After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
~ Luke 5:27 - 32
Over the weekend I was at the bedside of five patients as they died. Three of the families I had never met, as they were being cared for by other teams, but because I was on call, and the situation called for a chaplain to visit, I was the person designated to visit the patient.
A lot of things go through your mind as you make your way to the bedside of someone you know is in the final hours of life.
While I can read about the patient's history and about the person's faith in their medical records, meeting someone on the day of their death is an extraordinary experience.
I was working at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, Kentucky, during my first hospital chaplaincy experiences. Ted Hodges, my supervisor, had assigned me to care for patients on the cardiac unit in the hospital. Every time I got off the elevator to head to the unit, I would often take the long way around, walking by the window where you could see the newborn babies.
It didn't take long until I learned that the day of a person's birth was just as important as the day a person died.
We see the importance of new life. Ballons and signs welcoming the person into the world and into a family.
On the other side, I would often help people gather what personal belongings they had brought to the hospital, and watched as those who had visited the dying patient said their "good byes."
Sometimes I long for that view of newborns in the window when I arrive at the home of someone who is dying for the first time. I often look at photos displayed as I enter someone's home for the first time, and get glimpses of the life of the person who has lived, and now is preparing to leave.
Even with the best of notes shared in a chart, the deathbed is always unique and different.
I remember being with someone who had been an avid reader and learner, telling me, that even on her last day of life, God was continuing to work in her life, and that God was teaching her how to die.
For many of us, change occurs just as easy as the sun going down one day, and the sunrise of the next. However, it is not that way for all people.
The man Levi had lived a full life, and had a career. It was important for him to change when he began to follow Jesus. The name change to Matthew was a daily reminder to him and to us all that life in Christ is full of moments where we die unto one thing, and bring forth life into another.
While our physical birth and physical death will be recorded on a piece of stone one day, the times that we have changed, or become more of who God is calling us to be, are endless. Being open to that change is what we call faith.
It is what marks our entire life, from the day we take our first breath, to the surrender of our last. Change is important in all the days of our life.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.