Welcome to this resource for worship at home. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures together, while apart. This May we have a month of attention to our mental and emotional well-being; today remembering the stigma of illness.
Worship Welcome Luke 1:46-48, 52-53
As Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour
on the lowliness of his servant.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Hymn 532 Be Thou My Vision (sung below by a church in Cincinnati, OH)
Prayer O Lord of our hearts, open our vision today, we pray. Open us to see You, to see ourselves, to see one another, to see a new vision of Your world.
O Lord our soul’s shelter, while we are sheltered in our own homes, fill us with courage to grow and explore our own souls. Lead us, Spirit, into transformation, holiness, and action.
O Lord our dignity and our delight, raise us up to praise and proclaim the goodness of life, in this world of suffering and pain. We worship today to the best of our ability: increase our faith!
High King of Heaven, meet us in the low & lowly places where we live, and scatter Your blessings again among all the needy. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Offering We thank God that we can still offer worship at this time, from our own homes. We can still serve one another with friendship and prayer, with little errands and listening ears. We can still contribute tithes and offerings for our local congregation and for ministries around the globe. Praise be!
Piano Medley In the Garden / May the Good Lord Bless & Keep You / Amazing Grace – Brenda Eisener, Ottawa, sister of Eddie Dunn
Scripture 1 Samuel 21:10-22:2 – Heather Parry
Sermon Crazy Contagion – Jeff White
“So, tell me about your mother.” This popular cliché in psychology was the hallmark of Sigmund Freud. Today is the end of Mental Health Week in Canada: good timing for us all, isn’t it?! Today’s sermon is not a therapy session for you (or me!), but it is an opportunity to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches about the health of the mind, and God’s part in healing and helping. Yet there is still so much stigma, so much looking down upon these problems and those who suffer them.
The Sunday evening study group has been continuing – online – to work through our study of mental health and the Church’s ministry to people facing mental illnesses. One whole chapter of Amy Simpson’s book, ‘Troubled Minds’ is about the stigma of mental illness, and how stigma against people lives on in churches.
How people deal with illnesses of the mind is part of our culture. We are steeped in a culture that still fears mental illnesses, stereotypes the people suffer- ing, makes fun of them, and uses a lot of methods to avoid dealing with them. This has been the case for centuries, in many different cultures. There is a stigma about ‘madness/craziness,’ that lives on with us. Even the use of these terms that are out of date says something. They become rude and demeaning.
We looked back, way back, today, to the Hebrews in the time of King David. We find him on the run, and ‘feigning madness,’ at one point. Pretending to be mad, crazy, insane.
The biography of David is a complex story – just as yours and mine is – and in 1 Samuel 21 and 22 we find him fleeing from Saul and other men of power in those days. David comes into the realm of Achish, king of Gath (a realm known as Goliath’s home turf, remember?). David’s reputation precedes him, and he finds the people of the royal court know all about him. Fearing king Achish, David pretends to be mentally ill. He scratches on the doors. He drools.
His ploy works. Achish treats him as harmless: actually, just bothersome. “Why do I need another madman around here?” declares Achish. David gets sent on his way, & runs off to another place. Later, we can read of David & Achish getting along quite well.
To pretend to be mentally ill is not something we think of doing often. Or is it? In court cases, the accused may ‘plead insanity’ so as to not be held totally responsible for his or her illegal actions. There have been cases when someone ‘in their right mind’ tried to get off with this as an excuse.
But even in pop culture we know about pretending to be mad. I remember the TV series M*A*S*H, with Corporal Klinger: he tried for years to be kicked out of his military service overseas by acting crazy: bt cross-dressing. He wanted a ‘Section 8,’ a discharge from the army for being mentally unfit.
‘Crazyness’ is funny in our eyes. We laugh. Making fun of people who don’t ‘act normal’ becomes contagious. We all start laughing, rolling our eyes, and acting foolish ourselves. But this gets transferred to real people, brothers and sisters who suffer from illnesses of the mind.
It is also frightening: we fear it. This builds the stigma against suffering people.
Is ‘crazyness’ contagious? Can we catch it by getting too close to someone? This may be an irrational fear, but it can be a real fear. Moreover, people fear mental illness because it ‘runs in the family.’ The genetic element can predispose someone to become sick, we fear, and the family of origin can perpetuate unhealthy relationships and abuses that cause emotional harm and illness. So we think – based on facts – but we also exaggerate the dangers.
I remember a dear friend, a wise friend, who spoke of the depression that ran in his family. His father died from a gunshot, out in the field, alone. One son said it was an accident. The other always figured it was actually suicide. Others in the family had mental illnesses; some had died by suicide.
So the fears around illness grow. Despite our faith in a God “who heals all our diseases,” a Saviour whom we call the Great Physician, a Spirit we call our Comforter and our Advocate.
Let me tell you some of the story of Amy Simpson, and her mother. Amy Simpson is editor of Gifted For Leadership and managing editor of marriage and parenting resources for Today’s Christian Woman. She is the author of ‘Into the Word: How to Get the Most from Your Bible,’ and, ‘Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission.’ Simpson tells us:
I grew up in the Midwest, one of four kids in a loving family. Dad was a pastor for ten years, serving two small rural churches. Mom was a homemaker. Our family loved to go camping, and all of my best memories of family life have the six of us crammed into a pop-up camper, swimming in a lake somewhere or sweating together with the wind thrashing our hair, three in the front and in the back of our sedan.
My mom is a gentle person, creative, funny, resourceful and very smart. She always encouraged my creative development, indulged my love for reading, taught me to clean the house like I meant it, sparked my love of a good pun and showed me how to get organized. Mom is also the person who led me to faith in Christ when only four years old.
Yet there’s more to our story. Mom has suffered tremendously and has been the source of much of my own suffering. Ours is a very complicated relationship—as all her relationships are. While I didn’t know enough to question the normalcy of our family life when I was a child, I knew something was wrong. This undefined knowledge nagged at my family as we did our best to ignore it. As it became harder to ignore, we started looking for help—and came up short. When I was a teenager, on the day I waited at school for someone to pick me up and no one came, it became obvious.
My brother, who had stopped at home on a break between college classes, had found Mom in the kitchen, completely unable to function. She went to the hospital. When I called home from a pay phone to find out when someone would pick me up school, a neighbor answered and said Mom had had “a stroke or something.”
It was no stroke that had indelibly altered Mom and our family. That was the day she had her first full-on, debilitating, confusing, terrifying, mind-bending, truth-twisting, hospital-worthy psychotic break. And it was a long time before I understood what happened.
When I was fifteen, Mom picked me up at school to take me to a dental appointment. I could tell immediately that she wasn’t functioning normally; I recognized warning signs that she was headed for another “episode.”
I remember thanking God that I could legally take over driving if I needed to and asking Mom if she had taken her medication that day. Her answer was not straightforward…
We did make our way safely to the dental office…
After half an hour or so with the dentist, I returned to the waiting room and approached my mom, who didn’t look at me. Suddenly I realized my instincts had been right, and my earlier fear was realized: something indeed was wrong with Mom…again. And it was up to me to help her.
After a couple of quiet attempts to rouse her, I began to attract attention. People sat and stared at me, wide-eyed, as I tried to get her to respond.
With everyone in the room continuing to stare, I walked over to the reception desk and asked the woman behind the counter – who was also staring – if I could use the phone. “No, there’s a pay phone around the corner.” When I explained that I needed to call my dad for help, I didn’t have change for the phone, and it would be a local call, she still refused and pointed to the pay phone. So I went back to my mom and wrestled with her rigid arms, pulling them aside enough to get into her purse and get the quarter In needed for the phone. I went back to the receptionist to ask if she could keep an eye on my Mom while I went to use the pay phone. She shrank back in horror and asked, “Is she dangerous?”
While Dad was on his way, one of the dentists became aware of what was happening and did what she could to help get Mom to the car. Dad and I took her to the hospital for another of her psychiatric stays and restabilization on medication.
…I went home with Dad and back to “regular” life. I never talked to anyone about what I had experienced. (pp. 21-26)
This is one story of fears and stigma about illness. Near the end of her book, Amy Simpson declares:
What’s remarkable about this life is not that we have pain, that we suffer, that life gets so ugly we can’t even look at it. The remarkable thing is that we have anything but suffering. That there is a large supply of goodness in this world. That despite our best efforts at self-destruction, grace still shines on us, and the sun rises. That we are surrounded by beauty. That we know how to laugh. That we can laugh and cry at the same time. And – most remarkable – that our suffering and pain themselves become the media for some of God’s most beautiful work. It’s called redemption, and we overlook it every day. (p. 201)
She tells us, By God’s grace (and I’m not using that term flippantly) and for his glory, my siblings and I are all healthy, productive and living in relationship with Christ. We can say that God has redeemed our suffering. …He has granted us sensitivity to other broken people we might otherwise have shunned.
Mom is currently doing well, managing her illness and benefiting from the advances made in the latest generation of anti-psychotic drugs. She enjoys a strong and growing relationship with Jesus and benefits from the ways her church helps her stay grounded in that relationship. (p. 209)
Thanks be to God, Amy Simpson’s suffering, and that of her family, have borne beautiful fruit, including her own healing, helping ministry of teaching about the human mind and divine promises.
For me, this week, there is one more scene from scripture that speaks. The next vignette in the saga of 1 Samuel. Chapter 22 starts with David on the run again, and finding a hiding place in a cave. But he is not truly hidden. His family members and others gather with him. In fact, we are told, Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred. (1S22:1-2)
David – a man of skills and spirituality, of sins and deep failures, of a big calling from God – he is clearly a natural-born leader. This list of people who were drawn to him in that moment catches my eye: those in distress, those in debt, those discontented. Such beaten-down people were the ones attracted to David at that time.
We see King David, of course, as a precursor of the final Anointed One (Christ/Messiah), Jesus of Nazareth. Look to the Gospels and see the people, sometimes great crowds, attracted to Him. Those he spends His time with: the sick, the poor, the oppressed and unhappy, the ‘sinners.’ Much like those drawn to David, centuries before.
The stories we have of the Saviour show Him meeting and blessing people who had lost loved ones, people who were suffering or dying, people who had no hope, people who were being crushed by the powerful, people who had got themselves in a lot of trouble, people who were considered ‘unholy.’ It is to them Jesus went.
When criticized, Jesus said He came not to the well, but to those who were sick.
His mother knew this. Remember her poetic praise when she was pregnant? Remember the kinds of things she said? (Luke 1)
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
51 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Good News! for the lowly, the humble, the hungry. He came to the broken. He came to the traumatized and tragic. He came to the depressed and dispossessed. He came to the rejected and rough- around-the-edges. He came to us.
So, perhaps the bottom line is this. We dispel our stigmas against those who are ill, simply by joining Jesus, and finding how we can view all others though His eternal eyes. With His wise care. With His pure heart. And our own fears and stigma about ourselves, when we are weak, are banished by the Comforter Jesus sends to our souls.
Prayers God of family, Parent of the fellowship, Lover of our souls: we gather all our separate prayers into the themes of the day, and our common conversation with You happens again. Praise be!
Holy Trinity, one of our earliest commandments is to ‘honour our fathers and mothers,’ that our life upon the land we are given may be long. We give thanks for all those who nurtured us and have been life-giving. Before You, we face our failings and fears about family and our relationships. We face the griefs and sorrows. We face the neglect and hurt. Shepherd our souls now; forgive us and make us forgiving; reconcile and recreate us, in Your mercy.
It is mercy, blessing, miracle we seek for so many people, in so many places today. We pray for three-year-old Dylan, missing in Truro, and his family, and the searchers. We pray for workers of all sorts in our homes for special care and hospitals, especially Northwood, where so many deaths have been faced. We pray for our own beloved ones who are isolated in this time, those in and out of hospitals, and those feeling downcast, depressed or alone now.
We look back to Jesus, how He grew in wisdom, stature, and in favour with God and people. We see how He went to all who were wrecked and ruined, all who were poor in spirit and downhearted. Oh come to them again. Come to us; & when we are strengthened, send us out. With respect and care for all we touch.
This weekend of Motherhood, we shall not be visiting our mothers. This weekend of graduations, the universities shall not meet. This weekend of spring, the snow falls heavy. Unlimited One! You are not hindered by the events of these days; so let love unlimited still flow and go. We join You in reaching out for goodness and help in our neighbourhood, and Your world.
We still are longing to be connected. Not just with one another. With You. This day, and every day, we lay ourselves at Your feet. You, raise us up, and shine through us. In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
Benediction from 1 Kings 8:56a, 57, 58a
Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people… according to all that He promised.The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may He not leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to Him. Amen.