Sermon delivered at the September 20, 2014 CHI Ordination
Rev. William Sewall
As my friends and family will verify, I love to think, to ponder the complexities of life and look for answers where seemingly none are present. But the real mystery of life rests within the realm of the soul and the spirit. I’ve learned that complex logic explains little in this realm and that in matters of the soul and the spirit, it is best to keep things simple.
That is why I rise each morning guided by a few words uttered two thousand years ago when a Pharisee tried to back Jesus into a logical corner. From Mathew Chapter 22:
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
My spiritual belief boils down to loving God with all my all heart, soul and mind, and loving my neighbor as myself. It’s that simple. Everything, everything else is detail.
But then that little voice inside me, the one that loves the complexities of life, makes itself heard, “Just one little question – How, as an interfaith chaplain do you love your God and yet love each of your many different neighbors?” How can I possibly serve patients in a hospital who are Catholic, Baptist, Buddhist, Atheist, Seventh Day Adventist, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Pentecostal, Humanist or just plain lost?
Again Jesus provides a simple answer. In the third verse of the Gospel of Thomas and echoed in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, “[T]he kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.” God is not contained in a church or in some far off corner of the Universe. God is everywhere. Most importantly, God is within each one of us. And that God is based on our DNA, our life experiences, our ancestry, and our unique needs and desires.
As Joseph Campbell said, “There are as many gods as there are people thinking about God.” When I cross the threshold as a Chaplain into a patient’s room, my church is that patient’s room, and the God I serve is the God within that patient.
Let me illustrate this with a story. At the end of my first day as a chaplain intern at the Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo, I stopped off at Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries. I was tired and dazed from an overwhelming first day in the hospital. I had on my Chaplain garb – a sport coat, pressed shirt and slacks. A woman coming down the aisle complemented me on how I looked. Flattered and proud, I told her I was a chaplain intern and that I’d just left the hospital.
As we stood in the aisle she told me about her recent bout with cancer and asked me to pray with her for her healing, right then and there. We held hands and she prayed to God for healing. I prayed for God to bless her with strength and perseverance in the months ahead.
When the prayer was done we said our thank you’s and goodbyes and pushed off our carts in different directions. I found myself smiling from ear to ear. Spontaneous prayer in the frozen food section—what a gift!
All I need do is love God with all my heart, soul and mind, and love my neighbor as myself. It is that simple.
The other gift I have received, and I so much want to recognize, is the help and support over the past three years from my family and friends, from my Spiritual Director and my CPE Supervisor, from the students, faculty and administration of CHI, and from the Chaplains at the Kaiser Vallejo & Vacaville Hospitals. Only I can walk my spiritual path, but for me to believe that I can find my way alone or survive the challenges unaided would be pure lunacy.
I am a pilgrim, and to all of you who have walked with me, picked me up when I stumbled or given me a nudge in the right direction: thank you, thank you, thank you. I am truly blessed by your presence in my life.