Sermon for July 22, 2018
As I’ve heard happens to many current and former police officers, a memory from my days on patrol was suddenly triggered this past week. I don’t know exactly what the spark was that brought back this particular call, but it was one of those calls that has stayed with me more than most. I don’t know why one call, versus another, tends to stand out. I’m sure there are numerous reasons but I won’t go into that here.
In the interest of respect for the involved parties, I will keep my description purposely vague, and void of normally salient details, which could lead one to have any idea of the actual call I responded to.
This particular call for service was a 911 call of a report of a deceased party who had committed suicide. A roommate had found this person in their room and called. I don’t know how many of these kinds of calls I went to as a police officer but it was many. If one is paying attention, each one of these situations is so different. There is a sense of reverence and stillness when entering the scene where someone has taken their life. In a way, you almost want to mentally ask the deceased permission to violate their moment, their space. Still, there is a job to be done and this job is part of how I showed respect- doing my job, taking care of whatever their final moment was like. It’s a surreal feeling combined with a practical attention to duty.
The reason I described that in detail is because this particular scene had such a strong, particular feeling to it. I felt this person’s sense of hopelessness, helplessness, disconnection, absolute ‘alone-ness’. It wasn’t just a sense. The spirit of this person’s last moments were somehow present in the room. I don’t mean that in some spooky, supernatural sense. I think most anyone would have felt it if they stopped and allowed themselves to be present. The totality of the scene just spoke to this person’s desperation in the last moments of life.
Another element of this scene was that it was very apparent that this person was trying at this thing we call life- he was trying very hard. This also increased that sense of hopelessness. This person was struggling, working to get out of this pit they found themselves in. But the waves just kept coming, and they went under.
So, what’s the point of sharing all this? At face value, it might seem like a very sad story and a person who ‘lost’ their battle. Yet, that is part of the illusion of this world, and probably something this person was feeling themselves- sad, tired, losing the battle of life they found themselves in. They started to believe the loudness of the world. This noise is a kind of lie. It’s the kind of lie that we start to believe almost out of shear repetition. That noise, the sound of the lies, needs to be interrupted.
As clearly as I felt the things I described above, about the worldly person I came to serve, there was more. I also felt the perfection of this person’s true identity in the eyes of God. The stillness of the person’s death was like a contrast between how the world defined them, how they began to see themselves, and the Truth of who they were in God’s eyes. You could feel the alone-ness in the act of suicide, the frozen-in-time stillness of the aftermath, and the actual truth of who this person was to God that was totally beyond this momentary circumstance. We, as the Bible tells us, are given the ability to push this perfection away, given free will to close ourselves off to the divine, but we can not change our essential nature. God’s love and grace are always with us even if we turn away and fail to recognize it in the layers of the world upon us.
I think we can all relate to the tension between what the world tells us and the promises of God. In a way, I felt as though this person and I were teaching each other about this tension. Their example was cautioning me not to get caught in a struggle you never really have to fight, to recognize yourself the way God recognizes you, and I was witnessing for them that even though they couldn’t do this for themselves, the real person, beyond the pain, was ever present. I saw for them what they couldn’t.
Someone will need to hear this message. It’s a message told by God through a former beat cop and a person who took their own life. It’s a message of your own inherent value, no matter what the loudness and lies of the world are telling you. I can think of innumerable things you can use to form false narratives about what makes you valuable or worthy- race, income, job, health, appearance, relationship, car- the list goes on and none of these things define you. If you want practical proof, beyond just the spiritual, you can’t take any of this with you when you die. You go back to God naked, just as you arrived- but also perfect, just as you started. Only you can reject this perfection.
Suicide is a terrible thing to experience for anyone who is touched by it. Although I didn’t know this person at all, on a personal level, they affected me. I prayed for them, wondered if I had been able to contact them before their moment of despair if I could have shown them how much they mattered and were not alone. To a large extent, I’ve even written this sermon in their memory, in their honor. If you needed to hear these things, if you’re in pain, perhaps even considering suicide, just don’t do anything in this moment. Reach out. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for someone else, anyone else- anything to get through that one moment. Think of this person I wrote about, the police officer who met them just moments too late, and choose to meet your identity in God in your life, not your death.