Intro to Preaching: Sermon #3 Manuscript

This is the first sermon I preached for my Intro to Preaching course.  The prep work is posted separately.

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4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

— Phillipians 4, 4-9

“Almost 24 million Americans have diabetes.”[1] My father and two of my little cousins, aged 7 and 9 are included in that number.  They have Type 1 Diabetes and have to prick their finger to check their blood sugar anywhere from 3 to 12 times a day and take insulin shots at least twice a day.  While someone with diabetes would not willingly deny treatment, of the “approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population, [who] have a mood disorder,”[2] “fewer than half of those suffering from this illness seek treatment.”[3] “Why?” you ask?  According to the Institute of Mental Health, “many people resist treatment because they believe depression isn’t serious, that they can treat it themselves or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.”[4] Science discovered quite some time ago that mental illnesses are caused not by personal weaknesses, or spiritual ones for that matter, but rather chemical and/or hormonal imbalances that affect the way a person thinks and perceives the world around them.  It seems however, that the rest of the world is slow to catch up with this information.

A young woman that I know realized in her early twnties that she had always come up with a logical reason for the sadness she felt.  Her family just moved…she didn’t fit in at school…her parents had a fight last night…the boy she liked didn’t like her back…just to name a few.  In her teens, the church unwittingly made things worse.  She felt more and more that she was suffering in this way because of her sins and that if she were just more spiritual, she would be able to follow Paul’s injunctions to “Rejoice!”  Eventually she realized that her sadness was not the result of circumstances or lack of faith but rather a biological condition.  She started to take anti-depressants and they continue to help her now years later.

Back to Paul’s words to the Philippians, which at second glace seem awfully similar to something you could find in the “Self Help” section of the local book store.  While it seems obvious that Paul intended to encourage the Philippians to live out their faith, many who read this passage fall deeper into despair.  For someone who suffers from depression, it is not as thought they don’t want to rejoice but rather that they are literally not able to rejoice.  You’ve all seen the commercials for anti-depressants.  The ones where they show people who aren’t able to get out of bed or can’t muster the energy to play with their children.  Well those aren’t just marketing gimicks.  There are people who live that life and it’s miserable.  So what do we do then with Paul’s words in Philipians 4?  The irony of ironies here is that Paul penned these words from prison in Rome!  It’s safe to say Paul was not happy all the time during his house arrest and imprisionment.  So what is it that Paul is calling the Philipians to?  And more importantly, what is Paul calling us to?

Let us look first at what Paul is not saying.  In the book of Romans, also written by Paul, he writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (12:15).  So Paul is not telling the Romans to compel (AKA force) people to rejoice, so it is safe to say Paul was not telling the Philippians or us to do so either.  In Romans Paul is calling for solidarity and acceptance of a person (or ourselves) whatever they are feeling.  To spout pithy proverbs of happiness to someone who is in despair will only be salt in the wound as the saying goes.  While there may be a time for this, it needs to be the exception and not the rule.  Many times the most valuable thing we have to offer someone is not our words, but our silent presence. Our willingness to sit with someone and experience to some small degree what they are experiencing says more than the most well crafted declaration of support or encouragement.  There were a lot of things Job’s friends did wrong when they tried to help Job with his troubles, but they started off on a good foot: they say with him for seven days and seven nights (Job 2:13) before they said anything to him.

The statistic I quoted above means that of the 400 or so people sitting in this sanctuary, approximately 40 of you suffer from depression or some sort of mood disorder.  The rest of you probably know someone who suffers from depression whether you are aware of it or not.  If you suffer from depression yourself, there may have been times where well meaning people used this passage from Philippians, or another like it, as an attempt to encourage you to “just think positive and rejoice.”  For this, I must apologize.  Sometimes our most sincere attempts to help someone we love actually make things worse.  On ther other hand, maybe you have been the one who did the “encouraging.”  To you I say, take heart.  God knows your heart and loves the person you hoped to help more than any of us ever could.  That doesn’t mean we don’t need to think about these things. That is in fact, part of the reason we are talking about it today.  It does mean that we don’t need to beat ourselves up about it.

Depression is a tricky thing.  Just because someone is sad doesn’t mean they are depressed.  And just because someone is depressed doesn’t mean they apear sad to those around them.  So here are the signs of depression as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable,
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment[5]

 

They also note that “people with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.”[6] If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from depression, please tell someone you trust and ask them to help you figure out where to seek help.

So if Paul is not telling the Philippians to compell or force people to rejoice, and yet rejoicing is something we are called to do, how are we to respond?  Paul writes “The Lord is near” (v.4).  This is good news indeed.  It is worth noting that the gospel of Matthew records the angel who spoke to Joseph as saying, “’they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us’” (1:23).  Jesus life opens with this “with-us-ness” and then closes with it.  Though the disciples didn’t understand it at the time, after Jesus washes their feet he promises to send the Holy Spirit and then tells them “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18).  And it was Jesus who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Jesus himself acknowledges that there are people who are weary and bent low with the weights of what we must carry whether they are tangible of intangible burdens.  God’s presence may not “fix” everything like we want it to, but at the very least, it can make it more bearable.  Given in the right spirit, this can be comforting to someone walking through the valley of the shadow of depression.  Though many people, including some of you here, struggle with the question of “Where is God during this hard time?!?” I can assure you of this: God is right there with you.  And sometimes you do have to go with what you know instead of what you feel.  At least until the tornado of emotions has passed and things are a bit calmer relatively speaking.  A decision made in the throes of depression can be tragic.  Being able to say something like, “I don’t know what it feels like to go through what you are experiencing, but God is here with you even in the midst of your suffering” may really help someone out.

For those who have purposed to help a person suffering from depression, if you remember a time where you now realize what you said may have been less than helpful, you might consider apologizing to that person and asking them how you might encourage them.  And for those who hope to be supportive to those who suffer from depressive illnesses, your presence is your biggest asset and your willingness to share in someone’s weeping irreplaceable.

As we sing the hymn Just as I am, take some time to reflect on what you are asking of yourself and others and think about how you might seek help if you are struggling with depression or stand in solidarity with those who are struggling even if you yourself are not.  In light of our discussion, we will sing verse 3 first.

Just as I am, though tossed about

with many a conflict, many a doubt,

fightings and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me,

and that thou bidst me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Just as I am, and waiting not

to rid my soul of one dark blot,

to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;

sight, riches, healing of the mind,

yea, all I need in thee to find,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Just as I am, thy love unknown

hath broken every barrier down;

now, to be thine, yea thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.[7]

 


[1] “Diabetes Fact Sheet”, Diabetes Research Institute Foundation http://www.diabetesresearch.org/page.aspx?pid=484 (accessed December 7, 2010).

[2] “Depression: What You Need to Know”, Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/depression/depression-what-you-need-to-know/depression-what-you-need-to-know#end (accessed December 7, 2010).

[3] “The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America”, Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml (accessed December 7, 2010).

[4] ibid.

[5] “What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?”, National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/what-are-the-signs-and-symptoms-of-depression.shtml (accessed December 7, 2010).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Charlotte Elliot, Just as I Am, without One Plea, The Presbyterian Hymnal (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990), 370.

Bibliography

“Depression: What You Need to Know”, Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/depression/depression-what-you-need-to-know/depression-what-you-need-to-know#end (accessed December 7, 2010).

“Diabetes Fact Sheet”, Diabetes Research Institute Foundation http://www.diabetesresearch.org/page.aspx?pid=484 (accessed December 7, 2010).

Elliot, Charlotte. Just as I Am, without One Plea The Presbyterian Hymnal. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.

“The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America”, Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml (accessed December 7, 2010).

“What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?”, National Institute of Mental Healthhttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/what-are-the-signs-and-symptoms-of-depression.shtml (accessed December 7, 2010).

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One Response to “Intro to Preaching: Sermon #3 Manuscript”

  1. Fall 2010: Intro to Preaching « Says:

    […] Intro to Preaching: Sermon #3 Manuscript « Says: February 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm […]

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