Seventh Sunday of Easter: Calmed

May 12, 2024

Week 7: Calmed 7th Sunday after Easter

 Philippians 4:4-9 are the verses I want on my gravestone – if I have one.  Chances are by then we won’t be doing gravestones anymore!  This passage describes how many of us want to live our lives: full of joy and gratitude, gentleness, compassion, peace.  Yet that is not the reality of our lives, all the time. In times when we are struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD or a myriad of other forms of mental illness, these words can be both an encouragement to hold onto AND a cause for guilty feelings.


We might hear the voice of Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables, as Anne says, “Haven’t you ever been in the depths of despair?”  And Marilla replies, “To despair is to turn one’s back on God”.  There’s still a belief in some Christian circles that if we are struggling with mental illness, that somehow our faith must be lacking.  I am here to tell you that that is utter nonsense.  Even our Biblical stories show us this is not true: Job, David, Jeremiah, the Isaiahs, and others – all great figures of faith, all of whom found themselves deeply despairing.


I hope that most of us recognize that mental health issues can hit the most well-adjusted, happy, faithful person. They come to us from a complex combination of factors, from genetics to environment to hormonal changes to brain chemistry to illness or accident or other traumas. Marcia McFee points out: “Mental health exists on a spectrum. Instead of being mentally ill or not mentally ill, it is more accurate to be aware of how each and every one of us can fall into a state of mental illness” at some point in our lives. The passage from Romans begins with an important reminder to stay humble: “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” The implication is that we who are “strong” could just as easily become the “weak!”  In our language today we might instead say:  “We who  are feeling resilient and healthy should look out for those who are not! “ This passage reminds us that this is work done together. “Together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Marcia Mcfee, Worship Design Studio)”


This church needs to be a safe place for people who are “NOT OK” in mind and spirit. If that means you sit in the pew and cry through the whole service, that’s OK. If you keep your eyes open during all the prayers because of past trauma, that’s OK. If you almost make it across the threshold but just can’t step into a place surrounded by people, that’s OK – there will be another time and place for you. If that means you over-react and say something to someone you later regret, we will make room for apologies and forgiveness.  If you are not able to rejoice in the Lord and give thanks every moment because you are so debilitated you can’t get out of bed, or can’t go out the door because each time you try you have a panic attack – that is not a weakness of faith. That is illness, and it has nothing to do with how faithful you are.


There is a great deal more awareness and understanding of mental illness these days, but there is still some stigma attached – especially for generations who were told that mental illness meant weakness of character, and brought visions of straight-jackets, ice-water baths and electric shock treatment.  Those days are not completely behind us, which is why it’s important to be careful what we read aloud, teach and preach in the church.  This should not be a place where people already traumatized or struggling have those difficulties reinforced by judgement or ignorance.


One area that churches could really be helpful to youth especially is to provide supports for them to gather with qualified leaders to explore mental health issues.  You may have noticed a poster for one such gathering on our bulletin boards.  Getting our young people connected to those kinds of resources and combatting the stigma people face is something concrete we can do to help create a healthier society for us all.


Another way we can help is sharing our own struggles and what helped us through.  So rather than telling you someone else’s Resurrection Story today, I’m going to tell you just a little bit of mine.


Those of you who have been around for a while know that some years ago I got over-tired and over-stressed, and then injured my back and hip in a fall as well.  All of a sudden I found myself experiencing symptoms I couldn’t explain: a racing heart, chest pains, light-headedness, nausea, legs so weak I would walk with my hands on the walls for fear of falling, and a choking sensation in my throat. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  I eventually was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder – and I was off work for 3 months, with a two-month phased-in back-to-work period.  My treatment consisted of both clinical counselling and medication – and meeting regularly with a spiritual advisor as well.  I relied heavily on my faith and the prayers of others to get me through what had nearly knocked me out.  So today instead of telling you more about the calm Jesus can bring into our lives, I want to share with you some of what eventually brought me that “peace that surpasses all understanding”, as Paul puts it – that assurance that God is present with me and that there is nothing that I cannot face with that knowledge.


So now, I’m going to invite you into quiet, into deep breathing, to quiet your body and your  mind, and to hear the voice of God speaking through words of Scripture.  These words are a gift from previous generations of faithful people to their descendants in the faith. If you hear words that mean something special to you, hang on to them, and allow them to bring you reassurance:


As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; Isaiah 66:13


Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of our God has risen upon you! Though darkness covers the earth, and dark night the nations, on you the Great God shines and over you God’s glory will appear… Isaiah 60:1


Can a woman forget the child at her breast, or a mother the child she carried in her womb? Even if these should forget, I will not forsake my own. I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.  Isaiah 49:15-16


Comfort, comfort my people. Bring comfort to them, says your God….Have you not known, have you not heard? Has it not been told you? The One Eternal God, does not weary or grow faint; God’s understanding cannot be fathomed, who gives vigour to the weary, new strength to the exhausted.  …those who look to the LORD will find their strength renewed.  They will soar as on eagle’s wings, they will keep on going and never faint.  Isaiah 40


It was I who taught [you] to walk, whom I took in my arms……I led [you] with bonds of love, I lifted [you] like a little child to my cheek, I bend down to feed [you].    Hosea 11:3-4


Before you were formed in the womb I chose you, and before you were born I consecrated you…  Jeremiah 1;4


I alone know my purpose for you, says our God, wellbeing and not misfortune…If you invoke me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you; when you seek mem, you will find me, if you search wholeheartedly. Jeremiah 29:11ff


Happy are all those who hold God in reverence and awe, who conform to God’s ways.  You will enjoy the fruit of your labours, you will be happy [and prosperous]  Psalm 128


God is our refuge and our stronghold; a very present help in times of trouble…Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46


[You are] like a tree, planted beside streams of water. It yields its fruit in good season and its foliage never fades.   Psalm 1


I call you to mind on my bed and meditate on you in the watches of the night, for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  Psalm 63:6


Come to me, all you who are weary and whose load is heavy; I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28


For I am convinced there is no thing in death or in life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths or anything else in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38 ff


Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14 27ff6


I am with you always, says Jesus, even to the end of the age.  AMEN.



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