March 7, 2021 Sunday Service Message: Lenten Series – Stories

Compassion for Others and Ourselves

In this third week of Lent, Rev. Joanne continues her series of talks about healing.  In the previous two weeks we learned about Jesus healing a leper, and the servant of a Roman centurion.  This week we read the story of Jesus healing two blind men.  The Gospel of Matthew reads:

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.  Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.”  But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.  Matthew 9:27-31

On many occasions Jesus stated that he came not to break the law, but to fulfill it.  He meant this both within the context of religious laws, but more importantly fulfilling the immutable law of the Divine.  In Luke 5:32 Jesus says, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”  On occasions when someone broke a Judaic Law, sometimes a sacrifice was required for the expiation of their sin.  Rev. Joanne tells us that Jesus and the prophets are inviting us to set aside the law and to step into the fulfillment of the law by centering within that Divine Christ, God, and extending mercy.  The prophet Hosea wrote:  “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Hosea 6:6.

In the healing story of the two blind men, the mercy that Jesus showed to them was not pity or compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm, as the Oxford dictionary defines it, but rather rewarding them for their Faith.  Rev. Joanne explains that the etymology for the word ‘mercy’ from Old French does mean pity, but from its Latin roots is more likened to reward.  She also tells us that when we can go to the place of mercy, then our eyes can be opened to the truth in that moment to see each person from that place of the divinity that they are.  This is what Jesus did in his healing ministry.

Jesus's healing ministry was not limited to only physical healing.  We read in Matthew 8:28-34 about his release of demonic possession from two men from Gadara.  Their minds had been “possessed,” and they were unable to be contributing members of their community, and out of fear the people isolated them.  As Rev. Joanne reminds us, even though we no longer believe in demonic possession, society still holds those with mental illness at a distance to the point where those afflicted often feel that they cannot share their challenges with others for fear of being judged.

It is easier to have mercy and compassion for physical illness, she tells us, because we can see some cause of it.  But when we cannot see a cause it is much harder to have mercy, and mental health has become something society finds it difficult to talk about.  Rev. Joanne cites a list of statistics about mental health.  From these data it is clear that not only are mental illnesses real, but they affect a wide range of people within our population.  For example, the CDC reports that for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide rates increased 60% between 2007 and 2018 and for people between 10 and 34 it is the second leading cause of death, and the tenth leading cause of death for all age groups.  For detailed information on mental health in the United States visit the CDC website by clicking here:  https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/mental-health.htm

Many people are reluctant to discuss mental health.  Some people may feel shame for their own condition or to discuss the conditions of those in their family.  Like with any challenge we face in life, Rev. Joanne says, to be able to work toward solutions for mental health we must first acknowledge they exist and be willing to talk about them and not judge one another for it.

Of Unity and other New Thought philosophies, a criticism is often made that a too simplistic solution for problems is put forward.  Whether it is finances, relationships, career, physical health or mental health issues, some within these movements say that one needs “only to change their thinking” to solve their problems.  Rev. Joanne tells us of a former congregant who suffered from mental health challenges and felt isolated and not understood, and so removed herself from spiritual community because she felt people were judging that she needed only to change her way of thinking to solve her mental health issues.  As with many challenges in life, and very often with mental health challenges, there are many factors involved in causes.  Brain chemistry, physical abnormalities in the brain, physical disease, substance abuse, traumatic experiences, brain injuries and environmental factors beyond one’s control all can contribute to mental health problems.

Given these very real causal factors, it is also true that we can help ourselves facilitate the healing process if we change our thinking.  When real mental illness is present, it is a mistake to say that the only thing needed is to change our thinking, but it is not a mistake to say that changing our thinking is a positive and necessary thing to do.  Jesus knew this and clearly stated that in the story of the healing of the two blind men.  He said that it was because of their faith that they were healed.  They had changed their thinking to believe it was possible.

Medical intervention and psychological counseling are essential components in the treatment of mental health.  How does spirituality figure into the equation?  Rev. Joanne tells us that bringing our spirituality to the problem is not simply becoming more “positive” and our depression, for example, will go away.  Spirituality in this respect is about acknowledging what is present, then coming to the place where we understand that we have available to us, through our innate divine power, the ability to sit with and breathe through whatever we are experiencing and allow that power to strengthen us.  Just as it is important for us to show “mercy” to others for the challenges they are facing, it is equally important for us to show mercy to ourselves.  We must not judge ourselves as bad, she tells us, if we feel sad.  There is nothing wrong with us if we feel anxious from time to time.

Like physical health, the healing of mental health issues often starts with correct diagnosis and implementing of treatment.  It is wise to consult psychologists, psychiatrists or other mental health professionals when faced with such issues.  When we complement (not replace) these treatments with a healthy spiritual practice, we can greatly improve our prognosis.   Jesus told us, “With God, all things are possible.”  God gave humans the ability to learn and grow, so enlisting the help of doctors is not not trusting in God.  It is actually trusting in the abilities that God has given us to work with Divine Mind to facilitate our healing.

In many respects, society still holds mental health issues with unfair stigmas.  With talks like Rev. Joanne’s this week, we are advancing the conversation in a healthy direction.  “Society” is made up of individuals.  When we as individuals release the stigmas surrounding mental health issues and are willing to discuss them in non-judgmental ways, society as a whole will be less judgmental by that exact amount.  Faced with large, seemingly insuperable challenges we may throw up our hands and say, “the problem is too big, what’s the use?”  But as the ancient philosopher Lao-Tzu told us more than twenty five hundred years ago, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  I encourage each of us to take that first step.

Now Go and Be the Light.

Scripture

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Spiritual Practice

The words of Jesus we heard in this week’s healing story were, “Do you believe I am able to do this?”  Jesus’s question invites us to consider our own belief in transformation.  He invites us to step into a renewed vision in our lives to speak into being a new story, not to be bound by the stories of the past, inscribed on us by others that may be oppressing and limiting us.

Ask for a new way to see struggles in you may be experiencing.  As for understanding and a way forward.  What is one step you can take each day this week to support your mental health no matter what is occurring around you?

Greg Skuderin