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After son's suicide and 16 week absence, Pastor Rick Warren returns to pulpit (updated)

Rick Warren, Pastor, Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, California), speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Sept. 26, 2008 in New York.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren has not delivered a sermon at his Lake Forest church since his son's suicide April 5.

UPDATE 6:33 p.m: Pastor Rick Warren returned to the pulpit at Saddleback Church Saturday afternoon in an emotional, 70-minute sermon in which he fought back tears, cracked jokes and made a passionate plea to eradicate the stigma of mental health problems.

It was Warren’s first sermon since his son Matthew's suicide 16 weeks ago. The 27-year-old killed himself at his home in Mission Viejo by a self-inflicted gunshot wound April 5. Matthew struggled through a lifelong battle with mental illness. He had Borderline Personality Disorder and major depression, according to his family.

“Pain is not relieved by explanations, pain is relieved by the presence of God in your life,” Warren told the crowd at the Lake Forest location of the popular mega church.

Warren repeatedly mentioned his son Matthew throughout the sermon, openly talking about his mental illness. He also told the audience “we’re all mentally ill.”

“You have fears, you have worries, you have doubts, you have compulsions, you have attractions,” Warren said, later adding, “In any other organ of your body there’s no shame or stigma if it breaks down…. But if your brain doesn’t work, why are you ashamed of that? Why should there by any stigma attached to that? It’s just as much a part of your body as your heart and your liver.”

Warren’s wife Kay also spoke on stage for about 17 minutes. She explained in vivid detail the emotional roller coaster she’d experienced trying to find the right doctors, medications and other resources to help her son. Kay also highlighted the crushing disappointment she experienced when she realized her son’s mental health problems couldn’t be cured.

“Matthew died. And with his death my hopes for a healed mind on earth died with him,” she said.

Frequently holding back tears and dabbing her eyes with tissue, she explained to the crowd that she lost Matthew despite having a bold and audacious faith.

“I know that there was nothing I could have done,” she said “My love was simply not enough to overcome the brick wall of mental illness.”

She told the crowd her takeaway is that the whole experience has been a mystery. And that she won’t know the answers until she meets God in heaven.

About 20 minutes into his sermon, Warren stepped away from center stage to allow a band to play the song “Hold on to the promises.” Warren said the song had comforted him during the months since his son’s death.

Warren concluded the sermon by saying he will work to remove the stigma of mental illness the same way he worked to fight the stigma against AIDS.  He also encouraged members of his congregation to come forward with their mental health issues.

“You can’t think of a problem we don’t have a group for,” he said.

More than 2500 tuned in to watch the sermon which was streamed live to people as far away as Spain, Germany and Costa Rica.

“I lost my two and a half year old son, eight months ago, and I've been encouraged by Rick and Kay's posts on Facebook these last few months as they've been grieving,” wrote one viewer who identified herself in the church’s live chat as Freya. “I'm filled with excitement to hear his message of hope!”

Another online visitor wrote, “Pastor Rick is carrying a lot tonight and he is using it all for God's glory and our good. I love every word.”

PREVIOUSLY: Pastor Rick Warren will return to the pulpit at Saddleback Church's Lake Forest location Saturday afternoon.  

Warren has been absent since his son Matthew's suicide 16 weeks ago. The 27-year-old killed himself at his home in Mission Viejo by a self-inflicted gunshot wound April 5. Matthew had struggled with a lifelong battle with mental illness, according to his family.

Rick Warren announced his return to the pulpit on Twitter to his million plus followers. 

Warren's wife, Kay, will be at his side for the sermon he's calling "How we're getting through." The sermon is part of a series titled "How to Get Through What You're Going Through," according to the church's website.

During Warren's break from preaching  he has kept up a dialogue with his congregation through his Twitter account.  Many of his messages focus on coping with loss and mental illness. He also appeared on stage at the church May 25 and addressed the crowd, telling them he'd cried every day since his son took his life.

"If you want to be like Jesus, you've got to learn how to weep," he said, according to the Lake Forest Patch news website. His comments reportedly spanned 21 minutes.

This weekend marks Warren's official return to the pulpit. The Saddleback Church's website announced his return with the headline "HE'S BACK!" 

On his blog, Warren encouraged people to tune in.

"I hope you are bringing all your neighbors and friends," Warren wrote. "There has been a lot of media interest about this weekend and three TV news networks have asked permission to send trucks to broadcast part of the service."

His sermon will also be streamed live on the Saddleback Church’s website starting at 4:30 p.m.