Monday, March 12, 2018

A Mental Health Sermon

A Mental Health Sermon: Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John: 3/10/2018

This sermon will focus on the Greek word peran, translated crossing over, other side, went over. All four Gospels use the word peran in reference to Jesus and the disciples crossing over during a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee. The other side becomes a revelation point for deeper meaning as the storm and crossing over serve as a pattern.

The repetition of the word peran appears four times in a short space early verses of Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel (1-26). English dilutes the impact with three different translations for the same word.  The meaning and use of peran alone makes a visual difference. Repetition also impacts with the words in this chapter: fear, food, receive, and belief.  

Today I am looking at the big picture in this chapter as it relates to our everyday life. The depths of the chapter connect with the depths of our lives.

The feeding story preceding the storm introduced by peran in verse 1, moves to receiving Christ, I am the bread of life. The food of daily life becomes the introduction to receiving the food of Christ Presence, flesh and blood, in transcendent language. Many followers have no stomach for this kind of identification in the words of Jesus as the Word. The storm on the lake is now a storm in the crowd as they murmur and depart. They are unable to get beyond a literal language, the same issue for Nicodemus in Chapter 3 of the Gospel. 

The storm reaches the 12, and Jesus says, will you leave too. Peter speaking for the group. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (6:68) In an instant Peter is on the other side with his confession. Belief. A Belief in receiving Christ who is the food for Eternal Life.

 The storm during the crossing becomes a metaphor for the future storms. The Big clue for this continuous is when Jesus appears walking on the water as the boat is about to be swamped. The disciples register fear. They have a phobic reaction. That’s the Greek word. Phobic  Jesus recognizing their fear says fear not. Do not be phobic. However, we have a different Greek verb form providing an Aha!. Fear not continuously. Fear not in every moment, with each life storm, with each crossing over. A Present imperative verb. It doesn’t exist in English. We miss the meaning. Fear not continuously.  This is not a one time command, its an ongoing command, for each new moment we face fear.

This is our lives. We have a new place to apply the Chinese word for crisis, meaning both danger and opportunity. Fear on the one hand and the other, the other side, both here and not here. Peter and the disciples are never the same again. And neither are we. Transformation is our destiny. We are destined to be new creatures and a new creation in Christ. Here in this chapter we witness the pain and resistance to transformation. Metanoia, repentance, experiencing conversion, coming to a new mind generates fear, murmuring, denial, resistance, many ways to leave the life long process of transformation and renewal.

The Trinity Cathedral structure is made for peran in all four Gospels, our crossing over and receiving Christ during the storms and transitions in our lives. Look at the ceiling and you see the wood framing the bottom of a ship. The nave is the name for where the congregation sits. Nave and navy connect in Latin. We have the imagery of water. As figurative we are on lake Galilee every time we are here, crossing over in both calm and turbulent times. The Altar, our food table, is where we prepare to receive the presence of Christ anew for crossing over continuously.

My own story is continuously nourished here. I encountered a huge storm with wind and waves when my son Matthew had a bipolar episode causing a disturbance. He was arrested and jailed on the 22nd of July. The jail isn’t equipped to handle mental illness even though that is what happened. Punishment to counter behavior is their mode. With the defunding and deinstitutionalizing of mental illness jails and prisons are now major mental illness centers. Learning how to navigate the jail, the court house, the criminal justice system provided a steep learning curve, I was fearful for Matthew’s future and forced to face my inner feelings. We received good news came in early October. He was a possible candidate for the Mental Health Court. The court is a two year program where participants are held to different levels of achievement and monitored for compliance. The sentences can then be reduced or dismissed.

Finding a long term mental health bed in Judicial District 7 took 4 ½ months. Last week we crossed over to the Andrew Jackson care center near Bellevue, Iowa. Another aspect of our broken mental health system in having a lengthy wait for a long term bed.

As we move to the other side I have become a member of the Mental Health Court Board. My mission is to Increase awareness of this pilot program and the injustices in our mental health system. Cathedral members are supportive. I am grateful. The court is now part of the Outreach ministry. Members are coming on Fridays to observe the court in session. Seeing the court in action, seeing lives change is the best way .

The issue of mental illness is with us as a nation, one in five have a mental illness. We have the issue in our state, our county jails, right here in river city. At the same time, simultaneously, I connect this issue with the footprints of the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel in our Eucharistic prayer yet to be said in the liturgy. When you read and hear this in the liturgy say Chapter 6 to yourself.  

“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”

We have crossed over, we are on the other side, We are with Peter, “we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”        



Monday, March 5, 2018

From Parish to Hospital


Moving from parish to hospital doesn’t seem like a move from death to life but it was. The death part was known in the beginning while the life part came by revelation. 

The death part was a gradual descent into failure. Before going to seminary my mentor talked about the ministry of the whole church. He had been a missionary on the island of Kauai in Hawaii where the had a chance to put this into motion. All ages were part of this ministry and he had stories to illustrate. Back in the states folks in the congregation thought the ordained were the ministers. Laity were members. 

I entered seminary to prepare for a vision of the Church where all are called to ministry wherever we are. Our Baptism is the beginning. My seminary experience enhanced this vision and my senior year I wrote a paper on how I would go about making the vision a reality. The ministry of the whole church was my blue print. My educational efforts after nine years were disappointing. One person said, “If I wanted to go to seminary I would go to seminary.” Seminary was not my goal for all. I missed the mark somehow.

An opportunity came to serve as a Christian Education director with the possibility of becoming a hospital chaplain at some future point. I pursued the vision of the ministry of the whole church from my new position. Realization came during several Lents where adults served as facilitators for small groups with the youth of the parish. The training of the adults included a listening course. 

Concluding my time as Christian Education director and completing my training as a certified chaplain I began my ministry in the hospital. My vision of the ministry of the whole church was now off the table, dead. I could see no future for that vision in a hospital setting. I would still work out of a Baptism ministry mode but I did not see myself promoting that in the hospital. 

Then a person who had been a listener with the youth discussions made an observation. As a member of the Hospital Auxiliary who took the cart around with items to purchased she noticed patients wanted to talk. The rule forbid such when you take the notions cart around. She came to my office hoping I would do something about that. 

From other blogs you can see where I am moving. The training of lay people to be story listeners came from the question: How can we change the rule. After obtaining permission a training course was developed. Over the years many from the Auxiliary answer a calling in pastoral care. In the New Testament tradition of the word parakaleo, they became  a “called one along side” in a ministry of presence. Parishes and congregations of different denominations sent lay people to participate and the program continues today as others do the training, supervision, and debriefing. The ministry of the whole Church took on a different form.

From death to life renewed the vision of the ministry of the whole church on a scale and in a way I had not anticipated. The Holy Spirit moves in wonderful ways and the journey is continuous.

I remember a story from my professor of pastoral care, Ruel Howe, who helped Implement the vision in seminary. When he traveled he was frequently asked “what do you do?” He thought saying theology professor was a little too much. One day he said, “I’m a pilgrim.” The one asking the question replied, “I thought they were all dead.” He said, “Not this kind, this kind moves from death to life.” Yes, that is the kind of pilgrim I have experienced, more than once, over my 87 years. To die with Christ and rise with Him is our daily Baptismal journey. 


Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and later the art of story metaphor listening.