Tag Archives: Mental Health

Mental Health Sunday and the Church Getting Out of God’s Way – John 13:31-35 and Acts 11:1-18

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 15, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 13:31-35 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Acts 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

[sermon begins]

It’s good to see that Peter is still getting into trouble after Jesus’ resurrection. Although it’s more accurate to say about this story in Acts that Peter had progressed to getting into good trouble, a bit different than his bumbling ways when Jesus was alive. Peter’s friends in Jerusalem called him out for staying in a certain Roman centurion’s home and eating there – a big no-no in Jewish circles at the time.[1] He told his friends about the vision he’d had from God, concluding his defense by asking his friends, “Who was I that I could hinder God?” The book of Acts tells the disciples’ stories after Jesus’ resurrection but it’s arguable that Acts was written down before the Gospel stories were – the Gospels framing the theology that was already being practiced by the early church. What had not changed was Peter being at key dinner parties.

In the Gospel of John reading, Peter was at another meal, the meal that turned out to be Jesus’ last meal. At that last supper, Jesus’ command to love one another comes right after Judas’ betrayal. Immediately before Jesus commandment, Judas left the dinner party and his friends watched him go. The friends must have been confused to see Judas leave, only then to hear Jesus talking about loving each other without Judas there with them. They’d been together for three years through the wringer of ministry. Those friendships formed in a similar intensity to the ones we form at camp together where a lot happens in a short period of time. Watching Judas leave under the threat of his betrayal was inconceivable to the friends who had his back and then saw that back disappear through a doorway before dinner. The friends carried Judas’ departure and death differently than Jesus’ departure and death for sure, but they still carried it with them.

I wonder if Peter also had his old friend Judas in mind when he had dinner with his new friend Cornelius. After all, God wastes nothing from our experiences where the gospel is concerned. It’s reasonable for Peter to remember Jesus’ command to love one another in the aftermath of the resurrection and the early days of the church. How could he forget Jesus’ command to love after Judas’ betrayal when he dined with unexpected people in unexpected places at God’s invitation only to hear accusations of betrayal from his Jerusalem friends. Except that it wasn’t a betrayal. But we can label things a betrayal when events surprise us and when unexamined assumptions are shattered. The shock takes our breath away.

Shock fits with mental health and illnesses too. Mental illness is surprising, and it can feel like a betrayal of our own body when it happens to us or a betrayal by someone else when mental illness happens to someone we love. As if we ourselves or the people we love could choose whether or not our minds lose control. Or, even worse, to doubt our own or someone else’s faith when minds succumb to mental illness, as if faith is protective of bad things happening. In our more rational moments, we know that faith doesn’t protect us from bad things happening. We see faithful people near and far struggling with all kinds of things including mental illness. On Mental Health Sunday, it’s a reminder we say out loud. Faith can certainly infuse us with courage and hope to think about mental illness differently. Faith also connects us with each other as church to do church differently. Much like Peter did with his friends in Jerusalem when he advocated for his new friend in Christ, Cornelius.

As a faith community, we can offer each other practical help. Yesterday, 24 Augustana people took First Aid Mental Health training through our E4 Ministry. 24 people gave time and energy, not only learning what to do in a mental health crisis but also learning about earlier warning signs. Their training makes visible the love that we have for each other at church, and it also sends trained people from Augustana into their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces. We talk, sing, pray, and learn a lot about God’s love in the church. Being honest about mental health and illness and being prepared to intervene in a crisis is one way to take action in love. Although taking action can feel like betrayal to someone who is in a mental health crisis, taking action may mean the difference between life and death and giving someone a chance to heal.

Augustana’s E4 Ministry itself is another way to take action. E4 is an ongoing effort to Enlighten, Encourage, Educate, and Empower each other. Get it? There are Four Es – Enlighten, Encourage, Educate, and Empower. E4 meets on second Thursdays of the month at 7 p.m. here at the church. People who have friends or family or coworkers who deal with mental health diagnoses and also people who know first-hand the challenges of having a mental diagnosis themselves are welcome to E4 conversations. This means that pretty much everyone has a place in E4.

Humility is a helpful correction when we talk about ministry of any kind. It’d be cool to be like Peter asking his friends, “Who am I to hinder God?” But we’re often those friends in Jerusalem with a million questions about whether or not something will work or whether it’s right or wrong or some other ministry-limiting question. So it’s kind of cool that we get to be church together to occasionally break ministry loose from our questions and see what happens. The book of Acts is a bit different than the Gospel of John in this regard. The full name of the book the Acts of the Apostles. But really, it’s a book in which God’s initiative is front and center and the church simply follows God along and lives into the new thing that God is doing.[2] When Peter asks his friends about not hindering God, God had already broken down barriers, destroyed what the friends thought of as permanent walls, and it was up to Peter and his friends to simply respond in kind.[3]

Too often, mental illness becomes a barrier to community and to being a part of the church. Practicing a resurrection ethic means figuring out how to love each other through our trials and challenges. The church, like humans everywhere, has a tough time loving each other as Jesus commands. Being church means it’s going to be messy. Being church is also full of surprises because that’s what it looks like when we follow a God who loves us first. Thanks be to God, and amen.

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[1] Acts 10

[2] Matt Skinner, Sermon Brainwave podcast for May 15, 2022. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/844-fifth-sunday-of-easter-c-may-15-2022

[3] Ibid.

A Sermon for Mental Health Sunday – Mark 10:[32-34]35-45

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 16, 2021

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

Mark 10:[32-34] 35-35  [They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”]

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

[sermon begins]

“Mommy, Daddy’s crazy.” I don’t remember saying those words when I was very little, but my mother tells this story as an example of my father’s decline into mental illness. We were in the car. Dad was driving and talking about becoming President of the United States. I piped up from the back seat while Mom cried. There’s a lot of stories that follow that moment. Dad ended up dissociating from reality almost completely. He self-medicated with alcohol and ultimately became homeless and died when he was 50. Mom and her brothers were able to relocate her and the five of us kids to safety. In the years that followed, my mother gave us a gift by telling us that, “Dad was sick,” while also reminding us that he was brilliant and loving before his illness took over. Back in that day, there was little that could help him get better even if he was able to commit to treatment. Mom also gave us the gift of knowing that counselors could help us. We went to family counseling once things stabilized a bit and she regularly encouraged us to get help when things don’t feel right – something my siblings and I have done over time to look in the rearview mirror on Dad’s and our experiences.

Fast-forwarding 40 years, our niece encountered similar but different struggles with mental illness. Fortunately, my sister’s a doctor and she found experimental treatment at a research university that was able to help. We believe that the treatment saved my niece’s life, and we hope and pray that that research launches healing treatment for many. I called her the other day to ask her if I could share her story in the sermon. To which she gave an excited, “Yes!” We talked about how she’s doing. Her still daily challenges with mental illness – although it’s way better that it was. And her upcoming wedding in November. There’s a lot to celebrate after those scary times even if the healing is incomplete. And she’s grateful that our church is talking openly about mental illness. She “wants people to know that more people struggle with mental illness than we know, battling with their minds on a daily basis.” And that, “It’s an invisible illness needing more community education.”

Untreated mental illness, and the suffering of the one who’s sick and those who love them, creates panic. And panic doesn’t help us think well. We often ask the wrong questions. Not unlike James and John who panicked when Jesus talked about his upcoming death sentence as the Son of Man being mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed.[1] (This happens in the verses in Mark just before the ones we read today.) James and John’s response is out of touch with what Jesus just said but the panic is understandable. They asked to be at Jesus’ right and left hand in his glory. Jesus didn’t say no. He just told them that they don’t know what they’re asking. Spoiler alert: At the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is crucified with a bandit on his right and a bandit on his left.[2]  James and John, confronted with Jesus’ Son of Man claim of impending death, think that the solution is power over the situation. They’re living in a time of chaos – Rome’s military is executing revolutionaries, there’s a civil war in Judea killing hundreds of thousands, and Jerusalem is being destroyed along with the temple.[3] Suffering is everywhere. Jesus reminds James and John that the response to suffering isn’t more power and tyranny. The response to suffering is to serve. This is the same verb in Greek when the angels serve Jesus in the wilderness and when Simon Peter’s mother-in-law serves after she is healed.[4] The doctor who came up with our niece’s treatment was similarly a servant. God rest his soul.

Corporations can also be such a servant. The Indianapolis Colts’ “Kicking the Stigma” campaign is one example.[5] During NFL games, the Colts’ ads feature players and owners talking about mental illness. Linebacker Darius Leonard, wearing a t-shirt that says, “It’s okay to not be okay,” while he talks about his own mental illness is powerful.

In 2012, our denomination – the ELCA – published a social message called “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness.”[6] Social messages are published after a lengthy process of study, reflection, critique, rewrites, and discussions with many people. The messages are informed by scripture, tradition, science, and experience. The one about mental illness encourages actions that can be taken by and with people who are mentally ill. One of my favorite parts of the social message is the research that mental illness often has genetic and biological causes at their root, while “many still believe sufferers just need to ‘think positive’ or work harder to ‘snap out of it’ when what they really need is treatment, therapy, and support.”[7] Here at Augustana, our Faith Community Nurse Sue Ann and the Health Ministry Team has started the E4 ministry to Enlighten, Encourage, Educate, and Empower individuals and families about mental health in a faith community. If you or anyone you work or live with has mental illness or symptoms of mental illness, please consider attending Augustana’s E4 meetings on the second Thursday of each month.

It’s tempting to think that people like my dad, with his Ph.D. in Leadership, could have used those smarts to outsmart mental illness. It just doesn’t work that way. If he could have healed himself, he would have. As a child, it took some time for me to talk about the trauma. And as an adult, it’s taken some time to heal from that trauma and find helpful ways to talk about suffering especially when there is really no explanation for it. My mother’s gift to us in both naming his mental illness and making it an acceptable topic of conversation gave us a way forward without shame.

Jesus exposes shame for the lie that it is from his humiliation on the cross. Shame is a lie that isolates and destroys us as individuals by separating us from community when connection and community are the very things we need the most to counter shame. In our Gathering Song, we sang:

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you,

pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

I will hold the Christ light for you, in the nighttime of your fear.

I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.[8]

In that spirit, you can choose to come forward while we’re singing our next song if you would like to light a candle in prayer for someone with mental illness and their family or for yourself. We’ll hold the Christ-light for each other as we sing and pray.

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[1] Mark 10:32-34 – These are the verses just before James and John ask to be at his left and right hand.

[2] Mark 15:27

[3] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul. MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast on Mark 10:35-45 for preaching October 17, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/806-21st-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-29b-oct-17-2021

[4] Ibid. Karoline Lewis, Professor of Homiletics and Preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.

[5] https://www.colts.com/community/kicking-the-stigma. There’s a lot to critique about the National Football League but this one falls in plus column.

[6] http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Mental_IllnessSM.pdf

[7] Ibid., The Body of Christ and Mental Illness, page 17.

[8] Richard Gellard. The Servant Song. Text and music © 1977 Scripture in Song/ASCAP