Depression, Gospel of Mark, Lent

Things we know but cannot explain in a sound-bite (Mark 1:29-45)

A lot happens in the first chapter of Mark. Early in my ministry, I preached a sermon on this section entitled “The Magical Mystery Tour,” both because I thought it sounded a little sassy, and because Jesus seemed to become a regional rockstar in a hurry; today we might say he went viral.

But it does seem like people are mostly showing up for the transactional aspects of his ministry.

That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed.  The whole town gathered near the door.  He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him. (Mark 1:32-34, CEB)

It’s a straightforward thing, healing those who are broken in body. But whatever the underlying spiritual condition or psychiatric diagnosis of those afflicted by demons takes us into territory that is less measurable, some kind of super-natural wilderness journey. Does Mark mean that the evil spirits are silenced, or the people who have been troubled? Further down, Jesus also calls upon a man with a skin disease to be silent, but the man doesn’t listen; he goes on his way and tells whoever he feels like telling! Jesus asks him, but doesn’t prevent him. I guess it’s because this guy with refreshed skin and a happy new outlook on life knows he has been healed in body, and could point to the person who healed him, but has no real idea who has done it for him.

Some evangelical voices have gotten pushback over the past week or so for suggesting that mental health issues are entirely spiritual issues. I’m not going to link to them, but I will say one made a statement on Twitter and some others made remarks during a women’s conference. As a person who lives with chronic depression, which is sometimes no problem and other times a significant factor in my daily life, I can testify that there are times when my life in a faith community and my personal spiritual practices help, but there are others when they do not, and I’ve long since moved past thinking that how well I do the practices or how active I am at church can make all the difference, or that God is not helping out enough, but I also know that most of the time, in most situations, it helps that I have those resources, except for the times when it really, really doesn’t.

That’s a terrible attempt at a sound-bite.

Recently I heard Suzanne Stabile say that she has noted a trend among church leaders in her circles to have a semicolon embroidered on their stoles or to have a semicolon tattoo on their wrists, so that people in church who struggle with mental illness will know it’s safe to talk to their pastors and other faith leaders. The point of the semicolon, as described by Project Semicolon, is that you are the author of your own life; like a sentence punctuated with a semicolon, it’s not over.

I’m glad that my story did not end when I was most depressed, more than twenty years ago, and at serious risk of dying by suicide. I’m grateful for the people I was able to trust, somehow, who understood that brain chemistry was no reason for shame and that my identity as a person of faith both helped and made things harder. They were so good to me, and along with the medical and mental health professionals who treated me, they saved my life.

Jesus is going to move on to other territories; he has more to do than heal people in one neighborhood or one community of their physical or mental or spiritual afflictions, which sounds okay if you don’t have any of those challenges, I guess.

He’s going to move on because he has something else to say, and a story to reveal about himself, even though he’s not ready yet for anyone to know it.

Healing God,  it’s hard to put you into a few words, but let me try. Thank you for coming among us. Help us to remember that the story is not over

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts..

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Change your hearts and lives! (Mark 1:1-15)

On this first day of Lent, our family woke up without our cell phones on our bedside tables. In collaboration with our 13-year-old, we agreed that in the hour or so between the arising of pets and his departure for school, we would not be sucked into social media, or email, or online news, or video games (him). A few exceptions were made for the adults – yes, the parish pastor in the house can be sure there were no texts or voicemails related to pastoral emergencies, and yes, I could check Facebook messenger for overnight messages from our daughter in Japan.

We have made some other commitments for this season of penitence and preparation, this study I have scheduled out through Easter Monday among them. There is one self-discipline I have not mentioned aloud to anyone in its particulars, which I guess means no one will know whether I “win” Lent or not. Whatever I’m not mentioning is a very small sacrifice in the larger picture of life, but a hard thing for me.

I’m pretty sure it’s not what Jesus had in mind at the end of this introductory portion of Mark’s gospel.

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:14-15, CEB)

In just 15 verses, this earliest of the gospels has referred to Isaiah, introduced John the Baptist, and given us a thumbnail origin story for Jesus that includes his baptism, an announcement from God that only Jesus hears, and a mere two verses devoted to his 40 day sojourn in the wilderness, in which Satan, wild animals, and angels get equal time. Now Jesus is ready to get to work, and he is not holding anything back!

Wait, isn’t this the gospel with the Messianic Secret? Won’t he tell the disciples to hush about who he is? Yet he is saying it from the word “now.” “Here comes God’s kingdom!”

He is talking about himself.

He is God, and God’s kingdom is walking into our midst in his person.

“Change your hearts and lives” has to mean more than any exercises we can manage for up to 40 days, minus Sundays. That doesn’t mean I won’t do them … small, measurable changes can support a changed heart and a changed life.

But what gets us into this in the first place has to be bigger.

Holy One, when I am tempted to think that following you is only two verses or forty days worth of commitment, help me to hear your voice in a new way, to change my heart and my life, and trust this good news. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:16-28. Full schedule can be found here.

Lent, Mark, Reflectionary

Mark read-along for Lent

Reading Mark duringLentI’m planning to read the Gospel of Mark during Lent and invite you to join me. You’ll find the schedule here.

Reading through Luke and writing about it was a great discipline for me last year. As a preacher, I found there were certain sections found in the Revised Common Lectionary that I knew well, and other parts to which I had never paid close attention. I *think* I know Mark better, but I look forward to finding surprises and new insights.