A Sermon on Trail Angels, Organ Donations and the Truth that We Are Not Alone

Listen to the sermon by clicking here.

John 14:15-21

Two weeks, I went to the hospital with Mark and Nina to pray with them and accompany them as Mark prepared for a live liver donation.  I woke with anticipation that day at 4:30 a.m. and stayed there almost all day, barely able to leave because of the wonder I experienced.  I have been trying to put that day into words ever since but it’s not an easy thing to do – to experience resurrection and then find words to tell others.

After all, how do you capture what it feels like to have the Spirit of Love buzzing through a room?

How do you capture what it’s like to literally see someone receive new life?

As I pondered my experience witnessing the organ donation, I was struck by this week’s Scripture, which says that God will sends us an Advocate to be with us forever.

Jesus is, of course, referring the Holy Spirit, but the word that Jesus uses here – paraclete – means the One who comes alongside us. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit as an Advocate that we might know: We are not alone.  We are never alone. Not when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Not when we summit the mountains of life. Not when one undergoes an organ donation.

Jesus accompanies us every step of the way.  This is what love looks likes.

Accompanying one another, caring for one another, walking with each other.

I was reminded of that truth as I met Mark and Nina in the waiting room in the hospital two weeks ago.  How long has it been that Mark has been looking for a new liver?  Over a year?  We have been hoping, praying alongside him ever since.  We have been distributing flyers, telling friends, telling strangers, sharing Facebook posts, hosting benefit concerts, doing whatever we can to help get the word out.  Then, about a month ago, we got the word that a donor had been found.

When Nina and Mark announced the news in church, it’s hard to put into the words the response.

After all, how do you capture what it feels like to have the Spirit of Love buzzing through a room?

How do you capture what it is like to literally see someone receive new life?

There were tears and smiles, sighs of gratitude and relief.  After the news was delivered, we gathered in the front of the sanctuary in a big circle and laid our hands on Mark and Nina and prayed for them, the donor and the surgery.

As we prayed and laid hands on each other’s shoulders, we experienced the truth of Jesus’ promise that God will accompany us, through every valley, onto every mountain.  If you were part of that prayer, remember what there felt like.  If you were not there imagine what it felt like: to be connected by touch, surrounded by community, united in care.

This act reminds us: We are not alone, we are never alone.

Do you know that?  Do you believe that?

I was reminded of that again, just this week, as I ventured out to the eastern part of New York to backpack a small part of the Appalachian Trail.  I ambled my way through forest and meadow on my way to a lean-to.  Around 8:30 p.m., as setting sun streaked the clouds, I found myself hiking through a cow pasture and noticed a car driving by on the road below.   It hesitated upon seeing me. Then it backed up and then pulled up to where the trail empties out into the road.  Tentatively I followed the trail down to the road where a middle aged woman came out of the car.  She said to me, “Are you a hiker?”  “Yes,” I replied.  “I’m an angel,” she said to me.

She was, it turns out, a trail angel.  A trail angel is someone who comes along and helps Appalachian Trail hikers on their journey in the form of food, beverage, or other kindnesses.  They are strangers who are there to help me.  The woman told me about the route – warning me of the steep climb ahead.  Although she could not do the hike for– only I could do that – she could guide me and care for me.  I was in the middle of Timbuktu and yet here was a woman saying, if you need someone, I am here.

Isn’t that the Good News that Jesus is sharing with us today?  Even when we find ourselves in the backwoods of life, we are not alone.  Jesus is the trail angel who comes to find us so that we can make it over the steep ascent to a place of beauty, rest and fullness of life.  Jesus meets us and then invites us to be trail angels for each other, so that when others are wondering in the backwoods, they too can discover the Good News of a God who loves us so that She’ll drive all over Creation to meet us on the road and tell us over and over again: I will not leave you orphaned.  You are loved and cared about beyond your wildest imagination.

Do you know that?  Do you believe that?

That is a truth I stumbled on as I waited with Mark and Nina at the hospital two weeks ago.  It’s hard to explain the energy that day – it was like we could all feel the hundreds of prayers coming in our direction.  I prayed with Mark and Nina that we would all trust our lives and care to God and then, like that, Mark went back for surgery and we waited.

Waiting in a hospital is always a difficult task; it is filled with wondering and worrying and a great deal of pacing.  Somehow though this waiting was different.  How do I explain it?  I went out to make a phone call and when I came back and the atmosphere was … jovial?

In the waiting room, I found Lisa and Sam from our congregation were there as were some of the Mark and Ninn’s relatives.  Then there was … the live liver donor’s husband, sitting and talking with the group.  Apparently, during my phone call, the donor’s husband and gone over and introduced himself to the group.  I was awed, all I could do was thank him profusely for the gift his wife was giving us all: the gift of life.  I told him that our church had been praying for the donor and surrounding them with love and he replied, “I know, we could feel it.”

As we say there that morning, the messages poured onto Facebook and text messages flooded Nina’s phone.  Their messages may have myriad but the point was the same: You are not alone.

At noon, four pizzas from a former pastor were delivered.  We ate together, communing no longer as strangers but as friends.  Somehow it felt like we had known each other forever.  In the moment, I remember thinking how somehow had once told me there is no such thing as strangers.  In that moment, it felt fiercely true.  With an abundance of left over pizza, we went around offering it to the receptionist and other people waiting.  I led a six year old over so she could select her own pizza types. Then somehow, we were there in the surgical waiting room, having a pizza party, laughing together with these big belly laughs, the kind that you can only have when you have stumbled upon the greatest secret of the Universe: that there is love and abundance and companionship for us all.  I laughed so hard I cried.  Or were those tears of joy?  It was hard to tell.

In the afternoon, Lisa received a text saying that a wellness group she teaches had been sending healing thoughts and prayers to Mark and the donor through singing bowls.  They had been sending through the Universe a loving, vibrational energy.  I couldn’t help but think of the Holy Spirit.  In the very start of the Bible, it tells us that Holy Spirit hovers or oscillates over the deep.  There is a sense of vibrational or pulsing energy as God prepares to give birth to something new, as God prepares to create the cosmos.  Into this space of Spirit, God says let there be light and there is light.  Into the uncertainty places of our lives, the Holy Spirit pulses, as God prepares to birth something new into our lives.  Into these places, God says let there be light and creates light, light to guide our paths, light to lead us home, light to remind us that we are not alone, we are never alone, not in the beginning, not now, not ever.

Do you know that?  Do you believe that?

Sufi Poet Hafiz writes a poem on companionship that reads,

“Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
‘Love me.’

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,
With that sweet moon
Language,
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear.”

This sweet moon language is what Jesus speaks to us, as Jesus tells us, no matter what may come, know that you are not alone; I am sending the Holy Spirit to be with you, to wait with you in this space until something new is birthed.  Jesus whispers this sweet moon language to us in the form of organ donors and trail angels, prayers and acts of kindness, works of justice and gifts of pizza.

Love one another, Jesus says, go forth sharing that sweet moon language, for there are no strangers here on earth, only those made in the image of God.  Go forth embodying this truth, saying through your actions to each person you encounter: I love you.  I see you. You are not alone.

Amen.

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