Sermon for Pentecost - Given by the blessed Jenny Sherman at Bethany Lutheran Church
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, please open our hearts today to receive your word, your love and your guidance. Lord, as we celebrate You and the entering of your Holy Spirit, be with us. In Jesus name. Amen
Let me just say, I am not a preacher, I am not a good speaker, I am just a person, like you. Today is Pentecost, Pastor Carleton is attending the Synod Convention and voting on who our new Bishop will be. I will not be speaking on much that has to do with Pentecost, just so you are all aware. As I said, I am not a preacher and don’t know the first thing about being one. I am here to share about my experience with God.
First, let me start by telling you the story of my life.
I was born in 1979 to Larry and Julie Smith. I was baptized here at Bethany Lutheran Church. In 1980, my sister was born, and from what I know, I was a proud big sister.
I was confirmed on May 2, 1993, also here at Bethany. I graduated from Nevis Public School, with honors, May 31, 1997. I proceeded to follow my childhood dreams and graduated from Ridgewater College in Willmar, MN with an Associate of Applied Science degree and received my certification as a Veterinary Technician.
I was a normal kid. I did normal things, well, mostly normal things.
I was a normal teenager. I did my homework, I took my tests and was on the B honor roll. I hung out with my friends. Then I started to hang out with my friends and go places I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of. So to them, I was just spending the night at a friend’s house. I drank and partied. It all seemed so innocent, normal, since everyone else was doing it too.
When I went to college, my first year I spent my week doing school work, studying, stuff you are supposed to do in college. My second year, I moved into a house with 3 other girls. This is when I spent my time split between working, studying and partying like a fool.
Once college was finished, I moved to the big city. Little country girl moves to big city. It was scary. I had my own apartment, I bought a new car, I had a good paying job. I thought life was good. A year or 2 later I moved to Burnsville with my fiancé Tony. I got pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Emily Rose in 2001. Tony and I didn’t have the best relationship, and about 2 years later, Tony and I split up.
I moved out of Tony’s and got an apartment of my own. New Year’s Eve, 2003 is when I started the path of addiction. Dave introduced me to cocaine. I loved the feeling. I enjoyed the way my heart beat faster and I loved not being hungry. But that was just a “every other weekend” thing. Only when I didn’t have Emily would I do cocaine. Not long after the introduction to cocaine was I introduced to Meth. And I loved it from the first time I did it. It really didn’t take long before meth completely took over my life and my life completely spiraled out of control. It wasn’t long and I was smoking or snorting meth continuously, didn’t matter if Emily was with me during that time or not. Soon it seemed I was starting to lose everything. I had my car repossessed, I lost my apartment. During this time, even before I lost my apartment, Dave was very abusive and controlling. Not only physical abuse, but mentally and emotionally. Thankfully, only to me. I didn’t seem to be able to leave him.
In February of 2006, I attempted to take my own life. I overdosed on Depakote and Seroquel. I don’t know who called my parents, but someone did. I remember 2 things from that emergency room visit. 1. They made me drink charcoal to coat my stomach and intestines from absorbing any more of the pills. 2. The doctor on duty said “Your heart beat is too fast; someone is obviously looking out for you”. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up on the Cardiac Unit sometime after that with some strange lady sitting in a chair next to the window. She said she had to be there, that I was on 24-hour supervision. I could do nothing alone. I couldn’t use the bathroom alone, shower alone, nothing. I dimly, very dimly, remember my parents being there. But I do remember clearly my daughter being there. I woke up to her touching my arm and saying “Mommy” and crying. All she wanted to do was snuggle in with me in that hospital bed. She left me her SpongeBob blanket so that I had something familiar, something to remind me of her. Once I was able to leave the cardiac unit, I was on the locked unit for behavioral health, or more commonly known as the psych ward. I spent many days there, going to classes, meeting new people, watching people come and go. On this floor, in this psych ward, they had chemical dependency classes, but I was not assigned to attend, therefore I didn’t. When I was finally able to leave and be discharged to go home, I was only meth free for ½ day before I started again. I also didn’t have the joy of weekly visits with Emily. After this, I became homeless. So I stayed in my car, I stayed in different sleazy motels, where you are a little afraid to sleep on the bed, or anywhere for that matter, for fear of getting some sort of nasty bug. I finally found a place to stay and Tony was letting me have weekend visits with Emily again. Things definitely didn’t get any better.
At one time during my meth addiction there was an unidentified woman’s body found in the river, which my family prayed was not me, since no one knew where I was and had not heard from me in some time. At this time in my life, I would typically only call if I needed something…. money usually. I have called my mom and told her that there were people watching me, which may not have been even real, was probably the effects of this horrible drug. I have seen MASSIVE spiders run across my desk at work, which were not really there, but was a hallucination due to my drug use. And for those of you that don’t know I don’t like spiders…AT ALL. Unfortunately for me, I still occasionally see spiders randomly that are not there. I truly am not on drugs, but believe it to be a terrible side effect of the horrible hallucination I had.
Near the end of my addiction Dave purposely slammed my leg in a window to keep me from getting out of the house. When I was finally able to get away, I called my dad. I needed to be picked up. Now mind you, my dad lives in Nevis and I was living in St. Paul. My sister came and picked me up so I would be safe until my dad got there. My dad told me at some point around this time frame, that “I would be going to treatment or they were going to plan my funeral”. I was brought to Nevis and was told I would be going to treatment. I managed to manipulate my mom into bringing me back to the cities so I could see Emily one more time. I then disappeared for a couple weeks. I must have checked in at some point because my mom told me that Kermit Kleene had passed away and I would be going to the funeral. Mom picked me up September 11, 2006. If I didn’t go to treatment after the funeral willingly on my own I would be going with the help of my uncle John, since he, at the time, was a judge for Cass County. I agreed, not very willingly, to go to treatment at Pine Manor following Kermit’s funeral on September 12, 2006. From that day forward I have not touched meth. The thought of it makes me ill. There are times where I will smell it or something like it and it makes my stomach turn. In treatment, they tell you to never say that you won’t do something again, I don’t live by that rule. I do say, I will NEVER do meth again. I won’t. EVER.
Looking back on what I have done and what has happened in my life, I don’t feel sorry for myself. Life is about choices. Life will be what you make it. And life can be full of Grace, Mercy and Love. I have received those.
The hurt and pain that I caused my family, I’m not sure if there really is any way to describe it all. My dad doesn’t talk much about it, nor does Nicki. But my mom and I sit and talk about it relatively often. The pain that I caused my parents is awful. Because I only walked in my shoes, I cannot tell you the depth of the hurt and pain I have caused my family. The respect that was lost. The relationships that were broken. I can only tell you what happened to me and the stories that I know. It hurts me deeply to see the hurt and pain in my mom’s eyes when we talk about my past and my addiction. It breaks my heart…. I caused that pain and hurt. I don’t know what it is like to tell your child that you are going to plan their funeral, I cannot even begin to imagine how my dad must have been feeling. I can honestly say, that I probably didn’t care but I do care now and it hurts. I wish I could take back all of that hurt and all of the pain that I caused, but I can’t. All I can do is live my life to the fullest today and make them proud.
I am currently married but am in the process of a divorce. My husband is bi-polar. And has severe episodes that usually end up with him in jail or in a state mental institution. In August of 2017, I found out I was pregnant. At the time I was not sure if I should be excited, as I had been praying for another child for 10 years, or if I should cry and scream and be disappointed. I eventually came to terms with being pregnant, and its pretty hard not to, when you are sick 24 hours a day, on IV fluids 3 times a week for 4 months. In November, Brian had his last bi-polar episode. I can tell you without explaining all the details again, that it was very similar his past episodes, except this time, he threatened to put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger. Thankfully, he said it over the phone from Colorado. He was arrested in Kansas and eventually brought back to MN after a week stay in a state mental institution somewhere in Kansas. Once in MN Brian was incarcerated. I spent a lot of time working and staying with my mom and dad during those months. Scared but definitely not alone. You see, I found a couple friends during the time after I finally moved home. My parents, my sister and my best friend Linda all helped me. Through prayer, love and a shoulder to cry on. On March 29, 2018, also Maundy Thursday, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Henry. Little Henry was born at 6:12 in the morning, weighing in at 7 pounds 1.5 ounces and 19 inches long. Mr. Henry, whom you all know probably better than you know me, is here with us today.
I cannot put myself in the same situation again and now I have a precious little boy to protect. Henry is God’s but God gave Henry to me to love and cherish and protect, I will do everything in my power to do so include getting a divorce.
Before I go any farther, I just want to say, I have judged people a lot in my life. I am not telling you these things to get pity or sympathy. What I am asking for is NO judgement. Not one of you has walked one step in my shoes, and I have not walked a step in yours.
Now that you have heard my story, what do you think? Are you judging me? Or are you loving me?
It doesn’t matter to you what I have done in my past, therefore, why judge me? Maybe you don’t know this, but there are people in this church that are recovering alcoholics, others that have problems with drugs or depression. How are we going to show them we care? How are we showing the locals that we care? What about our visitors? Why do we judge the young lady that got pregnant and now has a baby with no father present? Why do we judge the man or woman who happens to be gay? Why do we judge because the person is in dirty clothes? Why do we judge if the childs face is full of dirt? Why do we judge the pastor of a church for picking a different liturgy than was used in the past? Why do we judge because of the version of bible we read from? Does any of this stuff really matter? Are we judging because these people aren’t like you, me, us? Or because our standards are maybe a bit too high. Did we think that maybe the person in dirty clothes could have slept on a park bench or under a bridge? Did we think that the child is not well taken care of? Maybe the child with the dirty face is a child of a single dad and the dad is working 2 different jobs and just thankful he is able to kiss his child goodnight at the end of a day. What made us judge? I can say it is probably not because of Jesus.
Every one of us makes choices daily. Some choices are good. Some are bad. But those choices are made by us as individuals. Don’t make assumptions based on someone else’s appearance or past. We have no idea what that person is going through or what they have been through….. unless you have the guts to outright ask them. Just love them….. through the crap they are going through. You don’t need to know what they are going through….love them anyway.
There are so many people in the world that just need to be loved. To be shown love. But by judging them all we are doing is turning them away. Jesus was friends with the adulterous woman, the prostitute, the tax collectors, the fishermen, the children. Jesus welcomed them ALL to him. Why aren’t we?
I am not able to take away your sins or my own sins, but I know this amazing man who can. In fact, he is SO amazing that he died to take away sin. His name is Jesus.
Jesus is always here for me. He is always here for you too. We can turn our backs on him and yet he sits and waits for us to come home to him.
What I am trying to say is to not judge those that don’t act like you, look like you, talk like you. But go out and shine. Shine the light of Jesus. Show love.
This is Pentecost and you all know the story – How the Holy Spirit entered them all, tongues of fire over their heads and they started to speak in tongues. Looking out at each of you, I know you, too, have been filled with the Holy Spirit. You too can share God’s story of Good News….maybe not by speaking different languages or speaking in tongues, but by sharing YOUR story with others.
I will close with the words of Nadia Boltz-Webber:
Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.
Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen