Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem August 18, 2021
I used to love reading old mysteries like Sherlock Holms by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You know the old “Who-Done-It” stories or ones like it. The ones which reveal some crime before the hero is called in to discover the criminal. Personally, I enjoyed figuring out who that adversary was before the hero stood up and confronted them; and, I was quite good at figuring who they were well before the hero stood up. That is until I realized it was all a trick. For you see, writers have to show you the adversary many times – give reasons – point out clues to make the eventual confrontation believable.
But in life, not every adversary has a face. Sometimes our adversary is nature – is the world – is a destructive force like War – Strife – Famine – Pestilence and Death. How do we stand against these destructive forces let alone confront these adversaries when they are not people? How do we stand when each day brings another issue? When each moment becomes harder and harder to get out of bed – deal with depression – or manage a mental illness? How do we, as a people, stand against the destructive forces in life?
Before we continue, would you pray with me:
Holy God, help us to stand against those forces in life which tear at our minds, hearts, and bodies. Help us, God, and teach us how to be your hands helping others to stand as well. May all that is spoken and meditated upon this day be pleasing to You.
The reality is Beloved – you alone – cannot. Cannot stand or confront these forces – alone. I say this with all humility and please know that it is not just you – it is me as well – and everyone in the world, I imagine. None of us can stand or confront the personified adversaries of destruction – alone. We are speaking about things like the destructive war in Afghanistan, the divisive politics in the US, the fires in California, or even the pandemic which is affecting everyone.
But these destructive forces can be smaller as well. They can also be something as tragic and personal as mental illness. Even this personified adversary cannot be confronted alone. It is an adversary who is recorded to be affecting 20.56% of New Hampshire’s population, that is about 221,000 people, in 2021. Those, Beloved, are only the recorded cases, let alone the people who have not sought help. Furthermore, mental illness has been growing in this state well before Covid 19 began with major increases between 2017and 2019. Of course, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. As of yesterday, The Washington Post reported that there were four times more children admitted for mental illness from June 2020 to this past spring. These facts, beloved, means, we really do not know how many people are dealing with mental illness right now in our community. But it is at least one in every five people you meet every day.
Moreover, most people cannot stand up and confront this adversary alone. We need help from time to time. We need help to witness how we have changed emotionally, physically, and spiritually. For, we do not always see the loneliness in our eyes as we make jokes – the cuts on our thighs when we dance through the kitchen – the anxiety on our face when someone asks us to go out into the world. We do not see, because sometimes we cannot see beyond our own anxiety, stress, or depression. Others may not see, because people may be dealing with their own personified adversary.
And there have always been personified adversaries and destructive forces working in our world as revealed in our continued reading from the book of Revelation. In this scripture, we witness the lamb open four seals and call forth the four most destructive forces the world knew at that time. Each one is personified as a rider on a horse which the theologian William Barclay explains is reminiscent of the book of Zechariah. Which makes sense; because we know the prophet John is writing through symbols to avoid persecution. So of course, the destructive forces – the personified adversaries – the horsemen would be a symbol which the Jewish Christians understood from the Old Testament. This goes along with the descriptions of War on the white horse with a bow which is symbolic of military strength, Strife on the red horse destroying peace and turning neighbor against neighbor, Famine on the Black horse which the living creatures refute as one who takes food from the poor yet does not touch the wealthy person’s “oil” and “wine.” Finally, the last force is Pestilence and Death on the pale horse. For the prophet John, these are the most destructive forces which assault humankind. Historical evidence supports this as each one of these destructive forces were assaulting the people of Asia Minor during the time when Revelation was written. Therefore, I imagine the people must have felt like these forces were heralding the end times – the apocalypse – the final judgement by God.
The same way I imagine it feels for someone who is suffering with mental illness. They can feel a war rage mentally as internal strife tears apart their emotional abilities to cope. Famine, or a lessened appetite, can weaken a person’s health forcing them to be more susceptible to the pestilence and the plagues of today. Yet, it can also work slowly – ripping at our mental, emotional, and physical lives. So slowly in fact that we cannot always see what is happening. For, the clues – reasons – adversary may not be obvious as we go from day to day. Therefore, we may not even realize there is a crime happening before the adversary of mental illness has destroyed us entirely.
However, these destructive forces – big and small – are what we are called to stand up and confront in ourselves and within all of Creation. The book of Revelation goes on to share this truth in that we, the Beloved, are the only ones who can stand as we are the only ones who will be free of the destruction coming from these adversaries.
Yet, I would like to turn our attention to the Gospel of John so we may witness the Good News of how we are able to stand when we feel the forces destroying us or each other. The Good News which shares that we are not alone – when we believe. When we believe in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, we will have a place for us in the kin-dom to come. Wherever Christ goes, we will be there, as well. That truth by itself is powerful, beloved. The thought that no matter how bad things, may get. How destructive those forces, may be. How far we spin into the abyss of mental illness, we will not be alone in our suffering; for, God is always with us when we believe. And although this thought is comforting to me, I humbly submit it may not be to everyone, especially our beloved who are facing the war of depression or the strife of anxiety. But remember – remember the words of truth – the words which say, WE will be there also. We – as one beloved people – will be there also with God and you; and this truth, beloved, is the Good News of how we stand.
We stand with one another through the Holy Spirit – with God – and with Christ to confront these destructive forces – together – as one people; for, we are not alone. That truth is how we stand – as one people held together – lovingly – through God. But this message, Beloved, is also a call to action. A call to rise up and stand for one another as there are destructive forces eating away at our lives – tearing apart our mental – emotional – and physical lives. It is our call to listen – hear – love one another in their frustrations. Hold – support – care for one another in their grief. It is a call to kindly and lovingly reach out to our sisters and brothers to witness who they are – now. Witness their reality and ask, have they changed from yesterday, last month, a year ago? Are they now short fused – succumbing to hate – losing weight? I pray that each of our beloved friends are not as these can all be signs of mental illness and the destructive forces at work. And this truth, Beloved, is the Good News that we are called to reveal to one another – every day of our lives. The Good News that they are also not alone – we will confront the destructive forces together because we all believe together in God. The Good News of a higher call which we need to do as we each care and love one another through the struggles of life. May your week be a blessing of giving and receiving this care from our beloved fellowship who loves you – every part of you. In the name of Christ who showed us the Way, Amen