March 7, 2021   Vessels: Stories: Mental Health by Pastor David

Mark 10: 46-52 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

In our time of silence today, I invite you hold a piece of beach glass and reflect on it’s beauty and the ways in which we too are created in beauty, broken and worn, until once again God’s love and beauty come shining through.

March 7, 2021
Vessels: Stories: Mental Health

Broken and beautiful, holy and whole, broken, tossed about, worn down, and once again beautiful. We can see it in the beach glass. Sometimes we find the beauty more difficult to see in ourselves or in our brothers and sisters who, like us, have been broken and tossed about. We trust that there is a spirit among us that always keeps track of the beauty. We trust that the beauty is always there, even when it is difficult to see. 

I’ve known Jamie since we were in first grade together. We have been close at least since high school. I love Jamie as a brother and we count on each other. He moved to Philadelphia and our children were born a month apart so we have shared some of the most important experiences of our lives. Jamie has taught me a lot about the beauty of people in our broken and battered, worn and tossed, core-shining-through, beloved-ness.

A year or so after I moved to Philadelphia, I went home to Cincinnati where Jamie was living in community of idealistic young people, just as I was. Jamie told me that he was having a really hard time. He told me that he had talked to doctors in the mental health system about difficult thoughts he was having and strange ways his brain was processing his experiences. He was mad at the doctors and at himself and at his own thoughts and feelings.

The truth is that I didn’t understand everything my friend was telling me. I didn’t understand all he was going through. Jamie had always looked at the world a little differently than other folks. He had always rebelled against school and usual ways of doing things. I loved him and I had been learning in Philadelphia that crying and letting out your emotions was a healing thing, and that listening to people helped them. So I told Jamie that it was good to cry, that it was important to cry for his own healing. 

And I listened to Jamie cry deep tears and talk about all the difficult experiences he had been through. It scared me and I couldn’t follow it all. I just stayed with him and told him that it was good to cry and that I would listen to whatever he needed to say. We went deep into his feelings and he found other people who would listen as well. He worked really hard at remembering and dealing with all the hurt from his life and the pain that he had been through in the mental health system that was supposed to be healing. He became a leader among people who wanted to reform that mental health system and he started to teach other people that we can trust that we all have beauty inside us and that we can help each other heal and be made whole.

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he began to shout out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Many people rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted out all the more “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Sometimes, when we do Bible study with this passage I have people play the different parts in the story. When we get to the part when the followers of Jesus tell Bartimaeus to be quiet, the people playing Bart usually shut up, and I have to encourage them to keep shouting, (didn’t you hear the story?) He keeps shouting, keeps asking for help, keeps demanding to be heard. 

It’s not easy to keep making noise when other folks are telling us to shut up. It’s even harder when people are calling us names like ‘whiner’ or ‘crazy,’ or ”nuts.” (And we get that message in different ways, all the time. The world demands that we keep our feelings bottled up and under control.) Bartimaeus was putting aside his feelings, giving up everything to get the help he needed. He threw his begging cloak aside, running to Jesus. He would not be deterred. Not everybody can do that. But everybody tries when things get desperate enough. 
When Jesus asks Bart “What do you want me to do for you?” he could have answered differently. He was a blind beggar. He was used to asking for money. He could easily have said, “Please, man, could you spare a quarter?” But he has a feeling about this guy, and he goes all the way, asking to receive his sight. 

And we notice that Jesus gives Bartimaeus credit, saying “your faith has healed you.” Your determination, your desperation, your commitment has made you whole. You are beautiful, as you are. And even though Jesus tells him to go, go his own path, Mark makes it clear that as Bartimaeus receives his sight he follows Jesus on the way, the way of Jesus.

It’s been a year since we decided to stop having church services in our sanctuary because of the pandemic. I thought then and I kept thinking it would just be month before we would get back. This can’t keep going on. All through Lent we are reading the stories of healing in the gospel of Mark, thinking about the ways in which the virus has effected our health and how we can work for healing and recovery. 

We are using the story of Bartimaeus to think about mental healing and mental health. The pandemic has been isolating and stressful for everybody, and for some that has taken a severe toll on mental health. Mental illness is common, but stigmatized and kept quiet because it has been so stigmatized. When the gospels tell the story of people who are blind, they often comment on followers of Jesus being the ones who are really blind, while the one who is blind comes to see. 

40 One of the ways in which St. Luke can be a ‘health hub’ is to develop relationships where we can share our feelings and needs and where we can listen to people, to see people and care for them as they are.  When we talk and listen to each other in deep mutual respect and care, when we share our brokenness and  listen to people who are hurting or broken, we move toward becoming a place of healing for each other and our community. At this time it’s needed more than ever.

Jamie and I talk just about every week. We’ve been friends for 60 some years. We are partners in healing. We know we can count on each other with the hardest issues of our lives. We listen to each other and support each other as broken, holy, cracked beautiful human beings.  I talked to him about this sermon last night and he said, “You weren’t Jesus for me. You didn’t heal me, but I was blind. I didn’t know that crying and dealing with your feelings could be healing, and that i could be part of my own healing. That saved my life.”

It can be really scary dealing with people with mental health issues. I don’t think I’ve ever been as brave again with someone as I was with my friend Jamie. Sometimes I back away and let someone else handle it, God forgive me. But I know from at least that one experience that more healing is possible in our community than we give ourselves credit for. I know that we need each other, and can help liberate each other through our building of community.

As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of holy communion this morning, we bring all of who we are to the table, the cracked parts and the beautiful parts. God sees the beauty in us all, even in those parts of us that have been tossed about and worn down. In this communion meal we unite our community in a commitment to fulfill our promise to be a compassionate, non-judgmental, safe and brave space for all God’s people. God sees the beauty in us all.

This is God’s good news.