Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Mike Turgeon The art of living: “Donate for life” 11/13/11
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.‘
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?‘
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. I Corinthians 15:51-58
The art of living: “Donate for life”
One day, eleven years ago, while serving as a chaplain at Marin General Hospital, I was called to the Intensive Care Unit. A woman had requested to speak with the chaplain on duty. She was distraught in that her 21 year-old son was clinging to life in the aftermath of a car accident. This woman, this mother, was reeling from a conversation with the hospital’s medical staff in which they had informed her and the family that this young man was now considered ‘brain-dead’ with no chance of recovering.
This woman’s question for me was whether it was morally ‘ok’ to make her son’s vital organs available for donation. She was not a religious person, claiming she did not attend church or practice in any particular faith. Only that she had a vague ‘urging’ to do the right thing in the midst of her anguish.
Most of the family was deferring to her decision. The son had not indicated on his driver’s license whether he wished to be a donor. This family had never spoken about this since the prospect was so unspeakable.
When I say the family mostly was deferring to this mother’s decision, what I mean is her sister, a quite religious person, was making a strong case for not donating the boy’s organs, since she felt it was a violation of the sanctity of human life to do so. Ironically, all major religions support or permit donation. This was purely a personal viewpoint on the part of the woman’s sister.
The California Organ Donation team had already sat down with the family to explain their options in this matter, so all the facts and positions were on the table when I came on the scene.
It looked to me like two decisions were imminent. Number one, should this boy be disconnected from the ventilator that was now breathing for him? And secondly, when, and if, that decision was made, should his organs be harvested?
If you have ever found yourself in this scenario, and I hope you never do, one thing is crystal clear, the presence of someone able to hear concerns is useful.
When they train chaplains, rule number one is you are mostly called upon to be a sounding board, hardly ever a mouthpiece. In the moment of life and death, the pressure on decisions like this are intense, to say the least.
Well, today is the final day of what is known as the National ‘Donor Sabbath.‘ Each year, this sabbath, this observance, creates a space for reflection on our ability to be of service to others by literally giving of our most precious physical resource--our bodies. As religious people, we know of the importance of sabbath, weekly ritual, the coming together to worship God with our presence, our praise, our prayers and our ongoing passion to serve God’s people.
Also as religious people, we resonate with the Apostle Paul’s words here:
“For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality...”
Further though, for this congregation, organ donation has been a long-standing affinity. Of course, we care about many causes as the church, but it is when things become personal that we act most passionately.
A little more than two years ago, this fellowship lost Dee Kuba, wife of Allen, mother of Trish and Toni; grandmother, sister in Christ to many of you. She died from heart failure at the age of 61. In our day of health and technology, 61 is considered a premature age to pass away, but in Dee’s case, she considered the last half of her life to be an extraordinary gift.
If you did not know Dee Kuba, heart failure is what claimed her, but her deeper story was that she gained 27 years of heart success from not one, but two kidney transplants she received in her early 30s.
I have the text of a sermon that Dee preached here about 20 years ago. In it, she looks back on the ordeal of undergoing two kidney transplants in the space of 3 months. She had learned of her kidney disease at the tender age of 23 and began dialysis four years later at 27.
The thing I find most striking about her testimony is that she doesn’t begin to describe her life as a faith journey until the age of 32. I only knew Dee less than two months and I must say, I did indeed find her to be a faith-filled person. By her account, though, it was only when she received a phone call from the UC Medical Center saying that the prospect of her receiving a kidney transplant had now become real, and that, according to Dee, was when her faith journey began. She had spent the previous 4 1/2 years on the national organ recipient waiting list, wondering about her ability to lead a ‘normal’ life.
What is a ‘normal’ life, anyway? The Apostle Paul is obviously grappling with that question in our text this morning.
“We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
Paul is exhorting the church in Corinth to take hope by investing their lives in the life of Jesus Christ; in other words, seeing this life through the eyes of faith.
I found this comment in Dee’s testimony, referring to her life after the kidney transplants:
“My prayer had been answered but not until later in the journey did I realize it.” Dee Kuba
I’m not sure the Apostle Paul could have articulated the life of faith more eloquently than Dee does here.
The art of living
Earlier in her testimony she admitted having little sense of God’s presence as she dealt with kidney disease and raising a family. She mentions not being brought up in church as a child, but knowing there was a God. She even believed that God worked for others who had faith, but she couldn’t see God working in her own life.
Not until it became personal.
Funny, isn’t it, how a phone call from a Medical Center becomes a call to faith? Or how a closed heart may be pried open from random kindness? Or how a person finds new hope through unexpected hospitality?
I’ve heard of all these things, the phone call, the kindness, the hospitality happening in the context of church. You know, Church, that irrelevant, behind-the-times, un-hip gathering of the out-of-touch. Or at least that’s the view of many. Fair enough, but I wonder what those critics would think if they tried one of our potlucks?
Do you have to go to church to have a faith journey? Of course not. Is the walk of faith easier with a companion? You tell me?
Because of the conscious decisions of two people unknown to her, Dee Kuba gained 27 years of life. She spoke openly about how this experience transformed her attitude toward life into an attitude of faith. Dee learned to master the art of living, not simply the act of living.
John Wesley himself wrote and preached about all this when he tackled the topic of grace and how it worked. He spoke of prevenient grace and justifying grace.
‘pre-venient’ = comes before
Prevenient grace is the grace that is always available to us, it is there even before we accept it. It is there whether we decide to accept it or not.
But when we decide to accept God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we enter the state of ‘justification’
‘justify’ = make right
or living grace. Wesley was the first one to spell it out in such clear terms. Dee Kuba stepped into grace when she answered the phone that particular day. She dramatically illustrated the slogan you’ll find in the ‘Donate for Life’ brochure on the inside of your bulletin:
“To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” Anonymous.
Dee Kuba is not the only one who made organ donation a personal issue for this church. Our own Malakai Lomano has been on the national donor registry now for almost two years. While in his native Tonga, Malakai was mis-diagnosed and given a medication that compromised his kidney function. He has been on three times a week dialysis here in Windsor for the last two years. We continue to concern ourselves and pray with our brother, Malakai on his journey.
It is important to know that organs and tissues are distributed fairly and equitably in this country based on medical criteria only. It is also important to know that of those waiting for donation on the national registry, there is no guarantee that a life-saving donor will come forward.
Obviously, we have come a long way since Paul wrote his words of scripture to the church in Corinth.
“...We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”
He was writing a little more than 15 years after Jesus had died. There was a palpable belief that Jesus was coming back, that those who had died would be resurrected in body on that glorious day. Of course, we know now that did not happen.
But Paul was encouraging his people to remain vigilant, as we must, for sometimes the opportunity for life’s grace is granted to us and sometimes we can be the cause of new life.
An argument could be made that in the 2000 years since Paul, we have made technological strides that bring us perilously close to acting God-like with our ability to transplant organs, decipher the genetic code and clone animals and insects, and likely humans at some point.
While I agree that our technology certainly gallops along ahead of our ability to absorb its moral implications, I believe also that organ donation falls into a category all its own. One that offers the grace and hope of life where once there may have been no hope.
So, what was the outcome of the scene with the young boy declared ‘brain-dead?’
Mixed results. The next morning, the family on the wishes of the mother, decided to allow any viable organs to be donated. As it turns out, because of the delay in making the decision, only a couple of his vital organs were useful. An earlier decision could have resulted in more donations.
This family, however, needed the time to digest the enormity of what they were facing. For them, the timing was right.
I would appeal to you today, if you have not already made the decision, to sign up to be an organ and tissue donor. Our church, perhaps more than most organizations, knows the implications of this life-saving act since we enjoyed the shared ministry of our sister Dee for many years beyond what she could have expected.
The art of living is learning to always stay open to what God is doing in the world, through you, through me, through Dee.
Our lives function as brush strokes in God’s palette, if you will. Submit your will to the will of the Master Artist. Have a little faith in him so that faith will be multiplied.