First Parish Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton

October 6, 2019

Scripture: Deuteronomy5:1-25; 6:4-6; Mark 12:38-41

On Wednesday night, I attended the Building Bridges workshop on mental illness held here at First Parish.  The goal of the workshop was to provide people with more information about mental illness so we could feel more comfortable and confident supporting and being in relationships with people who have mental illness.

As part of the introduction, our facilitator Melissa Gattine, shared a number of statistics with us about mental illness rates in the United States.  They included things like:

1 in 5 adults have mental illness – which she explained was about the equivalent of the number of silver cars on the road.

Women have a higher rate of mental illness than men – partially attributed to having different hormones. 

Suicide is the 2nd leading killer of adolescents in Maine

She talked to us about the effect ACEs have on people’s rate of illness.  ACE, a, c, e stands for adverse childhood experiences.  According to the child welfare department’s website:

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events occurring before age 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence.[1]

What they’ve found is that ACEs cause children to experience toxic stress – and toxic stress can actually alter your brain.

One statistic I found particularly interesting was that whites have a higher rate of mental illness than blacks, latinos, and Asians.  Anybody have any idea why?

According to Melissa, whites have a lower rate of participation in organized religion.  Organized religion has been shown to be a protective factor with regards to mental illness.  And one of the reasons cited for that is the communal aspect of organized religion. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

Religion gives people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs. These facets can have a large positive impact on mental health—research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide rates, alcoholism and drug use. [One of religion’s benefits for mental health is from:]

Community

  • Initiates social connections with other members 
  • Creates a sense of belonging to a group
  • Offers trustworthy and safe social engagement

In the scripture story this morning, Moses receives what we commonly refer to as the ten commandments.  At first glance, this might feel like a proscriptive list of do’s and don’ts.  But remember, the Israelites have been under Egyptian rule for generations.  God finally hears their cries and delivers them – but takes the opportunity to remind them what it means to follow Yahweh.

And the first time God does this – the Israelites totally screw up.  This morning’s story is actually the second time Moses is given the ten commandments.  The first time, when Moses comes down to share the commandments with the people – the people have already lost focus.  They are worshiping a golden calf.  Moses gets so angry that he breaks the tablets and has to go back to God to receive the commandments again.

The commandments themselves can be divided into two categories – the first four characterize how we should relate to God, the rest characterize how we should relate to each other.  Their focus is relationships. 

The fact that we receive the commandments at all says something about God’s relationship with us.  After the flood God promised not to destroy humans again.  God promises to stay in relationship with people – even when they stray.  So although the Israelites quickly lose focus after God delivers them from Egypt, God tries again.  God doesn’t say, too bad for you, I tried to give you guidelines on how to live the lives I intended for you and you rejected me so you’re on your own.  Instead God tries again – which is a constant theme throughout the Bible – God keeps inviting people to return, even when they seem woefully unable to follow God’s ways.

On Wednesday night, I couldn’t help but be struck by how the statistics Melissa presented served as real world, concrete reminders that we are made to be in relationship. 

Think about it – the adverse childhood experiences all represent a break in healthy relationship.  And the antidotes – the things that help either prevent the onset of mental illness or help heal the effects of mental illness, many of them are relationship based. 

Melissa shared with us that effective treatments can include medication and therapy.  She made a point of noting that the type of therapy did not impact the outcome – therapy in any form was found to be effective.  The effective part of therapy was the consistent, present relationship. 

Relationships are primary to our well-being and the ten commandments provide us with guidance with regards to how to structure our relationships. 

This week I had a conversation with one of our youth about the mission trips.  He wondered why we needed to go to a place like Appalachia to serve others.  There is plenty of need right here in Maine.  Of course, he is correct – there is plenty of need right here in Yarmouth – we don’t need to go anywhere.  But the work is actually not the point of the mission trips.  Instead, the work is a tool.  It’s a vehicle that allows us to enter into relationships with others that we wouldn’t normally be in relationship with.  And practicing relationships – that is the point. 

During September and October, I’m encouraging you to think about the things you do.  You may feel called to take something on, let something go, or to persist at something you are already doing.  Relationships are one way to consider our decisions. You might let go of something that is getting in the way of relationships that are important to you.  You might take something on that will help you form new relationships.  Or you might persist because you have a sense of the importance of an existing relationship.

We are a faith community of a non-doctrinal tradition.  I could stand up here and tell you how to understand the ten commandments and how to understand God – but that is not what binds us together.  Because in our tradition – you may have a very different understanding and still choose to participate in this faith community.  What does bind us together is our commitment to being in relationship with one another – which is not an easy thing.  Non-doctrinal churches like this are one of the only places in our culture where people who have very different understandings of the world choose to be in community and relationship with one another.  It’s a unique gift that we have to offer the world and it means we have unique challenges that many other institutions are able to avoid.  But, if we focus on being in relationship, treating each other well, being present to one another – we have the chance to show the world a different way of being – a way that strengthens all of us and lets us live the lives that God intended.  Amen.


[1] https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/resources/ace/

Sermon for October 6, 2019