Mission Chaplaincy - Journeying with the Light that Comes from Within
Mission Chaplaincy - Journeying with the Light that comes from Within
August 4, 2019
SCBC (Sunset Canyon Baptist Church)
Question? Have you ever been in a situation where there was nothing you could say or do to make things better?
It is an uncomfortable, inhuman feeling to not have control; and yet, I would say that’s right where God wants us – to not have control. While you ponder that, I’ll give you some highlights of my last year at the VA Hospital in San Antonio as a Hospital Chaplain.
I was in what in medical terminology is a residency, where for a year you learn to be a Chaplain and learn about yourself as a minister to better serve patients and staff at the hospital. It is a humbling responsibility and I am blessed by learning what I did and having walked by the patients (we call them Veterans) and staff for a year.
ER Story – In my residency, I was down at the VA Hospital for only 2 weeks, and it was the 1st week I was on-call, when I received a call-back to the hospital. It was a call From the Emergency Room in the early evening of a Sunday, just as I was leaving the facility. It seemed they had a patient that needed a Chaplain, so I went back to the hospital and into the ER. I didn’t have any more info than that when I went to see the patient.
It was a lot more than just a visit to a patient. I have to be careful because of statutes, but essentially there was a patient that came to the ER because his – what we will call “friend” - took her own life 5 feet away from him because he ended their relationship. It was at his house, and his wife was also there. This was a patient that had also been a medic in the Army in Iraq, but he came to the ER because he was beside himself. He knew that if he didn’t go to a safe place, then he might be in danger of hurting himself. He was agnostic because of his combat exposure.
There is a lot more to the story - things that you can’t make up because people would say it’s unbelievable - but statutes require that confidentiality be observed to protect the patient’s privacy. But he was helpless to undo what had happened, at least dysfunctional with his wife, and spiritually lost. He was “a patient in need,” shall we say. But the point of the story is to say that there was nothing I could have said or did that would have made it any better in that moment. …that would have brought healing, or wholeness. And did I mention that the patient’s wife was sitting in the ER room as well?
What do you say – what do you do – in those situations?
The answer is Nothing, at least from my standpoint. You just are there to listen and respond, and give care, comfort, and presence – or God’s love – at a majority of the time - if given permission - pray with them..
So, what is a Chaplain and where are they at? A Chaplain is a minister, typically with an organization or calling, and is with folks that are in chaos, or at least could be in chaos – struggling – and there to give a spiritual presence or – as I say – a light in the darkness of their lives. They typically don’t witness to people, or proselytize – they are simply there to walk with them and travel with them through the journey as the person sees it and feels it. They are in the military, at hospitals or healthcare entities, in prisons, with the public safety organizations, or even at some sports teams and civil corporations. They are – at least in my language – missional.
When I went down to the VA Hospital on JUNE 2018, I met a guy named Jim Duke, a retired Army Chaplain and the Director of Clinical Pastoral Education. He is Southern Baptist. When I was unsure about not proselytizing – or witnessing to people, he said something that stayed with me and has helped me see the Chaplaincy field in a new light. He said Chaplaincy was a mission field. We take the Veterans (he meant patients in the VA Hospital) and staff in a missionary view. We must get to know them and their context and walk with them in their crisis before sharing the Gospel with them.
I look to Jim Blair, who had a mission trip to Africa, where he and others dug wells to get drinking water to the people. You meet the needs of people, and then – after you have walked with them awhile and have relations with them, share what has made you who you are – or shall we say “whom.”
Many of you know that the scriptures say, “God is love.” Let’s go to 1 John and get into the Word of God.
Exegesis - Though there is some argument by scholars, probably 1 John was written by the Apostle John, and probably around the last quarter of the first century to the first decade of the second century in Ephesus. His audience was the churches of Revelation and of several other churches, including Colosse (Colossae), a city in Asia Minor and a church that was founded by Paul on his third missionary journey. John was a bishop to those churches and called them his “children” in 1 John. Unlike 2 John and 3 John, which are letters, 1 John is a tract or a homily; in today’s language, something of a sermon. In the tract, he writes – as 1 John states to (1) make his joy complete, (2) to make sure the readers have warning against false teachers, and (3) to assure the readers that they have eternal life. But the whole book is about God’s love. In 1 John, John’s description of the love he felt and had for Jesus is evident, as “God is love” is stated twice (4:8, 16) and the Greek word he uses for love – αγάπη (agape) – is relational love – human love or God’s love that is pure and selfless. John uses αγάπη 18 times, more often than any other book in the New Testament.
The Scripture for today is 1 John 4:7-21, but I’m going to focus on verses 7-8, 11-12, and 21.
1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, and 21 English Standard Version (ESV)
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
All: The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, what does “let us love one another” mean, especially if you’re a Chaplain? And agape love – the root of which is used 13 times in the scriptures I just read… Maybe we’ll find out through talking about it today…
I can tell you this: It is that love – αγάπη (agape) love - that one hopefully brings to the Chaplaincy, with the Holy Spirit in you as a Christian relating to the person or persons in need.
Priesthood of Believers: In the Baptist faith, we have something called the Priesthood of All Believers. Baptists don’t have it exclusively, and the Protestant faith generally believes it. In other words, we don’t need a priest to the commune with God, say confessions to God, or interpret the Word of God.
But if you put it in a missionary context, we all have a mission to live out the Gospel in our lives and tell people about the difference Jesus has made to us? Do you have friends, family, co-workers who are having crises; struggling; in pain? There is a world of hurting folks out there who need peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding – that only God can give. Are you a missionary when you leave these walls?
But returning to the Chaplain and their role… So, the Chaplain’s role is to take the individual where he or she is - that means theologically, too. Not by saying or speaking the Words of Christ – though that can help sometimes. Rather, it is by acting out Christ in the midst of their journey. How do you do this? By listening and be the light of Christ to them in a sometimes-dark world of chaos.
Mental Health Story – There is a mental health unit at the VA Hospital. I was in that unit for 4 months. Most of them have seen combat or had some military experiences where they were traumatized. The world of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and other disorders – such a sexual trauma – that make life a difficult if not impossible journey is home to the patients with mental challenges.
Trust is a big issue with these mental health patients. You must come alongside them and gain their trust before they reach out to you for help. You must to get to know them, their families – often dysfunctional families (or pseudo-families) – before they let you into the space that is their minds and their hearts. It is then that you can actually help them, but it has to be on their terms, and each one is different. Sometimes it seems – on the one hand - that they are their biggest problem, but really it is more complicated than that, and all they need in crisis is the love of God.
There is and was a patient with a lifetime of hurt. It was in her family, in the military, and beyond. It was various pains along the way, some of them done to her and some a result of past pains that built up walls. When you are in a crisis mode, everything looks different, and everything feels suspicious.
Because of the pain she’d endured, my presence was – at least at the beginning – not welcome to her. With another Chaplain’s help, I gained entrance into her psyche, and began a relationship with her. We began to talk about the struggles she had and continued to have, and started to speak spiritually about it, though she was of a different faith then I was. Like a lot of the Veterans there, she was alone, misunderstood, and struggling. I gave her agape love, and she responded, and we became close. For at least a time, I was the presence of Christ to her to give her what no human could – God’s love.
Now, one other thing I should mention is 1 John was written to believers. Remember “brother,” in verse 21 (which today means brother and sister):
21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Brother in ancient Greek – αδελφός – can mean a follower of the Way – or in today’s vernacular – Christian, but it could also mean countryman or neighbor. But at least some if not most scholars say the saying in verse 21 means fellow Christians.
So, then, “Brothers and sisters” – is it only Christians that we should love?
Story – Native American.
I did consults when I was at what’s actually called “the Audie Murphy Memorial Veteran’s Hospital” in San Antonio. In the hospital is everything you can imagine medically, with the exception of labor and delivery. And Veterans come in all shapes and sizes, and religions, too. We have to give spiritual care to all of them – within the parameters of our faith – and perform or provide the spiritual care that the individual needs.
Late in the fall I got a consult to a Native American woman who was about 28. She had been to combat and was in a vehicle – a HMMWV – that got hit by an IED. As a result of the impact, she had suffered a Traumatic Brian Injury – or “TBI” – and everything before the trauma was now blank in her brain. She had been a Native American and lived in Idaho on the reservation of her tribe. When I met her, she had a mix of Native American faith and parts of the Christian faith. For example, she called earth “mother” and had Native American rituals but had heard the Gospel and wanted desperately to have relationship with somebody spiritually who would walk with her through her chaos.
What should I do? We didn’t have any Native American Chaplains, and she needed love, care, comfort, and someone to – what I will call “unpack” her mind and how it works now… In other words, she was alone, lost, and spiritually bankrupt. So, I could be a light in the dark places she found herself, or go away and leave her in the dark to go it alone. Guess what I chose? And she was blessed that Christ was there – in me – to explore the person she was then…
So then maybe is it today’s experiences, too, that tell us to love people. Like the woman Veteran who was recovering and finding her “new normal.” I showed her love in Jesus’ name, by my acts of love, care, and comfort.
Question to the Congregation: Again, I say to us here: Do we have people that we see every day who are suffering in this world? In my walk, I can see them, and they are in different socio-economic status, races, genders, faiths, languages, cultures, contexts… Do they need agape love…do they need someone to be with them and walk with them in their darkness?
Jesus said that people would know His followers by the fact that they love each other in John 13:35. In fact, there’s a song written because of that verse called “They’ll know we are Christian by Our Love.” It was written in the 60’s by a then Friar Peter Scholtes. It goes in part:
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah they'll know we are Christians by our love
But Jesus said several times in the New Testament that we should love others as well. In Jesus’ saying of – what has been known today as the Greatest Commandments – He ended by stating “31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
In another scripture, when the expert in the law asked Him what to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus challenged the expert back. Upon getting the expert to recite two commandments, including “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27b), the expert said, “Who is my neighbor?” at which point Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus told him the story, and then said:
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Good Samaritan didn’t quote Scripture, or tell the Gospel – though that is certainly what you can do sometimes. He saw a man in need – in chaos - and helped him. Gave him love, care, and comfort.
It seems that we are not just to love our Christian brothers and sisters, but the people of the whole world! And there is something sacred when you’re in chaos with another person. When they let you into their world – as maybe dysfunctional and sometimes worldly as it can be at times – that is when they need Christ the most, and you’re the tool to get Jesus there.
Bring it to the Congregation
But some of you may be asking questions in light of this: Questions about witnessing, such as what about the Word of God? About conversion? About relational missioning in everyday life? And finally, is it you who should step up and be on the mission filed?
First, about the word of God. All of us witness in different ways. I have found that the most effective I can be is if I do it relationally; that is, I go alongside persons, get to know them, and then get into spiritual talk when they are ready. It never fails that if I’m giving into the Holy Spirit every day, the questions about what makes me different come to me.
But God uses each of us in a different way. If this sermon helps you in witnessing, great. If it doesn’t fit with your “style,” that’s okay, too. We are all the body of Christ, and we all can witness about the great things Jesus has done in our lives – in word and deed.
What about conversion? I believe it’s a process. It’s like a chess match, or checkers. My interaction with someone may be a piece – and I may be the one who has the blessing of seeing a new birth – but I have to be cognizant that (1) it is the Holy Spirit who is doing the work, and (2) it is the person who comes to God – to Jesus – in their own time. So, I wait and watch, and listen to the Holy Spirit.
What about relational missioning? It seems to me that Jesus called us all to witness. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations. And in Revelation 3:20 (ESV), Jesus says: 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
We are witnesses – frankly, whether we like it or not – to the wonder of the Kingdom of God and what it has done for us and our families. You are a Christian, and are making a mark when others interact with you. It is easier to walk alongside others and be yourself along the way. That’s what being a missionary is about – being yourself - loved by God - and love others like Christ loved you!
Last thoughts – the Light
I believe that one of the ways God does this is through us guided by the Holy Spirit. In other words, one of the ways Jesus knocks on non-believers is through believers in the world through word and deed. In the Fourth Gospel – the Gospel of John, Jesus said:
John 8:12 (ESV)
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
For those of us who believe in Jesus, we have the light that is given by Jesus. If we walk – not as we will, but as God wills, there will be something that is different about us. And, in times of chaos, there will be order, and light – that is in the person’s darkness that we are journeying with. Not our light, but God’s. Go be a missionary for Jesus! To God be the Glory.