Text: Luke 8:26-39
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I saw a recent cartoon (reproduced above and on the noticesheet) which gave four examples of people’s response to different kinds of illness: one character offers to sign another’s plaster cast for a broken bone, another proudly shows off a number of stitches, another panel proudly boasts of getting the flu, but when a character struggles with mental health issues, all is silent.
Unspoken are words of shame, of judgement, of isolation.
Some things have never changed.
The man described in the Scriptures as “possessed by a Legion of demons” is similarly isolated, banished, feared – forced into (like so many today) to be homeless as a result of his mental illness, the turmoil within him which boiled away and made him appear, to the ancient eye, filled with some external force which they could only describe as demonic.
Yet, even through the turmoil of his illness, this man could perceive the truth of the Christ and sense that God was present, the still small voice which could calm and heal and reconcile.
Christ in his dealings with this – what sensationalist newspapers today would write off as a “nutter” had nothing but compassion for those affected by mental illness, even though his care for them is couched in the language of demonization, what is clear is that Christ saw beyond the label, the outward form of the illness and saw the real person beneath, and sought to reach out to the man and pull him back to a reality free from what a number of very ill people whom I have cared for in the past have described as “their own personal hell”.
Emotive language about “Psychos” and “Nutters”, the tacit approval in girl’s magazines of Eating Disorders and the plain ignoring of the reality of Depression all serve to demonstrate that even though many in the UK might have moved on a little from speaking of demons themselves, we still demonise. Legion may as well be sleeping rough in Ford Park Cemetery tonight.
But Mental Health issues should not be ignored, sidelined or treated with silent embarrassment.
According to mental health charity, MIND
Nearly 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. This means:
- around 300 people out of 1000 will experience mental health problems[1 every year in Britain
- Compare this with approximately 2 per 1000 per year who will have a Stroke[2 and 6 per 1000 for Acute MI (heart attack)[3
- 230 of these will visit a GP
- 102 of these will be diagnosed as having a mental health problem
- 24 of these will be referred to a specialist psychiatric service
- 6 will become inpatients in psychiatric hospitals.
- So note that the SAME incidence per 1000 people of those who receive hospital in-patient treatment as those having a “heart attack”, and how many many more will be dealing with their issues in other ways, or worse struggling on without any intervention at all
- In prison, 70% of prisoners will have some form of mental health issue[4: the relationship between crime and drug/alcohol dependency is major and on top of that we add other mental health issues into a space ill-equipped to deal with it or them.
And yet, we are silent on the issue and so often when one in our community is affected by such issues, we turn our backs. Mental health issues are not the result of weakness or feebleness:
Alastair Campbell – a man open about his own battles with depression and alcohol dependency commented on Mastodon recently:
“To those asking what @stephenfry has to be depressed about, would you ask what someone has to be cancerous, diabetic or asthmatic about?”
We wouldn’t blame someone for getting Chicken Pox would we?
There is a special place of stillness within ourselves which can be found and wherein we might find God. The still small voice of God calls (quietly) to each and every one of us. When there is turmoil in our lives and in the lives of others around us, it is that still small voice which will call us to peace, and enable us to still at the foot of the Lord as his disciple.
Christ reached out to the man in compassion and love, and if we too aspire to try and become more Christlike, so should we.
Comments on “Sermon Notes: Ordinary 12”
Couldn’t agree more. It is often in my lowest moments that I become most acutely aware of God’s gentle voice. He encourages and inspires me but asks no more of me than to allow Him to minister to me. He has not offered the cure. He stands alongside me, holds me and whispers His powerful love. I am relatively newly diagnosed with depression. I am blessed with understanding friends and a doctor who has put me in touch with mental health professionals straight away. Yes, I am using anti-depressants. They are helping me in ways I hadn’t imagined and I thank God for the people who made them. I can think more lucidly and as such am more able to enjoy God’s loving presence as I peer through the fog of my illness and glimpse His glory. Of course there are low days. Days when the thought of even rising from my bed can scare me. But my magnificent Lord will quietly chide me. A gentle. ‘Come on, Stuart. You can do it. I’ll hold your hand.’
The one thing I have asked from my friends (and they have been marvellous in this) is to not define me by my illness, since I do not do so.
I am Stuey.
So, when we meet, by all means ask how I am and be prepared to hear the bad stuff, but there’s no need to treat me with kid gloves. If I’m having a bad day, believe me, you’ll know!
Normality is what it seems to me people with mental illness are seeking.
So try to provide it.
Let’s go to the pub, play darts and laugh. Let’s have a coffee and whinge about the people who get on our nerves! Let’s talk about lots of stuff and if I bring up my illness, then I imply permission to chat about it.
In the meantime. I’m your friend. Let’s do what friends do.