Sunday, March 29, 2015

CRUCIFY HIM! By Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    The story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is more than 2000 years old. We probably find it difficult to imagine what it might have been like to have lived through those days with Jesus, but today, I invite us to try. I invite you to open up your imagination and try to put yourself into this story. 
We start with Jesus entering Jerusalem. He has been preaching and teaching across Galilee for three years. He has healed the sick, and shared meals with people that are known sinners. He has challenged the religious leaders with his radical ideas of God’s unconditional love. Now, he comes to Jerusalem, the Holy of holies for the Jewish people. When he enters the city, people get excited. They have heard of this preacher and prophet. They wonder, could this be the Messiah for whom they have been waiting all their lives? We are those people, the crowds, wondering, can Jesus change our lives. 

When Jesus came into town, they put together a simple impromptu parade to welcome him. They pulled down branches from the palm trees and waved them, like they would do for a king. They shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Meaning – this is someone special. This is God’s own son, come to turn our lives upside down – or maybe to turn them right side up. 

But it does not take long before the mood of Jerusalem changes for Jesus. As we will remember this Thursday night, Jesus shares a Passover meal with his disciples. He institutes the meal we now celebrate as Holy Communion. We call it the Last Supper because it was the last meal he shared with his disciples before he was betrayed by Judas and arrested. The religious leaders in Jerusalem have him arrested under the charge that he is claiming to be the King of the Jews. This is against the law because according to Roman law, Herod is the only king. 

Jesus is brought before the Governor, Pontius Pilate and Pilate asks him: “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Jesus says: “You say so.” Then the religious leaders accuse him of many other things. When Pilate asks him to defend himself, Jesus is silent.

Pontius Pilate does not want to be responsible for sending Jesus to his death. He is looking for a way out. There is a tradition at this time of year, that the Jews can have one prisoner released. Pilate asks the crowd, “Do you want me to release Jesus to you, or Barabbas?” who was an insurrectionist. They crowd chooses Barabbas. When Pilate asks the crowd, “What do you want me to do with Jesus?” they answer, “Crucify him.”

The crowd that welcomed Jesus with waving palms on Sunday is now shouting “Crucify Him” on Friday. This is how quickly we human beings can turn. Of course the crowds were swayed by the chief priests who wanted Jesus out of the picture. Jesus had too much power and they were threatened by him. 

And so Jesus was taken off to be crucified. After Jesus was crucified and he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, the scripture says: “Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.”

Jesus could have saved himself but he did not. He chose to suffer. Because of this we know that he understands our suffering today. We all experience our own sorts of pain and sorrow. We are discouraged. We feel cast out. We feel unloved. We are betrayed by those we love, just like Jesus was. God sent Jesus to live as a human being so Jesus would experience all the sorrows that human life has with it. Now we know that God knows our sorrows, first hand. 

When he breathed his last breath, a Centurion (that’s a soldier) who was standing watch over him said, “Surely this man was God’s son.” A soldier in the Roman army made a witness to the divinity of Jesus.

There are many characters in this story. Which one are you? Are you part of the crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem and waved palm branches? Do you claim Jesus as the Holy Son of God who gives you new life? Are you filled with joy when you think about Jesus and what he means to you?  

Are you one of the disciples? Those closest to Jesus who shared a holy Last Supper with him, only to fall away. He asked them to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemene and they fell asleep. They did not go to the cross with Jesus, to see him crucified, because they were afraid. There are times when we want to follow Jesus but we fail, don’t we?

Are you Pontius Pilate? He wanted to save Jesus. He wanted to do the right thing. But he let the crowd sway him. He let the chief priests pressure him into sentencing Jesus to death. Pilate knew that Jesus had not broken any laws, but he allowed the crowd in its frenzy to push him to sentence Jesus to death. Do you allow yourself to be swayed by others to do the wrong thing, even when you want to do the right thing?

Are you part of the crowd, including the chief priests who shouted “Crucify him!” We want to believe we would never have done that. But there were good people in that crowd, good people who got swept up in the moment. They lost their way. Do you ever lose your way and turn your back on God? 

Are you the Centurion? The one who professed his belief that surely this man was God’s son. Somehow the Centurion saw through all the chaos and the betrayal and he saw the truth. Jesus was the Son of God. Even on a horrific day, do you hold on to Jesus? Do you cling to the promise that this is the Son of God, the one who brings us healing and unconditional love?

We have all been part of the crowd at one time or another. We have all been a disciple who fails Jesus. But in this Holy Week, I invite us to hold up the Centurion as our example. He was the one who saw Jesus and knew he was the Son of God.

          Jesus is the one who gives us hope when we are discouraged. Jesus is the one who gives us peace when our lives are in chaos. Jesus is the one who loves us when we feel unlovable. Jesus is the Son of God. So in this Holy Week, lean into Jesus. Our ancestors may have been in that crowd that said “crucify him” but we have the benefit of being on this side of Easter. We know that he overcame death with life.

So let us give our lives to the Son of God. Let us put our trust in him. Let us stand at the cross with the Centurion and see the face of Jesus and say, “Surely this is the Son of God.” Let us give our lives to him.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Good Soil by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

You know the conversation, if you have ever been a parent, a teacher, or a supervisor at work, working with a younger, less experienced employee. It goes something like this.
Parent: Did you do your homework?
Child: Hmm?
Parent: Did you do your homework?
Child: I’m playing a game mom.
Parent: That big project for social studies, is it done?
Child: What project?
Parent: The one you told me about last night, the one that is due tomorrow?
Child: Oh, the teacher gave us an extension. It’s not due until Monday. I have all weekend.
Now, being responsible adults, we would think the child would get started anyway, right? Maybe the teacher gave an extension because it is such a big project and the teacher wants the students to take extra time with the project, perhaps have time to work in groups and learn together, actually think through the project and not just throw it together at the last minute, do some planning. We want the child to actually LEARN something from the project. But the concept is not getting through to the child.
Jesus went through this sort of conversation with his disciples all the time. They were not much more receptive than the child in my story. Jesus used parables, to get his message across to them.
Today’s parable is called the Parable of the Seeds, the Parable of the Farmer, or the Parable of the Good Soil, depending on which way you approach the story.
When this story was written, people were living under persecution. They were vulnerable. They needed encouragement to live out their faith. We know what it feels like to need encouragement. So Jesus told this story to them, and to us, about a Farmer, God, who planted seeds. The seeds could represent God’s words of grace, God’s words of instruction to them about how to live. Now the story is a bit odd here because the farmer is a bit haphazard about how he spreads these wonderful seeds of grace and instruction. 
He just kinds of throws them around on the ground willy nilly. I am not a farmer, but I thought if you were going to plant you were supposed to prepare the ground and create some rows where you take a hoe and make a line where you are going to bury the seeds.
I guess this Farmer, just has to work with the ground he has, which is the people. And some of the ground is more ready that other ground. Some of the seeds fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams.

Now the point of the story is this: we want to be good soil. We want to be receptive to God’s instructions and to God’s words of grace for us. We want to hear better than the child at the beginning of my sermon, the one who had a chance to get ahead on their homework but instead kept playing video games. That child was like the one who got some seed but allowed the birds to eat it up. The child was not thinking ahead and not paying attention to the value of the extra time she was being given.
Sometimes we get the message of God, but we don’t let it take root. We come to worship and we hear the messages, the ones about acceptance and forgiveness. We hear about how God loves us no matter what and God wants us to love ourselves. But we leave this place and we forget that message just as fast as we heard it. We get out into the world and we start believing the messages of the world:  look out for number one, the one with the most toys wins; no one loves you because you are not loveable. When we fall into these traps we are allowing God’s seeds to sprout quickly but not take root, so our plant withers and dies.
Then there are the times that our plants get taken over by the weeds. We allow ourselves to be influenced by people who are not following the ways of Jesus. You know who those people are. There are people who try to pull us away from God and God’s desire for our lives. Those people are like weeds who strangle us and keep us from being who God put us on this earth to be.
But sometimes, we receive God’s seeds, we receive those words of grace, and they fall into the rich soil of our lives. This is what we want. When we are living our lives open to God, then we receive the seeds and they blossom. We hear the messages of grace. We pay attention when people offer us kindness. We pay attention when someone forgives us. We pay attention when we experience love and compassion in the world and we know that these things come from God. This is when we grow. This is when we dig our roots deep into the soil and we are healthy. This is when we have a good harvest, when there are fruits as a result of our lives.
Jesus wants us to be people who hear him, who accept his message of grace, who bear fruit and when we do there will be a bountiful harvest in our lives. That is why Jesus came into the world. But if we do not hear him, we will be like the child I mentioned at the beginning of my sermon, the one who has homework, but is not paying attention to the assignment. We have an assignment: to listen to Jesus. Are you listening? Do you find time to pray every day, and to sit in the quiet and listen to the message Jesus has for you?
Jesus wants to plant seeds in us like the farmer planted seeds in the soil. These are the seeds. You are beautiful. You are forgiven. You are a blessing. You have gifts to share with the world. But we have to take time every day, to stop and listen to Jesus.
I take time every morning in prayer to listen to what message God has for me. Sometimes the message is really simple. Sometimes it’s a particular, relevant message for a worry I have in my life.  And I hope you do the same. When we do, God will give us the messages that we need in order to have deep roots in rich soil. We don’t want our seeds to be plucked away by birds flying by. We don’t want our plants to be strangled by weeds, we want to live as strong followers of Jesus, who know we are beloved by God.
So let your life be lived in Good Soil. Listen to Jesus. You are beloved.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

We Can Build a Beautiful City by Suzy Ujvagi (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    The streets of downtown Toledo are bursting with vibrant colors, spirited laughter, and lively energetic crowds.  The sun is shining down on all of us marching in the parade on this cool summer’s day.  It’s Toledo Pride, the Fifth Annual, to be exact.  While marching down Washington Street, passed the Toledo Mud Hens Stadium, turning onto Summit Street towards Promenade Park – I am overwhelmed with what I see.  I see young people dancing enthusiastically on the rainbow colored floats they made themselves.  I see inspired activists reciting chants of equality, fairness, and opportunity for all.  I see communities of faith, marching in solidarity.  I see artists, performers, drag queens in beautifully sequined headdresses and gowns, determined to finish the mile-long march in heels.

    I am not marching alone, as one solitary queer woman of faith, motivated to empower my community and better my city.  No, I am not alone.  Directly to my right, and directly to my left, I see my family, my sister, my brother, my cousin, my father, all marching with me, outwardly expressing their validation, support and love for who I am.  In this moment, I am so proud.  I’m proud of my family and their willingness to publically support me and the community I’m a part of.  I’m proud of my gay and transgender community – their energy, determination, and inability to step down when faced with discrimination and oppression. 

    I’m proud of myself, remembering who I was at sixteen, never believing I could be this authentic in such a public way.  Most importantly, in this moment, I am proud of my city.  Looking in every direction – up to the skyline, over to the Maumee River, looking all around me so that I can take in each face, smile, and cheer of every Toledoan celebrating and marching with me.  I felt God in this moment.  Surely, this is the beautiful city that God has called Toledo to be – dare I say, this was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.  The beautiful city we have all built collectively and will continue to create together each day.  Can you see it – can you imagine it? 

    The setting in our scripture this morning seems radically different then the scene we just imagined together.  The story of Jesus in the temple begins with the gathering of many Jewish people in Jerusalem in recognition of the Passover.  Upon entering the temple, Jesus is horrified to see people selling cattle and moneychangers exchanging currency.  In a disturbing image for some of us, we see Jesus using a whip to drive people out of the temple, overturning the moneychangers’ tables, making their coins fly into the air and scatter all over.  Shouting, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s House a marketplace!”  In uncertainty and likely anger, the Jewish people asked Jesus for a sign that would justify what he was doing this in the temple.  Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and it will be raised up in three days.”  Knowing that the temple took decades to build, the Jewish people were in disbelief, wondering how Jesus could raise it up again in three days.  The text then shifts to a time after Jesus has died, where his disciples remember what Jesus had said and understand that he was not referring to the temple being destroyed and raised up in three days, but Jesus’ own body, through his death and resurrection. 

    The story of Jesus cleansing the temple is one we recall hearing as children.  It is a popular story that we have heard many times.  We firmly believe that we know exactly what the scripture means – that Jesus was upset and angry with the merchants selling and exchanging goods inside the temple, instead of outside in the courtyard, where vendors were allowed.  That Jesus was horrified the temple had become a place of selfishness and greed.  That Jesus was claiming his own authority as the living God here on earth.

    An alternative view of this story shows us that Jesus was not necessarily angry because people were buying and selling goods in the temple, but because within those exchanges, people were being cheated and taken advantage of, specifically people who were poor and oppressed.  Jesus was so upset with what he saw, because he knew a better way.  He understood the necessity of having sacred relationships with God and God’s people.

    In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this story comes near the end of Jesus’ ministry, alluding that his cleansing of the temple directly relates to his crucifixion and death.  Unlike the other gospels, the Gospel of John places this story right in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he is just starting out as a teacher and storyteller.  Having this story in Jesus’ early moments of ministry teaches us a few things – perhaps Jesus was  just beginning to understand his mission in this world, still struggling with his identity, unsure how to be a minister of God, unsure how to live up to who God has called him to be.  However, he did seem to understand that in order to have spiritually fulfilling lives, there must be a focus on respect, mutuality, and love, not greed and selfishness.  In this story, Jesus is calling us to be better, to seek fulfilling lives with God and God’s people. 

    In the Gospel of John, the story of Jesus cleansing the temple is directly followed by a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus about the Kingdom of God.  This highlight interests me the most because in this conversation, Nicodemus asks Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Jesus responds saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Jesus is not only validating the actuality of the Kingdom of God in this exchange, but Jesus is describing to Nicodemus his own belief and vision of the Kingdom of God. 

    I like to believe that in this story Jesus enters the temple fully knowing and understanding what the Kingdom of God looks like on earth.  He is our example of righteous anger – the moral obligation to respond to injustice.  Jesus sees the chaos in the temple - he is shocked, knowing with deep conviction that this is not what being in relationship with God looks like.  His vision of God’s Kingdom on earth does not include selfishness, greed, oppression, and self-advancement.  On the contrary, his vision is one of justice, love, and communal support – something built together, something to be proud of. 

    When I imagine the Kingdom of God here on earth – in Toledo, Ohio – I imagine a city that not only supports but embraces all people – people without homes, those who are hungry, those who experience violence, those who experience racial injustice, those who call other countries home, those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.  Toledo-based community leaders have come together in our recent past to react to the injustices that are evident in our region.  For those who are hungry, we have Food for Thought – an organization that provides food assistance through mobile pantries each month, where patrons get to choose themselves the items that they would like to use in their homes.  As a response to homelessness, we have Toledo Streets, a local newspaper that employs people without homes as vendors, where they receive 75% of the earnings they make.  For those who are LGBT, we have Equality Toledo and Equality Ohio, whose mission it is to create a city and state where all people receive fair treatment regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation. Clearly, we have many community members, leaders, and organizations to be proud of in our city.  But there is still so much more work to do.

    What injustice do you see in this city?  What stirs up righteous anger in you?  How will you choose to act in response to that injustice?  Imagine this beautiful city of Toledo – where all people are accepted, loved, and embraced.  What role will you play in creating the Kingdom of God on earth? 

    Marching in Toledo Pride last August was the first time I ever participated in an LGBT-affirming action in my home city.  I have experienced discrimination and have been witness to countless other oppressions in this city.  I have chosen to react in righteous anger by celebrating my LGBT community and participating in a public way.  I could have chosen to sit on the sidelines, stay quiet and comfortable.  Instead, I chose to participate in life – not only to participate but invite my family, the people I care about most, to join in with me.  And I am so glad I did.  This participation allowed me to experience God in a new way.  It gave me the privilege to be my authentic self, just as God intended, alongside those I love, in this beautiful city that has raised me to be who I am today.  This is my glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth.  This is what God has called me to do.  This is my life’s work.  What is your life’s work?  What is God’s Kingdom calling you to do? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Jesus Calms the Storm by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Last November, Pastor Amanda Garber got the phone call that many of us progressive United Methodist pastors know we could get. Her District Superintendent called and said something like this, “Amanda, I’ve had a complaint that you officiated at the wedding of two women. You know that this is against the rules of our Book of Discipline. I need you to come into my office so we can talk about it.”
Of course Amanda had done the wedding. She is a pastor of a church that includes all people: including both heterosexual and homosexual couples. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church also says that we pastors are supposed to offer pastoral care, baptism, weddings and funerals to all the people in our care. So when two women in her congregation came to her ready to make a commitment to spend the rest of their lives together, I’m sure Amanda did what any pastor would do. She scheduled a wedding.
I am not sure how Amanda felt that first night after her District Superintendent called and said she was in trouble. It’s possible she had some doubts. She might have cried out to Jesus in prayer and said, “How did you let me get into this mess? I gave my life to you as a pastor, and now you are going to let my career be destroyed? How can you let this happen? I don’t understand. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job. And what about my family? How will we live without my salary? And what about my calling? I’m called to be a pastor, and now because I did my job, I’m going to lose my job? How can this be? This just isn’t right.” Her response might have been something like that. Amanda was in the middle of a big storm.
Amanda’s response might have been just like Jesus’ disciples in our scripture for today.  It was late in the day and they took their boats to the other side of the Sea. A storm came up. Jesus was sleeping in the stern of the boat. The storm was a big one and the disciples got frightened. They woke him up and said, “Are you not concerned that we are sinking?”
Jesus calmed the storm and then scolded them saying, “Don’t you have any faith at all?” They were amazed at his ability to calm the storm.  Did they not know who Jesus was?
You see, the disciples were supposed to be in this work with Jesus. They were supposed to put their trust in him. But when one little storm comes along, they freak out. They could not handle it. They could not put their trust in God to save them from a thunder storm. And by the way, these storms come up on the Sea of Galilee all the time.
They were not ready. They were not mature enough in their faith to trust Jesus. They were fearful so the slightest little thing would throw them off their course, and off their calling. That day in the boat, they got off course. They forgot to put their trust in Jesus.
Well let me tell you a bit more about Amanda. It’s possible that she could have been like the disciples. When that call came from her District Superintendent, telling her that she was in trouble for doing a wedding of two women, she could have panicked. She could have cried out to Jesus and said, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?” But I asked her this week, “Did you have any second thoughts when you did that wedding?” And do you know what she said?”
“Never, not once.” She said, “I never regretted it. It was a beautiful privilege to marry them. A holy privilege.” You see, Amanda Garber is a mature disciple. So she did not give in to fear. She did not waver. She stood in her truth. She is a pastor. And pastors preside at weddings for their parishoners. All of them.
This week she received her punishment. Her bishop announced that she would be given one month’s leave from her church without pay. A fund was set up to cover her salary and it has already been covered by supportive friends. Facebook is abuzz with progressive pastors and laity who are weary from these battles. How can we beat up our pastors who are simply doing what they are called to do? And now Amanda is at the center of a storm. She could have been put on a church trial for her actions. Thankfully this time it did not come to this. What a storm that would be. But Amanda did not waver. She held on to Jesus. She held on to her principles. She held on to her call to be a pastor to all people.
What about you? What do you do when the storms of life come along? Have you ever felt like those disciples?
Have you ever imagined that your problems were so big, it felt like you were on a boat that was about to sink? I can imagine what those disciples felt like that night. Here they had given their lives to Jesus. He seemed to have some pretty good ideas. But really, what did they know about this man? What do we know about him? He talked about loving our enemies and being generous and forgiving. But then he did things like bring them out in a leaky boat in the middle of a storm. Did Jesus really have their best interests at heart? They got scared.
Don’t we feel like this sometimes? We are trying to follow Jesus. We are trying to do the right things. Make good choices. Be kind and generous. And we just get kicked in the teeth by the world. One bad day after another. It feels like our boat is sinking. Where is Jesus?
I’ll tell you where he is. Right here with us. Calming the storm.
Ready to love us even though we feel unlovable. Ready to show us a way out of a storm.
Jesus was there with Amanda Garber when her District Superintendent called and said, “You are in trouble.” Yes, our broken church gave her a slap on the wrist for presiding at the wedding of two women. It’s not fair. But Amanda stands strong because she was faithful. She did the right thing. She put her trust in God. She was not swept up by the storm.
That is what Jesus asks of us. Our trust. When the storms of life are raging, Jesus asks us to put our trust in him. Don’t give up. Don’t give in to fear. Put your trust in Jesus. Hold on. Hold on to the one you can always trust. Trust Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

We All Need Some Light by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Did you know that about 3% of the population suffers from Bi-Polar Disorder, also known as Manic Depressive Illness? Odds are that’s one or two people in this room. It is characterized by periods of mania or elevated mood, followed by periods of deep depression where the person may not be able to get out of bed.

     I say that 3% have the illness but more are affected: their family, friends, employers, classmates and many more. Village ARTS, our Revolutionary Theatre Society decided to do the production Next to Normal, which is about a woman who has bi-polar disorder, in order to bring attention to mental illness and how it affects family systems. (Our show is next weekend, and you can still buy tickets for the Saturday matinee, but the evening shows are sold out.)

    In the show, Diana struggles with her illness and we see how it effects everyone around her.  She tries one drug therapy after another. She even tries electro-shock therapy. Nothing seems to work for more than a few weeks. She is the extreme case of someone who walks in darkness, seeking light. But we all need some light, don’t we?

    Beyond bi-polar disorder, more people in our country deal with chronic depression. About 1 in 5 people with have one major depressive episode in our life time, also known as clinical depression. That would be 8 or 12 people in this room. Symptoms include:
·    Very low mood,
·    an inability to experience pleasure in activities that were formerly enjoyed
·    thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness, hopelessness, and self-hatred.
·     poor concentration and
·    reduced sex drive,
·    thoughts of death or suicide.
·     Insomnia
·    or oversleeping,
A major depressive episode is characterized by the presence of a severely depressed mood that persists for at least two weeks, often much, much longer.

    Depression, like bi-polar disorder, affects not only the one with depression, but those around the person. If my mother or my husband or my boss is depressed, it affects me, right?

    Clinical depression can be treated with medication and with psychotherapy. It is caused by a chemical imbalance and medication can help. I take antidepressants for depression and I would not try to live without them. I have gone through several major depressive episodes in my life and antidepressants help me manage my depression and be a functioning human being. I am grateful for medical science and the strides they have made in dealing with depression.

    There is another kind of depression that is not necessarily caused by a chemical imbalance. It is just plain old situational depression. I don’t know anyone who is immune from this kind of depression. Something bad happens and we get depressed. Your relationship ends, you get depressed. Your parent dies, you grieve and you are depressed. You move, and you lose all of your friends and you get depressed. Any major life change involves loss and can lead to what we call situational depression. We probably don’t need medication at these times. A counselor or therapist might help. But what we need is hope. This is where Jesus comes in.

    I would like to invite my friend Erin Moran Wiley to come forward and share a story about her own situational depression. Erin happens to be the actress who plays the Diana in the show Next to Normal.

Erin, can you tell me about a time when you were stumbling around the in darkness of depression?

ERIN:  Fifteen years go, I came home from New York City, after going there temporarily as an actress. My husband and I were trying to get pregnant, and I got pregnant. Lots of other personal stuff was going on. I had a group of friends and all six friends all going to have babies within a few weeks of each other. I was overjoyed.

Then I had a miscarriage. My husband and I had put all our hopes and dreams into having a family. I spent a year being clinically depressed. I kept looking for ways to feel better. I was not finding it in traditional ways; my friends and my husband did not understand. I went looking for support with an on line community of others who had gone through a miscarriage. I still felt so empty. I felt alone. I was in my basement in the middle of the night; It was the darkest time of my life. I was throwing a spiritual temper tantrum.  I quit talking to and relating to God. 

One night, I was so alone again, but I had some sort of supernatural experience. I was 10 feet behind myself and I could see myself from behind sitting at my computer; Jesus was kneeling next to me sobbing next to me. I was not grieving alone; Jesus was grieving with me. I did not feel so alone anymore; God was grieving with me, not just walking with me.  The heaviness was lifted. I felt more hopeful; it was a turning point in my grieving; I felt not so alone and lonely.

 I felt the presence of Christ, not just around me, but in my emotions. The sadness didn’t go completely away, but it became more manageable.  With the help of therapy and medications and this, I got through this. 

Erin had been walking in deep darkness, deep depression.  She needed some light. We all go through times when we need some light. Jesus came to her and reminded her that she was not alone, he was grieving with her. He lifted some of her burden from her and said, “I will cry with you. You are not alone.”

    One day Jesus was teaching a group of people (for those following along on the net, John 8:12-19) and he said:  “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” This is the promise Jesus gives to us, both to those with clinical depression and to those with situational depression.

    We don’t have to stumble around in the darkness of our depression. Jesus provides plenty of light. Jesus is our light. That does not mean we don’t use the tools of medical science: medication and therapy, but as followers of Jesus we have something more. We have the light of Jesus.

    So how does Jesus bring light to our darkness? For Erin it was a clear sign. She had a supernatural vision of Jesus sitting with her and crying with her. This gave her comfort to know she was not alone in her grief. That was enough to pull her out of her grief and begin to move forward with her life.

    Sometimes when I am slipping into a depression, I have to remind myself that I have had better days, and I will see them again. I remember that God loves me and God has not abandoned me. I remember that even though I may feel depressed that I never stay in my depression forever. I have had days of joy and happiness and laughter and so I hold onto that as an image of the light and of hope.

    Sometimes Jesus sends us helpers, helpers filled with light, to help pull us out of our depression. A good friend comes along to remind us how much they love us, they care  about us. It’s hard to feel loveable when we are depressed. But when another person loves us they are being the light of Jesus for us.  They pour light into our lives.

    When I am talking to someone who is depressed I often ask: what brings you joy? Do you remember something that brings you joy? It is hard when you are buried in darkness, to focus on the light, but we can do it. We know that there are things that bring us joy: the smile of our grandchildren, or fresh flowers, or reading a good book, watching a funny movie or taking a walk. \

    As buried in the darkness of depression as we may be, if we can do one of those things, we are choosing to step into the light.  When we spend time with those who bring us joy or find the energy to take a walk we are making a choice to step out of the depression and darkness and step into the light.

    We all need some light. Jesus is our light. When we are depressed we can turn to him. We can turn to Jesus in prayer, and pour out our hearts. Jesus wants to listen. Jesus wants to take away our darkness and bring us into the light.

    Jesus promised us that he would be our light. He said, “I provide plenty of light to live in.” So our question is this. Will we live in that light? Whether or not our darkness is chemical or situational, we have tools available to us. We can step into the light.

    So, will we put our trust in Jesus? When we find ourselves walking in the darkness, will we choose the light? The light is always with us. Jesus always stands ready to shine in our lives: to comfort us, to strengthen us, to give us clarity, to give us joy. We only have to ask.

    So will you step into the light today? We all need some light. Jesus is the light of the world. So step into the light that never goes out. Receive the light of Jesus, and let the light shine in you. Amen.