National Donor Sabbath, November
National Donor Sabbath raises awareness with religious communities about the urgent need for people to consider giving the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.
Locally, more than 1,300 people now wait for an organ transplant. The need for transplants far exceeds the number of donations in the greater Sacramento area. Sadly, one third from our area will die waiting for a transplant. SDS is dedicated to promoting National Donor Sabbath by reaching out to you and your congregation to help raise awareness about the critical need for organ/tissue donors. We are here to help educate your congregation regarding your religion’s beliefs and traditions related to organ/tissue donation. All major religions support or permit donation and see it as an ultimate act of giving.
The second weekend of November was chosen for National Donor Sabbath because it is close to Thanksgiving and is viewed as an interfaith time to come together around an issue of life and thanksgiving. We invite you and your congregation to partner with us locally to help save lives in our community.
We encourage congregations to use the FREE educational materials represented in our Donor Sabbath Materials Catalog to support the efforts of National Donor Sabbath. Spiritual leaders and congregations in the community can play a vital role in encouraging people to learn the facts about donation and sign up to save lives at Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Registry or in Nevada. By addressing the issue of donation, you can be a catalyst for those discussions. Your role is vitally important to saving lives.
Please click here if you would like your place of worship to participate.
Please click here for a Donor Sabbath Materials Catalog to order FREE materials and information. For more information, please call or e-mail Katherine Doolittle, Public Education, 916-678-6016, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following sermons were provided as examples of what other religious and spiritual leaders have presented to their congregations. Please use these sermons as inspiration for your sermons about organ and tissue donation.
- Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus
- Baptist Sermon
- Catholic Sermon
- Roman Catholic
- Mensaje Católico Romano
- Jewish Sermon
- Reform Judaism
- Russian Orthodox
- Unitarian Universalist
- United Church of Christ
- Zen Buddhist
Reverend Leo Trevino
“Life-giver at Death’s Doorstep”
The miracle of organ transplantation has made possible what was only a few decades ago unimaginable to all but the medical field’s optimistic researchers. The chronically ill, whose lives depend on organ procurement, now have a real chance at life. Through my work in an organ procurement organization in New York, I was lucky enough to be one of those directly involved in promoting and aiding the growth of transplantation.
As anyone – patients, surgeons, donor family members, volunteers, procurement agency workers – can tell you, the quest to obtain organs and tissues is endless. Perhaps the most difficult, yet rewarding, moments during the organ and tissue donation process involves obtaining consent from grieving families for donation of their loved one’s organs. As an anatomical Gift Counselor for over eight years, I was involved in over 200 requests. These requests always came at a time of tragedy and emotional turmoil for family members, and it was difficult to convey to them the urgency and extremity of the need for organ and tissue donors which their recently deceased relatives could help meet. A new kidney, lung, heart, pancreas, skin graft, or a new cornea can mean not just a return to a functioning life, but an extension on a life that is all too often near it’s end.
Having asked the question literally hundreds of times, “Would you consider donating your loved one’s organs and tissues?” I quickly learned donor families were fulfilling a biblical mandate found in St. Matthew 19:19, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” They serve as a living example of the satisfaction that personifies the biblical attributes that make the organ and tissue donor a life-giver at death’s doorstep: self-sacrifice, good stewardship, and unselfishness.
Organ and tissue donation and transplantation is an illustration of the biblical principle of self-sacrifice. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends, even if it means giving of his own life.
In this country, we have national holidays to honor those who gave their lives for freedom. We make heroes of those who risk their own well being for the sad of others. Donating organs and tissues is also a heroic act. Donating organs is good stewardship.
Scriptures teach that we are to do good to all persons, especially those who are believers. (Galatians 6:10) Christians are encouraged to practice good stewardship in every area of life. We encourage planned giving whereby believers leave some of their estate to particular ministries following their death. Shouldn’t we be urged to make a gift of our organs also?
A Presbyterian pastor wrote: “As Presbyterians we believe in the faithful use of everything God gives us. We call it “stewardship.” Because of this we believe in making available our physical organs when we no longer have need for this body. The final and ultimate stewardship we can practice in this life is the donating of any part of our body which God can use to sustain productive life and better health of another person.”
It is a Christian’s obligation to help people when it is within his or her own power to do so. St. Paul teaches that we do not live nor die for ourselves. (Romans 14:7) As the Lord Jesus demonstrated with His own death on the cross, we live for others.
The Gift of Life reaffirms what we in the transplantation field believe is truly the “opportunity of a lifetime” – organ and tissue donation. This self-sacrificial, good stewardship, and unselfish giving is clearly among the most admirable of Christian deeds.
Reverend Archie Le Mone
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., Washington, DC
Reprinted with permission from the UNOS/SEOPF Reference Guide for Clergy
There is as much mystery about life as there is about death. In this western world of ours, we never really treat either of these realities with the respect that each of them deserves. Our acquired habits, customs and attitudes tend to make light of life and death; attempts are too frequently made to gloss over the only two certainties we have: life and death.
It is a painful exercise to watch generation after generation simultaneously disrespect life and death until each of them smacks us back into universal reality. It is no secret that social pain killers blunt life, making people think all things are made possible with chemicals, legal and otherwise, in order to cope. Then, to, there is the ultimate painkiller – suicide. Neither of these choices corresponds to understanding, living and respecting life. Both may appeal to some, but that is not an answer for many. It never has been nor will it ever be.
Life’s questions, it’s challenges, its pains, its hopes and triumphs reach beyond the immediate context of the individual, family or community. We are constantly searching for answers, though at times they are just that – answers, not solutions. Answers are not solutions, only ways to them. And in order to move toward solutions, we need life. We need life even in the middle of terrible hardship and pain. Without life there can be no answers and clearly no solutions to life’s problems and challenges.
Part of the social mean of coping with life’s hardships was the church’s emphasis on “life after death.” That the suffering “servants” need not worry about the here and now; pain is only for a season. It was said,” The heavier the burden, the brighter the crown.” Of course we know that is nonsense in its purest form. But echoes of those words are still present. For the church it is important to live and practice the understanding of life taught by Jesus in the here and now.
In the text (John 10:10) Jesus uses a metaphor for death. A thief, thief in the night, as it were. Death is like a thief – cunning, watching for another victim, universally detested. Stealing something of value, something it will never have on its own. That is like death – approaching unaware, victims largely unprepared, unexpected in the “normal” course of things.
It robs just like a thief; it robs the riches of life, health and even youth because it robs life itself. No one knows this as sharply as those who are called upon to donate a loved one’s organs after an unexpected death.
The “world” has caved in, life has been lost, the future denied and anguish is all consuming. There is no easy way to approach people in this situation of human tragedy. In actual fact, on suspects that is a matter of case-by-case, family by family.
The “miracle” of transplants is one thing. Our having the vocabulary to address grieving survivors is another. We are yet to have a full language, the words to adequately convey the transplant message except on a pathway that still is not complete.
It is almost solely through confronting reality, confronting life and death with courage and sensitivity, that we can have a vocabulary that will match the progress in transplants. This science will continue to develop; it will move on. We have to see to it that our words and our actions keep it human and move with it.
Giving permission is an act that contributes to the legacy of life. It emphasizes “life before death.” It is an act of love that gives back to others what death took away; it gives back life. Donors have been known to save as many as eight other people who would have been without hope had not the transplants taken place.
Such a gift is really treating life and death with the seriousness each demands. It, in a sense, is a celebration of life itself, another act of creation. We need to give thanks in the language of God because with each new day we can take it as God’s personal invitation to each of us on this planet earth that we have an opportunity to try and try again until we get it right. And what is it that we need so desperately to get right? That God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, that we as human beings have been ordained to have life and have it abundantly.
Reverend Dr. Ollie B. Wells, Sr.
Union Baptist Church, New York City
Reprinted with permission from New York Organ Donor Network
“After Preaching about Miracles for 32 years: Now I am a Miracle!”
I have known the Lord Jesus Christ since I was twelve years of age, when I was baptized and joined the Christian Church. In 1982, while sitting in my pulpit at the Union Baptist Church, New York City, I suffered a myocardial infarction. This heart attack scared me, my family, and my congregation. But, thanks to great medical care from my Cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Tenebaum, I recovered.
I suffered another heart attack in 1984, which resulted in my having to have triple cardiac bypass surgery, which again, thanks to God, I recovered. I did reasonably well on medications, with a few restrictions on my activities following this surgery. In 1988, I had an abdominal aortic aneurysm and I had to have an aortic graph. After this, my condition gradually declined even with strong attempts to stabilize my condition via medications, until finally on March 10, 1995, when my pressure dropped to a dangerous level and I passed out in my vascular surgeon’s office and I was admitted to the hospital.
During the spring of 1994, my cardiologist had suggested that I be evaluated for the possibility to become a candidate for a heart transplant. Still my wife, my family and I believed that that I could be maintained at a reasonable level of health and function on medication. I was evaluated and it was determined that I would be placed on the list.
When admitted to the hospital and after having been informed that I would be unable to function outside of a hospital setting until such a time as I received a new heart, my greatest worry was: how long would it take, where would this new heart come from, and what if they could not find one – what would I do then? How long could I live, or what quality of life could I expect: I was maintained in the hospital on dopamine.
As I began to think about how few people there were who were organ donors, and became aware of all the others in the hospital with me waiting for a new heart, I not only wondered how long it would be, but if I ever would get mine. Then, after only (50) days of waiting, I will never forget that moment when the nurse walked in my room and stated,” Reverend Wells, we’ve found a heart for you.”
I received my heart transplant on April 29, 1995, and I’m still thanking God, The Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Transplant Center, the surgeons, cardiologists, nurses, the New York Organ Donor Network and most of all, the family of the donor of my organ – my new heart! Since that time, I’m doing extremely well. I have returned to my full-time duties as Pastor of the Union Baptist Church and I am enjoying life with new fervor and excitement. Last winter, when it was cold, I could not go out because I was having difficulty breathing. What a miracle it is for me to go out in the snow now and play with my granddaughter. What a miracle it is for me to be able to preach with fervor and excitement without fear of being short of breath or overly fatigued.
All of this been made possible because either someone had enough forethought to sign an organ donor card or someone’s family was gracious enough to give the gift of life to me by donating the heart of their deceased loved one. This is the reason why I have promised my Lord, as well as myself, that I will dedicate my life and portion of my ministry to not inform, but to encourage African-Americans, especially Christians, to become organ donors. For no greater act of charity can be expressed in this world than to donate one’s organs to give life to others when life has come to an end for us. I have developed a totally new theological understanding of Christian Stewardship. Not only are we responsible to God for the material blessings that He gives us, and the time and talent He allows us to possess, but we are also stewards of our bodies. In (Romans12:1) it is written: “I beseech each of you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.”
Although organs can be matched and used by persons without regard to race or religion, many African-American Christians and Muslims have a traditional hesitancy and fear that comes simply from a lack of knowledge and understanding about organ transplants. I encourage them to get more information by contacting either myself of any Regional Office of the American Heart Association, New York Organ Donor Network or the NYS/DMV.
Reverend Irvin Lance Peebles
Associate Pastor, Devotional Baptist Church, St. Louis, MO
“Organ Donation: A Biblical Perspective”
An Act of Redemption
This world has not turned out as God intended. God, the Creator, suffers at the condition of His handiwork. The world as we see it today hardly resembles the perfect creation that God spoke into existence. Crime, hunger, death and disease were not present at creation, but due to man’s fall in the garden, adversity has found a home in every human soul.
God the creator incites all those who would be His to suffer with Him. We are compelled to bear our burdens with the purifying hope that suffering will not have the last word. Event the most timid Christian must stand on the promise that ultimate and unconditional triumph awaits those that love the Lord. Our faith must fasten on the fact that no matter how severe the suffering. God will redeem the situation and utilize it for our good.
Since suffering is inevitable for both God and man, God has created a redeeming value for suffering. The goodness of God will allow something positive to come out of a negative situation. God’s greatest demonstration of this redemptive process is realized in His son. The death of Jesus Christ resulted in the redemption of the world. His finished work at Calvary restored the broken fellowship between God and His most precious creation, man. God had rescued creation and mankind from hopelessness with His redeeming love. Christ suffered the loss of His life, but it became the seed of the world’s hope and joy.
Sooner or later suffering and sorrow comes to every home. No conditions of wealth, culture or even religion can prevent it. But the losses and griefs of life have been intended to leave behind an abundance of character and blessings that will make eternity richer. In a Christian home sorrow should always leave a benediction. It should be received as God’s messenger, and when it is, it will always leave a blessing.
Some treasures must be mined. They have to be discovered, realized. Blessings are often shrouded behind the veil of overwhelming grief. There are some tough places in this world, but nothing compares to the Intensive Care Unit waiting room where high levels of emotion and active grief can barricade any offer of redemption. Unfortunately, the only time requestors can approach a family about organ and tissue donation is in the midst of their grief and sorrow. Many people can only see grief as an enemy to whom they will refuse to be reconciled. They feel that they can never be comforted. For many families who consent to organ donation, it is a way of redeeming the loss of a loved one. In a situation where you feel victimized, the decision to donate gives the family a felling of being in control. It gives life to others. Organ donation has helped families deal with their grief by bringing something positive out of a seemingly negative situation.
Not everyone dies in a way that allows vital organ donation. In fact, only 1 percent of people who die can be vital organ donors. Vital organ donors must be “brain dead” (a legal definition of death) and their organs mechanically sustained by a ventilator. If the decision ever becomes ours to consent for vital organ donation, we should consider why God has allowed such an opportunity.
The sweetest songs that have ever been sung have come out of fire. Sorrows should not be wasted. We should yield our rebellion, accept our suffering and discover if it has some mission to perform, some gift to give, some golden fruit to enjoy, some redeeming value.
A Sweet Fragrance in the House
In Mark, Chapter 14, we have the marvelous account of a woman breaking an expensive alabaster vase filled with spikenard, a priceless perfumed oil, and anointing Jesus will all of it. Her extravagance was criticized by Judas Iscariot and others in the house. But our Lord praised the sacrificial giving of this woman and declared her deed a memorial. Suppose she had left the expensive oil in the unbroken vase? Would there have been any mention of it? Would her deed of careful keeping and self-preservation been told all over the world? She broke the vase, poured its contents forth, lost is, sacrificed it, and now perfumed incense has drifted into every home where this message has been heard. We may keep our life if we will, carefully preserving it from waste, but we shall have no reward. However, if we empty it out in loving service, we shall make it a lasting blessing to the world, and it shall be well spoken of forever.
By donating organs we unselfishly pour out the fragrant gift of life upon those awaiting a second chance at life through transplantation. The sweet fragrance of sacrificial giving will flow into the homes of transplant recipients whose lives were saved and/or improved through he gift of life.
The donation of organs should not only be regarded as a medical or a secular good deed but also as a religious, sacramental extension of Christ’s own life-giving sacrifice. Organ sharing is consistent with the beliefs of all major religions and is viewed as an act of charity, fraternal love and self-sacrifice.
In the St. Louis area, over a 22-month period, 55 percent of African American families approached to give consent for organ/tissue donation said yes. This percentage is significantly higher than the national average because of education and donor awareness programs in our city. Through this unselfish giving, the sweet fragrance of life is enjoyed by transplant recipients, their families and friends.
The cross of Christ is not only substitutionary, but it is also representative. His life of humility and unselfishness should become a prototype for those who bear His name as Christians. We should follow His example by giving the gift of life as that others may live life more abundantly.
The Liberating Truth
Unfamiliarity with the truth concerning the donor process will hinder the decision to choose life in the face of death. Misconceptions, myths and mistrust of the medical community will eclipse our perspectives and leave us fearful and ignorant of the facts. God tells us that His people perish because of the lack of knowledge. People are indeed perishing, particularly African Americans. A recent survey revealed that only 23 percent of African Americans are willing to donate their organs after death compared to 47 percent of Caucasians. Another truth is that African Americans have an unidentified biological susceptibility to hypertension and diabetes, the major cause of kidney failure. Consequently, African Americans are 17 times more likely to develop kidney failure than Caucasians.
While 70 percent of patients undergoing kidney dialysis are African Americans, fewer than 10 percent of the kidneys donated for transplants come from African American donors. It is harder to get a good match using a kidney from a Caucasian donor for an African American recipient. The truth is, if more African Americans donate, it would provide better matches and increase chances of survival for other African Americans.
The misconception, “I need all my organs intact in order to get into heaven,” is totally nonscriptural. We are informed by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:50 that, “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” In eternity we will not have or need our earthly bodies. Old things will pass away and all things will be made new.
There is also some mistrust of the medical community. The myths that one could be declared dead prematurely just to gain organs or that you won’t receive top medical care if you have signed a donor card are flights from reality. The fact is that no one becomes a donor until all life-saving measures have been exhausted. An open casket funeral is possible with any type of donation. There is no cost to the family for organ and tissue donation. If we would seek the truth about organ donation, the truth will liberate us not only to accept, but to give the gift of life. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
Through Christ’s spirit we are all baptized into one body whether we be Jew or Gentile. In sharing one body, we cannot isolate ourselves from the hurts of humanity. We are called upon to “bear ye one another’s burdens.” While we can’t save the world, we can sign up to become organ and tissue donors. To become a vital organ donor is to give life to as many as eight recipients. A tissue donor can help as many as 50 people.
Should you decide to give the gift of life, discuss it with your family and friends, let them know your wishes. Death, especially your own, is not something that we love to talk about, but in the last 2000 years no one has been able to escape it.
Death need not be the final comment of our lives. Instead of one stone marker at the head of our grave, there could be living memorials, real people with real families whose lives have been put back together the gift of life. This is Christianity at its best: sharing one’s own life for the purpose of helping someone else.
God, the creator of this world, has placed us as stewards of His creation. Being stewards, we cannot ignore the imperative to heal found in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick…freely ye have received, freely give.”
Give the gift of life; it’s the chance of a lifetime.
Father Michael J. Lynch, D.Min.
Wausau Hospital, Wausau, WI
“Eulogy of an Owl”
His name was Walter Elias, a city boy by birth, the son of a building contractor.
Before Walter was five, his parents moved from Chicago to a farm near Marceline, Missouri. And it was there on the farm that Walter would have his first encounter with death.
Walter was only seven that particular lazy summer afternoon, an afternoon not much different from others. Dad was tending to farm chores; mother was in the house.
It was the perfect day for a young fellow to go exploring.
Now just beyond a grove of graceful willows lay an apple orchard. There, Walter, could make believe to this heart’s content that he was lost, which he never was, or that he had captured a wild animal, which he never had. But today was different. Directly in front of him, about thirty feet away, perched in the low-drooping branch of an apple tree apparently sound asleep – was an owl.
The boy froze. He remembered his father telling him that owls rested during the say so they could hunt by night. What a wonderful pet that funny little bird would make. If only Walter could approach it without awakening it and snatch it from the tree.
With each step, the lad winced to hear dry leaves and twigs crackle beneath his feet. The owl did not stir. Closer…closer…and at last young Walter was standing under the limb just within range of his quarry. Slowly he reached up with one hand and grabbed the bird by its legs. He had captured it! But the owl, waking suddenly, came alive like no other animal Walter had ever seen. In a flurry of beating wings, wild eyes and frightened cries, it struggled against the boy’s grasp. Walter, stunned, held on.
Now it’s difficult to imagine how what happened next, happened. Perhaps the response was sparked by gouging talons or by fear itself. But at some point the terrified boy, still clinging to the terrified bird, flung it to the ground and stomped it to death.
When it was over, a disbelieving Walter gazed down at the broken heap of bronze feathers and blood. And he cried. Walter ran from the orchard but later returned to bury the owl, the little pet he would never know. Each shovel full of earth from the shallow grave was moistened with tears of deep regret. And for months thereafter, the owl visited Walter’s dreams.
Ashamed, he would tell no one of the incident until many years later. By then, the world forgave him. For that sad and lonely summer’s day in the early spring of Walter Elias’ life brought with it an awakening of the meaning of life. Walter never, ever again, killed a living creature. Although all the boyhood promises could not bring that one little owl back to life, through its death a whole world of animals came into being.
For it was then that a grieving seven-year-old boy, attempting to atone for the thoughtless misdeed, first sought to possess the animals of the forest while allowing them to run free – by drawing them.
Now the boy, too, is gone, but his drawings live on in the incomparable, undying art of Walter Elias…Disney. Walt Disney. And now you know the rest of the story.
Father Frank Gold
Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Denver, Colorado
In chapter 19 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus meets a rich young man who asks one of the ultimate questions: “What good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus responds, as the man knows the teacher would: “Keep the commandments!” The rich man says that he has done that, so now what is necessary? In a word, Jesus says, let go of your life then, give whatever you have for others. And, as the story goes, the man has a difficult time hearing and living what Jesus says.
In the teaching and life of Jesus, giving one’s life is at the core of His ministry. Jesus shows us the way. In His teaching, Jesus speaks of “the grain of wheat that must fall to the earth” and, He says, “there is no greater love than to give one’s life for another.” He makes it clear in the story of the rich man, that anyone who hears Him and would follow, must be willing to give his/her life.
The word of Jesus is not easily heard in this world which invites us to seek more for ourselves, to gather, get all we can, hold on to “what is ours.” But as we listen to the gospel today, again from Matthew, we are reminded that each of us is given not only life, but also a variety of gifts and talents. The point of the story is obvious: holding onto or burying is not the object of the gift received. It is to be cherished, Yes, but also multiplied, and then give as it was given, to another.
Over and over again, we listen to these lessons of Jesus and ask ourselves what they mean in our faith life. How are we to live? Jesus says, “Let go as you receive, for in the end you will let go of all that seemed so important.” There are those in our community who really do give their lives (our martyrs); some give their possessions (as we spring clean, etc); and some a variety of moneys (to charities and other organizations).
In this fall season, when the earth also teaches us to let go, we celebrate “National Donor Sabbath”- a weekend during which we reflect on the very gift of our bodies (our organs and tissues) which serve us so well. How willing are we to hear the Lord’s word to our lives in this context: Not even our bodies’ can we take with us in death, though we believe in a resurrection at the end of time. Perhaps, part of the resurrection is in the rebirth we give in the donation of our organs and tissues.
It is still difficult for many of us to talk about organ and tissue donation, even though it seems so much at the heart of what we believe. And, it was clearly the style of Jesus not to hold on to but to give freely of His life. Am I willing to lay down my life for you, even though you may be a stranger? To give my very body that other persons may have the life I am so blessed with?
Next weekend, we come to the end of our church year and it is always a good time to take stock of the important things in life and to reflect on the ultimate questions. What is life about? Where is the meaning to be found? And to ask the question of the rich young man in different words: What can I do to give life? In the end, will I give my possessions, my money to those in need? And will I have considered and made clear to those I love that I will give my body and whatever can be shared so even one other person might see, walk, and live as I have?
Paul reminds us today in his letter to the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. As we end this church year, may we be in touch with those things that matter now and in the end. The gospel for next weekend continues from our gospel today with the very familiar words of “final judgment”: “When I was hungry, you gave me food…” May we remember that there are others who would have life were I willing one day to lay down my life: to share my eyes, my bones, my skin, and my life!
What good must I do to gain eternal life? Give life!
Padre Frank Gold
Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Denver, Colorado
En el capitulo 19 del Evangelio de San Mateo, Jesús encuentra a un joven que le pregunta: “¿Qué debo hacer para ganar la vida eterna?” Jesús le digo la respuesta que todos conocemos muy bien: “¡Guarda los Mandamientos! El joven rico le contesta que eso ya lo habla cumplido, y prosigue, “¿qué mas hace falta?” En pocas palabras, Jesús le indica que tiene que entregar su vida entera y dar sus bienes a los demás. Y las historia relata que al joven rico le costo mucho escuchar y llevar acabo las palabras de Jesús.
En las enseñanzas y la vida de Jesús, dar la vida es un concepto esencial en Su ministerio. El mismo Jesús lo demuestra cuando nos habla del grano de trigo que debe morir y del amor cuya magnitud se mide al dar la vida por los demás. Esta enseñanza la reafirma en la historia del joven rico cuando condiciona su seguimiento con la disponibilidad y la entrega vital de si mismo.
Es difícil aceptar las palabras de Jesús en este mundo que nos invita a la acumulación de bienes y a la búsqueda del propio bienestar. Hoy día al escuchar el mensaje del evangelio de San Mateo, Jesús nos recuerda que Dios no solo nos ha dado la vida, sino que también nos ha equipado con una serie de dones y talentos. El significado de la historia es evidente. Dios no nos dio los talentos para atesorarlos y multiplicarlos solamente, sino para entregarlos a los demás de la misma manera que los recibimos.
Hemos escuchado estas lecciones de Jesús muchas veces, y nos preguntamos que significan para nuestra vida de fe. ¿Cómo hemos de vivirlas? Jesús dice que entreguemos de la misma manera que hemos recibido, pues al final de cuentas tendremos que dejar todo lo que en esta vida nos parecía tan importante. Hay quienes han entregado su vida literalmente por medio del martirio (los mártires). Hay otros que dan sus posesiones (las cosas que ya no usan). Y hay quienes dan su dinero para obras de caridad (donan dinero a organizaciones de beneficencia).
En esta estación de otoño en la cual la naturaleza nos da ejemplo de desapego, celebremos “El Día Nacional del Donador.” Un fin de semana dedicado a la reflexión sobre el don maravilloso de nuestros cuerpos (nuestros órganos y tejidos). En el contexto físico de nuestros propios cuerpos, ¿qué tan dispuestos estamos a seguir el mensaje de Jesús de disponibilidad, servicio, y entrega? A pesar de nuestra fe en la resurrección final, no podemos llevarnos nuestros cuerpos más allá de la muerte y guardarlos hasta ese día. Pero la donación de nuestros órganos y tejidos, la sanción, y la vida que esto significaría para los demás, podría dar cierto significado a nuestra fe en la resurrección.
Para muchos de nosotros, aún es difícil abordar este tema de la donación de órganos y tejidos a pesar de que este punto está en el corazón de las enseñanzas de Cristo. El apego a las cosas de este mundo no cabía en el estilo de vida de Jesús; por el contrario, El entregó su vida por nosotros. Cabe preguntarnos: ¿Estoy yo dispuesto/a entregar me vida por los demás, aunque sea a un extraño? ¿Estoy yo dispuesto/a dar mi propio cuerpo para que otros gocen el don de la vide que yo mismo/a goce?
El próximo fin de semana llegaremos al final de nuestro ciclo litúrgico, y este es un buen tiempo para reflexionar sobre los valores y posteridades (finalidad) de la vida. ¿Cuál es el objeto de la vida? ¿Seré capaz de dar mis posesiones a los más necesitados? Y ¿pondré en claro a mis seres queridos que quiero pones a la disposición de los demás cualquier parte/órgano de mi cuerpo para que otro pueda ver, caminar, y vivir como yo he vivido?
San Pablo nos recuerda en su carta a los Tesalonicenses que, “El día del Señor llegará como un ladrón por la noche.” Al terminar este año litúrgico, procuremos estar conscientes de las cosas que son importantes en esta vida y al final de la misma. El evangelio de la próxima semana continúa con el evangelio de hoy con las palabras “En el juicio final… Cuando tuve hambre, me alimentaste…” Recordemos que hay otros que podrían vivir si estuviéramos dispuestos a entregar nuestra vida por los demás; compartiendo nuestros ojos, huesos, piel, ¡nuestra vida!
¿Qué bien puedo hacer para ganarme la vida eterna?… ¡Da la vida!
Traducción: cortesía del Padre Miguel Campos, Sch.P, Maria Auxiliadora, Los Angeles, California
Rabbi Brian Zimmerman
Beth Ami Synagogue, Rockville, MD
“Don’t hang up the phone, it’s your covenant calling”
It was a little over a month ago; I remember the phone call quite well. I was setting into a comfortable position at my desk, reflecting on the holidays, thinking about what message I would offer this Rosh Hashanah. What fault would I force other to confront? What issue would I use to make the congregation squirm in their seats? And then the phone rang…on the other line was Judy Braslow, a member of our congregation who formerly worked with the United States Department of Health and Human Services in the Division of Organ Transplantation. Why was she calling me?
The voice on the other end said to me, “I want to talk to you about a professional issue.” Immediately I thought to myself, “Uh oh, what did I do now”? “No, no,” she assured me. I wasn’t in trouble. She was calling because she wanted me to give a sermon on organ donation. Had I thought at all about organ donation? And I must confess to you that only one thought went through my mind at that moment – hang up the phone. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be talking about this subject at this time.
Ms. Braslow told me about the thousands of people across America that are waiting for transplants. About the many, many who will die because there are an insufficient number of donors to meet the need. She shared with me that Jews were among the two groups with the lowest number of organ donors, even though the strictest movements in Judaism permit donations in some cases.
She explained how there are many people who die tragically who would have wished to donate their organs to save a life but couldn’t because they never shared that information with their families while alive. Well, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed now and more than a bit depressed, and then to prove her point she asked me if I knew what my wife’s wishes would be if she were ever in an accident. And I quickly replied that it wasn’t the type of question one liked to ask his wife over the dinner at the end of a long day. And then I was overcome with an even stronger desire to hang up the phone, to leave the problem alone, to make the question go away.
Explain to me how I can sit in bed and read about thousands of people dying in Rwanda and be disturbed but not really have any trouble sleeping through the night, but I can’t discuss the topic of organ transplantation in the middle of the day without wanting the jump out of my skin. Somehow this is different, isn’t it? This is my life, my death, and who really wants to make decisions about that anyway? If we talk about it, then we make it real.
On Rosh Hashanah morning we read a strong and disturbing piece of liturgy, the prayer Unatenah Tokef, “Let us proclaim the sacred power to this day for it is awesome and full of dread…You, O God, are Judge and arbiter…on Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed…who shall live and who shall die; who shall see ripe age and who shall not; who will die by fires and who by water; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by plague.”
What is the prayer, that tells us that God seals our fate this day? What do we make of this list of ways to die? And yet we know that we are lucky to be here. We all know people who have died in the past year. We are aware of the random nature of our lives. And the prayer Unatenah Tokef says yes, our lives are random. We don’t know who will live and who will die, so it is time to get serious. We have been given another chance. We stand here today alive, lucky to be alive, so what are we going to do about it? Hope that we get lucky another year or face up to the sacred responsibility that awaits us. This prayer reminds us that today is a day of decision, today is a day when we face the unpleasant, real decision that we avoid the rest of the year.
Now you’re thinking, “Rabbi, it’s Rosh Hashanah. Some of us are here with our children. What are you talking about? Organ transplants? Death? You’re scaring my kids. Just tell us a nice story about the round challah and let us go eat a happy holiday meal.”
There is a legend about King David, that when he was a young man he learned that he would die on a Shabbat. And what do you think his favorite ceremony was? Havdallah, the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat. The legend tells us that David couldn’t get to havadallah quickly enough.
Isn’t that a lot like you? We say to ourselves, “We made it to another year, we’re alive and hopefully healthy, Mazel Tov, L’chayim, let’s give thanks and go eat some brisket.” But Rosh Hashanah is not thanksgiving, and we do not live only for ourselves. We live in covenant with, people who depend on us as we depend on them. Yes, Mazel Tov, congratulations to all of us, we’ve made it to another year, but now it’s time to get serious. It’s time to face up to some major decisions, it’s time to honor our role in the covenants we have made with our many partners in life. These high holidays are called Yamim Noraim in Hebrew, Days of Awe. We need to use this time to successfully avoid the rest of the year.
And organ donation is a great example. Too often when asked about this issue we hide behind the answer that we don’t think Jewish law allows that. But rather than pursue and study if this is true, we hid behind a vague answer that we think is true. In reality, there are many different opinions on this issue. But for the majority of Jews in America, there is agreement that organ transplantation is permitted when the saving of a life is involved. Pikauch Nafesh – the saving of a human life – is one of the most urgent Mitzvot in Judaism, and based on the statistics, you can rest assured that anything taken from you will be used to save a life. While organ donation makes us uncomfortable and forces us to think about what we want done when we die, the truth is that it may be the closes thing we have to immortality. A part of us living on in the body of another person who has been given a miraculous second chance. And who knows, maybe one of us or our loved ones or friends will one day find themselves on the other end, surviving only because someone else had the conversation with a loved one in advance and said to him or her, “These are my wishes if something ever happens to me.”
What about living wills? How many of us know someone who said in their lifetime, “If I were ever in a coma, I would want to die,” only to later end up on a respirator, placing a burden on their family they desperately wanted to avoid. All because they didn’t really discuss the issue properly with their family. It is amazing how you and I can worry about car pools and seat belts and other day-to-day safety details while we drive around with the future of our families in our hands. Because if, God forbid, something happens to us and our families don’t know what to do, we will burden them emotionally in ways that could ruin them for the rest of their lives. We warn our children about drinking and driving, and we beg them to behave cautiously. Then we proceed to drive around every day with unresolved issues that are just as dangerous to the security of their futures.
There are so many issues to be discussed, so many important decisions to be made. How have we managed to avoid them for so long? We put away money to help out those we love when we are gone, we take out life insurance policies, but how many of us have bought a cemetery plot? How many of us have confronted that terrifying reality of our own mortality and saved our own family thousands of dollars in the future? A future in which we will not be around to help out.
I recently read about a 22-year-old woman who had made clear to her family her intention to be an organ donor. It seemed unusual for a 22-year-old to have such a deep awareness of her own mortality and the foresight to deal with it. Little did she realize just how soon her own life would end. She was killed in an accident, and her heart was given to a man who had been waiting four years for a life-saving surgery. He was running out of time, and her gift kept him alive. The man who received her heart was her father.
We have the power to help the world, we have the power to help our families, but we won’t help anyone if we don’t talk about the decisions, if we don’t make them real. When you put down the prayer book and leave this building, talk about these issues, make them real. On your way out, there are pamphlets on organ donation. Take one, read it, discuss it with your family or friends. It will offer clear answers to any of the questions you may have. There is another book printed by UAHC called “A Time to Prepare.” It is about living wills and funeral arrangements. It has forms and information to help you understand anything you may be unsure about writing a living will. It will make you uncomfortable now, but it will help your family later. Call us at the temple, tell us you want one and we will order it for you.
It’s time to talk about these things. It’s time to make them real. Let’s face it. How many of us had moments in the last few years where we were worried about our own health? Where we had a real scare? And yet what have we done about it? If I had a car that broke down in the desert and I didn’t have AAA or any other protection, wouldn’t you expect me to purchase some as soon as possible afterwards? And yet, you and I keep living our lives on borrowed time, and we’re not purchasing the proper insurance, we’re not making another year. It is time to face our destiny while we are healthy. I known that this is painful, and I’m not trying to tell you what the right decisions are in each of the cases I have mentioned, but I know that we have to start asking the questions, we have to start making the decisions.
Rabbi Howard Kaplensky
United Hebrew Temple, St. Louis, Missouri
Reprinted with permission from the UNOS/SEOPF Reference Guide for Clergy
There is a story told that God was observed in deep thought by the angels in Heaven. They guessed that He was planning something very important, but could not guess what it was. Then, it happened! It was miraculous. Out of nothing, God created a world, the Heaven and the Earth. And, over the course of six days, or a split second in angel-time, He filled the earth with all sorts of trees and bushes and animals and birds. There were beautiful mountains, majestic oceans, jungles and winding rivers.
After watching all of this, the angels busily talked among themselves. They thought that what they had seen was very grand. Obviously, God was pleased because he repeatedly evaluated it as being “very good.” But, somehow it seemed incomplete. And they said so! God, of course, heard their comments. He laughed and told them that He was not yet finished. He turned away from the angels, looked at the Earth and created man. God then said, “I am finished.”
The angels stood in wonder. Again, they spoke among themselves. But who would ask the question that was on their minds? They drew lots. Gabriel would ask. “ Lord of Creation, what is this creature and what shall it be called? What is its purpose?” God answered, “He is called man. His purposed is to take care of the world I have created.”
This little story is instructive. God created the world and all that is in it. But, man is to watch over it, to care for it, as our Scripture states, “to have dominion over it.” From the moment he breathed life, man has carried this responsibility and privilege. He has been the guardian of God’s creation. God saw immediately that man, knowing that he had limitations, would need a partner because the responsibility was so immense. And God took a rib from the man and with that rib, performed the first transplant and created woman. A part of man’s body made life possible for another. The first transplant!
One may conclude that man and woman are even more than guardians of the earth. They possess the ability to preserve the lives of others, to give the precious gift of survival. All religious traditions value life. The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament exhort us to love one another and to be good stewards of all we are and all we possess. We are not free to place the responsibility for the condition of our world or the quality of life on God’s shoulders. “I have placed before you the blessing and the curse, good and evil. Therefore choose life,” scripture tells us. The key word is “choose.” The condition of life in this world is our God-given responsibility. Its quality is our choice.
Through the ages, since that miraculous creative act, we have worked with the tools, which the Creator provided us to tend His garden and bring forth the grateful bud and brilliant flower of the quality of Life. The Garden of Life lies untended and the beauty of Life remains only a possibility when we do not take the hoe and rake in hand. Man and Woman have done well in tending the garden. We, through our ingenuity and our own creative instincts, have gone far beyond those earlier gardeners. We have developed the tools to make the Harvest of Life more abundant. We call those tools “Technology.” And technology has provided us with the ability to preserve a life, which had withered.
In the world of horticulture, a portion of a hearty plant might be cut away and attached to a weaker plant to enrich the second plant and to enhance its life. Such a process is called grafting. Our creativity extends this remarkable process to human beings. We have the ability to transplant organs of the human body to sustain life in another human being. Replacing parts of the human body is an interest that dates back to the ancient Egyptians. History records that a leg of a deceased Moor was transplanted to a Christian who had lost his leg. A medical journal in 1881 discussed the first skin transplant.
But great success in transplant surgery has been rather recent. Edward Zirm, an Austrian ophthalmologist, in 1905, restored sight through a corneal transplant to a workman who had been blinded by lime. Now tens of thousand of corneal transplants are performed annually across the United States. Add to this number the tens of thousands of organ transplants and the hundreds of thousands of tissue transplants that have occurred. These are impressive numbers because of the lives that have been saved and the improved quality of life they have given to the suffering.
But, lest we be complacent, we should note that many more people desperately need transplants. Organ donation is a process misunderstood by many. There is concern with the possible mutilation of the body of the deceased donor or that it might cost the donor’s family a great deal of money. The facts are the donated organs are surgically removed as in an operation, and the donor is “closed.” Normal funerals can be held. There is absolutely no cost to the donor’s family.
Some have expressed the concern that the hospital staff might not try everything possible to save the life of a potential donor. The truth is that the transplant team is not involved at all until all life saving efforts have failed and death has been established after the brain has ceased to function. There are compelling reasons to become an organ and tissue donor. There can be no higher response to the scriptural commands to love our neighbor and to care for each other. There is great satisfaction, perhaps a sense of peace, even in the face of sorrow, in knowing that something of yourself or someone you love will make life possible for someone else and live on in another.
I recently heard of the story of the death of a young boy and his gift of life to another. A 15-year-old young man was struck on his bicycle by a car. He sustained severe head injuries and extensive brain damage. His doctor determined that there was no hope for the boy. He was declared clinically “brain dead.” Naturally, the boy’s parents were in shock. The doctor approached the parents and gently told them that they could donate their son’s organs for transplant with the potential of their son helping others to live. The family chose to donate. Their decision was a difficult one. Both parents told the hospital chaplain that this is what their son would have wanted because he was “that kind of boy.” They found comfort in knowing that their son’s eternity was of the spirit and of the body.
When one reflects on it, it seems remarkable that this tender of the Garden of Life has fulfilled so well the charge that God gave him that he has advanced to the point where, thought his technology and his own body, he is able to extend human life. From the ability to save a life accrues the responsibility to do so. Having the technology to save a life and not use it is to destroy life. In the metaphor of the garden: to allow the menacing weeds to choke the life from the flower, the ability to save a life with the donation of an organ of our own body in a God-given ability; with the miraculous act of creation, God planted the potential to do within us. Man, the gardener, has simply realized the potential.
Back to Heaven, the angels were still talking about God’s act of creation, and evaluating it. A few dissident angels felt that it was an unnecessary act. Things had been fine in Heaven without the Earth. But, after they looked down on the earth from their heavenly station and noted the progress that man had made and how well he was tending the Garden of Life, the vast array of angels joined in a chorus with God and sang, “It is good.” AMEN
The physical reality of Jesus was reassuring to the Jerusalem disciples.
The gift of Jesus’ discernment gave the disciples the ability to see and understand.
The Gospel of Luke focuses on the body of Jesus
It is important for us to be physically present with each other
We are helpless to grasp the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus without illumination.
Christ’s gift of himself, even physically, is example for us.
POINT: The Resurrection can point us to a holistic approach to life, one in which we no longer need to fear physical separation, or avoid personal contacts.
PROBLEM: Our vision of health and wholeness is limited by our self-centeredness. Unless we are dealing with our personal wholeness we tend not to think of it. We also feel the need to “keep things to ourselves” and not reach out to others.
POWER: God has given himself to us in a special way. The physical resurrection assures us of the victory over death for us who live in the flesh. Jesus is still “one of us” still willing to be with us.
INTRODUCTION: Touch and physical association are important to our security and confidence. “Being with” each other is part of being family or friend or church. Children respond to the closeness of parents.
- Jesus’ appearance as physically “whole” helped to heal the hurting disciples.
- He encouraged them to touch him so they could believe the reality of the resurrection and know that he was for real.
- He ate a meal with them to show he was alive and still in fellowship with them – so they could believe the reality of reconciliation.
- The gift of Jesus’ discernment opened the disciples’ eyes to a new reality for their existence in this world.
- Because they (and we) could be assured of the reality of Christ’s presence with them (us) – they could boldly proclaim his presence to the world.
- Christ becomes the example to share the reality of our healing by “showing ourselves alive” to those around us.
- The Fellowship we have together with God in Christ and with each other frees us from isolation and loneliness.
- We have a need to be physically present with one another.
- We are free to give ourselves to one another. (One possibility of that kind of giving in organ donation.)
Charles M. Swezey, B.D., Ph. D.
Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia
Excerpts from a paper prepared for the Giving of Life Council
Reprinted with permission from the UNOS/SEOPF Reference Guide for Clergy
Religious Dimensions of Giving for Life
The transfusion of blood and the transplantation of organs are possible because of recent developments in medical technology. However, blood transfusions and organ transplantation also depends upon the willingness of persons to give or donate for the sake of others. Only if the new medical technologies are combined with one of the oldest themes of the Judeo-Christian tradition – concern for the other as neighbor – will persons be aided.
The opportunity to “love your neighbor as yourself” is portrayed as a positive human possibility and obligation in the Scriptures of both Judaism and Christianity. In both traditions, moreover, response to the neighbor is grounded in the prior perception of the reality of God.
Giving blood and donating organs express and embody concern for the other as neighbor. Christians and Jews interpret these voluntary acts, which depend upon generosity and self-initiative, as expressions of good will toward fellow human beings under God. Mutuality and human interdependence are gifts of God. There is no greater symbol of our common humanity, and probably no more direct expression of our belief that we are made in the image of God, than the fact that our organs can be transplanted from one body to another and that our blood can be transfused from one person to another. Our conviction is that persons are creatures similarly endowed by the Creator. We Embody and express our common humanity under God by giving to others.
The free gift of body or blood fosters and expresses a sense of community. It serves a need and evokes the profound gratitude of recipients to others in the human community whom they have never met and on whom they depend. It strengthens the social fabric of interdependence in which we are all sustained by God.
The Impact of Giving
The powerful symbol of the gift relationship may be used to describe four distinct benefits of giving blood and donating organs. A gift does not create servitude. It expresses reciprocity. Gifts must be given and received. A genuine gift is offered freely, but an offer does not become a gift if it is refused. It must be accepted. One thinks, for example, of engagement rings or the bestowal of presents at a child’s birthday. Gift-giving and gift receiving embody human interdependence.
The first and most visible result of giving blood or organs, of course, is its impact on recipients. Persons in need are helped, frequently in dramatic ways. The recipient of blood or organs is a life-giving and life-sustaining matter.
A second result of giving is its impact on the giver. People who give these gifts have a sense of doing something worthwhile. True gifts are motivated by a concern for others, not by a sense of moral superiority. This concern for others is captured by the phrase, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”
A third result of giving is its impact on the donor’s family. Signing up to be a donor enables a person to make known his or her thoughts to the immediate family before death occurs. This saves a distraught family from having to make a last minute decision just after a relative has died. The mutuality of clear communication before death enables a family to say with conviction, “That is what our loved one would have wanted.” Signing up to be a donor is a gift to one’s family.
A Central Feature of the Programs
The voluntary dimension of the programs through which blood and organs are donated is a key feature. Indeed, the significance of Giving for Life is destroyed if it is not done freely. Voluntary giving, a condition for human survival and flourishing, requires generosity and self-initiative.
The impact of this moral requirement may be discerned in both programs. People who receive payment for donating blood are not “giving” freely; they are motivated by selfish interest as much as by a concern for others. Moreover, selfish interests provide a reason to be untruthful about medical conditions that should bar a person from donating blood. The experience of blood programs throughout the world is that the most effective and efficient screening device for securing healthy blood is to make blood programs voluntary. Generosity is the foundation for the survival and flourishing of human life together.
The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act also has a voluntary dimension. The donation of organs at death is legal when the donor makes a voluntary decision before death occurs. This program differs from proposals that organs be routinely procured from all who die. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act depends upon a concern for others and respects the human capacity to act voluntarily. It recognizes that persons express their humanity when they exercise self-initiative. Generosity toward others is a foundation for the survival and flourishing of human life together.
Bishop Innocent of Anchorage, Alaska
“Life: The Treasure of God”
Life is magnificent and awesome to humankind; it is holy and divine to God. Man and woman are the crowning touch of God’s creation, because He delights in the work of His hands (Genesis 1:27, “so God created man in His own image of God He created him; make and female, he created them.”). When the child is formed in the womb, he or she is the masterpiece of the Creator, the love of Jesus Christ, the hope of society, the joy of a family. We are given life to rejoice in that life.
When, through illness or some other tragedy, loved ones lose the fullness of life and the ability to function, it is God’s desire that healing and our fellow human’s health be restored. Jesus Christ, as He walked on the earth, would not bear to see men and woman suffer, so He went about healing those who were not “whole.” It is not God’s intention to see us suffer or not be whole through illness. In cooperation with Him, God has given the gift to doctors, nurses, technicians and others to use their hands and minds to help in making our fellow creation be whole.
When I was a newly ordained priest, the first person I saw die was a healthy woman who had died during a simple operation. As I stood by her hospital bed, the doctors mentioned that she donated her eyes to be given to someone upon her death, so they could gaze upon the face of loved ones, see the beauty of the earth, and know the joy of sunlight. You see, this woman’s mother was blind and she had yearned to give her dear mother sight; but since she could not, she always remembered. She gave that gift to another when it was possible. This made a deep impression upon me as a young priest and remains with me to this day.
If a younger mother or father can be saved to live, to raise their children through the give of organ or tissue donation, this is the work of God’s compassion. Let that person who has departed this life do one last great deed for humanity. Let his or her gift of an organ or tissue be a source of healing and life in this world created by God. I urge everyone to consider this gift of God they can give in love to their fellow men and women. This way, God is glorified by this gift of life.
Reverend Sherri Cave Puchalsky
Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church
In a religion in which members are not bound by any one set of doctrinal beliefs, we continually seek new ways of describing the heart of our faith, that center towards which we are all being drawn. Unitarians and Universalists have been at the forefront of dramatic efforts to preserve life and enhance the quality of life for all people, and such efforts are an enduring part of our values and our traditions. During the Civil War, a number of Universalist, including Red Cross founder Clara Barton, went to work caring for the wounded. Unitarians like Samuel Gridley Howe, a crusader on behalf of blind persons, and Dorothea Dix, who launched major reforms in the care of people with mental illness, lived out their belief that all people are capable of indefinite improvement and deserve the best treatments available.
As we, along with many congregations of all faiths, observe the National Donor Sabbath, we focus on the first of our Unitarian Univeralsist principles that calls us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. By becoming an organ and tissue donor, we each have an opportunity to extend or improve the life of another, perhaps a number of others, beyond the span of our lifetime. Most of us have heard some of the heart-warming stories of people whose lives were saved because a donor organ became available. Because of our reverence for life, many Unitarian’s probably believe in organ ad tissue donation, but signing up to become an organ and tissue donor and discussing this issue with our immediate families may currently be lost somewhere on a very long list of “good things to do.” Today we hope to make becoming a donor easier for you.
Over a year ago Morgan Wootten, a popular high school basketball coach, needed a liver to survive. His life was saved by Rochelle McCoy, a 33-year-old mother of two who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. The family of this young, healthy woman might never have know of Rochelle’s wishes if it not been for casual conversation one evening after her husband, Ray, renewed his driver’s license. He had decided to become a donor and later mentioned it to his wife when her parents happened to be with them. Rochelle said she would become a donor the next time she renewed her license, but she never got the chance. Fortunately, her family remembered that conversation, and her gift of life saved Wooten and saved or helped six other people. Ray and Rochelle’s two children have met Wootten and one other recipient already, and Ray wants them to meet the other five as well. He says, “It’s proof of how wonderful their mother was to give up something of herself to benefit other people. A part of her is still alive, and they know that.”
Stories like this affirm my faith in the basic human desire to help others, even strangers. They also highlight the truth of our seventh Unitarian Universalist principle: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” In organ and tissue transplantation, great scientific and technological advances serve to remind us of our essential connectedness to all people, to all life.
More than 90,000 Americans now wait for donor organs and about one-third of those on the waiting list will die each year. Many more wait for tissues. To become an organ and tissue donor, sign up at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org and make a point of talking with your family about your wishes as soon as possible. And just as it was with Ray McCoy’s decision to become a donor that prompted his wife Rochelle, to voice her intentions to her family, your discussion may prompt the people you love to speak to you about their wishes as well. I became an organ donor many years ago when I was renewing my driver’s license, and I use occasions like today’s National Donor Sabbath to remind me to have another talk with my husband and parents. Besides knowing that my gift could bring life and health to others, I know that my family will be spared this one dilemma.
Unitarian Universalitst are some of the most stubbornly idealistic and committed people I have known. A popular slogan about organ and tissue donation is “Don’t take your organs to heaven… Heaven knows we need them here!” Whatever our beliefs about life after death, our faith has always called people to make this life as heavenly as possible by working to improve the health and dignity of all people. Since I’ve been a registered bone marrow donor, I’ve often longed to get a call, hoping some day I could help save a life by such a small gift of myself. I would imagine that many of us have felt good about giving blood for similar reasons. It’s natural to dream about saving a life. By becoming a donor, we make ourselves available to save or improve lives even after we are gone. It is a loving and noble way to live out the principles of our faith, the principles of dignity, hope, and an always, practical love for all creation.
Reverend Wendy Ward
Community Congregation Church of Clinton Heights, Rensselaer, New York
“Stewardship: It’s Organic”
Psalm 116, Matthew 25:14-30
(Holding up a church financial pledge card and an organ donor card.)
These are two cards of stewardship and commitment. One of them is important; the other is essential. They both are expressions of thankfulness to God for God’s gifts and grace. One of these cards sustains an organization: its material necessities of life together with its opportunities for ministry and mission. The other gives, sustains, and enhances life itself.
Soon you will receive one of these church pledge cards. Filling t out is conventional once-a-year act of stewardship, pledging the usual commitments of “time, treasure, talent’ to the church. It is important expression of gratitude and faith.
In light of Jesus’ parable of the talents, I would suggest that stewardship is more about cultivation than conservation. Usually, when we use the term “stewardship” we use it in regard to responsible use of resources. How do we not squander that which has been entrusted to us, either individually or as a community? How do we conserve our dollars, our church building, and our energy use wisely? That is often the question. It extends to ourselves, our bodies. Good stewardship of ourselves is usually seen as taking care of our bodies – eating right, getting both rest and exercise, and like – conserving our physical (and mental and emotional) well being.
But the parable of the talents points us beyond conservation to cultivation. Those servants who are blessed, who enter into joy, are those who risked, who went beyond the safe measure. Stewardship then becomes wise, if not sometimes risky, use of our resources and gifts for enhancement rather than hoarding. We are to create increase where there has been scarcity. Give life and growth in place of fallowness and futility. Provide hope and possibility in place of despair and desperation. To missions, to ministry, to persons unknown.
I think of Rich. A devoted husband and father in his 30’s. He was a member of my first church in Maine. An accountant of some sort, who worked with figures – very bottom line type guy. I remember being at a stewardship seminar with him, and his excitement as we explored understandings of stewardship that went beyond the bottom line to how we live our lives in faith and thankfulness. Several years later, after I had left that church, I was shocked to hear that Rich had been diagnosed with liver cancer. Word was that all other treatments had been futile and he was awaiting a transplant. It never came. Now I don’t know about the medical details of a transplant for his situation, but I do know that he never even had the chance. The “someone else” whose donor decision might have helped wasn’t’ there. We can’t leave organ/tissue donation “to someone else” because each of us is called to accountability for how we use our resources, our lives, and our bodies – even beyond life itself.
If we understand stewardship as giving increase and life, hope and possibility, then signing an organ/tissue donor card is a natural act of faith and thankfulness. Even if you feel your kidneys, corneas, or whatever would not be acceptable, let the medical experts make that decision. And discuss organ/tissue donation with your family and friends.
“Oh,” you say, “I couldn’t do that. It’s so morbid.” I don’t even want to think about it.” Yet I would say to you: could you look into he face of baby Sheyanne, who received a heart transplant when she was two hours old, then into the face of her parents, and say: “oh, it’s just too morbid.” Could you look into the eyes of the parents who made the decision to give life from their baby’s death and say to them, “Oh, its too morbid.”? What is the matter of morbidness and aversion to some is a matter of hope and life to others. Consider these words from a piece by Robert Test, entitles: “To Remember Me”.
Give me sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’ face, or love in the eyes of a woman.
Give my heart to a person who’s own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain.
Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he night live to see his grandchildren play.
Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week.
Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a cripples child walk.
Explore every corner of my brain. Talk my cells, if necessary, and let them grow so that, someday, a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will the sound of rain against her window…
If you must bury something, let it by my faults, my weaknesses and all prejudice against my fellow man.
Give my sins to the devil. Give my soul to God.
If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you.
If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.
Choosing organ/tissue donation then informs our understanding of stewardship. We are entrusted with life and the means for it for others beyond ourselves. When we sign this donor card, our stewardship is an action that flows not the convention but from compassion. We no longer simply conserve ourselves but cultivate hope and life that glorifies and gives thanks to the Creator of life, the living Christ, and the renewing Spirit.
Reverend John Thomason
Eustace United Methodist Church, Eustace, Texas
Reprinted with permission from UNOS/SEOPF Reference Guide for Clergy
“The Best of Things in the Worst of Times”
I read about a young man from Florida University who played in the 1995 college baseball playoffs. In a crucial game, this player homered, drove in four runs and made a key defensive play in leading his squad to victory over a higher-ranked team. What made his personal triumph all the more remarkable is that it came less than 48 hours after a great personal tragedy. This young man’s girlfriend had been killed when her Ford Bronco rolled over on Florida’s turnpike, tore through a guardrail and dropped 25 feet into a canal. The baseball player attended the funeral mass for his girlfriend on Friday morning, then as the hero of the game that afternoon, He said, “This was the hardest day of my life. And probably the best game of my life.”
On the cornerstone of an old church in England, these words are inscribed: “ In the year 1953, when all things sacred in the kingdom were either profaned or demolished, this church was built by Sir Richard Shirley, whose singular praise it was to do the best of things in the worst of times.”
As a pastor, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by individuals who respond to negative situations with positive action. They meet overwhelming adversity with amazing ingenuity. They look for ways to redeem even the most hopeless circumstances. On the “hardest days” they seem to have their “best games.” Somehow they summon the courage “to do the best of things in the worst of times.”
I recently served for three years as a hospital chaplain in a trauma hospital in Houston, Texas. I came to identify with one of the characters in the popular television series “M.A.S.H.” – the young Army clerk, Corporal O’Reilly. Of course, no one in the medical unit addressed him by his formal name. He acquired the nickname “Radar” because even in a noisy, hectic military camp he had the uncanny ability to hear helicopters from a great distance flying in with wounded soldiers.
Well, I developed “radar” of my own while serving as hospital chaplain. Our institution had an air ambulance service called “Life Flight.” From any point in the hospital I could hear the roar of the helicopter as it approached the landing pad carrying its critically ill or wounded passenger. My “radar” was sensitive not so much to the sound of the chopper as it was the pain and suffering the chopper would bear. Patients transported by “Life Flight” were victims of every conceivable tragedy – natural disasters, industrial explosions and fires, gunshot wounds to the head (many of them self-inflicted), gruesome automobile accidents and dangerously premature births.
When I heard the dreaded sounds of the helicopter, I know I would be paged momentarily to the trauma unit, perhaps to offer a silent prayer for the patient in the midst of frantic emergency treatment, perhaps to keep vigil with the patient’s family members as they absorbed the shock of the incident and vacillated between hope and despair.
Late one night I was asked by the trauma team to be with the mother and father of the teenage girl who was blind-sided in her car by a drunk driver. She had suffered irreversible head injuries and was given little chance to survive, much less to resume to a normal life. As the parents poured out their anguish to me, I wept with them – in part because I, too, had a teenage daughter and felt my own vicarious anguish. Soon the attending physician entered the waiting room and began to speak to the parents in a halting, almost apologetic, way. He explained that they had done everything that could be done, but that their daughter’s injuries were too severe to overcome. She had just been pronounced brain dead. Later the doctor added, however, that her vital organs were still functioning because she remained on a respirator. Due to this unusual combination of circumstances, it was possible for their daughter to be an organ and tissue donor. The doctor proceeded to lay out the facts about donation without applying any pressure. He then offered to address their questions and concerns and give them adequate time to reach a decision.
For the next 45 minutes, this couple, already stricken with grief, struggled to make a decision they were unprepared to make. They had never thought about organ donation, for themselves or their loved ones. Now they were asked to make a decision regarding their own beloved child in the wake of senseless tragedy, and to make it in the crucible of crisis.
The parents were initially skeptical and suspicious. They began to raise tough, even angry questions: Was their daughter’s death being hastened so that her body could be exploited for organs? No, the doctor replied emphatically. She was already dead by every clinical definition, and the decision to donate was entirely up to them. Would their daughter’s body be mutilated? Would it be possible for her casket to be open at her funeral? The doctor assured them that there would be no visible signs of the surgery to remover her organs and that an open casket would indeed be possible. She would be treated with utmost dignity and respect. Even so, the mother and father recoiled at the idea that any other physical damage might be done to their daughter. “Her body had already been through so much traumas,” the mother said. “I don’t know if I can stand putting her through anything else.” The father added, “I remember holding her as a new born baby. I want her to go out of this world the same way she came in, with her body as intact as possible.”
The girl’s parents were religious people, and, not surprisingly, they also raised religious questions. Does the Bible shed any light on their dilemma? Is it possible to discern God’s will in this situation? Does their own church tradition encourage or discourage organ donation? The mother and father happened to be United Methodist like myself. I mentioned to them that our recent church pronouncements have strongly advocated organ and tissue donation as a “life-giving act.” Because the technology for transplants is a recent development, the Bible is, of course, silent about this specific issue, Christ gave us the comprehensive commandment to love one another as he has loved us, but he left it to individuals to apply the law of love in particular situations. I suggested to the couple that a decision either way could be interpreted as a loving decision.
The mother and father continued to struggle aloud about their options. Then they asked to have a few minutes to talk privately and come to a conclusion. The doctor and I left the room and conferred about our exchange with the couple. We both surmised that they would reject the option of organ donation. Their heads seemed to be saying, “Donation is a good and helpful thing to do.” But their hearts seemed to be saying, “enough already! Let our daughter rest in peace.”
Soon the father signaled that they were ready to talk with us again. And to our amazement they announced that they were consenting to donate their daughter’s organs and tissues! I wondered to myself what caused them to overcome their caution and fear and reach a positive verdict. It wasn’t necessary to ask. The mother and father proceeded to tell us why they made this choice. They viewed their daughter’s death as a cruel, needless act. Nothing could make sense of it. Nothing could make her death good, in and of itself. But something good could come out of it. Their daughter’s death could provide the gift of life for someone else. Moreover, they decided that donating their daughter’s organs would be “life-giving” not only to a needy recipient, but to themselves as well. As parents they would find comfort and healing in the knowledge that their daughter’s death had not been a total waste, that part of her physical self would benefit someone else on the brink of death.
As a hospital chaplain, I counseled numerous families facing the option of organ donation. Many declined to donate, and I never presumed to judge their decisions. Their reasons for declining were varied. However, those who contested to donation all voiced the same reason. In each instance they saw an opportunity “to do the best of things in the worst of times.” They believed that their loved one’s death would not have to be useless; that their own loss would somehow be transformed into someone else’s gain; that their choice to donate would bring healing and life in the midst of death.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul makes the audacious claim that “In everything God works good” No matter how negative or hopeless our circumstances, says Paul, God can produce a positive result. God can always salvage something good out of something bad. For most of us, the acid test of this credo comes with death, especially a premature, tragic death. Can anything good possibly come from a death as unjust and untimely as the death of a teenage girl at the hands of a drunk driver? According to Paul, the potential for good is always there as long as God is present in our loss and sorrow, and God is always present!
Herein lies the deepest significance of a decision to donate organs and tissues. When we are faced with the worst of times – our own death or the death of a loved one – we can choose to work with God in working for good. We can embody Chirstlike self-giving in the most tangible way possible. We can make our own deaths purposeful. Best of all, we can choose life for someone else. And we can make these choices now, while we are still able to think clearly and speak for ourselves, before we are incapacitated by crisis.
Fredrick Buechner once compared the God of the Bible to the old alchemists – those ancient, primitive scientists who were always trying to take an inferior, impure material and transform it into gold. The testimony of faith is that God is able to pull it off! God can take even the worst – death itself – and somehow out of it bring the best. “In everything God works for good.” The wonder of it is that you and I can have a hand in this great work!
Reverend Madeline Ko-i Bastis, BCC
Peaceful Dwelling Project, East Hampton, NY
A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away the bodhisattva destined to become the Buddha lived one of his lifetimes as a wealthy Brahmin who was so good and kind and intelligent that everyone honored and respected him. Because he was determined to follow the Way of liberation he experienced no pleasure from worldly success. He gave up everything to become a hermit and live in the forest. His kindly presence called wild beasts and they ceased preying upon one another; his contentment and compassion inspired strangers to feel affection for him, just as he felt it for them. Soon he had many followers gathered around him.
One day he went for a walk with his disciple Ajita. As they neared a mountain cave, they saw a tigress who was very weak from the stress of giving birth. She was so starved that she looked on her own cubs as meat, while they, trusting their mother, nuzzled her looking for milk.
The honored one was touched by her distress and sent Ajitya to search for food for the tigress. When he was alone he began to reflect, “Why search for meat from some other creature when my entire body is available right here?” This body is only so much matter; one would be a fool not to welcome the chance of it’s being useful to someone else. I cannot be happy as long as there is a creature who is unhappy.” Saying this, the noble one threw himself over the cliff and died.
The sound of the bodhisattva’s body falling on the rocks caught the tigress’ attention just as she was about to eat her young. She crawled over to the corpse and ate her fill. When she regained her strength she began to nurse her young.
This is only one of many stories of the Buddha’s incarnations told in the “Jataka Tales.” The Buddha purified himself over many lifetimes by performing kind and generous actions. Sometimes he incarnated as an animal, sometimes as a human, but in all instances he helped other beings who were needy or in danger. Frequently he sacrificed his own life in order to save another’s.
While reflecting on the tigress’ plight, the Bodhisattva said, “This body is only so much matter; one would be a fool not to welcome the chance of it’s being useful to someone else.” The Bodhisattva gave his life in order that the tiger and her cubs could survive. We are not asked to give our lives. All we are asked to do during National Donor Sabbath is to consider whether our organs, after death, can help another to live. What a wonderful opportunity we have to emulate the generosity of the Buddha!
At the end of sitting mediation, we chant the four great vows. The first vow is: “Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.” The usual interpretation of the vow is that we will help all beings to realize the Way, to help bring them to enlightenment. But is also means that we vow to save all beings from suffering – emotional and physical suffering as well as spiritual pain.
Imaging that our last act occurs not before death, but after death – that we continue to save all beings even after life has left the body. Imagine that a part of us enables another to live. In autumn, the leaves turn gold and red and brown when winter and fall from the tree. As they decompose they form rich humus that fertilizes the roots of the tree. Our bodies can also nourish the tree of life. As Buddhists we believe that we are all one. There in only the One Body. How fitting for us to let go of our attachment to the individual body in order to save another.
I love the image of the newly nourished tigress nursing her young. The Bodhisattva had saved not only one tigress, but also a new generation, which would bring forth other generations. Perhaps a tiger stalking the plains of India today is a relative of the original tigress. Just as leaf humus makes it possible for a tree to flower and bear fruit, so it’s possible that my eyes, or my liver or my lungs can engender new life. How wonderful!
Buddha said, “I cannot be happy as long as there is one who is unhappy.” Can you?
Sample Bulletins/Newsletter Inserts
Below are short, individual paragraphs that can be inserted in your bulletins & newsletters regularly distributed to your congregation to demonstrate commitment to giving the gift of life.
Leave the legacy of life. The second weekend in November is National Donor Sabbath. (Religious Organization) supports organ and tissue donation as the gift of life and as the expression of highest humanitarian ideals. Please click here to sign up to give life today or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. For more information call Golden State Donor Services at 916.567-1600. It’s about giving life.
— (Religious Organization) supports and encourages organ and tissue donation as the ultimate gift of one person to another. November __ is National Donor Sabbath. Take a moment to sign up or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. Please consider making this great gift in God’s name.
— (Religious Organization) supports and encourages organ and tissue donation as the ultimate gift of one person to another. November __ is National Donor Sabbath. Take a moment to sign up. Please consider making this great gift in God’s name.
— This National Donor Sabbath more than 100,000 people nationwide and more than 1,000 locally of all ages and backgrounds currently wait for a life-saving organ Transplant. For many, the chance to live a full life won’t come unless all of us consider organ and tissue donation. Discuss this critical need after worship with your friends and family and how we all can help. You can save lives. Sign up today or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV.
—It’s National Donor Sabbath and (Religious Organization) recognizes the extraordinary life-giving power of organ and tissue donation and encourages all members of our congregation to sign up today on California’s organ and tissue donor registry – Donate Life California or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. You have the power to donate life. For more information, contact: Golden State Donor Services at 916-567-1600 or www.gsds.org. It’s about giving life.
— (Christian focused) Our church supports organ and tissue donation as the gift of life, an expression of the highest humanitarian ideals. We ask that all members of the congregation consider, during National Donor Sabbath signing up and give this gift in the name of Christ, who gave his life so that we might have life in its fullest.
— How do we respond to the blessings God has bestowed on us? How do we deal responsibly with the gifts God has given us? To think only of ourselves is to squander our lives. But to respond gratefully means we praise God with our words and our actions. To respond gratefully is to realize that all of life is God’s and we are called to care for it and share it. With these thoughts, we ask you to consider giving the gift of life so that others may live. Leave a legacy of life through organ and tissue donation. Sign up or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. It’s about giving life.
— (Religious Organization) recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation and encourages our members to sign up or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. By doing so, they attest to their commitment upon death to give such organs and tissues to those in need as part of their ministry to others.
—You can now ensure your decision about organ and tissue donation is honored. Sign up today or en Español or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. For more information call GSDS at 916-567-1600. It’s about giving life.
— To think of others in our hours of grief and sorrow is truly compassionate and selfless. Please consider the legacy of life – organ and tissue donation. (Religious Organization) supports this gift in the spirit of love and generosity. Remember to sign up today or en Español or check “YES” the next time you renew your driver’s license at the DMV. It’s about giving life.
Student Curriculum (K-3, 4-6, Jr. High)
Curriculum for Primary K-3
Excerpts from “Giving and Receiving the Gift of Life”
Reprinted with permission from the National Kidney Foundation of Eastern Missouri & Metro East
The overall objective of these lessons is to provide children from kindergarten through third grade the opportunity to learn about organ transplantation within a religious context. Specific lesson objectives will enable students to:
- Understand that many people are given a second chance to live due to organ transplantation.
- Learn what an organ is.
- Learn that without vital organ transplants, many people would die.
- Discuss the possible feelings of an organ donor and organ recipient
- Discover the fact that many more organ donors are needed.
Children between the ages of five and eight have a natural curiosity about life and death. Most children understand the concept of death and can relate to the death of plants and animals. These children, however, may not have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. Therefore, the enclosed information and lesson materials are planned for these very young students.
Each primary teacher should evaluate the emotional maturity level of the students, and take special care in discussing these matters of life and death in a way in which is honest and open but not frightening.
This is important: Each class leader should be careful not to impose his or her own personal feelings about organ donation on the class either through verbal or body language communication.
One half-hour of lesson material is enclosed which you can use to fit your particular situation. The lesson plan can be set in a regular religious school format or in a longer retreat or vacation schedule.
The regular teaching staff or youth counselors may be the best presenters and discussion leaders since they are the best known and trusted, but consider also the possibility of guest speakers or leaders with special credentials: a doctor or nurse, an organ recipient or donor family member. This will affect the enclosed lesson plan, which may have to be adjusted, as time will allow. Contact Brenda Owen for referrals and appointments at 916-567-1600 or Bowen@dcids.org.
We suggest that the class leader review the background material, order the activity material needed, and arrange outside speakers two weeks in advance. The class leader should be familiar with the background materials furnished in order to better lead the discussion. Most of the background information included would be of help to the teacher in answering technical questions, which may arise during class discussion. The enclosed fact sheet is intended as information for the teacher.
Transplant: To remove from one place or person to another.
Donor: A person who gives something to someone else as a gift.
Organ and Tissues: Body parts which do a special job for us. For example: corneas help in seeing; bone helps give the body shape and protects other organs.
Heart: An organ that circulates blood in the body.
Matching: Being alike, equal or exactly alike.
Lesson Activities – Primary Grades
- Two plants, one healthy and one withering or dead
- 10 minutes – Discussion
Begin a discussion about death and life by showing two plants, one healthy and one withering or dead. Explain the concept that certain things are needed for life, or living a full life. Discuss plant’s need for light, water; people’s need for food, rest, and good heath including a properly functioning body.
10 minutes – Introduce Vocabulary
Explain to students the meaning of the new vocabulary words. Respond to questions the students may have using background materials.
15 minutes – Worship Services
Bring students together in a prayer circle or other place of worship. Place plants in prominent position where all may see them.
- Begin with teacher leading prayer that speaks to life and God’s care for all people.
- Talk about God giving people a second chance at life.
- Give time for prayer and meditation. Prayers may include: all people who are sick, all doctors, nurses and scientists who help make transplants possible, and all people who have died.
- Read a sacred text reference or other inspirational reading to the students.