Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

Jesus Is Storming That Castle 6-10-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 3:20-35, I explore the difficult issue of Mental Illness and Suicide. Jesus makes a small comment, almost throw-away. And yet it reveals a promise on our behalf.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-is-storming-that-castle-6-10-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday morning I found myself looking through Facebook, as I often do, and I came across a captioned picture, or meme we call it that caught my attention. It was a picture of a fish, specifically a tilapia, which is of course a very commonly consumed species…and it made a lot of pretty odd claims.
Now these claims included calling tilapia a mutant fish, which cannot be found in the wild…it is skinless and boneless…and it is killing our families…clearly the person who produced this picture is not a fan of tilapia.

Now…as I was reading these claims, I was skeptical…I won’t tell the word that came out of my mouth, but I’m sure you can guess…because in my own experience, I have eaten tilapia that was caught in the wild…fresh out of the Sea of Galilee in Israel as a matter of fact…and I CAN confirm, from the way that it was prepared…that tilapia does in fact have both skin and bones, as I had to remove both before I could eat it…and I can also attest that it is not deadly to consume, because I ate it, and I’m still alive.

My own personal experience serves as testimony to what I believe is true…now jokes and humor aside, I need to shift gears into something more serious…something that I believe falls within the personal experience of many who are here today, if not all of you. And because of that you KNOW…it to be true. Mental illness and suicide.

I bring this up because it was a topic in the news more than once this past week, as two different celebrities, one a fashion designer and one a traveling chef, fell to the powers of darkness and took their own lives. It almost seems like a trend in recent history…and as I thought about it Friday morning, I realized just how much it has touched our community in recent years.

We’ve had two here within our congregation and community in the years that I’ve been here. There are more several more who have made attempts.  Earlier this spring, during our Lenten services several of our speakers shared their stories and how suicide has touched them. I myself, in addition the 2 in which I conducted the funeral, have been connected with 3 others, one of which was my cousin.

It is an unfortunate reality, but we live in a society where pretty much everyone will be touched by suicide at some point in their life, whether in their own actions or in the actions of someone they are connected to…I can’t speak to the cause, but what I do believe is this…there are powers at work in this world. Powers of darkness and pain…powers that manifest themselves in many different ways, but in one that I don’t think any of us are really comfortable talking about…and one that the church has really come up short on…and that’s the issue of mental health.

In the situations that I’ve encountered in which the individual either committed or attempted suicide, I can only think that there was something at work…something that was so strong that it overcame their ability to think straight. I do not believe for a second that it was ever intentional or even selfish, though we can and do think that when we encounter these situations.  Rather I believe that there are forces at work that literally manage to mess up an individual’s brain chemistry.  Now mental illness takes on many forms…but it is a disease…and it is a disease that can and does kill.

I wish I knew what caused it…and I wish I was better at reading the signs of it because if I was, I know of 5 different people who might still be alive today…and if we look around this room and apply the same wish, who knows how big that number might be.

Mental illness is something that unfortunately tends to exist in the shadows…and many suffer in silence…caught up in the stigma that our society has placed upon it…considering it a weakness…one that goes against the idea of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Perhaps some of you sitting out there right now are in this hell right now…afraid to reach out…silenced by fear or anxiety or shame…silenced by the lies that are whispered in your ear or in the back of your head by this terrible situation that you aren’t good enough to get help, or you’re not worthy of it…those same lies that can and all too often do culminate in another person…another beloved child of God lost to suicide.

I don’t know where it comes from…and perhaps the only way that we can think about it today is to recognize that there are forces in this reality that seek to hinder…to break…to destroy…to hold us back from the good existence that God has intended for each and every one of us.

We call these forces many different things…and so do the scriptures. Pain, death, sickness, disease…demons…powers, principalities…even Satan…a name that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel. Now I can’t say if Jesus thought there is some sort of physical being or entity that he calls Satan or the Adversary…or if its just some force at work that is in opposition to whatever it is that God is up to in the world. But I do believe that Jesus knows that power is out there…and it is precisely because of this power…these forces of darkness that seek to break us down…that actively work to hurt and kill and destroy, that God has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world, empowered through the Holy Spirit to do something about it.

Jesus makes a tiny, almost throw away comment right in the midst of things today…one that it might be easy to overlook, but I think we need to zero in on it today. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (pause)

I can’t help but think that whatever those dark forces are…whether we want to call them Satan or something else…that’s the strong man…and the house…we can call it hell…or we can say that it’s the realm where Satan has dominion…we could probably call it a lot of things…but Jesus is the one who’s coming in. Jesus is storming that castle…and he is the one who holds the power to bind the force that is actively seeking to kill and destroy…the force that seeks to hold us captive in ANY WAY it can…to hold us back from the good life…the good existence that God intends for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US upon the creation of humanity which has been called VERY GOOD.

The basis for this battle that Jesus is raging is God’s amazing love for all of us…a love which has manifest itself in the life and death and resurrection of a man who is also God…a man who willing took on the power of death and overcame it because there is nothing that separates us from that love, even in times when it doesn’t feel like it…even in those times when we are suffering silently…thinking and feeling like we’re alone…In those times when we are listening to the lies that say we are worthless…the lies that say we lack value…Jesus lived and died and rose again in order to show us that those lies are utter bullshit…my apologies for using strong language, but I think its true.

You are seen…you are claimed you are loved…and Jesus has stormed Satan’s house, tied him up, and plundered his goods…and those goods are the lives and the souls that Satan has fought tooth and nail to tie up…to hold onto…to lay claim to…those goods are God’s children…they are you…for in one way or another we are all bound up by the powers that act out against us.

But we have a God who is more powerful…who is able to bind up Satan’s power…and who has already done so because you are God’s beloved child, as you are…right here right now and nothing changes that…now matter how much the forces of darkness might try to…nothing overcomes God’s perfect love for each one us, not even death. God knows your name. God knows your pain…and God loves you through it all…even through death…and yes this might sound familiar but I think we need to hear it over and over again so that we might cling to it as a promise in the midst of the darkness that we feel.

I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing separates you from God’s love…no barrier that we try to set up…no lies or powers that the enemy puts in front of us…nothing…that’s the glory of the Gospel…that no matter what the barrier…no matter how strong of a defense the powers of darkness…Jesus Christ has already stormed that castle and called you by name.

We can’t do it alone…and its folly to think that we can…so if this hits close to home…please please please reach out…because you are loved and you are worthy and you are known. And not just to us, but to the one who will never forsake you. There is no shame in admitting that we need help…and even the gospel tells us this…that none of us are able to do it alone…but it also promises us, that we don’t have to. Amen.

A Broken Hallelujah 10-23-16

In this sermon, based loosely on Luke 18:9-14, I explore the unchanging nature of the gospel in light of difficult events happening in my community.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-broken-hallelujah-10-23-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

If today is the first time you hear me preach, I’m going to give you some insight. If you’ve heard me before, you already know this. I’ve got a pretty distinct style in my sermons.  I open with a story…usually something that has happened in my day to day life or some applicable pop culture reference. I’ve got different reasons for doing this. Mainly because I’m a story teller and I find connections between understanding scripture and regular life…but I also typically use a little bit of humor to try and get you to laugh just a little bit. I guess you could call that something of an icebreaker if you wanted to. (pause)
But today I don’t have a story…today’s different…because today humor doesn’t feel okay, and I don’t know about you, but today I don’t feel like laughing.  In about 2 hours I’ll be at a funeral home for a visitation, and in about 24 hours I’ll be leading a funeral for a 15 year old boy who killed himself.  This may come as a shock if you haven’t heard the news, but this is a small town, so I’m guessing that most of you sitting out there today already know this…and I’m guessing that most of you don’t feel like laughing today either. (pause)

So what do we do?  What do we think? What do I say? (pause) Normally this is the part when I start talking about the gospel lesson. I unpack what’s happening. I look at what the characters are up to…and I attempt, over the course of a few minutes time, to find a nugget of truth and hope within the gospel narrative…and I also try to bring in real world examples…moments that perhaps you are experiencing in your life so that in the end, the gospel…the good news will be something that you can cling to moving forward…because the sermon has done its job.

I’ve heard it said that the job of a sermon is to bring affliction to the comfortable, and to bring comfort to the afflicted…and I’ve often told myself that in any given moment, both will be sitting in the pews. Some will be comfortable, and some will be afflicted.  But today I can’t help but think that none of us are really comfortable…me included…and so I continue to struggle with the question, what do I say? (pause)

How do I offer a word of hope or comfort, from the perspective of the gospel…from the perspective of Good News…when I find myself in a state of not really buying it myself?  Let’s be perfectly frank…in times like this….times when our community is shocked by a tragedy…every single conversation that I have seems to reveal the same thing…we are all asking Why or How and we all know that we can’t and won’t get answers to those questions…and it either makes us really sad…or it makes us really angry.

I’ve been in that state for the past few days…and it really struck me on Thursday afternoon. I had just received the phone call asking if I would lead Caleb’s funeral, and I sat down at my desk and stared at my computer for a moment, and all I could think was “How am I going to do this? How can I proclaim the gospel when I can’t even see it?” And never have I felt such a feeling of inadequacy. (pause) I don’t bring this up to say poor me…I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I bring it up because it is the truth…and as I thought about having to sit there with a family who has just experienced the worst thing that could ever happen, and the call to try and speak a word of hope and comfort into it…the “GOOD NEWS” seemed really bitter. And I suspect that for many of you sitting out there today, perhaps even all of you, it feels the exact same way.

And if that’s the case then maybe today what we need to be talking about is the truth of the gospel. Just what is it…and can we find it in the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? And if there’s only one thing that I can pull out of that story that seems to be the least bit applicable today, its this…Jesus calls the tax collector justified rather than the Pharisee.

The Pharisee might do all the righteous things…but within his life, or in the very least within his prayer, He is the focus. Lord I thank you that I am not like other people. I do all the right things, and I refrain from the bad things…But the tax collector places the focus on God.  Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.  We don’t know anything about the guy other than his job. We can figure that he’s probably a cheat and a swindler, they usually were…and he made his living at the expense of his fellow countrymen…and following this moment of humble confession, he went home, very likely to continue the very same behavior, and perhaps returning to the temple a week later with the same exact prayer.

But again…he is justified because he appeals to the one who is actually capable of doing something. God, have mercy on me a sinner.  (pause) If nothing else, the tax collector recognizes the truth about who he is…and he also recognizes that there is nothing that he is capable of doing about it.

Salvation…justification…righteousness…whatever we want to call it…is not possible for us. We simply can’t do it…but God can…and not only that but God does…and through Christ it is already done for you.

That’s the gospel…that’s the good news…and what I have to continue reminding myself this week is that doesn’t change….whether I feel good about it or not…and to be perfectly honest today, I don’t feel overly great about it…and if I’m to utter the word Hallelujah today it feels pretty bitter.

But sometimes that bitter Hallelujah…that cold and broken Hallelujah is exactly what we need to say…because it is in the midst of our brokenness and our pain that God is up to something. Its in the midst of the honest realization that I just can’t do this that we finally get ourselves out of the way to let the gospel be the gospel and to let God be God.

If the gospel tells us anything, over and over again…its that God is God and I am not…and salvation from sin…the healing of this broken down messed up reality is not something that I can achieve…only God can do that.

And whether I want to feel good about it in this exact moment when I’m too pissed off at God to want to hear it, much less talk about it…the gospel does not change. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Even if it doesn’t make sense, Christ died for us…Even if it sounds too good to be true, Christ died for us. Even if I’m busy yelling at God to listen…Christ died for us.

And if we feel the need to react to all this stuff in that way, God will take it. Because God has broad shoulders…shoulders broad enough to handle all the sin in all the world…and not only to handle it, but to overcome it. (pause) You want to be mad, you be mad. You want to be sad, you be sad…and by all means direct that towards the one who can do something about it…who has already done something about it.

When Jesus hung on that cross and said it is finished…he wasn’t being metaphorical. This is already done…this flawed broken reality that we live in has already been redeemed…even if it doesn’t feel like it.

And this has all been done by God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the world…even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. And that, my friends is the gospel, whether we like it or not in this moment. And the glory of the gospel is that it doesn’t change. This is truth now, in the midst of all this junk. And it will be true tomorrow…and it will be true the day after…and the day after and the day after. And it will still be true when we find ourselves back in a headspace that is capable of hearing it with joy. (pause)
And so today we offer up what may feel like a broken hallelujah…may we cling to the tiny bit of hope, even if it might feel bitter…than one day soon, our hallelujah is a joyful one. Amen.

Shine the Light of You 2-9-14

This morning’s sermon is taken from Matthew 5:13-20. It marks the 2nd of several weeks in which the Lectionary focuses on the Sermon on the Mount. In this particular passage, we hear the familiar verses “You are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world. In this sermon, I focus on the Light aspect, and how Jesus tells us to shine the light that we are.

You can hear the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-the-light-of-you-2-9-14

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Sunday featured two major headlines. Depending on your point of view, one was likely much bigger news than the other, garnering a lot more attention as well as a multitude of additional offshoot headlines over the course of the next couple of days.
The first event was of course…the Superbowl…and the massive beat down handed out by the Seahawks over the Bronco’s…this was the big story of the day…and certainly the basis for a lot of water cooler conversations on Monday.
Though I am, by my own admission, nothing of a sports fan, this does tend to be the one televised football game of the year that I stop and pay attention to, and this year, if nothing else, it provided me with the joy of seeing my 10 year old son, who is…at least this year…a Bronco’s fan…riddled with angst as his beloved Peyton Manning and the rest of the Bronco’s offence got systematically dismantled by the superior defense of the Seahawks….now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make me happy to see my son sad, but I was laughing to myself quite a bit as I heard him ranting at the tv. “Why’d you make that pass?” “How could you let him make that catch?” Or perhaps my personal favorite… “Come on Peyton, you have to yell Omaha…then everything will be okay.”
Well, as we know, for the Bronco’s the game didn’t turn out so well…but admittedly, I was somewhat distracted from the game by the other news of the day, which had hit the airwaves earlier in the afternoon. The academy award winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at the age of 46.
For many, this news was a bit of a downer, but quickly dismissed as yet another Hollywood celebrity lost too soon…but that was not my reaction. I am a movie buff in every sense of the word, and Hoffman has always been one of my favorite character actors…his ability to embody a character on both the big screen as well as on stage was well known, and I have enjoyed his work immensely…so when I heard the news that he had been found dead, I sat up and paid attention…over the course of the next few hours, more information was released, and the world found out that Hoffman had been found with a needle in his arm…his death caused by an overdose of heroin.
Hoffman was a drug addict, though one who had seemingly overcome his addictions more than 20 years ago…but for whatever reason, this darkness once again took hold of him, and whether it was accidental or on purpose…drugs snuffed out the light of Hoffman’s life.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the course of the past week reading various blogs and news articles, both about Hoffman and not about him…but all together aimed at the monkey on your back known as drug addiction…and as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that quite a few people that have influenced me over the years have addiction in common.
Some of these people I know personally…other’s I’ve interacted with through social media, though I’ve never met them in person and still others have influenced me through their writing or public speaking…but through hearing their stories I’ve come to understand more about the notion of addiction…and the way that the darkness of the world can cause such pain that they cannot help but to find unhealthy ways to dull it.
Perhaps this hits close to home for me because of an event that changed my life and that of my extended family back in 2007. On a clear bright summer day I received the news that my cousin had been found dead…and as time went on we came to find out that he had taken his own life…the pain caused by mental illness had become to strong for him to overcome and he had stopped the pain in the only way that he could think of.
In many ways, this is not unlike the descriptions I have heard from various addicts as they too seek to deaden the pain that they feel…and though I struggle to understand the strength of this pain in their life, I do recognize that life is not without pain and darkness…and we all look somewhere outside of ourselves for relief from it.
One of the blogs that I read this week seemed particularly fitting, and I’ll share a portion of it here with you. “I wonder how many people slip away from this life, knowing they have missed something important. And never knowing what it was. Like a source of untouchable peace that sustains me when the “noise” becomes “too much.” Or a source of strength that enables me to overcome “the pain of living.” Rather than escaping into something that solves nothing and creates more pain. Or a hope so strong that not even the darkest of days can erase it. Where can I find the power to conquer my inner darkness when there’s no scriptwriter to write a happy ending? Not in me. Not in my greatest achievements. My personal strength. Or even my deepest relationships. Life is too hard, my resources too finite to find ultimate answers by looking in myself. Or around at the people close to me. I found them only when I looked up. And saw there a God who loves me, extending His hand to me. With a peace … a hope that holds me together, when the noise and the pain are overwhelming. The darkness doesn’t have to win. Not with this Light that nothing can extinguish.” *(see below)
I’ve thought so much about this issue of light and darkness this week. Many of you have heard me preach on this subject before and have likely come to realize the importance of this concept for me, and it likely stems from this scar in my family history…and the questions that arose from my cousin’s death…and the questions that any family goes through of why? Why did they do this? Why didn’t they ask for help? If they couldn’t handle it on their own why didn’t they look somewhere else?
And that brings us back around to another notion that I’ve come to understand about addiction…for most of us, the ability to control things is within us…we have the capability to handle our high, whatever it is that helps us to escape the pain and the darkness in the world, even for a moment…we are able to maintain…but for the addict, this self control simply does not exist…and it MUST be found from another source…and that source often times comes from yet another addict…someone who truly understands the pain and the struggle but has been given the tools to over-come them.
In yet another blog, I stumbled across this passage, written by another famous drug addict that has been clean for more than ten years but still battles his addiction each and every day. When an event causes emotional pain to rear up in his life, and he finds himself on the verge of hunting up a dealer…he writes these words.
“I [wind] down the hill in an alien land…the pain quickly accumulated incalculably, and I began to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him, buy him a bag if he takes me to score…Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: ‘Hello. You all right mate?’ He picks up. And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.” ** (see below)
This individual looks for a refuge from the darkness in another person…and that’s where I’ve been going with all this. I admit, this sermon has been a bit of a downer today…and I may be coming across to you as soft on the notion of addiction…but that’s not my point today…my point is that we all feel the effects of pain and darkness in our lives…because this life is full of it…this life is full of darkness…and we have a God that knows it.
And in today’s scripture passage, we hear the words of Jesus telling us to do something about it…today’s lesson is a familiar passage, particularly the opening portion. You are the salt of the earth…and then just one verse later…You are the light of the world.
If you were here last week, you heard me discuss the notion of just who Jesus is addressing here in the Sermon on the Mount. Is he talking just to the 12 disciples? Well, the answer to that question is no…he’s got a much broader audience when he points his finger and says You are the light world.
In both of these verses…the you are is referring to everyone…Jesus is talking to the community of faith, not just to individuals…but to everyone…and he’s talking to them as a single unit…as the community.  So even though we hear you are the light of the world…it might be better heard if Jesus was from Texas…because then it might sound a little more like “Y’all are the light of the world.” (pause)
But if we…all together are the light…then we have to ask the question of just where does it come from…because we all know that the light of life is not self generated…but as we’ve heard before the Light is God and the Light dwells among us…the source of the light is God himself…Jesus Christ, God in flesh…dwelling among us…as one of us…but even more importantly…dwelling AS us…for we are the church and the church is the body of Christ here on earth.
So when Jesus tells us that We are the light in the world…we need to stand up and pay attention…its not something we do…its not something we achieve…its something we are because God himself says so…but then he goes on from there…and he tells us not to hide the light…as if we could…but to shine…very simply be the light shining in the world.
The Greek is very simple…if I was translate it word for word it would “Shine the light OF YOU.” The light is not something that you possess simply because of your status as a Christian…its not a special card that you carry around in your wallet, or an app on your phone, or badge that you wear…no…YOU are the light of Christ, so shine…shine in this world of darkness and pain…
And how do we do that? Well…its pretty simple…we’re called to love each other. Remember that passage about midway through today’s lesson…when Jesus says that he came to fulfill the law…well it’s true…you see the Law gets kind of a bad wrap…because we know that we can’t live up to it and we do fail…and we do need Jesus to save us from ourselves…but Jesus himself tells us that the commandments can be summed up in two very simple statements…Love God…and love your neighbor…all 10 of the Commandments can be boiled down into those two statements.
And when we love God…and when we love our neighbor…well that is the light shining so brightly that the world cannot help but notice…that is the light of God…and the love of God shining through us…in spite of the pain and the darkness.
The darkness doesn’t have to win…not with this light that nothing can extinguish. Amen

* Ron Hutchcraft, The Stunning Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman,

** Russell Brand, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/09/russell-brand-life-without-drugs?CMP=twt_gu