"I'm Troubled In Mind"

The following is excerpted from a sermon delivered by Rev. Brian Gruhn at St. Raphael’s in Kittery, ME on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 as part of the Wednesday Night Lenten Worship Series offered by The Clergy Association of Kittery, Eliot and South Berwick. It began with the playing of a classic Black Spiritual, “I’m Troubled in Mind,” a video of which is embedded above.

There are many versions of this song, but there is one version with a particular line that grabbed me earlier this week:

I’m troubled, I’m troubled, I’m troubled in mind; and if Jesus don’t help me, I surely will die; When through the deep waters of trouble I go, The billows of sorrow cannot overflow…

That line reminds me of a particular story from the gospels:  Jesus tells The Twelve to get in a boat and set sail for the other side of the sea.  They sail directly into a great storm….and Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat.  We can imagine the whole boat rocking wildly,  probably taking on water.  One of The Twelve shakes Jesus awake, screaming at him, “Why don’t you help us?  We could die!  Do you even care?”  And we remember what happened next…Jesus gently and calmly raises a hand over the water, and the storm dissipates, the water calms, and he turns and says to his disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”  

I’m troubled in mind…and if Jesus don’t help me, I will surely die… 

It’s a story about Christ’s command over all things.  It is our belief that through Christ, God set about re-ordering our world and all of Creation.  With Christ at the center of all things, death shall be no more, illness itself will pass away, storms will cease…human beings will dwell as One with their God who created them.  With Jesus in our boat, no harm will come.

…When through the deep waters of trouble I go, the billows of sorrow cannot overflow…

What always catches my attention in this story is the fact that many of the disciples had prior careers.  Before they followed Jesus…many of them were fishermen. They had fished all their lives…they had put in their 10,000 hours and more…they were EXPERTS in the field of seafaring and fish-catching.  So when they were sailing a boat that got caught in a storm…and they were FEARING FOR THEIR LIVES…they KNEW what they were talking about.  There is a reason they were afraid.  When the storms raging all around them, they were troubled in mind, so they were screaming out, “Jesus, don’t you care about us?  Save us!”  But the trouble was NOT ONLY in their minds.  They were experts, they knew the difference between rough waters and inconvenient weather and a life-threatening storm.  They were in a really  dangerous situation…and Jesus may have been in the boat with them…but he was asleep. He wasn’t doing anything to help them. He was asleep, while they feared their own impending doom…and it was all because they did what Jesus asked.

I’m troubled in mind…and if Jesus don’t help me, I will surely die…

We are all experts in our own lives.  No one knows what it’s like to live your life as well as you do.  When you are troubled in mind…the odds are that you are not imagining the trouble…you are probably caught in the middle of a deadly storm.  And yet…how often when we finally share with a colleague or a friend or a loved one, “Something is going on…I think I’m in real trouble here…”  what are the responses we get?  Don’t worry so much.  Lighten up.  Or sometimes…if we are really scaring someone…they might say to us, “That doesn’t sound NORMAL.  You’re not normal.  You should get some help.”  And it ends up feeling like we are in the middle of a storm…in a boat all by ourselves…crying out to others in their own boats, crying out to God, “I’m in real trouble!  Is anybody awake?  Does anybody care?”

I’m troubled in mind…and if Jesus don’t help me, I will surely die…

For the last three years in a row, the life expectancy of Americans has decreased. The last time this happened was in 1918, at the end of World War I and the subsequent world-wide Spanish Flu influenza.  This time around, Princeton Researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton have set out to discover the reason for this disturbing new downward trend, and they discovered a massive increase of what they call “deaths of despair.”  Deaths of despair are deaths caused by suicide, alcohol and drugs.  And as the researchers dug into those numbers, trying to find out why these acts of despair that lead to death are on the rise…they illuminated the picture of the world in which most of us have lived for decades:  stagnant wages, fewer good paying jobs, less social mobility…companies that lay you off before you can collect your pension…that all leads to chronic financial stress, which effects our health in multiple ways long term…it also weakens our relationships with others, makes us less likely to join social organizations, less likely to participate in public life. 

Over the last half century, we have all learned to see ourselves in our own boats…fending for ourselves, while also feeling guilty that we’re not doing enough for others.  We are all troubled in mind…living through this giant, terrifying storm that effects us financially, morally, physically, spiritually…but we have been somehow led to think that we are alone in this storm…that the trouble is our fault…and it’s only in our minds.  Don’t be fooled.  There is not a single person in this room unaffected by the social trends I just described.  We are all effected by the storm of despair…most of us, whether we know it or not, have lost someone to drug addiction…all of us are caught in the storm of alcoholism and alcohol-related events…all of us have lost loved ones to the storm of suicide.  And, statistically speaking…many in this room have been caught up in these storms personally.  We’ve been taught to think that we are alone…that we are “not normal,” that if we just believe the right things , if we just think positively, no harm could possibly come to us.  But don’t be fooled friends.  If you’re troubled in mind…it’s because there is actual trouble surrounding you…and it feels like no one is equipped or willing to help.   

I’m troubled in mind…and if Jesus don’t help me…  

It’s easy to forget that the Bible was written over the course of thousands of years, by people who did not expect life to be wonderful and easy…and it was their faith which allowed them to HOPE for better.  Hear the words of the Psalmist, from Psalm 31, in these short verses, hear how the poet tries to tell us how troubled he is…and what he hopes for from God:  

Psalm 31: 9-13:  Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.  For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.  I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.  I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.  For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.  But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.  Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.  

Friends, you are not in the boat by yourself.  All of us are in the exact same boat together.  We are experts in our lives…we know when times are good…and we know when we are in the middle of a storm.  In the coming days and weeks, If someone says to you, ‘I am troubled in mind,” the only honest response we ought to offer that person is, “I am too.”  If we can confess that we are sharing the same boat, caught in the same storm…then maybe we can remind one another that Jesus is in this boat with us.  Jesus the Christ, who re-orders all of Creation around love, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, reconciliation and resurrection…that Jesus is in the boat with us.  Jesus WILL still the storm.  No matter how despairing, how troubled, how down and out all things may seem…we know Jesus is asking us, “Where is your faith?”  Our faith is in God, God who will shine God’s face upon us humble servants…we will be saved in God’s steadfast love. Where is our faith?  Trouble will come…trouble will fade…and where is our faith?  Our faith is in the love of God…the love of self…and the love of neighbors as ourselves.  We are all caught up in many storms of despair…and we have faith that none of us are in this boat alone…Jesus rides with us…Christ who can still the storm and restore our lives.  

  When through the deep waters of trouble I go, the billows of sorrow cannot overflow.  Amen. 

Brian Gruhn