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JOHN 10:10

Easter Sunrise Service - 31st March 2002

This week's Oscars was a triumph for Ron Howard's film, A BEAUTIFUL MIND. It won Oscars for best film, best director and best supporting actor. It tells an inspiring story based upon a brilliant American, John Forbes Nash. He won the Nobel Prize in 1994 for his mathematical analytical tool known as the "Nash Equilibrium" which he developed at Princeton University in the 1940's. This theory changed the financial markets of Wall Street and the way we understand mathematics. John Forbes Nash won international fame in spite of a severe struggle with schizophrenia.

Although by no means a Christian story, the film illustrates many Christian principles. A BEAUTIFUL MIND captures the madness of schizophrenia vividly. Nash's life was a long, arduous, but ultimately triumphant battle against his mental affliction. The movie credits much of his recovery to the power of true love. His marriage weat-hers the tempests of Nash's mental illness. Nash, with his wife Alicia, attended to Academy Awards. Many portrayals of his life are, unfortunately, not true. But it is only a movie. His real struggles with schizophrenia had him believing not that he was a patriot working for the CIA but far more outrageous things: aliens had contacted him and told him he was to go to Europe and declare himself "the Prince of Peace."

Russell Crowe plays Nash magnificantly. Oscars are becoming a contest of impersonating the mentally challenged. Daniel Day Lewis won as a paraplegic in My Left Foot. Dustin Hoffman won for struggling with autism in Rain Man.

Tom Hanks for portraying simpleton Forrest Gump. Geoffrey Rush for portraying Bi-polar manic-depressive David Helfgott in Shine. Anthony Hopkins' for the psychotic Dr Hanibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. The portrayal of the mentally ill can help more of us understand mental illness. Dr COURTENAY M. HARDING, director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston wrote this week: "What most Americans and even many psychiatrists do not realize is that many people with schizophrenia - perhaps more than half - do significantly improve or recover. That is, they can function socially, work, relate well to others and live in the larger community. Many can be symptom-free without medication. Many recover because of sheer persistence at fighting to get better, combined with family or community support. Though some shake off the illness in two to five years, others improve much more slowly. Yet people have recovered even after 30 or 40 years with schizophrenia."

Wesley Mission has many University medical professors, psychiatrists and doctors who with our staff of Wesley Hospital, Wandine Hospital and Wesley Mayo Clinic specialize in helping people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders, collaborating with patients in a comprehensive and flexible program of psychosocial rehabilitation. The hospital staff help patients develop social and work skills, cope with daily living and regain confidence. Many of the patients who haven't responded to medication alone become well enough to go back to their communities. We also have a follow up system to help patients after they are discharged.

There is also the excellent Schizophrenia Fellowship which helps so many. I will give you our contact address later if you would like to write for more information. Can all patients make the improvement of John Nash? No. Schizophrenia is not one disease with one cause and one treatment. But many mentally ill people have the capacity to lead productive lives in full citizenship. In Australia, 1.5% of the population will have an episode of schizophrenia during their lifetime. This represents about 285,000 Australians. This will lead to well over a million Australians (as family and friends) being directly involved. Schizophrenia occurs in all societies at about the same rate, regardless of class, colour, religion, culture or intelligence. The majority of people will develop schizophrenia between the ages of 15 and 25 years. 10% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia will end their own lives. This means that approximately 18,000 Australians alive today will suicide as a result of schizophrenia. All of these people desperately need the acceptance and love that can bring vitality to their lives.

Jesus demonstrated that over and over again. In the Easter message there is hope for all who live lives limited by disability, loneliness, guilt, meaningless. Shortly, I will tell you how.

Jesus Christ said the purpose of His coming was to give people life and life that was full of vitality. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10 Throughout his ministry Jesus cared for the physically disabled, the intellectually handicapped and the psychiatrically ill. He became known as the healer. History attests that here was a man who helped the blind see, the lame walk and the deaf hear. He also helped those who were suffering mental disorders, including one poor man whose behaviour, without medication, had forced his community to expel him outside their village. He lived in the cemetery, running about naked, screaming at people and cutting his own body with sharp stones. People had chained him up but he broke the chains. He evidenced all the signs, according to one of my psychiatrist friends, of the "manic stage of psychotic schizophrenia." Mark 5:1-20

I have worked for forty years with people who lack vital, real life. The sickness in society leads many people into emptiness, despair and death. The city streets tell of people whose lives are wasted and defeated. T.S.Eliot asked: "Where is the life we have lost in living?" The community sees many walking aimlessly who have lost life in their living. The community asks questions of educators and politicians, civic leaders and psychiatrists, only to find that they too have lost Life in living. Slowly, from the throats of people proud of their independence from religion and agnosticism comes a low cry that has echoed down the centuries: "Is there any word from the Lord?". The Christian church in reply points to the Risen Jesus and says: "In Him is life, and that life is the light of men."

Once Jesus met a crowd carrying the body of a young man outside Nain. Jesus and his friends were heading into the city. They met this procession carrying a bier on which the body of a dead young man lay. They were heading for the cemetery. His widowed mother followed surrounded by neighbours who were wailing loudly. The pathos of the situation was met by the compassion of Jesus. Her only child had died, her only family member, her only means of support. Jesus stopped the procession, assessed the situation, prayed for the widow, and called to the young man to rise from the bier. The crowd shrank back in fear, then gasped in amazement as the young man, slowly rose from the platform carried by the funeral bearers. They quickly lowered it to the ground. The young man recovered and greeted his mother and friends. Instantly, the news spread in the whole region concerning the power of Jesus.

The incident is rich with meaning: two processions moving in opposite direction come face to face. One procession was mournful, moving out of the city towards the cemetery, carrying the dead. Death dominated their thinking. The other procession was joyful, moving into the city, and leading it was Jesus who has the power to bring life and laughter to people. Jesus was the source of life and the answer to death. That is the Message of Easter. Jesus died that we might live. He was raised from death in order that we too might be raised to life. His power gives back loved ones who have died, to their grieving friends. So many need the power of the Risen Christ. Many are like that mentally ill man living among the tombs of Gadara. Others are young people like that young man at Nain.

In a world with competing faiths and many different voices each proclaiming the way, people facing loneliness, frustration, emptiness, despair, death, need life that is vital! Many young men need a voice that brings life. Grieving widows need comfort in anxiety. The crowd from the city need an answer for the future. The mentally sick need acceptance and hope. Jesus says: "I am telling you the truth: The time is coming - and has already come - when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will come to life." JOHN 5:25

"The dead..." those living defeated, empty, despairing lives; "will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will come to life." That's the promise Jesus offers: vital life! Those early Christians confounded the rest of the world by the quality of their lives. They had something that caused their enemies to envy them, and to say with tears of rage in their eyes: "These Christians have turned the world upside down!". It was that they possessed the life of Jesus within them. They said: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." This vibrant, thrilling life Jesus gives made all the difference. The Roman Courts frequently passed the cruellest sentence that could be passed upon those who believed in Christ: "Damnatus ad Metalla", condemned to the mines. They had to row the slave galleys to North Africa, then marched through the scorching heat of the Saraha desert, in chains under the lash, to the mines in the mountains of Numidia. There they had one eye gouged out, were branded by a red-hot iron on the head: F for "fugitivus" runaway slave if they ever tried to escape. Then for the rest of their lives had to work in the hell that was the mines.

But you can walk into the mines today and see where those Christians had taken charcoal from their lamps and written up prayers on the walls - for their families and friends, and for their captors. And one word, over and over again: "VITA! VITA! VITA!" Life! Abundant life! Eternal life! Life in Christ! Despite everything, they had vitality and life!

Jesus brought vital life to that mentally ill man among the tombs and that young man at Nain, to his grieving mother, and to that wailing community! No wonder they cried: "A great prophet has arisen among us. God has visited His people."

Jesus Christ came among us to face and conquer death and to give to us through His resurrection the gift of vital life. All we must do is accept it. Will you accept Jesus as Lord of your life? He offers you the gift of vitality!

Ring a counsellor now, if you want to discover how Jesus Christ offers you the gift of vitality. 9263 5555.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.