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Sunday Night Live Sermons

Mark 5:1-20

4th April 2002


This week's film Oscars were a triumph for Ron Howard's film, A BEAUTIFUL MIND. It won Oscars for best film, best director and best supporting actor. I went to see it the night before leaving for Edinburgh.

It tells an inspiring story based upon a brilliant American, John Forbes Nash Jr. 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 inter-national 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 and his learning to discipline his thoughts and fantasies. His marriage weathers the tempests of Nash's mental illness. Nash, with his wife Alicia, attended to Academy Awards in person. Some 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, the Australian actor, plays Nash magnificently, especially his aging over fifty years.

Oscars are becoming a contest of impersonating the mentally challenged. Daniel Day Lewis won as a sufferer of cerebral palsy 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. This week, Dr COURTENAY M. HARDING, director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston wrote: "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, therapists of various types, psychiatric nurses and chaplains care for the mentally ill. No church in the world has such a commitment to caring for people with mental illness. We 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.

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, steadfast love and mental discipline and understanding that can bring vitality to their lives.

We see many more mentally ill on the streets of our cities these days. Many of them look distressed and are poorly clothed and obviously need medication. In our state of new South Wales, twenty years ago we had 12,500 locked in mental hospitals where they received treatment. Following twenty years of de-institutionalisation, we now have only 2,500 people in mental hospitals even though in this period our population has doubled.

Many of the mentally ill now live in boarding houses. Some forget to take their medication, move out of the boarding houses and end up on the streets as homeless people. The majority of homeless people today have mental health problems. Others have been placed with an employed carer. But the carer only works thirty five hours a weeks and the mentally ill person is often found on the streets at night and at weekends in filthy and torn clothing, often abusing alcohol and drugs.

In our city, many of these people come to Wesley Mission because we give them food and drink. But they will not come into proper care and accommodation. They are now free people living as they like in the city and they reject every attempt by other people to care for them. They say to me that they prefer to live on the streets in ragged filthiness.

Today, there is also an increase in mental illness. Almost every category of illness is on the increase. Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, psychotic episodes, neurotic behaviour, compulsive behaviour, anxiety and fear disorders, eating disorders and the like are on the increase.

Yet many people battle with episodes when they realise that all is not well. They say such things as: "I fear I am going to pieces." "I feel I am disintegrating." "I'm not feeling myself today." "Why don't I look where I'm going." Hence you can as easily confront a mentally ill person in the streets today as you could in the days of Jesus.

It is our aim to help those people get themselves together again, integrated, whole. We use a wide range of therapies, including the most modern treatments but constantly we stand amazed at Jesus, the great Physician who made people whole: integrated, in their right minds, and able to be restored to their family and friends.
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 Jesus confronted a mentally ill man in Gerasa.

Jesus came over troubled Sea of Galilee to that ill man. God is not absent from our predicament. He comes in Jesus. Jesus comes to us in compassion. Jesus had demonstrated His power over nature by stilling the winds and the waves. Now as He lands on the lakeside, He demonstrates His power over the mind by casting out demons from a possessed man.

The population on the eastern side of Lake Galilee was largely Gentile. There were ten towns known by the Greek name of Decapolis. v20 The locals kept herds of pigs, animals considered unclean by Jews but desired by the Roman soldiers stationed there for meat. There is a steep cliff and some old tombs there today. So often ill people feel no-one cares for them, but into their illness, Jesus comes.

Suddenly a most disturbed person: unclothed, with bits of broken chain hanging from his wrists, with cuts and dirt upon his chest, deranged, shouting, crying, with self-inflicted wounds, who was living among tombs in a psychotic state runs up to Him! Jesus confronts the man who screams v7 "at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!"

This response came because 5:8 "Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" I was taught in counselling to be a good listener, to be quiet and reflective, turning the issues back upon the person for their reflection and comment. This is the classic response of Carl Rogers. But Jesus confronts! His is strong Gestalt therapy! This is reality therapy.

This is the approach of Frederick Perls. Only after I had been taught in the Gestalt school did I realise how liberating it was with the right person at the right time, to be confrontationalist. For some people it becomes the way of healing. And here is Jesus confronting. Jesus is both compassionate and confrontationist. Here is a classic description of demon possession. Demon possession was believed in ancient cultures, in modern primitive cultures and among some Western people today, to be the cause of mental illness.

The symptoms of such possession are like those of psychic illnesses known today: a disregard for personal dignity often seen in nakedness, wearing shabby clothing, neglecting personal hygiene; social isolation rejecting other people; retreating to the simplest kind of shelter, doorways, parks, caves, cemeteries; the capacity to recognize Jesus as divine and the repetition of religious speech or hymns; the frenetic speech, gabbling and shouting; self inflicted injuries and sudden displays of extraordinary strength.

Any psychiatrist recognizes these symptoms. One psychiatrist says that verses 3-5 "give a vivid picture of the manic stage of a manic depressive psychosis."

The mentally ill man had been treated as most centuries have treated the mentally ill. His society had rejected him, chained him, confined him to the caves by the cemetery. We today cannot think ourselves too superior for our treatment of the mentally ill. The man "fell on his knees in front of Jesus" in an act of respect because he recognizes that he is confronted with One greatly superior to him.

Jesus said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" Jesus spoke with greater force than that: "He commanded the unclean spiritů" There needs to be recognized authority in all healing of the mentally ill. Like this poor man, many today are living with broken chains, those fears, habits, sins, which once bound them, but which have been broken, but their remnants remain, broken, but still there! The French philosopher Rosseau declared: "Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains."

Jesus is directive, authoritarian, commanding, because that was the demented man's need! Different methods are used with different people. The man shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" There is a recognition that he is in the presence of One who threatens his very existence. In addressing Jesus he uses His personal name. Had he heard it from the lips of the disciples? Or had Jesus' fame already spread into this territory? He calls Him, "Son of the Most High God," a title that implies recognition of Jesus' deity. This is not the first time severely ill people, with little contact with reality, have recognized spiritual truth.

Jesus now changes approach. No wonder He was called "Wonderful counsellor". ISA 9:6 Jesus looks at the man and quietly says: "What is your name?" That is one of the most fundamentally important questions we can ever ask. Learning a person's name gives to them: identity, dignity, reality! Healing is already occurring! The man replies with honesty: "My name is Legion, for we are many." It was as if he was saying: "My one name? I am so disintegrated, so divided, with so many fractured personalities, how do I know which one is speaking to you now? See these Roman soldiers stationed here? I am as many people as in that legion!"

This is great therapy! Kindness, personalised care has broken through the illness. Dr Philippe Pinel, one of the great fathers of modern psychotherapy, wrote in his "Moral Treatment of Psychotherapy" in 1793 that we must treat the mentally ill as did Jesus. Dr Pinel unchained patients, spoke with kindness, consideration and with reality, and as a result, during the first half of the nineteenth century over 70% of "insane" people were released as cured. But methods changed again and large numbers were once more locked away and recovery was very low. Christian counselling can be a pace-setter!

The herd of pigs grazing nearby was a symbol of uncleanness. The patient need some sign to convince him of his cure. His inner demons were cast into the pigs, which stampeded over the cliff. The patient believed! The pigs were destroyed. There is always a price for human healing. The treatment, "catharsis", inner cleansing, occurs with genuine confession. Many people still live among tombs, the dead remains of the past, but Jesus liberates through inner cleansing.

But you may say, "Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the pigs, an act that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the entire herd?" A question from those concerned about the cost of healing! So many mentally ill need some external, objective sign that they are free from whatever has been troubling them. The man saw the pigs destroyed and knew he would be troubled no more. It was a small price when you consider the alternative long-term consequences of the man permanently ill.

6. JESUS CALMS. V. 14-17.
Jesus had calmed the seas, His fearful disciples, and now this mentally ill man. But his healing disturbs others! They became fearful! We like to pigeon-hole the sick. Many cannot cope with those who have been healed. The pig herders ran to the town and everyone ran to see what had happened. They could scarcely believe their eyes! The man who had been known as "crazy," who had been so violent that he could not even be controlled by chains, they now saw sitting quietly.

Before he had roamed naked among tombs; now he was "dressed." Before he had been possessed by powerful evil forces; now he was in his "right mind". This man Jesus was beyond their understanding. They pleaded with him to leave. Why? They were afraid. They recognized that a mighty force was at work in Jesus that they could neither understand nor control. Fear, ignorance, and selfishness, because of the material loss of the pigs, dominated their thinking, not compassion for the mentally ill.

The healed man naturally wants to express gratitude by following Jesus closely. "As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed."

Healing cannot continue with dependence upon the healer. Healing cannot be complete by escape from familiar surroundings. So it was back to family, friends, and home town to live a normal life, witnessing to Jesus.

The encounters of Jesus with people today can result with us turning from our disintegration and ill-health to find in Him hope and healing. You need to recognize Him as the Son of the Most High God, and put your trust in Him. The result could bring you back into your right mind and to restoration with your family and friends. In Jesus Christ, each of us can be made anew.

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."

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 of Jesus.

Jesus brought new life to that mentally ill man among the tombs! He can come to us and others will see us changed, renew, healed, clothed, in our right minds, seated at the feet of Jesus!

Wesley Mission, Sydney.