Pentecost +2: Out of his mind

And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When Jesus' family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" — for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:20–35)

For the last two and a half years, St. Timothy has been a partner in ministry with Bridge Communities, a transitional housing ministry here in DuPage County. A few Sundays ago, we congratulated Veatrice and her family – our first partner family – on her successful completion of the Bridge program. Today in worship, we will be commissioning a new mentor team from our congregation, because we have already been matched with a second family, and are about to begin a new two-year journey with them.

On Thursday night, the mentor team and I met with our caseworker and with the young woman whose family we will be sponsoring for these next two years.

As we talked about the program, it was clear that everything seemed to her to be too good to be true. At one point in our conversation, she looked me in the eye and said “Now tell me again about the program, because it feels like I’m missing something. Because right now, it sounds like you are giving me an apartment to live in for free for two years, and giving me mentors to work with every week who will help get me back on track, and a counselor and a lawyer and a social worker to help me out along the way. What am I missing here?” She was waiting for the catch. And I told her that there wasn’t one.

And she looked at me like I was crazy.

Then, we started talking about the apartment and asking whether she had any furniture. She said she had virtually nothing, and so we started making lists. Lists and lists of things that we are going provide for her. Necessary things like chairs and couches and towels and a vacuum. Little luxuries like a coffee-maker. Big luxuries like a laptop. And she watched this flurry of activity with wide and tearful eyes. She couldn’t believe that we’d want to go out and collect all of these, and at no cost to her.

And she looked at us like we were crazy.

Everything we told her seemed too good to be true. It was overwhelming. And because everything was too big for words, she just kept looking at us like we were crazy people.

As I read today’s gospel, and try to process all of the weird, tricky, and downright uncomfortable things that happen in it, I keep coming back to the crowd’s first assessment of Jesus: “He’s gone out of his mind. He’s crazy.”

Up until this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been running around like crazy, not able to sit still for even a moment. From the rush of the Spirit descending upon him like a dove at his baptism to his being immediately cast into the wilderness to contend with the tempter, Jesus has been on the move.

He’s already traveled back and forth from home to Capernaum to Galilee more than once, been to many people’s houses and to the synagogue, in deserted places, in boats crossing the sea, and up a mountain. And he’s been doing stuff. He’s been teaching and curing the sick, casting out demons and healing lepers, he’s had a teaching moment interrupted by a paralyzed man being lowered through the roof, who he healed and forgave, by the way, he’s eaten with sinners and tax collectors and gotten the religious authorities riled up, he’s healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and gotten the religious authorities riled up, he’s appointed disciples, and he’s tried to sit down for a quiet meal but failed because the crowds kept following him and pressing in on him, and this, too, got the religious authorities riled up.

And this, my friends, is only in the first two and a half chapters of Mark’s gospel!

Jesus has been running around like a madman, doing impossible things. Unbelievable things. Amazing and wonderful, too-good-to-be-true things. And people can’t believe their eyes. They can’t explain what was going on. It’s utter madness.

So they look at Jesus like he is crazy. Out of his mind.

Even the religious leaders are overwhelmed. They go one step further. Not only is Jesus out of his mind, they say, but he must be from Satan himself!

And I get it. Because when things are too good to be true, when we are faced with wonder so overwhelming that it’s a little scary, we say things like “that’s crazy” or “that’s madness” or “that’s insane.” And when we are faced with things that seem absolutely impossible, our knee-jerk reaction is to look for the catch, to get cynical, to demonize what we see, to look for the dark side of what we can’t understand.

And for those crowds and us, we are all trying to make sense of the good news that God’s kingdom is here. God’s family is here on earth. And we are a part of it. Or, borrowing language from 2 Corinthians, we are trying to make sense of “the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”

And I don’t blame you if, sometimes, you look at God as if he were crazy.

Because God’s good news is crazy. It’s crazy that God would take human form in Jesus and enter our broken world as a physical being. And it’s crazy that Jesus would die for us and for the world. And it’s crazy that God would look at the messed-up parts of lives with grace instead of judgment.

And what do we do with this crazy Jesus who stands before us, arms outstretched?

Well…faith asks that we unbind him. That we don’t try to make him safe or box him in. That we let Jesus be Jesus, full of signs and wonders, and that we let God be God, full of immeasurable grace, and that we let the Spirit blow wherever she will.

In preparing for this sermon, I came across a poem written by Michael Coffey, a pastor in Austin, Texas. It’s titled “Institutionalized Jesus,” and it is a provocative poem about letting crazy Jesus loose in the world instead of binding him up.

he is out of his mind, can’t you see?
you get the straight jacket and
I’ll get the hypodermic sedative
maybe we can restrain and institutionalize him enough
so his insidious words and soul-rending power
will stop harassing us and pushing us to
the threshold of transformation and the terrifying life
of living in utter abandon in the universal love

he is out of his mind, isn’t he?
he is too far gone to be domesticated
like a grazing bovine chewing its cud
like us eating and spitting up
and chewing and swallowing obsessive-compulsively
the same old fibrous indigestible news
that this life is only what we earn and spend
protect and steal, war over and control

he is out of his mind, right?
his gyrated irises look so full of larger consciousness
his nostrils flare with majestic being and potency and spirit
maybe if we loosen one or two straps
on his gurney, maybe if we let him writhe and speak
a couple more words of astonishing goodness
he can crack our skulls and let loose our suffering brains
our restrains, our imprisoning anodyne normalcies
and we might live in his craziness and abandon
meld with his love and his enthusiastic holistic mind
not he out of his, but we out of ours

This crazy savior who lives shamelessly in the universal love wants to make us a little crazy, too. Crazy enough to be transformed and to live a terrifying life that stretches our boundaries. Crazy enough to go out and to love our world, even when it’s unpopular to do so. Crazy enough to be radical in our peace-making and hope-bringing and grace-giving. Crazy enough to share a totally irrational story about God’s love for the world.

Because there’s no point in trying to spread God’s love through rational, sensible, logical, practical argument. God’s love is way too big to make sense. God’s hope is way to expansive to be rational. God’s promises are so big that they defy logic and explanation. God’s kingdom is too wide to be practical.

And so we can only share God’s good news with the world using the language of hope and promise. Hope for the future, even when the world has no hope. Promises of life and renewal, even when the world looks bleak. And yes, the world might look at us like we our out of our minds when we talk about this stuff.

But that’s our very calling – to be out of our minds. The life of faith means getting outside of our own heads so that we can be of the mind of Christ. Faith asks us to believe the impossible and to trust the unsearchable.

Because God’s good news is too good to be true. And yet it’s all for real. It’s right there in front of us, freely given and within our grasp.

Crazy, isn’t it?

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