Saturday, February 6, 2016

Expect the Unexpected

Here's the prayer I always pray before I go into the nursing home:
"Not my will, Lord, but yours be done."

I also pray it before going into the big VA hospital up here in Seattle. Every Saturday morning I spend an hour or two sitting with "Pastor Brown," a man who used to be a resident at the Community Care Center (CCC) and now lives with family.  Unbelieving family.  He covets our Saturday visits, prayer, and talking about what the Lord is doing in our lives.

This morning as I was going out the door I saw the box of my pre-filled Communion cups left over from last week’s CCC communion service and said, “I should take Pastor Brown communion.”  So I put two cups in my bag. I was going down the steps when  I had a thought, and I went back up and threw in a third cup, just on a whim.

The way the dialysis unit is set up, there are a series of double cubicles; a single space with two reclining chairs facing each other  about 8 ft apart and a curtain that can be pulled in between for privacy (but rarely is).  Today the fellow in the opposite chair was someone I hadn’t seen before, so I smiled briefly at him and sat down with Pastor Brown. 

We started out our visit with prayer, as always.  He reaches out from under his blanket and I take his hand and we pray over our week and our friends and just praise the Lord. Pastor Brown prays loud, being Pentecostal.  Our friend Al (One of the dialysis techs who is a brother in the Lord) was there, so we prayed a blessing over Al. 

After prayer we visited for a while and it looked like Pastor Brown was going to fall asleep, and I rethought my plan to have communion.  But I’m a firm believer in “Why not?” as a guiding force of ministry, so I asked him if he wanted to take Communion.  “Oh yes,” he said in his Georgia drawl. “I surely would.”  So while I got out my Bible and supplies, Al came over and was talking to the other guy.  “Hey!  You’re back! I haven’t seen you in a while!”

And the other guy said, very loudly, “Well, the LORD….pulled me through.”

He was clearly announcing his allegiance, having heard us praying.  Al said, “So do you know the Lord?”

“Oh yes. Yes I do – I’ve known Him for a number of years.”

Al gave him a fist-bump.  “Me too, brother!”

And I piped up from across the way, “Us too!”

Al shook his head, saying, “MMmmmm, Mmmmm. MMmm. This is a holy corner,” and I pointed an imperious finger at him and shot back “Take off your sneakers, Al, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!”

And we all busted up laughing.  Laughter is rare in dialysis, and everyone started poking their heads around their curtains to see what was going on.

I said to Al, “Hey, I’ve brought Pastor Brown communion. Would you like to partake with us?” He sometimes joins us in our little communion celebrations.

“I can’t,” he said with regret. “I’m crazy busy and I just don’t have time to stop.”

I saw the look on the other guy’s face and felt a familiar nudge.It made me nervous; I'm very timid around strangers. I wanted to just stay there and take communion comfortably with Pastor Brown.  But God wouldn't let me off, so I went after Al.  “Al, would it be alright if I offered Pastor Brown’s neighbor over there communion?”

Al glanced back uncertainly. “Umm...Sure…you can ask him and if he says yes, just check with the nurse to be sure.”

So I went back and asked him.  Immediately he smiled up at me.  “Oh, yes please. It’s been so long.  I can’t get out any more and nobody from my church comes to visit me. I haven’t had a chance to take communion in almost a year.”

So I asked his name and he said it was Philip.  I began by reading Isaiah 55, and then I went to John 14 and finished up in I Corinthians 11 and read the usual verse there.  Taking the wafers, I handed one to Pastor Brown and said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you, Pastor Brown.”  And to the other side, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you, Philip.”  He nodded.  Then to the cups. “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you, Pastor Brown, that through His death you might have everlasting life.”  And then over to the other side, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you, Philip, that through His death you might have everlasting life.”

He had difficulty swallowing the juice, because of the tears that were spilling down his cheeks.  He wept quietly while I was praying, and wiped his eyes and thanked me when I was done. Since I hadn’t examined his beliefs very thoroughly, I made sure to pray the gospel into the prayer.  I do this often with residents who ask for prayer, but whose beliefs I’m not exactly certain of.  It goes something like this: “Lord, thank you for my brother Philip over there. Thank you for his life, and his belief.  I don’t know exactly what he thinks about You, but I know what You think about Him, because you gave your only son…your Most Precious One….to forsake heaven and come down to earth, live a perfect life that we couldn’t ever hope to live, and die a gruesome death that we deserved, so that we could know Him and believe in Him and inherit eternal life. Forgive us, Lord, for all of our sins.  Take our lives and let them be a living prayer of thanksgiving, and let us walk in the good works You have prepared in advance for us to do, with a joyful  spirit and a grateful heart.”

I said goodbye to pastor Brown and my new-found brother and left to go to work.  But as I was walking down the dimly-lit back hallway Al stepped out from behind a doorway and stopped me. “I just wanted to thank you for that…I wish I could have joined in, but I enjoyed what I heard.  That guy...Philip...he’s been coming here for quite a while, but I never knew he was a Christian. Because you’re brave enough to come here and pray out loud like that, he was brave enough to claim Christ. And because you were brave enough to offer him communion, he could take it and enjoy it. Who knows how long it'll be before he ever has the chance again."

Four of us left dialysis like the paralytic, "Walking and leaping and praising God."  I looked back at the way God had planned this encounter from the very beginning, though I had not the slightest clue, and praised Him even more.  
"Not my will, Lord, but yours be done...." 
Not my will, indeed.