April 2014


The Goodness of the Holy One
“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Luke 1:49
The Mighty One has done great things for me. April 1, 2014 is the third anniversary of my diagnosis with brain cancer. It is three years since I was told I had an inoper-able, fatal tumor and could expect to live 1 ½ to 2 years. On that day I mentioned to my doctor that I had never been to the Holy Land, and was hoping to travel there in the spring of 2012. He said that if I wanted to see Israel before I died, I should go by the autumn of 2011. He apparently thought that I had perhaps 6 more months of enough quality of life to travel before the tumor dev-astated my health. When that happens, he said, “It will be ugly.”
Now it is 3 years since I heard those words; a year since I quit taking chemotherapy. In the past year I have trav-eled to England, Wales, Paris, Alaska, Hawaii, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Rome, and from my home in Seattle to the UUC offices in California numerous times. I am look-ing forward to a trip to Israel sometime in the next 5 years. The tumor has shrunk to 1/10th of the size it was in April, 2011 and remains inactive, “stable” is the term the doctor uses. But he also wonders if the tumor is “no longer viable” as a tumor which is an idea very different than what he told me in 2011. Then he said, “This tu-mor is always fatal. It will always find a way to overcome treatment and grow again. And the ending will not be pretty.”
I don’t believe those words are true for me, and the doctor wonders “Is the tumor no longer viable?” I have written before that I think the tumor is like the fig tree that Jesus cursed…still there, but withered up and never able to bear fruit again. I believe that when I die, when the Lord chooses to call me home some time more than 15 years from now, my death will be totally unrelated to cancer.
Meanwhile I am living a miracle. The Mighty One has done great things for me. To know this is true is very humbling; and it also gives me a sure confidence. I am sure that the words of John’s gospel (sent to me by a Catholic sister in Vietnam) are true for my life story: “This illness is not unto death, but is for the glory of God.” And I am sure this miracle is about more than me. It is also about Union University of California. Looking back, I can see that the Lord prepared me all my life for a leadership role at UUC in these crucial years as we grow into a global church leader training and theologi-cal education school. For a set time and at a critical mo-ment I am called to work in behalf of our school. In a sense I am anointed for this, even saved from death for this. For his own reasons, the Mighty One wants me to be serving this school at this time in history. I also be-lieve that the prayers of the UUC staff and board for the Lord to heal me, so that I could serve as President, have much to do with my healing. Without their request, I might be in gone from this world by now.
I tell you honestly that I have no ego in this. When you know that the Holy One has done great things for you, it is a humbling experience. In reality I am a farm boy from the poverty of the western Pennsylvania country-side, whom the Lord befriended, out of kindness and for his own reasons, to lift me up and guide me through life from the time I was a small boy until my seventh decade. The Lord has been faithful, and remains faith-ful. In gratitude I serve him; I seek to see the world as he sees it, and to labor for the fulfillment of his will in our world as he directs me. It is my honor to serve him and to serve our students, faculty and staff at UUC.
What he has done for me also gives me confidence about the future of our school. Would the Lord save me from death and then allow me to fail at the task he has given me? Would the Lord direct the UUC board to extend this extraordinary call to someone with brain cancer, and fill us with hope for all that UUC can do for the oppressed and courageous church around the world, and then not accomplish what he has begun? Would the Lord do all these things with the intention of letting us down? Will the Lord fail to complete what he has been doing in this place through so many faithful people for thirty years? I cannot believe that the Lord would act in that way. Holy is his name, and his actions are faithful and holy. So we can have confidence that the good things he has planned for our school will come to their fulfillment, in far greater ways than we think for or imagine.
It was Mary, the mother of Jesus, who first said “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” I say it now to you. The Mighty One has done great things for me. If it were not true, I would already be gone from this world. Instead I serve UUC in the role of president, seeking to be the servant of all those courageous Christians who are our faculty and students, trusting that this same Mighty One intends to do, and will do, great things for our school. And through our school he will do great things for the global church at a crucial time in world history.
I invite you to believe with me, to humbly serve with me, and to praise our God with me. Please join me in praying with believing hearts that the Lord will work steadily to accomplish in us what he has been planning for many years to do. His goodness is unsearchable. His faithfulness is undeniable. His kindness to us is forever. Holy is his name.
Rev. Dr. Dale Sewall