10 June 2012
Second Sunday after Pentecost
St. John United Church of Christ
St. Clair, MO
“Are You Crazy?”
Based on St. Mark 3: 20-35
By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell
When I was in college, I served on the leadership team of the Student Ecumenical Partnership, or STEP for short. STEP is a national ministry of college students that provides resources and leadership for the colleges, universities, and campus ministries of the United Church of Christ, and its sister denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). At some point in my service on the leadership team, we began wearing t-shirts that said on the front “R U Crazy?” On the back was the scripture reference behind our catchphrase, from 2 Corinthians 5:13, “If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit.” (New Living Translation). We were a bunch of college students looking for an eye-catching way to capture our passion for Jesus and justice. It certainly was eye-catching and we got a variety of responses to that simple question, “R U Crazy?”
It seems that Jesus’ family asked the same question. They thought he had fallen off his proverbial rocker. The very beginning of our gospel text says, “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” Jesus’ own family thought he was out of his mind – with all of his passionate preaching of the Kingdom of God and casting out demons. So much so, that they attempted to restrain him. They are convinced that things are getting out of control, Jesus has lost his mind and they are determined to do something about it.
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem to investigate just what it was that was happening, took an even lower view. They accused Jesus himself of being demon-possessed. They charge him saying “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” They charge him with evil, and suggests that he acts not with the power of God, but the power of Satan. But Jesus thwarts their illogic by responding, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Jesus is saying that when he cast out demons, he was casting out evil or Satan, so how could what Jesus did be evil itself.
Some today might even suggest that to believe in Jesus is crazy. One apologist has suggested that either Jesus is the messiah or was merely a madman. But a skeptic might say to Christians, “The virgin birth, cousin John the Baptist eating locusts and honey, making disciples of fishermen and tax collectors, casting out demons, healing the blind and lame, rising from the dead? How can you believe all that stuff – it’s crazy!” Dr. David Lose, a Lutheran seminary professor says that “think about it – week in and week out we confess that the God who created everything not only knows about us but loves us, loves us enough to send his Son to demonstrate that love by word and deed even if it meant being killed. You’d have to be a little crazy to believe that message, maybe even possessed.” When you step back and look at it that way, I think it does take a bit of craziness to believe in the package of Christianity. Now I don’t mean verifiable mental illness – which is a very serious matter not to be taken lightly, and many of God’s faithful, including some of the most sainted members of the Church, have struggled with mental health – rather I’d like to suggest it takes the craziness that is able to see the world beyond what is just on the surface and look for the meaning behind, above, and below it all.
Jesus was crazy after all – crazy enough to call people beyond their current state, crazy enough to envision the world not as Caesar or any other ruler’s kingdom, but as God’s kingdom. Dr. Willie Jennings once taught that, “Imagination is a gift and the freedom to use it can be dangerous, for it opens the mind to possibilities beyond what appears possible. The danger is that usually others bound in the illusions of normalcy will find such freedom “to imagine” a threat. That is why for centuries much of the church has taught that using your imagination could lead to sin – or worse “Satan!” Dr. Jennings went on to say, “You see I am confident in this gift, for in Jesus I believe in the imagination of a madman.”
Jesus had the imagination of a madman – in the very best sense of the world. People thought he was crazy, though he was a madman for imagining that people could be made whole, that the poor would be lifted up and the rich brought low, that the meek and the mourning will be call blessed. For people stuck in a world in which they think only those things which pass their test of being reasonable could possibly happen, of course this is crazy. It is the talk of a madman. But Jesus stands in good company – nearly all the prophets who had enough imagination to call the people around them to a different way of living – nearly all of those prophets were thought to be madmen. And yet they offered a vision in which people turned back to God and lived justly. Jesus comes from their long line of crazy imagining, and is the ultimate madman.
But the world needs people crazy enough to imagine – crazy enough to believe that God has something better in store for us. What passes as normal in much of the world around us – greed and lust for power, hatred and fear, discrimination and prejudice, violence and poverty – ought not to be. We hear all kinds of false messages that masquerade as normal – wait until the time is right, people don’t change, live like you’re dying. But a crazy person, someone crazy enough to be the messiah says that now is the time, the Kingdom is come now, says that people can be transformed before your eyes and he makes it happen, and says live like there’s a resurrection. It takes a larger vision – one imaginative and crazy enough to see beyond the way things are now, to the way things could be, to the way God would have us act. We must be partners with our savior in that craziness.
Nearly a decade ago, UCC leader, Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson said, , “I ask us to imagine a world. A world with no war. A world with no violence. A world with no pain. A world where all God’s children have food and clean water and housing. A world where all of God’s children have access to quality health care and education. A world of limitless possibilities for all God’s children, a world with no discrimination because of race or class or gender or age or language or religion or abilities or sexual orientation.” It’s a crazy vision – to imagine another world, in which we do justice in Jesus’ name rather than start wars in the name of religion. Are we crazy enough, to stand up against injustice when all the voices around us and even those inside us say to sit down, be quiet, and wait for it to get better? Are we crazy enough to not only feed the hungry but to ask what it is about our society that makes them hungry in the first place? Are we crazy enough to fight for the rights of those who don’t look, speak, act or believe like us? Are we crazy enough to think that death does not have the last word, and to not only believe it, but live it as well? Are we crazy enough to believe that a man from Nazareth can not only cast out demons and restore sight to the blind, but transforms and heals the entire world?
I sure hope so.
+To God be the glory. Amen.