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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A balm in Madison

What 'heals a sin-sick soul'? Lifting a loved one to God in prayer.

Retired pastor Stan Klyve taught me a valuable lesson during a recent worship service. When it was time for the congregation to stand and sing the offertory, Stan, 82, and Susan, his wife, remained seated. Stan was unconscious. Two doctors and several nurses in the congregation immediately came to Stan’s aid. A prospective member called 911.

What do we do when someone becomes unconscious during worship? At Advent Lutheran Church, Madison, Wis., we surrounded Stan and Susan with prayer. Then we gathered for communion. Emily, our pianist, knew that There Is a Balm in Gilead is one of Stan’s favorite hymns, so she announced that we would sing it during communion.

Stan regained consciousness shortly before the paramedics arrived, and he sang along as they placed him on the cart: “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain. But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again ....”

I appreciate the flowing melody of this spiritual, but I always get tripped up on this “balm in Gilead.” Deep-penetrating balms for colds and muscle soreness come to mind. But what is the balm that “heals a sin-sick soul?”

Stan taught me the balm that heals a sin-sick soul is the worshiping community lifting a loved one to God in prayer. The balm is the retired pediatrician kneeling on one knee at Stan’s feet, head bowed in prayer and hand monitoring the pulse in his ankle. The balm is bread and wine, given with Jesus’ promise of forgiveness, life and salvation.

The next Sunday, while the offering was received, the soloist sang: “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

The congregation listened attentively, many with tears in their eyes. And Stan sang from his heart—now beating in constant rhythm, thanks to the his newly implanted pacemaker.


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