pastor (by which, let’s face it, I really mean more successful than my clergy colleagues) what good am I?

Yes, I know it’s ridiculous that some part of me keeps craving these things! Perhaps by withholding them from me, the Lord is starving the sinful impulse entirely. I hope so, because even if I got what I think I needed, it would never be enough. My ego’s appetite is without limit.

Just in the past several days, a clergy colleague posted on Facebook (on two different occasions, I’m sorry to have noticed) that he’s recently baptized dozens and received many more into membership in his church. I read these words and can’t be happy for him—not really. Because I feel judged by him and his success. I wonder, “What am I doing wrong? After all, despite my best efforts, I haven’t baptized dozens.”

It makes me depressed.

When I feel this way, I find that prayer helps. I sense that Jesus is telling me, “Just be faithful to me, and you’ll be O.K. I’ll take care of you. I’ll give you what you really need. I promise.”

9 Responses to “Following up on yesterday’s sermon”

  1. Domini Re-Darling Says:

    but I hope you know you, through God’s words and actions through your life, are “watering” seeds of faith that continue to grow and are helping many in their faith walk continue to learn and mature. I can only imagine the seeds of faith and spiritual awakening God is planting through your ministry. (I know you weren’t seeking affirmationbut I was deeply moved by your message yesterday. Thanks for the blessing) have a great Monday domini

  2. Darrin Moore Says:

    Is there any way I can hear your sermon?


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