If you have looked in your Lent bag, you will know that today you had some playdough, we put in there along with the words, there are stories that have shaped our lives. You will also know that the playdough is the consistency of rock! While that wasn’t our intent, isn’t that also true? Sometimes we think our stories are set and unchanging. Our intent was for you to play with the playdough, to imagine all the things that have shaped your life and formed you into what you are today. And also imagine what shape you might like the next stage of your life to be.
Brené Brown says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” That’s what we are doing in this Interim Ministry Time. Imagining what shape the next stage of Stairs life might be. What stories we will live out.
In our scripture reading this morning we have two stories. A story about blind men and a story about a mute ‘demoniac.’ Let’s listen, as the stories unfold as written in Matthew’s gospel in the 9th chapter:
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district. After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.”
These stories are different, although both are healing stories and while I’m going to touch on both of them, I’m going to concentrate on the second one, because this week our focus is on mental health.
First of all, the healing of the blind men.
Kathy Black observes, the words “blind” and “blindness” are among the most common terms in our religious vocabulary.Yet such terms are always used in a negative connotation; usually in reference to our refusal to obey or pay attention to what God wills for our lives. The presence of persons who are blind in our congregations and communities seems to go unnoticed as pastors consistently use “blind” and “blindness” as metaphors for living in some state of sin. She goes on to say, “A certain irony presents itself, then, insofar as the two men can be understood to signify discipleship more effectively before they are healed than after they are healed.” (Wilson, Walter T.; Wilson, Walter T.. Healing in the Gospel of Matthew (p. 232). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition)
I’m sure I’ve done it… if not in a sermon, at least in conversation. Asking the question, what are we blind to?
Moving on to the second part of the reading, the healing of the demoniac. This man could have been suffering from any number of mental health issues. It is said that he was mute. Metaphorically speaking, as a society and as a church, we have been encouraged to be mute about mental health. Last week, I sent an email inviting you to share a story about living with or dealing with a mental health issue.
According to The Canadian Mental Health Association: In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures. Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness#:~:text=In%20any%20given%20year%2C%201,some%20time%20in%20their%20lives.
So if 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health issue in any given year and let’s face it, this past year has tested our capacity in so many ways…And there are 22 of us here… at least 4 of us had that experience… And yet, all but one of you were mute on the subject! 😉 I wonder why? Is it because of the same and stigma that still surrounds mental health issues? Susan Kolesar shared some thoughts with me… I hope I have done them justice in putting them together.
People being comfortable with you as you are or at least letting you know it’s ok.
Compassion – in other’s shoes. Imagine what it’s like to feel you can’t control how you’re thinking.
Healing often comes slowly. It’s tough learning to take one step at a time.
Year after year. The frustration of illness hanging on or illness returning when you’ve been fine for a while.
Remind me that I will feel well again.
Do I have plans to connect with someone?
It is a relief to be with people like me, who’ve been there. If I am upset, down, they’ve been there too. I benefit from a weekly social group, where we do everything but talk about our health. I’ve received encouragement from others in church who have their own struggles with mental health.
Toward something new, better instead of back to “normal”.
When we’re working together, remember:
• Change is hard and scary
• Taking responsibility is scary;
• I feel like I’ve let myself and others down before.
• Shared responsibility is more doable, realistic. The benefit: sharing responsibility leads to developing relationships. Also, with more people involved, there is less pressure, better results, maybe even fun.
• No assumptions, no expectations
• Sometimes I’m just not available
• Let me be needed but not necessary
• Reject working for perfection
• Recognize beauty in diversity
Susan, some of your words describe what church could be at its best! Shared responsibility… rejecting perfection… recognizing beauty in diversity… Toward something new, better instead of back to “normal.” Jesus is always calling us to something new, something better, not back to normal.
Jesus casts out the ‘demon’ and the man was able to tell his story. And the crowds were amazed as Jesus! What we need to be careful with in this story is over-simplifying it. Healing stories can be used as weapons when they are linked with faith. We all know people who have great faith but that doesn’t protect them from accident and illness, including mental illness. And we must make the distinction between healing and cure. For there can be healing without cure. Healing can be the restoration to community, sometimes that might mean cure, sometimes that means acceptance. To me healing means owning your story, the good, the bad and the ugly and knowing that you are a beloved child of God just the way you are. But that does not mean you don’t seek as much healing as possible… therapy, medication, art, music, dance, prayer.
Your story is what makes you, you. It’s a sacred story. In the same way, Stairs story is a sacred story… Is it this story? Hard, unchanging and inflexible? Hold up hard playdough.
Or is it this story? Soft, pliable, adaptable. Hold up soft playdough.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of sharing our stories, amen.
Matthew 9: 27-33
March 7, 2021
Lent 3 – SMUC – Holy Vessels