As I had my coffee with Jesus this morning, a regular routine for me, I once again dipped into a small book called The Gift of Presence: A Guide to Helping Those Who Suffer. This book is written by Joe E. Pennel, Jr. The author is also known as Bishop Pennel of the United Methodist Church. Some years ago he was the bishop of the Virginia Annual Conference.
The Gift of Presence was a gift to me just about the time that I had begun Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and was working as an associate chaplain at Winchester Medical Center (WMC). This was part of a year long training program. I kept the book in my pocket during the six hours that I spent at WMC each week. Whenever I had a few minutes I would open it and drink of it’s wisdom so soundly based on a strong biblical foundation.
I would like to share some of Bishop Pennel’s contemplation of the ministry of presence over the next few weeks starting with chapter one. In this chapter, the Bishop writes in the first sentence “The teachings of Jesus encourage us to reach out to those who suffer.” (p 15) Then he uses the story of the Good Samaritan as an example from Luke 10:30-37. (I invite you to take a moment and read this story again. Most of you have read the story, but I encourage you to revisit the story.)
Bishop Pennel reminds us that this story says we do not have “permission to pass by on the other side as did the priest and Levite.” Instead we are called to be the neighbor, the Samaritan neighbor, “who stops and cares for those who are wounded and broken down by life.” (p. 16)
We might ask, as the Bishop does, how do we become a neighbor like the Samaritan who stopped and cared for the desperate person stranded on a lonely road. The answer is in what we have been talking about over the past few Sundays as we explored chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. It is through the indwelling of Christ. That is to say in the terms of Jesus, “Abide in me as I abide in you…I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5). So in Christ, we can offer the presence of Christ, as the fruit of our faith, to those whom we meet along the road, and to whom we can be a neighbor.
Bishop Pennel also points out to us in this story that the Samaritan does not just feel sorry for the naked and beaten man lying on the side of the road. The Samaritan is moved to go to the side of the man, to offer real help to the man. Thus the Bishop writes: “So, a good Samaritan is anyone who offers the kind of embodied help that flows from a heart that is filled with the love of Christ. It is the kind of help that carries a price tag. It costs something.”
At the end of this chapter one, Bishop Pennel tells us that such caring is in two forms, organized and individual. At Greenwood we have examples of both. The prayer chain and the visitation team are two examples of organized caring. With the prayer chain we keep tabs on each other, and each others family, as well as our those to whom we are a neighbor. We then can offer up our prayers of intercession, as well as know who we need to visit, or to call, or to send a card or letter. The visitation team visits both the sick and ill as well as the home bound – some who are members of our church, some who are members of our community – it doesn’t make a difference. Some months the handful of faithful members of this team will offer sixty hours of visitation. But even that isn’t always enough. The harvest is plentiful and more help is needed in the fields of caring of our Lord.
We also have some who reach out as individuals. I praise God for their Christ-likeness and the good work that God does in their being present to others in their times of need. All of them do so out of having known their own suffering, and through that suffering Christ taught them how to use it for what they can offer to others who suffer too. Again the harvest is plentiful and more help is needed in the fields of caring.
So let Christ abide in you, and you abide in Christ. And as that happens, may God use you for his ministry to the suffering as good neighbors in Christ. If you are not already a part of our prayer chain let me know and we will see that you can participate. And if you would like to work with the visitation team contact Ed Lambert. And please continue to not bypass the wounded and beaten folks along your journey. Be the neighbor who will offer Christ to them.