Focus: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou
Threshold Moment: Centering Time
Gathering Music: Healing Hands (by Cheryl Sager) — Cheryl Sager & Neal Zweig
Opening Prayer of Confession:
Let us acknowledge our need to restore, repair, and renew ourselves in body, mind and in spirit, acknowledging that the health of our minds deeply affects our physical and spiritual health. Let us pray:
Centering and Calming Divine Breath of God,
You gifted us with amazing minds, capable of so many things. You gave us the ability to think and feel, imbuing us with discernment of thought and emotion.
Like our physical bodies, sometimes this aspect of our selves is beleaguered. We struggle under the strain of disappointment, despair, and delusion. Too often we hide this, afraid of what others might think of our difficulties in managing or moving forward, even in the face of devastating circumstances.
Too often we perpetuate the stigma of a less-than-perfect state of mind by shaming ourselves and others.
Millennia of misunderstanding compounds our fear.
So many are suffering now, God, weary and distraught, grieving and at the end of their rope.
We cannot fathom the proportions of loss and so we look away,
sometimes even from the need in our own community.
Help us, Healer.
Show us our capacity for compassion.
Forgive our inattention.
Help us to move one step at a time toward greater care
for one another. In this silence, we sense and acknowledge our yearning for wholeness.
Anthem: Come and Find the Quiet Center (by Shirley Erena Murray) — Michelle Currie
I invite you to imagine and search for a warmth at the core of your body. It may help to keep your eyes closed. This light is deep within you, although sometimes it feels dulled, even cold. If it feels this way now, allow this. Do not judge yourself. Perhaps you DO feel this warmth and all feels right with the world. This just is. You likely will not always feel that way. It just makes you human. And you are not alone. Perhaps you can imagine the warmth coming from someone whose presence fills you with comfort. See it radiate from them to you, as it does when you need it most.
And please try to remember this: You are accepted for who you are. Accepting the truth of our difficulties is part of the journey. Sharing our stories of difficulty can open the way for healing. For you, for me, for all.
Take a deep breath in to let this truth fill you…
and breathe out with the relief of assurance.
Opening Hymn: Here I Am Lord (by Anna Laura Page/Daniel L. Schutte) — Cheryl Sager & Neal Zweig
Readings and Scripture: Selected contemporary passages, Matthew 9:27-33 — Rev. Nancy Bancroft
Meditation: Stories of Truth and Healing — Rev. Paula Norbert
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
Words of Invitation
The Bread and The Cup
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Music: Meditative Instrumental ~ The Lord’s Prayer (music by Arnold Strals/arr. Les Sands) — Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People:
Closing Music: For Good (by Stephen Schwartz) — Cheryl Sager & Neal Zweig
Now go with confidence
that the One Who Is Living Water
is already cleansing, renewing, and clarifying our lives,
recovering our depth of love for all
and our joy of living in this world.
May the words of Jesus ring in your ears:
“Do you believe it is possible?”
And may the Spirit bring healing to your soul
and hope for the days ahead. Amen.
Postlude: Go In Peace
Many thanks to our Zoom host today, Marty Grohman.
Our Centering Video was shared by Hillsboro Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN. Worship Materials by Worship Design Studios
Our Readings for Today
“Sharing our truths can provide the opportunity for great healing.” — Kristen Noel
“Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.” — Morgan Harper Nichols
“Sometimes the most healing thing to do is remind ourselves over and over and over, other people feel this too.” — Andrea Gibson
“Your heartache is someone else’s hope. If you make it through, somebody else is going to make it through. Tell your story.” — Kim McManus
An Ancient Word
Matthew 9: 27-33
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district. After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” The Word of the Lord
Sermon: Reflections on March 7, 2021, Third Sunday in Lent
“Stories of Healing and Truth”
Rev. Paula Norbert
It was more than a year and a half ago when I shared a Sermon on mental illness in September of 2019. I believe that Sermon, more than any other that I have shared, evoked the greatest response from so many at our church. If you do not recall the content, I had shared a story of a neighbor of mine who had taken his life when I was an early teen; I also spoke of others I knew who had struggled with various forms of mental illness and of the families who had journeyed with them on that difficult road. Several people told of the loss of a family member from suicide when they were younger and the shame and secrecy that accompanied that agony. Others told me of the terrible things that were said to them in the name of religion that broke their hearts. Our reading today describes the healing of two blind men and another individual who was unable to speak and is described as being possessed by a demon, which we now believe may have been the manner in which they described mental illness struggles in that time. These stories remind us of the great compassion of Jesus and the significance he placed in bringing healing to those who had suffered for far too long. Let us pray,
We know that truthtelling can be very healing for people, but we also need to be careful when we consider our Gospel story today and what it means. Much as mental illness has carried terrible stigma for people, this story could perpetuate the false idea that being blind or deaf is related to sin or “darkness.” But this story can also be liberating. These two men are not simply identifiable by their disability; they are no one dimensional characters in a healing story. Much as the Centurion had the courage to ask for healing for his servant, these two men were among the followers of Jesus before they found healing. They came to know who Jesus is without having to see him in person. They had prophetic vision. And it isn’t until after they are healed that they disobey Jesus by telling their story. Their faith in him led them to ask for healing and they could not remain silent; they had to share with their community the wondrous thing that occurred. Perhaps part of their healing was this truth telling. And their truth is bigger than this one instance.
The healing narratives in Matthew represent a broader truth and invite us to trust that God, in Jesus, has come to heal us all, to bring us all out of the shadows and into the light. This is a story about individual healing and yet, it reminds us of the power of healing in our own lives. Our stories, our lives, are tangled in the web of God’s love. Our truth and our stories liberate us and connect us to one another.
In this past year, and yes, it has been a full year since we were last together in our beloved church on March 8th, we have watched countless stories of illness and death and yes, amazing healing as this pandemic has so profoundly affected so many of our lives. And, and over these long months, many, many people, young and old, have found themselves isolated and alone and in pain. As the months wore on, more stories emerged of the devastating toll that this virus has taken not just on people’s physical health, but on the mental health of too many children and adolescents, of elderly people who have declined due to the lack of social connection. Some who have been struggling have reached out for help while far too many find it difficult to share their stories and to find companionship and support in their struggle.
Today, our Worship returns us again to the need for healing and hope and the ways in which the human mind can cause untold suffering. I recall a Pastor friend of mine who some years ago, shared a powerful story of her own journey with mental illness, of the times when she was hospitalized and believed that she would never emerge from the weight of this in her life. She found the courage to speak out about her own life experience which resonated powerfully with those who heard her speak.
Many within our church community are familiar with Maine author Monica Wood, and the challenges she and her husband have faced with his journey. Their story first emerged when he had attempted to take his own life during a very dark time for him. He had been spiralling downward with depression and she had taken him to the ER to get help. Two weeks later, in April 2016, he pulled over on Interstate 95 and made an attempt on his life. Because of her public persona, this story was quickly picked up in the news and many who heard about it were deeply concerned for them. It was two years later when they agreed to share their powerful journey on the front pages of the Portland Press Herald in 2018. I’m sure many of you remember that story. Dan Abbott and his wife, Wood, chose to share their very painful story publicly in the hope that it might help others who might be dealing with major depression as he had at that point in his life. It was a very brave thing to do. As the story noted, “He was glad to be alive, and wanted to help other people who might be caught in a major depressive episode similar to the one he found himself in, when he felt helpless, hopeless and convinced the world would be a better place if he wasn’t part of it.” Portland Press Herald, August 2018.
The two shared in great detail much of what they went through in the time before and after this incident, the surgeries he underwent, the various treatments for depression, including and finally his arrival at a point when he felt that sharing his story could be of help to others. His decision, he said, was not random, “but I think it might be an act of kindness, he said, “at this time when suicide is being discussed so extensively, to have someone talk about a suicide attempt and recovery. Someone might recognize himself or herself in my story and take some comfort in knowing that you don’t have to be famous to have this happen to you, and see that one person made a decision that many other people have contemplated, and returned from it thankful and blessed to have been unsuccessful.”
As he was healing, he finally came to a day when he could return to work. It took him four different tries until he ventured into the building and slowly began to reengage with colleagues and students where he worked at the community college. While he feared the shame and judgement of others, he was greatly surprised by the acceptance and compassion with which he was met. In fact, some privately shared their own stories with him, things they had never spoken about with anyone else.
Almost all families have watched someone they love suffer from some form of mental illness, and over time, more and more are feeling that they can speak out about their own pain and struggles, but it has never been easy. There is a power in telling the truth of one’s life, in being able to share some part of our story with others whom we can trust. To heal requires a great deal of courage, the support of a few trusted people, and certainly skilled professionals. We are slowly seeing more people who have the courage to speak out, from athletes to public figures to members within our community. If we listen carefully, we may find resonance with their journeys and understand our part in their stories as well. Some people have found a new path to healing when they finally were able to tell their story to those whom they trusted; it can be such an important step. And, we also know it is so important to change the stigma around mental illness so more people will seek help and embrace the truth of what they are experiencing so they can find relief.
And so this day, let us pray for all who are struggling with mental health issues and for their families and friends as they accompany them through this journey. We are called to healing and we pray that we may find a path forward in which all of our stories, the stories of the broken places and the pain, as well as the joy and peace, may bring us to a fuller experience of life and acceptance. Amen.
Opening: Those who collect beach glass often become “archeologists”–seeking out any markings or clues as to the story of the original piece. It often takes much time to bring out the truth behind it. This week we acknowledge the power of truth-telling as a healing property. There are stories that have shaped our lives, leaving us without the ability to see who we truly are in the eyes of God and leaving us without the ability to speak the depth of our stories of struggle. We focus on the importance of recovery of mental health, reclaiming our sense of who we are and being able to proclaim new redemptive stories of divine worth.