Standing on the Edge Looking Back – After a Heart Attack

I had been scheduled to preach in Pastor Greg’s place on January 8. Since my heart attack of the 1st was successfully treated on the 2nd and I felt pretty good by Wednesday the 4th, we decided to keep me on the schedule.

But my original topic (“Justice” in Jesus and Isaiah) was reduced to a cursory survey, and we spent some minutes together considering some things that went through my mind (and Connie’s) on the Sunday and Monday prior.

Here’s a summary from memory (skipping part I, the Intro):

II. Our Little Drama Sunday through Wednesday.

I know some people sitting here have been through a lot more trauma – and fear – than Connie and I went through Sunday and Monday. I’m not pretending my case is anything special. But on the other hand, it’s not every week a guy has a heart attack. It seems it might be appropriate to point out some of the things I thought about during those hours.

A. Contingency – You Never Really Know

Human life is very contingent. That means that my survival depends considerably on my own will and choices, but it also depends on a whole host of other factors that are beyond my control. We had no reason to expect a heart attack for me in the foreseeable future. It’s a very sobering experience to feel such pain and to find yourself saying, “I wonder if I’m having a heart attack!” We “know” from our culture that heart attacks are fairly often fatal, so admitting that you are having one is admitting that you may be on the very edge of the next world. That does kind of change the look of things.

The odds are very high that we will all still be in this world tomorrow night, but we do NOT know for sure that we will. That’s just one of the facts of life. And it IS certain that the day will eventually come when we will NOT be here 24 hours from that day. I don’t think it’s a bad idea for Christians to think explicitly about that now and then.

B. How do You Want to Have Lived?

Lying helpless on my back in the ambulance on the way to Kearney I knew Connie was following somewhere behind us, wondering what was going on in the ambulance. She and I knew it was possibly my last trip east down those familiar roads. There were lots of unknowns, but lying there watching the heart monitor I was able to pin down a couple of facts.

For one thing, I was glad to realize that there were no secrets or unpleasant facts that would later come out to hurt Connie – and other people important to me – if I were soon to step off into another world. That’s important.

For another, I quizzed myself a little. “What have I been doing with my time? What have I been concerned about over the last months and even years? Have these life-investments, especially my most recent ones, really been made in accordance with what is most valuable to me? With what is most valuable in how I see the universal scale of things?”

That’s a big and difficult question. And no doubt there are many choices I could improve if I could redo them, and many acts that could have been more effectively performed. But in general the answer was, “Yes. The things I’ve been investing my life in really do matter, and I’m not regretting having put my energies where I have put them.” It was a comfort to see and know that.

Three hundred years ago a book was popular by the title of “Holy Living, and Holy Dying.” In those days death was a much more public phenomena. It did not happen behind closed doors of medical facilities, and it often happened at a much earlier age than is likely today. The focus of his book was that if we want our last hours to be “holy” or “good”, we need to be living in light of that desire. The way you live is likely to have an effect on the emotions and atmosphere at the time of your dying. I don’t think it’s bad for Christians to think about those connections before they become realities.

So an ongoing question has to be, “Am I living like I’ll want to have lived if I suddenly realize it’s over?”

C. Wherever You Go, Bring Some “Home” There

Last week Pastor Greg talked about “the Kingdom,” and its function of altering our lifestyles in response to Greater Realities. He’s been talking for several weeks about the Kingdom and the Gospel as providing us with our real “Home”, and ended last week with an encouragement to all of us to “take a little Home” with us wherever we go in this world. I did think of that – in the ER, the ambulance, and the hospital. Those people serving me did not need for me to bring a little bit of hell to them! Admittedly, I was a bit crabby by the time we got to the ER. But I did try to bring a little “Home” wherever I went.

D. Thinking Members: We Really Do Need Each Other

It was so impressive seeing such an array of people kick into high gear bringing the maximum of their training and experience to bear on my situation. They did not wait for me to quiz them on the intricacies of their theology, or how they treat their family members, or whether the schools they went to were properly accredited and respected. Nor did they ask such questions of me. They just brought to bear what they knew was needed at the moment, and they did it with focus and with high skill.

Is it surprising that I was thankful for all that?

The 17th C French Christian philosopher (and mathematician) Blaise Pascal wrote in his “Pensees” about “thinking members.” All the parts (members) of our bodies work together with incredible coordination and mutual support, and – being non-thinking members – they don’t even realize the beauty, subtlety, and power of the project they are involved with. What if you could have a body of “thinking members” who actually realized what was going on – and voluntarily and delightedly participated?

Of course if one member then decided to start hoarding nourishment “that would not be love.” But if each was really looking out to fulfill its own role, and to provide for the welfare of the rest – that would indeed be a thing of beauty and power.

Well, that’s what God made – and makes – by arranging for human beings to function together in society, whether in general or in the specialized societies that constitute churches or medical facilities. All that high-intellect, high-tech, and usually high-energy effort on my behalf was a powerful illustration of the value of bodies of thinking members!

We really do need each other. We don’t need everybody doing the same thing. We need different people doing different things, and doing them well – and nobody “hoarding nourishment,” and nobody screwing the members farther down or up the line. And that applies in schools, homes, churches, city governments, and ALL the places where our mutual welfare depends on our mutual cooperation and responsibility. We really do need each other.

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