September 30, 2018

2018 Sept30


Out of Darkness

Proper 21 – Year B
A Sermon Preached by Drew Vander Weele and The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


“Are any among you suffering?
They should pray.”

Sometimes even the most pious person finds it difficult to pray. Imagine if, inside, you were suffering in some way. “You should pray” may not the best response.

In two weeks, St Stephen’s will be participating in the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide Walk called Out of Darkness. While we find the subject of suicide challenging and taboo, it’s part of our community. Anything that is part of our community should be addressed in the context of our faith and worship. So, this morning, we will hear the personal story of a teenager who suffered from depression and considered taking his own life.

Some might believe that today’s New Testament and Gospel readings are good advice for someone suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. But, these readings are actually to help us as the community understand how to better support those among us who suffer – to be the ones who pray, who remove stumbling blocks, and who help cast out the demon of depression.

A staggering 25 million Americans suffer from depression each year, and over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. Yet, Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses...but first, depression has to be recognized.

Today, Jesus spoke of demons and people casting out demons in His name who weren't official followers. Contrary to other parts of the story of Jesus, He is OK with this. He is usually critical of those who don't fully follow Him, but this time He says, "Whoever is not against us is for us."


  • So, think of depression as the demon – which is actually often used to describe depression.
  • And think of those who cast out demons but who are not followers of Jesus like the friend or companion who isn't trained in psychiatry, but who can still offer some sort of help.
  • If the latter is any one of us, then we need to know that the demon can be cast out, but it first has to be recognized.
  • Then we can assist and we can pray for the suffering.

Then there is the issue of the stumbling block. Imagine if you were suffering from depression – a big demon, a huge stumbling block in your life – and you heard:

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”

To you - the person suffering, Jesus is telling you that your life is worthless, and you are hearing that the Church doesn’t support you or love you. That must be devastating. It would be a misinterpretation of the text, but if you are suffering depression, you hear hate instead of love.

So, what do we do to support those who are sick? Calling for the elders of the church and having them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord is a part of our response. For us at Stephen’s, that includes our collective worship on Sundays, one-to-one pastoral meetings with me or Stephen Ministers, and our monthly Healing Service on Wednesday at 12:15. In the Healing Service, there are several helpful prayers. As in the tradition of this verse from James, we surround each person and say:

"I lay my hands upon you and anoint you with oil in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, beseeching Him to uphold you and fill you with His grace, that you may know the healing power of His love."

And we finish with our intercession:

Lord, grant your healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or disabled, that they may be made whole. Grant to all who seek your guidance, and to all who are lonely, anxious, or despondent, a knowledge of your will and an awareness of your presence; Hear us, O Lord of life.

Even though we do not practice faith healing, we cannot and should not abandon our belief that the prayers of the faithful will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Our faith practice is part of our concern and assistance for those in our midst.

As the Church Family, we help recognize the demon, we assist in finding the right professional help, and we pray – with them and for them. The Church community is part of the support, not all of the support. Professional help can be sought by the person, and immediate support can found in your bulletin:

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (1–800–273–8255) to be connected to a trained counselor. Or, text HOME to 741741 for text support 24/7.

What we do NOT do is try to FIX them. We don’t need to arrange some elaborate faith healing. We certainly shouldn’t attempt any physical remedy. And the Demon of Depression and suicidal ideation are not matters which warrant exorcism – which the Church takes very seriously.

So, are any among us suffering? Then WE should pray – that is where we start. If we do so fervently and in good faith, we are reassured that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
I now invite Drew Vander Weele to share his story with us.

Good morning!

If you don’t know me already my name is Drew Vander Weele. My mom, Kris, is the office manager here at St. Stephen’s and my grandmother is Dianne Long. I am a sophomore at SLOHS and I am the team leader of the St. Stephen’s “Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention” through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I just wanted to talk to you today about my story and why I am participating in this walk.

2016 was a very difficult year for me; I struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Every morning I woke up feeling distraught and broken. Even though I appeared happy on the outside, I was doing seven shows with SLO REP, had friends, and straight A’s. I had everything going for me.
Sure, being a teenager is hard. This felt different though, I was trapped and ashamed to admit that I was “weak”. At my lowest point, I was considering suicide. I reached out and got help -- friends, family, group therapy. It all helped me get through those darkest days. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but I feel so much better now.

That same summer a close friend of my godmother’s committed suicide. Watching someone I love so much lose a friend really impacted me... What would that have been like for her, my parents, my grandma, my little brother and my friends if I hadn't got help? I now realize that we are never alone and that it does get better.

Today, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 15 and 64 years old in the United States and approximately 117 Americans take their own life every day. So, I have made it my goal to help people that are suffering from the same things I was, which is how I found the “Out of the Darkness Walk”. I’m hoping that all of you can either donate on my page or become a walker alongside me. You can even be a virtual walker or if not maybe just look out for friends and family or others around you.

My goal is to make $2,000 for this organization. That would be enough to fund the suicide hotline twenty-four hours a day for one month. Breaking down the stigma surrounding suicide by noticing possible symptoms like: feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, and feeling trapped, to name a few, is a simple way to help-out. Together and through love we can change the tides.

Thank you.

Our first hymn expresses our plea when we suffer:

when we feel confused and fruitless, dawn upon our restless night; give us faith’s imagination, hope’s renewing, love’s delight.

James tells us that we need to support one another and we can save those in need:

"My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a person from wandering will save their soul from death."

As Drew said, we need to “break down the stigma of suicide by noticing possible symptoms.” This Church Family providing support alongside the professional help is to “save a soul from death”, to save our brothers and sisters who struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. Every article I read that was recounted a personal experience with suicide or suicidal ideation stresses that the person who was ill did not realize the volume of support that was available just through friends and family. And sometimes when the support is there and they are being told that they are loved, they can’t hear the love; they can only hear hate. Let’s present ourselves among the St Stephen’s Family such that the love can be heard over the hate that the demon of depression is trying to get a person to hear.

What that person also CANNOT hear is that Jesus’ message is for the rest of us – followers of Jesus who can see a struggling child, see a person in need, we are to help, not to create more stumbling blocks. If any of you are struggling with life, Jesus is not instructing YOU to cut off what is causing you to stumble. Jesus is instructing US to not put more stumbling blocks in your way. Do not cause this Child of God to stumble or cause them to sin or be scandalized.

When we put stumbling blocks in the way of the vulnerable, if our own inability to help is a stumbling block – whether our hand, our foot, our eye, our lack of compassion, our fear, our lack of understanding – then we should cut them off. Instead, we need to “break down the stigma of suicide by noticing possible symptoms” and reaching out and recognizing the depression and pain.

The Church – the people within the Church – have been stumbling blocks to people of all types, including people with depression. The Episcopal Church acknowledged that and passed a resolution in 2000 that has compelled us to be proactive about our education, awareness and help. We possess the stumbling blocks that Jesus says not to put in the way of children. When we fail to heed the cries of our children, it is better for us to have millstones around our necks. Yet, we are called by the Baptismal Covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We need to “break down the stigma” and reach out and recognize.

Both Jesus' and James' commands take on a more meaningful nature we when consider that they are not meant as pick-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps platitudes. They are instructions to the wider community to support our brothers and sisters in need.

Are any among us suffering? Then WE should pray, and we should pray as we break down the stigma and reach out and recognize. Let us open the door to the love of God for those who cannot open it for themselves, so as the hymn appeals:

so enfold us in your mercy that our wills and yours unite; through us may the world behold you, find your love, your truth, your light.


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