November 13, 2016
Gospel – Matthew 6:33
In the summer of 2009, I was working at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen as a hospital chaplain intern. My job was to visit from room to room meeting the patients, listening to their stories, and offering my care. Hospital is a very interesting place that shows the cycle of life. Any time during the day, there was a melody coming out of the sound system. It meant that a baby was born in this world. Every time the nurses heard the sound, they stopped what they were doing and said, “Aww…” While there were joy and celebration in the birth room, there were patients who were dying without anyone knowing. They were surrounded by their families and friends. In the midst of silence, they were passing from this world to eternal world.
One day, I had a very long and exhausting day and wanted to go home as soon as possible. But I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to stop by one more room before going home. As I knocked the door, an elderly woman answered. Her name was Elizabeth. “How are you, Elizabeth?” She answered, “Oh, I am worried. It is a terrible world to live in.” “What do you mean?” She said, “The world is not safe at all. If I open my door to a stranger, who knows what he will do to me? If I get on an airplane, who knows that it won’t fall to the ground?” She went on saying why she felt unsafe in this world. And I asked her, “So, why are you in this hospital?” She said that she had a cancer and showed me a prayer card with a Catholic Saint named “St. Peregrine.” She asked me, “The nurse gave this to me but I do know who this person is.” I told her that I would find it out by the next day and bring the answer to her.
To be honest with you, I thought that she was a little dramatic when she told me why she was terrified by many things in the world. But over the past 7 years, I have been learning that our life is not as safe as we think it is. We see the five years old Syrian boy being covered with ash and blood in the bombing in Aleppo, Syria. We see the Syrian refugees risking their lives on boats to provide better place for their children. Last year this time around, 130 people were killed by terrorists in France. We think that these kinds of violence only happen outside the U.S.? Well, think about all the shootings at the movie theater, streets, and even at elementary school like Sandy Hook Elementary School? Think about the Boston bombing that killed innocent children?
On individual level, I also have many worries as well. Since 2011, I have been married and we have a child. Having a family is a wonderful blessing but comes with many responsibilities and commitment. I worry about the health of my wife and Daniel. I worry about the finance for our family. I worry about my parents who are aging and near retirement. I worry about my work as minister whether I am doing the right and effective thing or now. I worry about the finance, children ministry, and the future of the church. Since I was ordained this summer, our conference has asked me to work with several committees. Now I worry about the finance and administration of our conference too. How about you? What are your worries?
As Jesus was giving his words to the crowd on the mountain, I wonder what Jesus was seeing on the faces of people. These are people who lost their country to another powerful country. They lost their government. They were forced to worship another human being as their god. They had to pay heavy tax and forced to live without having enough for their families. Their women had no rights not just politically but also religiously. Their children were treated as second citizens. Their religious leaders did not offer the words of comfort and mercy, instead words of judgment and responsibility. These were the people disfranchised and suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Just like Elizabeth, they could say, “This is such a terrible world to live in.”
And Jesus tells them, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Your life is more than food, body, and more than clothes. Look at the birds in the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns. But your heavenly Father feeds them. Look at the flowers of the field. Aren’t they the design and work of your heavenly Father? You are more than these birds and flowers. Your life is more than worrying about food, clothes, or your body. So, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. If you do, what you consider as necessary to your life will be given to you as well. So, do not worry about tomorrow. You have had enough trouble of today already. Rest in God knowing that God is the One who is in charge.
As Jesus addresses God as our Heavenly Father in his prayer, he teaches us that there is intimate relationship between God and ourselves. It is a relationship that can never be broken by any force in the world. And because God is our Father or Mother, our life has a meaning in this world. Our life is not defined by how much money we have, how big our house is, what clothing we wear. Our value is found not in what we possess, but in whom we worship – our God who is abundant in God’s grace, compassion, and love. Whenever we reflect on the characteristics of God by being merciful, compassionate, forgiving, and loving to our neighbors, we find the true purpose of our lives in God who gives us the infinite joy.
After I went home, I did some research on St. Peregrine and found out that he was an Italian born in the 13th century. He had cancer on his leg but cured miraculously. So he has been named the Patron Saint of those suffering from cancer and people with cancer in the Catholic tradition pray to God through him. I was excited to share the research with Elizabeth the next morning only to find out that she passed early in the morning. I was standing there in her room devastated for a while. While I was praying silently, another patient in the same room called me. “I know that you were here yesterday. I heard you.” Her name was Mary. As young, Mary did not live an easy life. While a teenager, she ran away from her abusive parent. She met another teenager boy and started living with him. She soon became pregnant but had to put her daughter out for adoption since she and her boyfriend simply could not raise a child.
As she shared her story, Mary sometimes wiped tears from her eyes. She soon got into drugs and became addicts. She ran away from her boyfriend who introduced her to drugs. While she was isolated suffering greatly, she met Christ through a church that embraced her as she was. She gradually found healing in her body and soul. She met another man who was now her husband who loved her and supported her. She grieved and missed her daughter. Through the adoption agency, she was able to locate her daughter who was living in Phoenix. “When I finally got a hold of her and met her, she was at her last stage of cancer.” Her daughter told her, “I know that you abandoned me while I was a baby for some reason. I could not forgive you so many years. But I forgive you now.” Mary said that she and her daughter spent the last months of her life together and it was the best time of her life.
When Elizabeth was dying early in the morning, Mary approached her and said, “Elizabeth, I am here for you. Do not worry. God is with you. Do not worry. You are not alone.” As she was sharing her story, I was also wiping my tears. As I still think about my meeting with Elizabeth and Mary, I believe that Christ calls us to be Mary in today’s world. We do not come from the most perfect places. Many of us have stories of shame and guilt. Many of us still carry wounds and brokenness. Many of us are not healed. But in the midst of all that, we hear the voice of God who call us, “My child, do not worry. I knew you even before you were born. I love you more than you can imagine. You are way more valuable than anything in this world.” And we tell the message to others like Elizabeth in our community and world. “Do not worry.”
This past week, there was the presidential election and at least I am glad that it is over now. Some people are happy because the candidate they voted is elected. Some people panic because of some disturbing news of incidents when women, immigrants, and Muslims are attacked because of who they are. Moreover, we have learned how our society is divided. Our nation needs healing and reconciliation. In time such as this, I believe that we need to remind ourselves who we are as church. We, Christians, follow the way of Christ who loved the poor, sick, and marginalized. If we love Christ and follow his way, then we need to welcome such people radically with our open arms and love them. While some people say that they want to immigrate to another country, we as Christians need to march to the world with messiness because Christ sends us out there to proclaim the good news and share his love with God’s people. We say, “Do not worry,” because God is surely with us in this time and will be with us always.
Would you please stand and sing with me, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow?”
Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home
When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is he
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches over me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow