1 Corinthians 12: 25 – 27, Peter Tupou – “Trendy sayings like “Teamwork makes the dream work” or “You can’t have community without unity” are popular slogans in justice work. If anyone could have done it alone, you think it would’ve been Jesus. But even he surrounded himself with a community, the same community to which we are called to be part of this morning. Each of us has a calling, a purpose, a vocation, and there are things that we need to do in this world, and gifts that we’ve been given in order to do them, no matter what great challenges we face.”
Speaking of great challenges, recovering from my heart attack has been the most humbling experience in my life, in the sense that first I had to conquer my ego. What I mean is that I grew up with certain values I learned from my family about what it means to be a good person and the right way of doing things. These lessons I made part of who I was to become, parts that made up the core of my self-proclaimed identity, things like ‘keep your head down’ and ‘work hard’, ‘endure the pain’ without showing any feelings, and absolutely ‘no complaining’. But only a few months ago, there were days I just physically wasn’t able to do anything except lie in bed, that is until the doorbell rang, or there was a hesitant knock at the door, and then I would struggle sit up, ‘put my head down’ and ‘work hard’ to smile.
Reflecting on my struggle informs me that many if not all of you are also suffering. If you’ll permit me a little audacity, I’ll say that some of you this morning are suffering underneath that calm stoic surface, others simply cannot hide their pain, and some struggle to wear the smiling faces that say ‘we’re fine’, ‘we’re ok’. And yet we are all challenged to our physical and psychological limits in some way. I can’t imagine or begin to understand what you’re going through, what you’ve been through, or what difficulty lies ahead but I do know this – you don’t have to carry it alone. When I was no longer able to carry mine, many of you were there to shoulder the weight, just as in biblical accounts of when Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus. Many of you were there to feed me, to clothe me, and to care for me.
When I think of the overwhelming support that washed over me these last months, I can’t help but to think about those this morning who are still hungry and hurting – vulnerable populations of those once in service looking to be welcomed home and reintegrated into society after the ravages of war, vulnerable populations who are fleeing violence and certain death only to find indifference and the gridlock of bureaucracy, vulnerable populations of homeless forced into poverty by economic injustice, or those fleeing war, and climate devastation. As I think about the least of these, I think that perhaps we are also vulnerable population – vulnerable to becoming indifferent.
For most people, confronting death brings into focus the existential dimensions of our lives. I often replay the miracle that happened the morning of my heart attack – a series of events that had to happen exactly the way it did in order for me to be here today. The morning of March 5th, my partner Joette was supposed to be in LA for work, but because our dog Opal was sick all of the previous night, Joette made the decision to stay home that morning and take Opal to the vet. I had gotten up at 6AM to meet a friend for a morning workout and about an hour later, came home feeling exhausted, out of shape, and feeling a little off. As I walked in the door and sat down, she noticed my symptoms, came over to feel my pulse, and immediately made the 911 call. I was lucky she has an EMT background. If she wasn’t there, I would’ve just laid down to try and sleep it off. The paramedics got there within minutes, did an EKG and confirmed I was having a myocardial infarction. Of course I was still in denial, but the reality was finally settling in. We rushed to Loma Linda and by time they got me onto the surgery table darkness swallowed me and I was out.
There was a moment during my surgery when I began to make out a faint light in the distance. It was still very dark, but I felt calm. I wasn’t nervous. Was this it? Was this the end? Spoiler alert, I’m still here. No it was just the light of the surgery room that I could make out through my closed eyelids. I couldn’t open my eyes or feel my body, but I began to hear voices. These voices were arguing, one voice saying to the other, “I disagree with you, I don’t think we should do that” and another voice saying, “We don’t have time.”
I woke up in the recovery room hours later and it wasn’t even lunch time. I had timidly asked the doctors, “Was everything ok in surgery?” to which they smiled and said everything was fine.
So back to Jesus. Jesus in his own way was a community organizer. From the beginning he gathered disciples around him – men, women and children, and traveled with them during his ministry. If anyone could have tried to “do it alone,” you might expect it of him. But even Jesus surrounded himself with a community, the same community to which we are called to be a part of this morning. Each of us, as a disciple, a seeker of justice and peace, even a critic, or a follower of the path that Jesus walked, all of us has a calling, a deep purpose, a vocation and there are things that we need to do in this world, and gifts that we have been given in order to do them, no matter what great challenges we face. We as the hands and feet, can make a difference for the better in our personal relationships, and in our families. We as the eyes, and ears can contribute and improve our neighborhoods and our communities. We as the body can do wonders. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful world?
It’s not reasonable for me to assume we can fight every evil in the world. There are just too many of them. But you can do something; and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything. Thomas Merton says, “Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
John Walsh in our Monday prayer group this week reminded me of this Howard Thurman quote – “The hard thing when you get old is to keep your horizons open. The first part of your life everything is in front of you, all your potential and promise. But over the years, you make decisions; you carve yourself into a given shape. Then the challenge is to keep discovering the green growing edge.”
My heart attack was the gift I discovered at the green growing edge. It allowed me time to find the other half of my heart, my partner Joette. Joette, you are the nomad, and I am the wanderer, and in that wonderful mystery of life we found each other. My heart attack was a gift because it allowed my heart to stretch even larger because it was filled by your love for me. You saved my life and I will honor you by living a life for others. To the Body, I say thank you! Thank you for your smoked chicken, your vegetable soups, your beautiful cards and flowers, your emails, and your love. Thank you to those who stepped up when I stumbled. My heart attack was a gift of love, and that love I will never stop giving.
We all know that indifference kills, so in service to peace and love, in service to compassion and justice, we can simply start by listening to that small voice calling from in here. And then we show up, just as you showed up for me, because “that’s what it’s all about”. Amen.