MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART,
BE ACCEPTABLE TO YOU, O LORD, MY ROCK AND MY REDEEMER. AMEN.
- INTRODUCTION: Well, you’ll all probably be wondering what on earth John’s doing
up here at this point in the service, when you were looking forward to settling down to a sermon from Nick or one of the other members of the clergy team.
For those of you who I haven’t met before, I’m John Troughton and I’ve been a member of the family of St James’ since moving to Louth about 10 years ago. Coming to Louth back then felt like coming home, and the same applies to my joining the congregation here at St James’. So you are all very special to me.
So, just what am I doing up here, – and what am I going to talk about?
Well, just over a year ago I was told that I had a terminal medical condition. I would like to share with you some of the experiences I have had since then, and explain how my faith has helped me to respond.
In modern parlance, this is an invitation to join me on that ‘journey’ – except that I’ve never been that keen on the use of the word in that context. It always sounds like one of those TV adverts for Lloyds Bank with the horse galloping along and then the actress Julie Walters appearing and intoning ‘For the Journey’.
So getting back to what I want to talk about this morning, there are really 2 key elements:
First, I have long felt that it’s very strange that our communal prayers so often seem like Request Lists, and so rarely do they contain heartfelt praise and thanksgiving to God – the sort of spontaneous outpouring of gratitude for all that we have been given.
And Secondly, it gives me the chance to tell you what an important part you and your
prayers have played in carrying me through the most extraordinary time of my life.
- THE BAD NEWS: So that’s what I’m here to talk about, and I’ve called the next section The Bad News.
I don’t want to dwell too long on the medical details of all this, but suffice to say that on 13th August last year (it’s strange how some dates stick in one’s mind), I found myself sitting in a consulting room in Grimsby Hospital with my wife, Janice, on my left, the doctor behind his desk in front, and, rather disconcertingly, a MacMillan nurse sitting next to me on my right after apparently appearing from nowhere.
‘ I’m afraid it’s not good news’ the Doctor said as I waited to be given the results of various scans and biopsy investigations.
And over the next 5 minutes or so he explained that I had a fairly rare type of malignant tumour in the upper lobe of my right lung. In addition there were 3 enlarged Lymph Nodes in my chest area which ruled out surgery as a potential solution.
I don’t know whether any of you have experienced receiving news like this, but I’ve heard it described as like being hit by a train going at 100mph or being struck by sledgehammer – your head is filled with a million disconnected thoughts and all the time the Doctor is continuing to talk about the diagnosis. Odd words and expressions like ‘Palliative care’ and ‘Maintaining a good quality of life’ penetrated the fog of my thoughts.
As I wandered away when the meeting had finished and I had gathered a very rough understanding of how I was going to be treated over the next few weeks, my main thoughts were :
- Is this really happening to me? I had never needed to bother any of my GPs during my adult life?
( A word of warning here – I had never felt any pain prior to diagnosis or any other unusual symptoms, just a general feeling of fatigue and an awareness of physical weakness.)
After Googling my condition (as you do!) It said:
‘Typically presented at late stage by men aged 65 to 75 years.’
So if in any doubt – see your GP.
- How is poor Janice going to deal with the shock of all this?
- If this doesn’t test my faith, then nothing will.
Let me say right now that this was the LOW POINT and that since then things have
been getting better – not just medically but mainly in reorienting myself to face
the real world out there rather than turning inwards towards self – pity and
- HOW BEST TO RESPOND?: Because I am retired and I don’t have to go out to work every day, I have time to think. After only a little while I decided to focus on 3 main areas to guide me through all this confusion:
- PRAYER: I was, and still am, only too aware of how miserable my efforts at personal, spontaneous, prayer are. I listen to others and marvel at how the thoughts enter their heads and come from their mouths in such a moving and convincing way. I knew that I had to learn how to pray, how to come before God, and how to hold silence and listen to him.
I jumped at the chance to have my name added to the Prayer List here in St James’, for those in need or distress. This became a real source of comfort.
- FAITH: Next came Faith
If you are very uncertain just how much time you have left, it certainly concentrates the mind! I was determined to re-examine my faith to be sure that it was grounded in conviction and not just based in habit. In other words, I wasn’t just going through the motions.
I read the Gospels seeking out examples of faith, especially those based in healing as is so often the case.
There were 2 examples from Matthew’s Gospel (my personal favourite) which I have always loved. They are told in a passage after Matthew has been called by Jesus who is then sitting down to eat in Matthew’s house.
Jesus began by explaining that he had come amongst them to support the poor and disadvantaged:
‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’.
Then, as he continues to talk, a leader of the local synagogue comes in and kneels before him. This is an important man, a pillar of the community, who is entering a tax collector’s house – a tax collector, one of the most despised members of society.
The man explains that his daughter has just died and then he adds:
‘Come and lay your hand on her, and she will live’.
And Jesus got up and followed him.
And then, in the middle of all this, the story changes. Matthew tells us:
‘Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for 12 years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well’. Jesus turned and seeing her he said ‘Take heart daughter, your faith has made you well’. And instantly the woman was made well.’
The passage then reverts straight back to the synagogue leader’s daughter. It says:
‘When Jesus came to the house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said:
‘Go away, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping’
And they laughed at him.
But when the crowd had been put aside , he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And Matthew finishes by saying ‘And the report of this spread throughout the district.’ I BET IT DID!
Both parts of this passage are examples of absolute faith displayed by people at opposite ends of the social spectrum of the time. We have the leader of the synagogue contrasted with the woman who has been suffering for years and would have been regarded as ritually unclean. She would have been a social pariah.
I have tried to imagine what it must have been like to witness this scene all those years ago. The heat of the day, the dust being kicked up by a crowd of hundreds of people eager to see Jesus, and also beginning to mourn for the girl who has just died. The woman who Jesus heals must have been very poor and entirely on her own as she desperately tries to push through the crowd to get close to Jesus who would have been surrounded by his disciples anxious to protect him from the crowd milling around him.
She touches Jesus’ cloak, and instantly he swings round – he knows what has happened.
And then he shows all the love and compassion imaginable as she is healed.
When I feel the faith lived out in this passage I realise that I have a long, long way to go and much work still to do.
- LOVE: This brings me to my third source of inspiration: and that is LOVE.
A few years ago during the vacancy period before Nick joined us, Reverend Ian Chisholm who did so much to hold this church together during this difficult time, asked me to read at the Carols For All service. He selected a passage which I have never forgotten, and which I tend to go to when I’m in need of inspiration. It comes from John’s First Epistle, and reads as follows:
‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God, everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way; God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought to love one another. God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.’
What more inspiring words could we want?
So whenever I meet people now I try to remember the commandment – Little Children, you are to love one another.
And I pray that God will live in me – and me in God.
- THE RESULT: So where has all this taken me? Of course, I have fallen far short of my highest hopes, but the 15 months which have followed that awful moment in Grimsby Hospital have been quite extraordinary.
I have waited for treatment in rooms with people who are frightened, angry, confused, bewildered and desperately ill. And yet they respond to love – sometimes even with a smile.
They say that the most important quality for any patient suffering from cancer is ALWAYS TO BE POSITIVE. I think it would be better to say:
‘Always show the love of God within you to everyone you meet.’
You will feel yourself being restored by it – it’s the best treatment you can ever get.
Quite early on after receiving my diagnosis I sought a second opinion from a consultant who said:
‘There is no magic bullet that I can offer for treating your condition’.
I felt inspired to say:
‘Yes, but I have strong faith,
I have an army of good people praying for me – including you, my friends,
And I have my wife, Janice, in my corner.’
What more do I need other than God’s love – and I know for certain that I’ve got that.
Last Monday was a wonderful day for me – I had my 5th CT Scan Report Review Meeting and was told that the treatment I had received earlier this year had been successful., and there was no evidence of any deterioration – in fact, things have greatly improved. And I can also say that I feel better and stronger than I have for a very long time.
I’m not cured – nobody uses that word in the world of cancer treatment. We all know that even if it’s entirely dormant it can come back at any time.
I’m not even ‘in remission’ – yet!
But compared to the place I found myself in a year ago – I know I’m on my way!
The part which you and your prayers have played in helping me reach where I am today cannot be exaggerated. And it’s so important to offer my thanks to you for all you have done – for your interest, your concern, your kindness – YOUR LOVE, as well as your prayers.
And surely it must be right to offer thanks and praise to God at this time too.
Some weeks ago, as I began to feel stronger and healthier I decided to ask to be taken off the prayer list. I did this so that I could go on the newly created list of Thanksgiving for recovery for Illness. I pray that many more will follow me.
Who knows what the future holds, but with Prayer, Faith and Love I know that I’m well equipped to face it.
So let me close now with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God our Father:
We thank you for being our refuge and our strength,
We thank you that, no matter what the circumstances, we can count on you
To shelter us and give us strength,
We thank you that, even if things around us seem to crumble, you are always with us,
Always loving us,
In Jesus’ name we pray,