Right now, it can feel like our world is a crashing tidal wave. Dousing us in the uncomfortable waters of uncertainty. We all feel more anxious for the future and are grieving the losses of what our lives were just a few short weeks ago. I pray that you are healthy, that your loved ones are well, and you have the privilege of working from home. But, many of us do not have that right now. Whatever is happening in your world right now, it is clear that feelings of depression and anxiety threatens to take many over the edge.
In many areas of our lives, talking about mental health has remained taboo (especially in the church.) This is wrong. We, as the church, need to know that none of us are perfected beings, but broken. To experience depression is not a reality that you should hide or feel ashamed. When your body is in pain, you go to a doctor. But somehow, we’ve lied to ourselves about our mental health and suffer alone with shame. Before this pandemic, back in normal times, so many were already at the edge. Now, so many are suffering and struggling, more alone than ever.
You’re not alone. We are seeing on our Road Trips of the Bible sermon series that God journeys with the afflicted, suffering, and struggling. Whether it’s the risen Christ with the dejected disciples along the Road to Emmaus, or with Jacob’s troubled past and conflicted call, or Joseph’s hidden call in the midst of rejection.
If you feel depression’s hold upon you, get help. My pastor, when I was in seminary, told me once, “We are made of dust and spirit. We are trained to provide spiritual care, but always encourage people to take care for their dust – physical or mental.” If you sense a growing depression in your mood, please know that it is, first of all, understandable and you do not have to suffer or live in fear. God is not punishing you. Please know that help is on the way! Be brave. Be a person of faith, who knows that your current situation will not hold sway over you forever. Faith is the willingness to relinquish your present situation to partake in God's dream for your future. God does not want you to suffer. It is not a sign of faithfulness to suffer in silence, only a misunderstanding of God’s love and hope for your life. The tidal wave of sadness and depression can recede. Talk with me. Talk with a counselor. Share your fears with God. You are not alone as this tidal wave strikes and batters you. Those waters will recede.
I came across this song by Adam Young, called Tidal Wave, which shares his struggle with depression and the help he received from God. Check it out! (Lyrics below) Help is on the way!
Owl City (Adam Young) - Tidal Wave
I wish I could cross my arms
And cross your mind 'cause I believe
You'd unfold your paper heart
And wear it on your sleeve
All my life I wish I broke mirrors Instead of promises
'Cause all I see is a shattered conscience
Staring right back at me
I wish I had covered all my tracks completely
'Cause I'm so afraid
Is that the light at the far end of the tunnel
Or just the train?
Lift your arms, only Heaven knows
Where the danger grows and it's safe to say
There's a bright light up ahead
And help is on the way, help is on the way
I forget the last time I felt brave
I just recall insecurity
'Cause it came down like a tidal wave
And sorrow swept over me
Depression, please cut to the chase
And cut a long story short
Oh, please be done, how much longer
Can this drama afford to run?
Fate looks sharp, severs all my ties
And breaks whatever doesn't bend
But sadly then, all my heavy hopes
Just pull me back down again
I forget the last time I felt brave
I just recall insecurity
'Cause it came down like a tidal wave
And sorrow swept over me
Then I was given grace and love
I was blind but now I can see
'Cause I found a new hope from above
And courage swept over me
It hurts just to wake up
Whenever you're wearing thin
Alone on the outside
So tired of looking in
The end is uncertain
And I've never been so afraid
But I don't need a telescope
To see that there's hope
And that makes me feel brave
In the midst of pandemic, and in self-isolation, our attention is naturally drawn to those post-apocalyptic dystopian future parallels; such as zombie cult or alien invasion films, or any portrayal of life, as we know it, ending. We long for a return to the normal life we knew. I long to see you all in worship, in gatherings, and events that our church holds for the community. We are social in our nature, humans need that connection as we are all an image of God’s Triune Community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God as Three and One. Yet, I know that many things will be different after this pandemic finally ceases to be a health threat. And that is okay. Perhaps we will awaken to the reality that the Heavens have always been invading our world and that just might change how we live in this heaven infested world!
We are looking at this phenomenon as we explore the “Road Trips of the Bible” in my sermons and Zoom Bible study (on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM). With just a few examples – Hagar and her son (the castoff concubine of Abraham), are heard by God and are provided water in their desperate hour to sustain them (Genesis 21:17-19). What about God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice, instead of his son? Thus, keeping the promise to Abraham of a great nation of blessing for the world. Jacob was running for his life and had a vision where he saw heaven and earth connected by a ladder or passageway. He awoke and said (my paraphrase): “God lives here! … I’ve stumbled into his house! This is the awesome entrance to Heaven” (Genesis 28:12-19). Moses and God have a conversation and receives the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to show the people how to relate to God and our fellow humans – how to live in both heaven and earth!
These are just a few examples of heaven invading our earth. God refuses to leave us alone. I believe that Jesus is the fullest expression of heaven having come to humanity itself. On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus encounters the two disciples who do not recognize him until he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread. Heaven is present in our world; we just need to acknowledge that we are the taken/chosen, blessed beloved of God, who in our brokenness and vulnerability are able to be a gift of God’s heavenly presence in the world. Heaven invades our world through us!
Perhaps you have had an experience where you have known the closeness of God. When we were about to have our first child, Evie, I remember being in a diner with Doris and being overcome by actually seeing the faces of children in the people all around me. I was teary-eyed looking at all these people who were somebody’s son or daughter, receiving a heavenly reminder that we are all God’s children! I don’t know how long it lasted, but it had a profound effect upon my life as I experienced the expansive love of God in a new and tangible way. Perhaps, you have a story similar to Elijah, who did not hear the voice of God in the thunderstorm or the earthquake, but in the still, small voice – the tug of God upon your soul.
The Gospel of Matthew, written with a Jewish audience in mind, and therefore utilizes the phrase “the kingdom of the heavens” thirty-two times to underscore God’s rule and presence that is found over and over within the rich tradition of Old Testament. By looking back, Matthew shows us today that God is already here. Therefore, praying the Lord’s Prayer becomes a radical transformative cry for each of us to become “on earth, as it is in heaven!” Indeed, the heavens have invaded the earth – can you see the possibilities of how God can use you as an evidence of heaven/God’s presence in our dire world? What is God ready to awaken in you? Are you willing to find out?
Hope. It’s a word that’s loaded. In the midst of this pandemic, it can be hard to see or even get a glimpse of it. Or maybe, what we think we see isn’t it. Hope is not a naive wish or optimism that the future will just improve. At the other end of the spectrum, hope is not just some profane or deceptive idea to numb us to our very real struggles and pain. Hope, living with real hope as recognized in the Bible, is a profound trust that your present and future life is in and with God. That is what the Kingdom of God is: Hope.
Dallas Willard, in his book “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God” makes the claim that the New Testament makes plain that this Kingdom of God that Jesus is always talking about is “not something to be ‘accepted’ now and enjoyed later, but something to be entered now (Matt. 5:20; 18:3; John 3:3, 5). It is something that already has flesh-and-blood citizens (John 18:36; Phil. 3:20) who have been transformed into it (Col. 1:13) and are fellow workers in it (Col. 4:11).” Our hope is not misguided, because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection demonstrate the presence of this new reality, and is our invitation to align our lives with and in it.
So, the Kingdom of God is already present with the presence of Jesus, but not yet fully realized because God does not choose to override our freedom of will. Jesus entered human history through the life of an ordinary family. Then this extraordinary life offers something unexpected. He inaugurates us into an eternal kind of life right now, that flows through him. He does this first by bringing that life to bear upon our needs, then spreading it through our deeds – deeds done with expectation that he, his Father, and Holy Spirit will act with and in our actions. We are no longer alone, like Adam and Eve hiding and covering themselves in the garden. We can now become active citizens of God’s Kingdom. Reality as it can and should be.
Becoming a citizen of this Kingdom of Light, means that we can leave behind those dark and lonely places where we have made valiant yet vain attempts to merely survive and come into God’s healing, joyous, hope-filled light. This is a journey that we must all make. The good news is that you don’t have to make it alone. God is with you! Our church is with you, as we endeavor to be who we are called to be: the Body of Christ. Examples of these journeys from hopelessness to hope are all over the Bible. In the weeks to come, I will be preaching about these stories in a sermon series I am calling Road Trips of the Bible. Check us out on Facebook Live at 10:30 AM on Sundays and on our Zoom Bible Study and Check-in on Wednesdays at 7 PM to join the journey.
So, hope is not just another four-letter profanity that is some kind of cruel joke in our dark times. It is, as Andy Dufresne said in his letter to Red at the end of The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things. And a good thing never dies.” Indeed, our hope is alive in Jesus! And he is alive in us, to bring hope to a hopeless world! Let’s make it so.
We are all feeling the difficulty of this pandemic in different ways. The uncertainty around health and jobs are real and weigh upon us. Social distancing takes a hard toll on our souls, yet are necessary tools to help not overwhelm our healthcare system. Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we, Christian’s, observe the final meal (Passover) Jesus shared with his disciples. In our corner of the world today, this is commemorated as a pot-luck meal that we have shared with our partner congregation, Iglesia: Mision Bautista de Westchester, and neighbors, Trinity Lutheran Church, several times in the past. It was at this meal that we celebrate Jesus taking the known ritual of the Passover meal and making it about himself! The lamb was slain to put blood upon the doorpost to protect the firstborn of each Jewish household – thus saving the presence of God in their world, is now the role that Jesus embraces for all of humanity and creation. The doorposts of the universe are about to get coated in Jesus’ blood to protect everyone and everything and to preserve God’s holy, universal presence once and for all time.
Clearly the disciples did not grasp his meaning that night. The question for us, all these years later is: Do we? They had expectations of a new political Kingdom, where the Roman authorities would be removed and resoundingly defeated. But this would only be a giving into the temptation of Satan upon Jesus in the wilderness for worldly power and domination over nations. This is the sad and reliable story of human history. Violence only begets more violence. Yet, Jesus offers a new way of abiding peace (Shalom), freedom, compassion, and grace through his sacrifice.
Perhaps this Holy week is the one where we are most able to relate to and dwell with the disciples in their bewilderment, anguish, questions, doubts and fears. They did not know that Sunday’s empty tomb was coming. They did not expect a bodily resurrection of their teacher and mentor. They did not expect that God’s plan for redemption would play out like this. They just couldn’t get their minds around that large of a God; that large a love.
So, as we gather around computer screens or cell phones and participate in Easter services this year while sanctuaries are empty, unthinkable just a few short weeks ago, let us be reminded how unthinkable it was for those grieving, dedicated women, who set out to anoint his body, and find Jesus’ tomb empty. May we, like them, encounter this risen Lord, Jesus the Christ – the Messiah in a new way, too! It is this risen Jesus who would equip their rag-tag group of misfit followers into God’s powerful instruments of peace to share with the world. If we can get that truth in this strange Holy Week, then we will understand the first Holy Week in ways we never could have before.
Holy God of transformative presence, grant us to be with you in your absence, obeying you even in the deep moment of your apparent defeat. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)