Sara Bryan's Sermon
I had a pretty good sermon prepared for today but God had something even better in mind. At 9am I received an e-mail from Sara Bryan, one of our parishioners, saying she wanted to highjack my sermon. My first reaction was, she hasn't even heard it and now she wants my sermon time! But then I read her note and what she wanted to say. So just an hour or so before worship was to start, I told Sara to share her words with our people, because they were really what God wanted us to hear this morning. So I got out of the way and God showed up and showed off through Sara. Here is what she shared:
I have brain cancer. I was diagnosed just 5 days ago—out of the blue—with a mass on my left parietal lobe. My family and I are still reeling from the shock. Just a week ago I was about the healthiest 65-year-old I know. I started running at 60 (nearly 61, actually). I have completed several small races and four half marathons. I won in my age group for most of them. I had just begun training to run the Army Ten-Miler with my daughters this coming October (and I haven’t ruled that out yet). All that stops for now.
I was told by the neurosurgeon who read my MRI “I’m not gonna sugar-coat it. This is bad.” My options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and whatever innovative protocols Duke University has to offer. If I do nothing, I will die in a matter of months.
But here’s the thing: This is not a story of woe but of joy. Really. In the past 5 days have encountered more lessons about faith and hope than perhaps in the past 5 decades. The message of those lessons is what I want to share today.
During my brief 2-day stay at the hospital last week I encountered compassionate candor, professional enthusiasm, and even gained a new friend. Some of those people I may see never again, but each meeting afforded a moment of comfort. Lesson learned: a warm smile and a kind word are more than amenities. They can convey surprising assurance.
When I returned home, one of the first people I reached out to was Larry Jesion, our Deacon here at Holy comforter. (Cindy was away and I saw no point in stealing her time for something that isn’t going to change in the immediate future.) The first words of Larry’s prayer with me were an offer of thanks to God. Not help, not healing—thanks. Of course the prayer included all the rest, but I took note of that first word. It was an immediate and clear reminder of who’s in control, and where to put your trust. Lesson learned: have faith. This journey will be difficult—it’s gonna suck, actually—but Larry’s prayer reminded me that I’m not driving; God is. And he’s got a bus full of talented medical professionals, compassionate caregivers, loving family, and supportive friends to help me along the way.
About those supportive friends. One of our friends is a Baptist minister. Alvin Jones came into our lives through another friend many years ago when my husband George was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (right; it appears cancer has infested our household but that’s another story). Alvin is an inspiration because his faith never wavers despite many hardships of his own over the years. Shortly after Larry’s prayer, Alvin was on our doorstep wanting to pray with me as well. Like Larry’s, Alvin’s prayer began with thanks. Lesson reinforced, in a gracious, genuinely caring way. This is the hand of God through people who truly love you and one another here, in this world.
Others have offered support via their many and unique networks. Through colleagues and friends I’m suddenly on multiple prayer lists of all denominations. My sister-in-law wrote: “I got the Carmelites in Colorado and Little Sisters of the Poor in New York praying for you.” A cousin wrote: Got an army of Unitarians, Catholics, Protestants of all flavors, Jews, and Earth-goddesses praying and doing their things on your behalf. I have a spiritually diverse group of friends!” Lesson learned: People care everywhere, and want to support those who need them.
Now here’s the ultimate lesson from my talk today: This story is not about me. It’s about you. All of you. I’m just the vehicle for the message. What I’ve learned is that our requests are answered to benefit the many, not the one. All those prayer requests that have gone out on my behalf are helping to heal the ones who asked, not just me. I don’t know what my own outcome will be. For now, I choose not to contemplate it. It’s easier simply to take each step as it comes. But by healing me—whatever way that may be—God is healing you also, because you asked. And therein lies the joy.
Thanks be to God.
- Sara Bryan, June 25 2016