13 Nov - “What God taught me this week”

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					                               “What God taught me this week”
(Note. This was the hardest sermon that I have ever preached. I sat down on a stool, because I didn’t trust myself standing, and many
times choked on the words. While this was unorthodox, these words touched a lot of people that day. It was an honour to share these
events with the people of God. Our stories continue to strengthen each other. May God bless us all)

I’m going to do something different this morning. I’m going to tell you what God taught me this week. As a professional,
I’m not meant to work out my stuff on you; but I figure that I’ve been here 3 years, and going to be here a lot longer, that
you’ll let 1 sermon like this get by!
After service last week, Pastor Tim said to me that as a Senior Pastor will soon be here, he will really miss coming to
Prince of Peace. He said he has a real affinity for us, and he loves coming out here. We then went out to a friend’s
house for Sunday Lunch. It was great – there is nothing quiet like relaxing in the company of friends. We then went to
our monthly game of Soccer down on the oval – I wasn’t that well; but it was one of the best soccer games we have had.
If you haven’t tried our monthly soccer game down on the oval; then it’s worth checking it out.
Tuesday was fairly normal; though our new leaders team met for the first time. The leaders decided to implement a
Team Handbook for each of our teams here at Prince of Peace. On Wednesday was the funeral of Norma’s Husband,
Alex. It was humbling to see how careful Norma was to honour Alex’s memory. Norma got through the service with the
help of family and friends. I had a good talk with the family, and it was a great service that helped deal with the grief –
you can’t ask more from a funeral. Norma was just happy that a Scotsman was able to bury a Scotsman. And in a
Lutheran Church too! [light a candle for Alex to symbolise his life]. That night we had a wedding rehearsal for Saturday.
As I was chatting to the father of the bride, he told me of his battle with cancer. It’s been a tough road for him. He can’t
work as he used to, He doesn’t know where the road will end. [light a candle for Henry to symbolise his fight for life]
Thursday started like any other day off; until I got a phone call. Not long after, I got another phone call. Stephanie
Zanuttini a girl in year 4 had contracted a virus in the brain and was in a coma. Clayton Eiby is Stephanie’s teacher. I got
there and the nurse told me that she was brain dead - that she was gone. A Pentecostal pastor was praying that she
would be raised, so I found myself at the intersection of reality and hope – it’s an interesting place to be. On one hand
believing that God can intervene, that he has raised little girls before; but on the other; knowing that everyday people die,
even 9 year old girls. Within 12 hours of Stephanie feeling sick, she was dead. They don’t know what it was, and will find
out soon hopefully.
A family meeting was called, so they left and the Social worker said I looked pale, and so I went for a walk, and visited
Oman Obonno. Oman was in isolation, so I could only see him through a window, but I spoke to Awar, his mum. [light a
candle for Oman]. The nursing staff are really happy with Oman’s progress, but that day was a bad one for him – he had
blood in his vomit. Oman is 8 weeks old and he has spent 7 of them in hospital. But I spent time talking to Awar, we
talked about her boredom as she has not left his side in the 7 weeks. We spoke about Gak, her son who died last year,
we prayed and then I left to go back to Stephanie.
On the walk back to the paediatrics ICU I reflected. Did this day cause me to doubt God? Actually No. For those of you
who know me, you know that doubt doesn’t worry me. Doubt is something that the sceptic in me has to live with, in fact,
many times, I enjoy living with doubt. But day’s like that didn’t cause me to doubt God. I doubt God when the church
has small vision, I doubt God when Christians deal with conflict in negative ways; but death and grief don’t cause me to
doubt God. The God that we teach about is actually at home among suffering. The God that we bear witness to is
probably more comfortable in suffering than in the glorious. Our God is at home in the cross. And it’s in the horrors of
the cross that most of us meet God, not in the miraculous. If you really think about that, it’s true. The way I see it is that
either we choose to suffer with God, or we choose to suffer without God. I choose to suffer with God. I choose to bring
the suffering God; the only suffering God that exists – you see there are other God’s; but none who have suffered like we
have. I chose to bring that God into my suffering.
My return visit to Stephanie took on a different flavour. I sat there for, well I don’t know how long – time has no meaning
in days like that; but probably for an hour maybe an hour and a half. Just being there. Just sitting beside the body of this
beautiful little girl. Just holding Tina’s hand (Steph’s Mum) in support. At first I had no words. Words are inappropriate at
times like this. But as she journeyed through grief, my job was to move Tina from shock, from denial, to some sort of
acceptance. We talked about how Stephanie was. The funny things she said and did. I told her that I remembered
saying Goodbye, I remembered saying, “Have a good holidays” to Stephanie at the end of term; Stephanie replied with
her trademark gorgeous smile. We talked about funerals. We talked a little about life without her daughter. We teetered
from inexpressible grief, wailing, crying to laughter. Many times I had nothing to give except my presence and my tears.
But those two things are the only things that count.
Stephanie was being prepared for the final test to make doubly sure that she had no brain activity. I offered to give
Stephanie a final blessing, Tina jumped at the chance. So I placed my hand on her head, blessed her and we prayed.
I’m not sure that Tina will remember what she prayed at that time, at about 3.25 last Thursday afternoon; but it was one
of the most awesome prayers I have ever heard. She thanked God that Stephanie had taught her to love; she thanked
God that she was able to be a parent to a wonderful child. She pleaded with God to breath life back into this child; but
exhausted, we simply said, Lord, your will be done… not in the sense that God’s will was that Stephanie would die; God
is not the author of death; but in the sense of letting go; of simply asking God to be with us all in this horrible of times. I
left, and as I left squeezed Stephanie’s little foot that was poking out of the blanket as a final goodbye. Stephanie’s life
support was turned off at 10.30 that next morning. [light a candle for Stephanie]

As a response to the 2 phone call I got that day, I left the Royal Brisbane and went to the PA hospital where I was
greeted by the Lutheran Pastor from Wandoan. His stepdaughter was hit by a car in Chinchilla Wednesday night; and
by the time I got the PA, was brain dead as well. She was 19 years of age. Her name was Kristin. I was involved
because Kristen’s sister has just recently linked up with our church.
Kristen was going home from work late Wednesday night, when she was hit by a young driver who didn’t see her. When
I met Kristen and Sirelle’s dad, Roy; he was wondering around the hospital in a daze. Again, my job is to ask the tough
questions, to acknowledge the impossible loss he was suffering, to talk about funerals, and to hear the pain that a father
experiences in time like this. At one point, I acknowledged the unwritten rule that a father was meant to die before their
children. There is no way through a tragedy like this other than pain. It’s best to acknowledge the pain, to talk about it,
to feel it. The similarities in the 2 families were astounding, both suffering unexpected loss. Her life support was turned
off at 8.30 Thursday night [light candle for Kristen].. That night, I play tennis with some mates. I told them what had
happened; and I got a lot of my rage out by smacking the living spit out of that little ball. Now I’m not a great tennis
player, but I didn’t drop a set that night!
I’m going to go back to last Sunday. At the 10.30 service I made myself available for Prayer, care and conversation. I
was reading the Bible and I read something that stuck to me. I’m not sure what book it’s in; I think it was an Old
Testament prophet. So in a sense, I’m preaching on a text that I don’t know where it comes from. But it said, and let me
loosely translate it, “God; you did all those cool things years ago. Do it again for me today. Why don’t you want to?”
There’s the burning bush, there’s the Red Sea trick, there’s Mount Carmel; there’s the manna in the desert. God you
have done all these things; what about doing something now? Interesting that these thoughts are not new – that even in
Bible times, God’s people felt abandoned by God and we often feel the same. It’s all here in God’s story of his broken
people. I slept soundly that night, and slept in the next morning.
Friday Afternoon was the wedding of Natasha and David, 2 young people from our church. It was an awesome
celebration. It was a happy day. As they were married, as they stood at the altar, the events of the week made me ask
excellent questions. What will the future hold for these 2? What experiences will they be asked to go through? No one
knows; and as Mel would say, we do not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. [we light a
candle for Dave and Tash – a candle of hope]. During afternoon tea, someone commented on the Team Manuals that
we have produced; and asked if they could use it at their church. Anything for the kingdom I replied.
Saturday Morning I went shopping for shoes for the kids; and then we held another wedding. I finished off my sermon
before the wedding; the wedding went well, we had some fun, I thanked Carlene and Stuart for their work preparing the
couple for marriage. [we light a candle for Mathew, Alana and their boy Byron]
Well - that’s my week – not a typical week; but a blessed one. It is both hard, but truly a privilege to be involved in
people lives in these most incredible way. Apart from medical staff, who have no emotional or at least no long term
connection with these families, beside the bodies of these 2 girls, there were only family, very close friends, and me –
their pastor. Thank you for letting me your pastor so that I can have this privilege. When I am in a place like this, I am in
there on behalf of you all.
And that is a privilege above all things. If any of you want to train to be a pastor to be able to have the privilege that I
have; if you are, at this stage, a male between 10 and 50 years old, and see this as your life; then make sure that you
talk to me some time about training to be a pastor. If you would like to know what you are doing in situations like these,
you can be trained as a Pastoral Carer. Pastoral Carers ask questions that everyone else are trying to avoid, pastoral
carers seek out grief and emotion when everyone else is trying to suppress it. Pastoral Carers listen to people story.
One of our Sunday morning worshippers Sue Wilton, and another one of our Friday chapel worshippers have done this
course. Sue has been employed as a school chaplain, and gets the privilege of Pastoral Care every day.
But yes, it’s been a tough week, but I don’t want your sympathies after service; we all have tough weeks now and again,
save that for the families; feel free to pray for me; especially as I meet today at 2.00 with Stephanie’s parents to plan
something that parents of a nine year old should not have to plan. It will be a tough meeting. Pray that my family and I
will have a great weekend off next weekend.
Pray that God will not let unfair things happen to us, pray for Norma, Stephanie’s family, Sirelle, Oman, Dave and Tash,
Henry and Alana and Matt. Pray for each other. God calls our name. He has called the name of each of these 7 families
in a different way. He was called your name this week, surly – even if you haven’t heard it. We are broken people, living
in a broken world. Lets reflect on God’s presence in this world through a song called, “Call your name”. [play Movie ‘Call
my Name’ – The Lads]
Prayer. Lord, we don’t’ understand life. I’m not if that is our task. But it is our task to live our lives to the best of our ability, it is our task
to leave this world a better place than when we found it, it is our task to journey with others so that their load is lightened. Lord, we
thank you for calling our name, we thank you for claiming us as your own. Amen.

Andrew McLean That week in September 2005 (AP20)
                                                         All sermons at Prince of Peace can be found on the web www.princeofpeace.org.au


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