I suspect you are all wondering what I am doing this morning, asking some of you to stand and some of you to remain sitting, changing hymns at the drop of the hat. Well, worry not. I have not lost the plot, although if Gill was here this morning she would probably disagree with that statement!
Also I would think you feel sorry for Sandy’s having to change hymns and play one he has not practised. This is not the case. Sandy had been made aware well in advance and it was always my intention to sing Love Divine.
All these things that have happened have been carefully planned and will be explained in this meditation. You see what I want to talk about is being in charge of things and ourselves. When I spoke to the children I gave the example of a game to show that the leader in that game was in charge. There was another game we played called O’ Grady Says. I am sure you all played this game in some form or another. You could do only what you were told to do if the leader or person in charge said “O’ Grady says”. For instance, if they said “O’ Grady says scratch your ear,” you would do it. But if the leader just said “scratch your ear,” you should not do it. If you did, you were out of the game until everyone else had been caught. So the leader in that game and in the one I spoke of earlier was always in charge.
I stand before you this morning as the session clerk, church treasurer pro tempore, church presbytery rep, general dog’s body and today your worship leader, which, in reality, means that today I am in charge and what I have done this morning is just exercising the fact that I am in charge and doing what I want to do.
But it is not ‘being in charge’ that I want to talk about. All through our lives we all want to be in charge of things particularly when they affect us. Several years ago when I went into hospital to undergo surgery I started to ask questions. I asked the surgeon just what he was going to do and what complications there might be. When the anaesthetist checked me over, I asked how I would feel when I came round. I asked the sister if I would wake up with a tube in my arm and whether there would be any strange bits of plumbing that I didn’t normally carry around with me.
Now, some folks do not want to know these details, but the more I know the better I feel. Yet no matter however much of a manager you are, there are times when you are no longer in charge and you have to surrender control to other people. It’s all a question of trust, especially in hospital.
But not only there; outside in the ordinary world, too, like your trusting me to do the best for the church here in Lamlash with the jobs that I have undertaken.
For some people though, that is easier said than done.
I am lucky that my trust has not been abused like some folks’ has, but you can only live in relationships by trusting. Of course you must ask questions, but in the end you must have trust. As I went down to the operating theatre, some words of an old saint came to mind. In one of her visions, Jesus said to mother Julian of Norwich:
and all shall be well
and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well.
It did not mean that everything would be instantly or magically all right, but whatever happened to you, you could trust God to be with you, helping you to cope and promising that, in one way or another, he would bring something good out of it. The next day after my operation and back in the main ward, as the nurse came through the doors, she asked me how I was this morning. Then the sister came and asked what sort of night I had had and whether I got much sleep. An hour later, the surgeon came in and asked how I was feeling and to tell me everything had gone according to plan. And so it went with my wife, my children, my minister and my friends, all concerned for my wellbeing, caring and following my progress, either as professionals or friends and loved ones. All asking questions about me and my health; pretty gratifying in one sense, but there was a down side to it.
It encouraged me to concentrate on myself. Everything that happened in hospital seemed to revolve round me, and when anyone came in to see to me it was very easy to slip into the habit of talking about myself and nothing else. Once I realised what was happening, whenever anyone came I tried to be first in asking how they were, and tried to listen to their answer, centring your life on yourself is not a very good idea, it makes you to selfish. You have got to get hold of something else, some other purpose and look outwards. As Paul said:
“look not only to your own interest but also at the interest of others.”
It’s not easy to do it, but when Paul wrote that, he was in prison for his faith, and that’s a lot worse than being laid up in hospital.
As I recuperated, I watched a beech tree for three days from my window at my bedside. There was not much else to see, and when the only other thing you can do is sleep, read, listen to the radio or watch TV, a beech tree becomes very interesting. It was a beautiful tree, its tall elegant silver grey trunk powdered with green lichen. And, of course, it moved, its branches swaying in the wind. Over the next three days, I watched its hard tight buds develop into crinkly leaves, just beginning to show that light green that makes spring come alive. It was a lovely sight. Now, that tree had been pruned at some time; a couple of branches had been taken off, but smooth calluses had grown over the wounds and they too were beautiful in a way. That was reassuring after surgery. And as I watched, the tree began to talk to me. No, this was not the delayed effect of the anaesthetic; it said to me:
“you know, whatever is happening to you, the world is still out there getting on with life.”
The sun comes up each day; the rain comes down most afternoons (especially here on Arran!), it was after all April and nature was doing its own thing. It also reassured me that something, someone, is still in charge, that there is a power for good which we call God at work, creating, sustaining and restoring our world and our lives. And if that sometimes involves a bit of pruning, so be it. The beech tree also taught me that nothing stays the same, that in three days, buds turn to leaves, and in three days new life can become reality, just as it did at Easter.
It does not matter how much you think you are in charge. There is a greater power that really is in charge of our lives.