Epiphany 4 B 2015
I was having tea over at a friend’s house, when a neighbor stopped by.
She joined us for tea, and we visited about the usual things:
What our young children were doing, if we thought we’d get another snow storm.
Her name was Jennifer.
She was used to be a drug sales rep, but she was staying home to raise her son.
The conversation was so typical, except for one thing:
Jennifer kept picking at a mole on her arm.
In any break in the conversation, she’d ask, “Does this look normal to you?”
My friend and I reassured her in many ways
Yes, it looks like one I have; if it hasn’t changed it is fine, etc
See a doctor if you are concern.
But she couldn’t stop picking at it, and she couldn’t stop worrying about it.
After a half an hour, Jennifer had to leave to meet the bus.
I asked my friend, “What was that?”
And she explained that Jennifer had OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
OCD is an anxiety disorder, form of mental illness that affects 3.3 million American adults each year.
Generally a person with OCD has a series of thoughts that they can’t get rid of,
such as ‘I am sure I just picked up dangerous germs”
and also an action that they do to relieve their anxiety, such as hand washing.
People with OCD have so many recurring thoughts and feel so compelled to perform the required action
that it interferes with normal life functioning.
For Jennifer, that meant a lot of doctor appointments, and when she felt confident her mole was ok,
sadly her mind would seize upon something new, and then it would start all over again.
OCD is just one mental illness, all of which are biological disorders of the brain.
Just as there are treatments for biological disorders of other organs in the body,
The same is true for mental illness.
The problem is that there is a stigma about mental illness.
Despite the fact that one out of four Americans will experience mental illness in a given year,
The general public does not understand mental illness.
The illness itself disrupts a person’s thinking, feelings and abilities to relate.
People affected by mental illness do not always recognize when they need help,
and family members often suffer shame and don’t know what the resources are.
As a result, less than half of the people who suffer from mental illness get treatment for their disease.
This causes daily suffering, such as what I witnessed with Jennifer.
And in some cases it has catastrophic result, such as early death or suicide.
90% of people who commit suicide had identifiable mental disorders.
This number includes veterans, 22 of whole commit suicide every day.
In the ancient world, there was no understanding of mental illness or modern medicine.
People attributed behavioral problems to the forces of evil—“unclean spirits, demons.”
In our gospel today, Mark tells a story about Jesus’ first day of ministry.
Jesus arrives at the synagogue, and as he is teaching, is accosted by a man possessed by a demon.
The man is shouting at Jesus, making accusations—clearly not in his right mind.
But Jesus calls out the demon within and heals the man in a dramatic display,
And the man is free.
Some today read this not as a story about demons, per se,
but as a story about a man who suffers from some form of mental illness.
He seems paranoid about Jesus; he is agitated for no visible reason.
His symptoms match up with illnesses like multiple personal disorder or schizophrenia.
But you can also read this story from a more spiritual understanding.
In this case, demons are whatever holds a person hostage:
Addictions, interpersonal conflict, poverty, abuse.
The forces in our world that beat people down are given voice in this man, they control his behavior—
until Jesus sets him free.
But whether or not this man had a physical or a spiritual affliction, the point is the same:
Jesus heals him.
Jesus’ gift of healing remains in the community of his followers.
We all have ‘demons’ that we can bring before Jesus;
the patterns of thinking that dominate us, our daily struggle to forgive, or for others, simply to keep going.
Our healing prayer today is a time for us to acknowledge that we are powerless against these forces
but that Jesus and we his community are not powerless
Jesus’ power to heal and forgive is among us.
His story reminds us that through prayer and opening ourselves to God’s grace, healing is possible.
Today we will share the gift of healing prayer.
As a community we participate in the healing of others.
Today in particular I would like to invite you to pray for our brothers and sisters living with mental illness.
Much of the suffering comes from the isolation and stigma that people affected by mental illness feel.
As we break the silence about mental illness,
we become a safe place for families who struggle with mentally illness to be honest about their lives.
As we learn about the diseases and how to support people living with them,
We show that these families are not alone.
And part of their pain is healed.
The other thing that happens in healing prayer is we find ourselves all in the same boat.
Whether or not a person comes forward for the laying on of hands, we are all here because we have a need
for connection, for inspiration, for hope and healing.
When we are honest about our need, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable to each other.
There is a saying, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Healing prayer is one way we live the truth of this statement
And when we can show our need, we are able to better see the need of others
We find our common humanity and compassion is born.
For the people who are ill, that means we offer the healing of seeing the person and not just the disease.
All of us are more than our dysfunction and illnesses.
I met Michael at the Friday night meal at Grace.
He struggles with substance abuse, was in jail for a time, and perhaps some mental disorder.
Shared how hard it was to get a job as an ex con.; living in the shelter, just need a leg up.
I wished I could help him somehow.
But as we moved into a time of prayer, I saw Michael offering a word of comfort
to a woman who was observing the one year anniversary of her mom’s death.
Michael showed me once again that we are more than our demons.
We are a triumph of God’s creative spirit, persevering in the face of our demons.
As a community, we are now going to move into a time of healing prayer.
We all participate in this gift, from the pews, or at one of the stations for prayer.
Take a few minutes to open to God the places where you need healing
Lift up for prayer others who also need this gift, especially those living with mental illness
Pray for the capacity to see others with God’s eyes: wounded, yet loved and gifted.
Make a space in your heart for them, just as they are.
As you feel led, I invite you forward to one of the stations for prayer.
You may ask for a specific matter that needs healing, or simply ask for ‘general healing.’
The prayer partners will lay their hands on your head and shoulders, and pray for you.
Receive this prayer as Jesus’ healing for you, for those you love, and for the world.