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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Micah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12
Psalm 37:1-18 or 37:1-6

"Blessed are those..."

When I hear those words, I can't help but think of the summer I spent a couple years back, I was a chaplain intern, and a student in a Clinical Pastoral Education program. This is another requirement for a seminary degree; like field ed, experience in practical ministry. I worked at the University of Chicago Hospitals that summer. The U of C is a big place, and serves a wildly disparate population-- from the poorest of Chicago's poor, to people from around the world who come and pay cash to have surgeries and other treatments that they can't get at home. It is a Level I pediatric trauma center, which means they see the worst of the worst in children's injuries. Their ICU also includes one of the most sophisticated burn units in the country.

That burn unit was one to which I was assigned as part of my regular rounds, so I spent a lot of time there. One of the patients I encountered that summer was a local resident, a woman from the south side of Chicago. Our visits together-- and there were many-- always began the same way. I’d walk in and say, “Hey, Miss Amelia, how you doin' today?” And invariably I'd get a big smile, and the reply, "I'm blessed, chaplain!"

So I'd smile back and say, "I know you are, honey; but how are the legs?"

Now, if you’ve ever had even a small burn, you know how badly they hurt; and no one gets hospitalized for small burns. Miss Amelia had been badly burned down both legs-- hot oil while cooking, as I recall. She was on the unit for several weeks.

Sometimes her treatment could be really painful. There were multiple surgeries, and grafting, and debridement (sloughing off the dead tissue to let the living grow, and to minimize scarring). Narcotics and painkillers help, of course, but they can only do so much. It was not, to say the least, a fun time.

But each time I walked in that room, I got the same response-- even when I arrived once to find her in tears from the most recent treatment. "I'm blessed, chaplain."

I spoke with Miss Amelia often enough to know that this wasn’t denial, or failure to grasp her reality, or an inability to admit sorrow, or pain. From this courageous little woman, this was truth. It made no sense, from a medical perspective; at least one of the doctors thought she was simply nuts. She was suffering, and would likely be scarred for life, and very lucky if there was no permanent loss of function, somewhere; those burns went deep. Nonetheless, she spoke this simple, powerful truth-- a foolishness, as Paul says, wiser than the wisdom of the world.

Miss Amelia may have been blessed; but I found blessing in that hospital room that summer, as well.

We as Christians are called-- every one of us, layperson, bishop, priest and deacon. We are called to be foolish for the Lord in one way or another.
  • Some of us, like Miss Amelia, can witness to the power of the gospel in bearing up under weakness and adversity.
  • Some foolishly choose careers and vocations that don’t carry worldly power or prestige. They trade a high salary and cushy corner office for (hopefully) money enough to get by, and the chance to make a difference.
  • Some accept a call to a vocation which also leaves them ridiculed and condemned, even by those they yearn to call friends.
  • Other people are silly enough to keep those high-powered, well-paid jobs-- and to use the rewards from them less to provide for others, than to help fill in the gaps in broken homes and lives.
  • Still others absurdly sacrifice leisure time, volunteering in church and community. And on, and on, every day.
With this in mind, I’d like to ask you, as Paul says, to consider your own call, my brothers and sisters-- my fellow fools for Christ. Consider your call as a disciple; and, as we go into our annual parish meeting after worship, our call together as a Christian community. How are you blessed by God? How are we all? And in what weak, and foolish, and wonderful ways might we then be a blessing?


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