A Sermon by The Rev Barbara Mraz, September 3, 2023

Most preachers I know are always on alert for a good story to enliven their sermons: a compelling anecdote, a funny personal experience, a touching memory. Craig tells us tales of growing up in Zimbabwe; Jered talks about stalking defenseless mushrooms in the forest, Chelsea has spoken about her job with immigrants….

Today, I happen to have a doozy of a story.

Today’s epistle is an eloquent and beautiful list of aspirations: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. The Gospel is Peter forbidding Jesus to allow the suffering that is coming to him and Jesus’ response that it will happen not only to him, but to us, that following Jesus does not insulate us from pain.

I would say amen to that, especially after the last two weeks.  As Betty Davis says in the 1939 movie All About Eve, ”Buckle up darling. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

I always give my sermons titles, mainly for my own focus. So my secret title for today’s sermon is“The Heart Attack and What It Taught Me”.   The sermon involves a bathtub, an ambulance, and a big fat surprise.

So, events before theology.

I don’t like taking showers so a couple weeks ago I was in the bathtub late Saturday afternoon. I have a battery-powered bath chair that goes down and goes up – until it didn’t—go up. Unable to lift myself up due to weak arms – which is why I have the chair.–I was there for six hours until my kids sensed something was wrong and called the paramedics who came and got me out, did a little exam (noting I had done something bad to my knees, and listened to my heart and soon I was in an ambulance on the way to the ER at Regions Hospital. The irony is I felt fine! One of the ambulance people remarked,” Well, this is one way to get in to see a cardiologist.” Then we chatted about how inaccurate the portrayal of ambulance drivers is on the tv show “Chicago Fire.”  

The ER docs didn’t like how my heart sounded either and checked me in to the hospital and a day later they put a stent in. Then, ordered not to be home alone, there was a less-dramatic ambulance ride to the temporary care unit at Episcopal Homes where I stayed for four more days having a lot of physical therapy (and great food, by the way). The irony is that through this whole experience, I felt fine!

Having had some time to process this whole thing, here is my conclusion – theological and otherwise…..  Independence is an illusion.      

(Cardio Metabolic Institutem reports that “Now 1 in 5 heart attack patients are younger than 40 years

We pride ourselves on perhaps being financially independent, in our carefully-nurtured solid and loving relationships, in our wonderful families, in having a good job and secure retirement, in being physically able and independent. Not needing anything essential that we can’t get–depending on our age. We may not have all of these things, but almost all of us here are doing okay.

Yet any moment, things can change—at any age. . So here is what I learned from my surprise heart attack: it is deeply humbling  to be dependent on other people– – to walk us to the bathroom,  to pick up the book we dropped and can’t reach from the recliner where we are imprisoned when we’re not in what in what I called the torture bed, to bring the right medications in a little white cup, to give us the therapy that will make us strong enough to leave.  

I must also say by way of observation, that every single person at Episcopal Homes who helped or assisted me (except the doctor who was Jewish) from delivering food to physical therapy—was a person of color. Granted I was recovering from a heart attack and knee weakness so at first I probably needed more than usual but I needed help to walk to the bathroom, to have the wonderful meals brought to me and the trays taken away, even to get the hair brush that had fallen off my lap and slid across the room.

During the night at first I had to have help to get out of the dreadful bed I slept in (identical to the hospital bed-I sensed a conspiracy) and help to walk to the bathroom and so I pressed the call light and a cheerful, African-American man would gently help me up and walk me there. It was humiliating and somehow deeply moving to be helped in this way by this splendid person.

I wanted to thank these people which I did again, but I wanted to do more (like sending flowers as I had done to a nurse at Regions) but that seemed too frivolous (racism, anyone?) so I thought I could a least thank them with money. On the last day I was there I had my daughter bring me a stack of twenty-dollar bills. The first intended recipient told me that they could in trouble if they accepted it, which somehow robbed me of a “power” I might have thought I had. The racism I unintentionally exhibited was staggering and I’m still trying to figure it out.

There was an aide there named Hyacinth and she would come in each morning and I would already be dressed and reading or watching some dreadful morning show or in Mayberry with reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and she would say, “What about the make-up?” and so I learned to get it on before she came in.

Hyacinth was an older African-American woman and she ached when bending you could tell, and yet she would gently pull me out of the recliner I came to hate, she was unfailingly upbeat and when I left she wheeled me out to car and sat inside the car while she left me in the  wheelchair and we talked before I left. Independence is an illusion – Hyacinth probably needed the job where she spent eight hours a day – or is it racist to make this conclusion?

So what does all of this mean for us who are well and independent? At least for now?

A lot.

It is obvious that Jesus tells us to care for each other, even somehow love each other. On the amazing PBS television program, “Call the Midwife,” each morning Sister Julien tells the midwives this as they set off on their bicycles: “Let’s go and see what love can do….”

The “how” is more difficult. Frankly, I am often frustrated with messages to “just” love each other, as if you can will yourself to feel an emotion.

I think the first step may be to acknowledge your own vulnerability, to admit that you may need help and have to depend on other people in the most uncomfortable ways.

By the way, I will also tell you that visiting people who are confined is unbelievably important. Force yourself;  I’m going to. Go to Trader Joes and spend six dollars on some flowers,  My best friend from high school drove through the bad traffic from Anoka to see me, arriving with a giant bouquet in a purple vase and it was humbling to know she did this. For me.  Dusty stopped into see me every day and so did Joanna Frisby who works at the main desk. I had lots of flowers,

So understand that eventually you will need to depend on those around you.  Independence is an illusion. See people and go out of your way at times to speak to them, acknowledging them as a fellow traveler on Planet Earth, this comparatively small blue and green ball hurling through space.  Eventually some of these people may be your saviors, as Hyacinth was mine.


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