Bp Karen’s final sermon

This is the last sermon Bp Karen is distributing. Its not that the crisis is at an end, its that we need space to reflect and consider the best ways to continue in this marathon.

“Thoughts” will continue on the website from time to time, but less frequently. There will be new patterns of church and online material come September

Day thirteen

A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week

He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39

What does love look like? Some people find it hard to say “I love you!” but it can also be too easy to say the words without really knowing what they mean. Perhaps they just mean a nice warm feeling inside? Real love – for God or others – is visible in what we do and how we live. How is your love visible to others?

Faith is good for mental health. It brings lots of things that research has shown to be important – relationships, social networks, and lifestyle amongst others – but faith is not primarily about what I can get out of it. The really important reasons for believing are summed up by Jesus in just two commandments – loving God, and loving those around us. These are not so much commandments (things we must do, because we are told to) as principles for getting to the heart of what really matters most. They are the basis of human flourishing – in body, mind and spirit. Love is good for mental wellbeing. God is love.

A “Have a Go” habit: Learning and giving

  • The 5 steps to mental wellbeing have a lot to do with love: Connect, Be Active, Keep learning, Give to others, Be mindful. Which of these do you need to take a look at?
  • Take some time today to learn more about someone you love: whether it is God or a neighbour, or perhaps the work of a charity expressing love in practical ways.
  • Psalm 107:8 “thank the Lord for his steadfast love”. Can you give thanks today for God’s love and then pass it on in giving to others? Love looks like something…maybe like giving a kind word or two, or an offering of help?

Day twelve – forgiveness

A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week

And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:12-15

Forgiveness makes good business for self-help books. How do I forgive? How can I let go? We often hear that forgiveness is good for you. It makes you feel better. All easy to say. But what do you do when hurt and pain keep coming back when you least want to think about them? When resentment is eating at you and you can think of nothing else? Maybe we can all forgive little things, but what about the big things, the things that break up part of who you are? Or what about forgiving ourselves – sometimes that is the hardest task of them all.

Forgiveness is sometimes humanly impossible. I might not want to forgive. I might not even be able to think of forgiving, and yet holding on to the anger hurts me more than the offender. The person who hurt me may not want to be forgiven. It is tempting to opt for “forgiveness lite”, hiding from the enormity of what has happened and cutting to a quick solution, trying to ignore or diminish what has happened.

Sometimes, all that we can do is say, ‘I want to forgive’. Or maybe, ‘I want to want to forgive’! And see where the journey takes us. Offer the whole thing to God in prayer: a willingness to be changed, or an honest admission that we simply cannot forgive. God can multiply the little that we bring, just as Jesus multiplied a few loaves and fishes to feed thousands. Forgiveness takes time, but God is patient. And has our best interest at heart: God knows that in forgiveness, we will always find healing and freedom, however long and painful the road to get there.

A “Have a Go” habit: Wash and go

  • Read Psalm 51:2 “Wash me thoroughly…and cleanse me from my sin”. Repeat these words to yourself, through the day.
  • Use The Lord’s Prayer each lunchtime. Repeat slowly… forgiving as we are forgiven is a daily habit not a one-off act.

Day eleven – The divided self

A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:15-25

Have you ever said, “I’m in two minds about that!”? Sometimes we find ourselves torn between what we’d like to do, and what we think we should do. Most of us can remember times when we made the wrong choice. We were selfish, and others paid the price; or we went for short term gains, knowing full well that we would regret it long term.

Human beings have a unique capacity to reflect upon their own actions and to wish that they were other than they find themselves to be. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous are told: you cannot do this on your own, we need a “higher power” to rescue us from ourselves. As Christians, this is foundational to our faith. St Paul found this help in the grace of God that he encountered in Jesus.

Being a Christian does not mean that the struggle is over. In a sense, we are all addicted, and we all need this grace; we all struggle within ourselves against the “evil that lies close at hand”.  Being a Christian is about recognising our need for that grace, about seeking it out, and welcoming it into our lives. God wants to be partners with us in rescuing us from ourselves.

A “Have a Go” habit: An honest emotional inventory

  • Step 4 of the 12 step programme is “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Try making your own moral inventory. Perhaps just look at the last 24 hours, or limit your inventory to one are of your life (work, family, or friends). Be honest – and be sure to include the positive as well as the negative.
  • Write down one thing that you really like about yourself, and one thing that you dislike. Sometimes it can be hard to accept that we are not perfect. Ask God to help you to develop your strengths and to find ways to overcome your weaknesses.
  • Use Psalm 103:1 “Bless the Lord Oh my soul and all that is within me bless His Holy name” to offer God all that is within you.

Day ten – worry

A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week

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

Philippians 4:4-7

“Don’t worry!” Easy to say, and hard to do. If only we had a “worry switch”, so that we could simply turn off our worries! I wonder if that would help, though? If I am worried about my friend who is ill, I worry because I am concerned. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t worry, if I wasn’t concerned?

Paul’s teaching to the Philippian Christians was probably based on what he had heard of Jesus’s teaching (Matthew 5:25-34), so it came on good authority. Paul wrote from bitter experience, and knew how hard it can be to find peace. He wrote of the anxiety that he felt in his daily concern for the churches for which he was responsible (2 Corinthians 11:28). Like Jesus, who knew distress and agitation in Gethsemane, Paul did not sail through life on a perpetual wave of joy and peace. Despite this, many Christians reading this passage have felt condemned.

St Paul can appear to be telling them that they do not have enough faith. In fact, anxiety and worry are good indicators of what we care about. In this sense, they are very much like prayer. The essential difference is that Jesus and Paul turned their worries into prayer by bringing them into the presence of God and enfolding them in His peace. The problems begin when we think we can find our own peace, outside of this context. It is impossible to get through life without worrying, unless we care for nothing and no-one. It is what we worry about, and what we do with our anxiety, that matters in God’s kingdom.

A “Have a Go” habit: Meditation

  • Choose a meditation phrase for this week from a Psalm of your choice…something good and true e.g. Psalm 18:1“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer…”. Write it down and keep it with you…as the background on your phone maybe.
  • Make it your constant ”go to” thought whenever you catch yourself worrying…Chew it over, breathe it in, walk it out.

Day nine – Blessed are those who mourn

A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

‘Count your blessings’ is one of those unhelpful things that people say when they really mean ‘You shouldn’t feel the way you do’. It can be one of the least helpful things to say to someone who is feeling low. So what does Jesus mean? Is he another one of those unhelpful people, who know just how to say the wrong thing?

We often think that “blessed” means “happy”, but how can those who are unhappy (because they are mourning) be happy? Blessedness is not exactly happiness. It is not helpful to tell people who have been recently bereaved that they should be happy, even if this is based upon a hope of heaven or life after death. But this isn’t really what Jesus is saying. The context of that passage is one just like ours – in which war and terror place people in exile and captivity, and in which the present reality is anything but happy.

Pain and trauma can easily lead us to struggle with our mental health – quite rightly. Bad things do, and should affect us. But what Jesus is promising is different; more a promise that God is always with us even – perhaps especially – when it seems otherwise. God walks with us to help us find meaning and new hope. God also calls his people to comfort one another, so that this comfort isn’t some distant concept, but a reality for today. We are called to provide comfort, and allow ourselves to be comforted by the love of those around us.

There is, however, a paradox to reflect upon. We often do not fully realise the depth of God’s love when we are content and self-satisfied. Sometimes, only when we mourn over the loss of the people and things that we love the most do we fully appreciate what really matters.

A “Have a Go” habit: Sit down

  • Picture being in that crowd and Jesus catching your eye, knowing your feelings and circumstances and saying straight to you “you are blessed”.
  • Have a go at breathing in the word “blessed”. Repeat it slowly.
  • Look at Psalm 40…a bad day, a deep hole? God lifts you, God sets your feet on a rock, God puts a song in your heart…

Day eight – eat, rest, sleep

A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week

Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’

1 Kings 19: 3-4

Have you ever been busy with work or a task and, having got through it all, then found the anti-climax afterwards even harder to deal with?

Following a dramatic confrontation with the prophets of Baal, Elijah found himself in a literal and spiritual wilderness. None of us are immune to bodily, emotional and spiritual tiredness. The threats of those who seek to do us harm, get to us. We feel negative about ourselves, about our circumstances, and about what might happen in the future. We get depressed. We doubt God, and feel that we have failed God. We might even feel that our lives are no longer worth living. Life seems both dark and hopeless. This is not about lack of faith.

Elijah’s response is honest and leads him to meet with God not in dramatic events, but in a place of sheer silence (verse 12). However active and enthusiastic we may be in God’s service, we all have our limits. When we reach these limits, are we able to encounter God in the silence to which they lead us?

A “Have a Go” habit: Eat, rest, sleep

  • If you read the rest of Elijah’s story, you’ll see that he needed sleep, and food and something to drink. Are you getting enough sleep and eating well?
  • Use a meditation phrase from the psalms: “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” (Psalm 4:8) Repeating this as you go to sleep may help.
  • Practise the ancient prayer of examen at the end of each day.
  • Thank God for signs of his love and beauty. Let go of things that were not lovely and beautiful. Be forgiven and try to forgive. Bless yourself with peace as you drop off.