Mental Health Sunday [OR Preaching for the First Time About My Postpartum Depression] Luke 18:1-8 and Psalm 121

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 16, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 18:1-8  Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

4He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

6The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

7The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

[sermon begins]

These past few days, morning walks with Rob and our dog Sunny have been glorious (poop bags not so much). Bluebird skies, wisps of white clouds, sunlight blooming off leaves turned red, orange, pink, and yellow, hills in the distance with hints of the brighter colors close by. During one of these walks, I mentioned how much better I feel when I’ve made the effort to get myself out of the door. The cool breeze lightens burdens and heavier thoughts, and at the same time makes space for lifting people to God in prayer. Times like these walks, when thoughts are clearer and life is calmer, foster so much of the gratitude that Pastor Ann talked about last week. Gratitude that changes perspective and improves mental health. Gratitude for things that aren’t always seeable.

It’s hard to describe the darkness of mental illness. My experience with postpartum depression gave me a glimpse of how dark and out of control it feels. Things were tough after our first was born but the depression went into overdrive after our second child.  A mind hijacked by shame, I felt unworthy of love and the life I had. Everyone else seemed so happy as new parents and I was drowning in anger, losing my cool over the smallest things. Most of you wouldn’t recognize the me that I was then. I was able to camouflage my distress except from those closest to me who felt hurt and helpless. Therapy and time and getting more sleep and my husband’s determination and my eventual honesty about what I was going through and my apologies to the people who care about me and having a weekly reminder at worship of God’s grace and unconditional love, all worked together towards healing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned coming from generations of family who struggle with mental health, it’s that healing from mental illness is never just one thing. Healing is layered. It took a few years to fully recover my light and my confidence and to trust that I was loved. I am most fortunate to have had the support and the resources to make it through that dark time. I do wonder what the outcome would have been if I’d hadn’t had the support and resources.

Support and resources are part of what Mental Health Sunday is about. As we sang in our Gathering Song, we “build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live.”[1] Part of the building this house is our honesty.

– Honesty that there are no quick fixes to mental illness.

– Honesty that our faith is a layer of healing – mental illness is NOT caused by lack of faith nor fixed by more faith as many of us were taught.

– And honesty that we need other people, some of whom are a congregation and some mental health professionals.

– Honesty that mental illness is a set of real diseases that are sometimes beyond our control to heal ourselves and sometimes beyond anyone’s control to heal completely.

– And honesty that our mental illnesses create pain for ourselves and the people we love.

We start worship with a word of confession about ourselves and hear God’s good word of forgiveness because both are true – we are broken and do hurtful things out of our own pain AND God’s mercy endures forever. Today’s parable of the widow and the unjust judge is a great illustration of both.

“God is everything the unjust judge is not.”[2] This is not a parable that slides God into the power role. But God is present. The widow’s urgent persistence is fueled by God’s promises of justice, by God’s alignment with orphans and widows who are lifted up throughout scripture as worthy of the community’s energy, money, and protection. She has nothing to fear from the unjust judge because her life is on the line. Death is her outcome should her plea for justice fail. The widow is a good example of why the church has a role in advocating for justice of all kinds so that support and resources are broadly available. Today, that means spotlighting mental health and the factors that help and harm.

Our society is dealing with a tsunami of mental illness. Some of it, like my postpartum depression, is situational and familial. But the level of mental illness that we’re experiencing as a country is uncharted territory. This is no longer a discussion about a few individuals who struggle because of genetics and family systems. It is no longer a private health issue. Our culture destabilizes mental health to such an extent that it’s become a public health issue. We’re not going to fix this overnight but, like the persistent widow, we can persistently work on injustices in housing, healthcare, hunger, education, and employment because we know that these are factors that cause stress which can destabilize mental health. It’s not about individuals working harder on self-care to cure themselves in an unjust society working against mental health. It’s about our collective will, working together so that the more fragile among us have a shot at mental health through support, resources, and treatment. Even better would be a society less in need of those things to begin with because it’s less dog-eat-dog and more glorious days of dog walking.

Today’s Psalm 121 is a real fan favorite here in Colorado. It’s often read at funerals as a psalm of faith and trust in God. We sang it as a hymn earlier in worship. “I lift my eyes to the hills,” the psalmist wrote, “from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” The imagery in this psalm isn’t hard for us to imagine at the foot of the Rockies. What is hard is remembering that God’s help comes in the form of people through relationship. From the beginning, the Bible’s stories often focus on people’s responsibility to each other as God continues to show up for them. When the Old Testament covenants between God and God’s people are broken, they are broken by God’s people not taking care of most vulnerable among them – the widow, orphan, and stranger.

Jesus, the one who saves us from ourselves and expands our love of self towards God and our neighbor, was raised in the Biblical, Jewish tradition of caring for the vulnerable, and expands God’s earliest covenant to the Jews around us through the very same Jesus. If I had a whiteboard here with me, I would draw ever expanding circles, first with Abraham, then with Moses, and then with Jesus. Each covenant getting larger, including more people across a wider world. When we are tempted to exclude, God keeps drawing a bigger circle. Because God’s circle is ever-expanding, Mental Health Sunday expands the circle for us as a congregation too.

“I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” These words are also about being able to take our joy, our pain, our anger, and our longings straight to God. God whose disconnect and despair was embodied in Jesus as he hung on a cross. Imagining Jesus on the cross was part of my own prayers for healing when I couldn’t see through the dark. Many times, I didn’t have the words to pray but I could see Jesus’ feet and felt comforted by God who was in the shadow with me. Digging out of the darkness was painstaking and took a lot of other people working with me, along with God’s promise that there IS light in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, never will overcome it.[3]

Thanks be to God. And amen.


[1] Evangelical Book of Worship (ELW), 641: All Are Welcome. Marty Haugen b. 1950, (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1994).

[2] Francisco J. Garcia, Ph.D. Candidate in Theological Studies, Ethics and Action, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Nashville, TN. Commentary on Luke 18:1-8 for Working Preacher.

[3] John 1:5, although, read all of John 1:1-14, its powerful promise of God’s presence is noteworthy.

Harvesting Light [OR The Church on a Road Trip] Luke 17:5-10; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 2, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the Timothy reading is at the end of the sermon]

Luke 17:5-10 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4  The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
2Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
4Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

[sermon begins]

This was the text from Ruth Ann: “Would you like to drive together?”

My mind said: Road Trip!!!

My text said: Yes! Let’s do it. I’ve not yet registered. Should we go for it?

We were texting at the beginning of August about our annual Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference scheduled mid-September. Pastor Ruth Ann was one of the pastors during my internship at Bethany and we’ve been roommates for colleague gatherings ever since. A road trip to the latest one in Utah was perfect for catching up on the way there and for debriefing on the way home. It was marvelous! So were the snacks – snacks being the foundation of any great road trip. Theological Conference was about trauma and resilience in faith communities. Worship and lectures focused our hearts and minds on faith and the topic of trauma and resilience. There was a lot of ground to cover – another kind of road trip (although Ruth Ann and I had waaay better snacks). I’m not interested in turning this time into a scientific lecture, nor do I have the expertise to pull it off, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that there are many layers to trauma in both our individual and collective experiences of it and the ways we make our way through it. I AM interested in our faith community’s, our congregation’s, experience of faith when trauma seems to be piling on.

Habakkuk was a prophet in the before-before-before times. Before now. Before Jesus. Before the return of the Jews from exile to the Holy Land. He lived and wrote while the people of God were conquered and taken away to Babylon. He seemed to understand the overwhelm of trauma. Habakkuk’s desperation is in his opening words:

2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

Suffering overwhelmed the prophet. So did the suffering of his people. He couldn’t figure out God’s place in it and demanded an answer. Thousands of years later, there remains no explanation for suffering other than it is sometimes the intentional violence we do to each other, known or unknown by us. The violence can be physical or emotional or spiritual. Suffering is sometimes accidental. And suffering is sometimes natural disaster. All we know for sure is that suffering and trauma are part of the human condition. It’s so much a part of the human condition that God knows suffering personally in Jesus’ death on the cross and, through Jesus’ suffering, God knows our suffering personally too. Such is God’s promise to us in our baptism to always be present even, and maybe especially when we don’t feel it. When times are dark. When hope feels lost. Those are the times when is present with us. The churchy word for that is the Theology of the Cross.

One of the things we say is that baptism plunges us through Christ’s death into Christ’s resurrection. Baptism is a daily promise from God, not a once and done. Daily we die and rise into new life. Daily God catches us up into the promise. As people drawn together through the waters of our baptism and called the church, we are formed by God’s grace to be present with each other in whatever we bring to the mix. We are a church of the cross as much as we are a church of the resurrection. Sometimes that means holding the space and time for someone’s spirit to heal from trauma. Like with the Grief Group starting today. Or like quietly worshipping in the pew week after week after week, hearing God’s promises for you while your spirit heals. Even as we celebrate the Harvest of Light today, we know that each of us has varying capacity on any given day, or during any given season of life, to be part of the baptismal action of reaching out to neighbors and volunteering in community groups.

It’s one reason why the apostles’ demand is so interesting. “Increase our faith,” they say to Jesus. Notice they say, “Increase OUR faith.” They say it as a group. Jesus replies to them as a group. In the Greek, Jesus uses the plural “you” that means “all y’all.” I don’t know who would need to move a mulberry tree into an ocean but it’s more possible with a team of folks working together than with one person. This gets back to capacity. Kind of like with the Apostle’s Creed. You may struggle with the idea of, oh, I don’t know, resurrection of the dead, but be totally cool with God as creator of heaven and earth. While I might have the opposite struggle. Between us, we have the capacity to say the Creed together. That’s more of a top layer example of faith as an “all y’all” experience.

The Harvest of Light from our Summer of Service volunteering is another layer of our baptism as an “all y’all” faith moment. Those 1,522 hours barely scratch of surface of the ways we reflect the light of Christ in the world to God’s glory. Not everyone who volunteers is going to write it down on a worship slip of paper. And not every action that shines Christ light is a volunteer hour. Many times we don’t even know how the Holy Spirit is impacting another person through our actions. So much of it is a mystery.

We’re encouraged to trust the Holy Spirit, just like Timothy was encouraged in the letter read a few minutes ago. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can trust God’s good news of grace given in Christ Jesus before the ages began – the original (OG) Before Times.[1] Trusting in God’s grace doesn’t negate or minimize suffering or the experience of being overwhelmed by it. Trusting in God’s grace means that we’re given a community of Christ to share each other’s burdens as we have the capacity to do so. It also means admitting when something is beyond our capacity, and we need help.

One of my top favorite parts of the baptism, after the water part of course, is the promise that all y’all make on behalf of God’s whole church. I’m going to go ahead and use Cyrus as an example for this one since he’ll be baptized this morning in just a bit. The part that I’m talking about goes like this, “People of God, do you promise to support Cyrus and pray for him in his new life in Christ?” It’s a great question with a great answer when everyone replies, “We do!” The promises that we make as people are imperfect by definition, but it’s powerful to set the intention to show up for each other, however imperfectly. Just like being honest about suffering, it’s good to keep us honest about what binds us together as we road trip through the world.

Thankfully, at the end of the day, and at the end of our baptismal journeys, it’s God’s promises that are steadfast. Our identity as baptized children of God fuel our actions. Actions that bring glory to God in heaven. But it’s God’s faithfulness, God’s grace in action, that we continue to proclaim from here to kingdom come. Thanks be to God. And amen.


[1] OG is slang for original.


2 Timothy 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.