June 6, 2021 The Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2021
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-25

From the Gospel according to Mark, (Jesus asked) “Who are my mother and my brothers?” … Whoever does the will of God …” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     One of the recent developments in our nation is the tendency to describe anyone who dares to offer a different opinion or idea as outright “crazy.” Describing someone as “crazy” has become the natural way to not only dismiss someone’s credibility, but destroy their potential influence as well. Somehow it has become vogue to label fresh ideas or proposals that affirm our biblical duty to love and care for one’s neighbor, as “crazy” rather than truly listen to and ponder the value of those ideas, and maybe even consider how we might make those ideas a reality. If you doubt what I am saying, just watch any political commentaries or interviews on television. Just this past week, I was watching a morning news show and listening to an interview with some politicians who were commenting on the reasons why they voted against something I believed important. I found myself muttering under my breath, “They’re crazy” and immediately turned a deaf ear to what they were saying. No. It is just easier to call someone “crazy,” rather than consider that maybe their voice has merit; maybe we do need to rethink our values and how we choose to live.   

    That is exactly what happened to Jesus in today’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark. Not only were people thinking that Jesus was crazy, or muttering it under their breath like I did when watching that news program, butsaying Jesus was crazy out loud and publicly. The religious leaders took matters even further saying, “He has a demon, Satan himself is inside him.” And the wheels of public opinion began to turn – wheels determined to destroy Jesus’ influence and credibility even among his own family who, Mark says, thought he was crazy, too, and attempted to restrain him.

    Why this sudden description of and concern about Jesus ? Well, earlier in this same chapter, Jesus was observed helping and healing anyone and everyone in need, as well as casting out demons, and doing all of this on the Sabbath.  In other words, Jesus was breaking all sorts of rules in order to enable everyone (who so desired), to experience the healing power and life-changing grace of God. And what’s wrong with that? In fact, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

     Well, once again, context is everything. Throughout his account of the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ, Mark has described a Jesus who acts with wild abandon and with extreme inclusion, to the point of defying religiousnorms.  He has been shaking up the people around him especially those in authority. Mark describes a Jesus as someone who has defied all of society’s, and religion’s, beliefs about who is in and who is out, who is worthy of God’s grace, and who is not. In first Century Palestine, those possessed by demons, those maimed or born with some sort of illness or physical defect, were assumed to be cursed or suffering from the sins of their parents (John 9:1-2). As such, they were considered not worthy of respect or dignity, or even given the time of day. But Jesus forgives and heals allwho are in need regardless of who or what they are. What the world calls cursed Jesus calls blessed (Matt 3:5-11). Jesus says that in God’s kingdom, “all means all.” And that frightens people – especially the religious – because saying “all means all”, saying “all are welcome”, might mean we have to treat those who are different, those with whom we disagree or even disdain not as “crazy” but as our equal in God’s sight.

     But that’s not all. Jesus was putting the needs of people above what religious traditions and guidelines regulated how those in authority believed God expects God’s people to interact with others. Now, don’t get me wrong, traditions and guidelines are valuable and very important, but – as we heard earlier in the Gospel according to Mark – when we put following the rules ahead of meeting the needs of others, we risk misusing the very rules God gave us to helppeople flourish and experience an abundant life.

The people saw what Jesus was doing and saying and were quick to tell him that’s not how the world works, Jesus. You … must … be … “crazy.” You see, Jesus, when you say “all means all” you rob us of our authority to judge and decide who is welcome, who is in and who is out, and you defy our insistence that people conform to our expectations.

You see, Holy Cross (St. John’s) every time we invite those who tried but failed to follow Jesus to come and partake in this holy communion, or welcome strangers into our midst even though they are a different color or ethnicity, or speak a different language, we restrict our ability to maintain our status quo, and maintaining the status quo is how the world works. It is just plumb crazy to think or suggest otherwise.

     In our Old Testament lesson, we find that the elders of Israel believed Samuel was crazy. When he urged them to rethink their intention to throw off their structure of governance by prophets and judges in favor of a king, they thought he was nuts. Well, Samuel thought they were nuts, too. He warned that a king would draft their sons into his armies; take their best servants and their best livestock, and best produce, too, and make it his own so that they become enslaved to working for him, rather than, for the good of their families and the good of their communities. But the leaders said, “We are determined to have a king over us, so that we … may be” (what?) “like other nations.” Samuel relents and the people get their king. However, in a few chapters we will learn all about a man who started out well but became Israel’s national disgrace – a man known as King Saul. The people forgot they were to be differentfrom all other nations.

      Just as it was then, so it was in 1st Century Palestine, and is still true in the church today. We forget we are called to live differently. So, just like those religious leaders who confronted Jesus in our gospel reading, we, too, want a Messiah we can control. As affirmed by Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, in his book, “Crazy Christians” (how’s that for a title!) “… Christians have often tried to make Jesus tame. We want to manage the Messiah. But this Messiah won’t be managed…”[1]

See, Jesus showed the people then, just as he continues to show us today, anytime we draw a line between who we believe is in and who is out, we often discover Jesus standing on the other side – identifying with them, caring for them, and loving them – just like he identifies with, cares for, and loves, you and me. But that’s not the way of our world is it?

     St. Paul reminds us in his second letter to the Corinthians, that ours is a different world. The church, Paul says, experiences persecution for daring to be crazy and inclusive. That is our visible or “seen” reality. But our unseen reality is the glory and fulfillment of God’s kingdom unfolding in our midst. The kingdom of God made possible through the resurrection of the Christ, the Son of God, the one considered “crazy” then, and whom the world still considers anyone who follows him “crazy” today.

     The truth is, beloved, I believe Jesus wants us to be crazy. When he asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then answers saying “Whoever does the will of God …,” Jesus is not dismissing the meaning or value of family, but rather, expanding it beyond our biological and nuclear understanding so that it includes all who need to know the Christ, includes everyone who seeks to know God. Our family is more than Moms and Dads; more than sisters and brothers; more than the whole communion saints. Jesus urges us to grasp that the person down the street contemplating suicide,  the teenager next door struggling with opioid addiction, or the neighbor who fears being deported, all of them are worthy of the same sacrificial love and care we want for ourselves and offer to one another because they are our family, yours and my family, too. 

Reflecting on today’s gospel lesson, Bishop Curry offered these astute and challenging words, “Sane, sanitized Christianity is killing us … We need some crazy Christians … crazy enough to believe that God is real and that Jesus lives. Crazy enough to follow the radical way of the gospel. Crazy enough to believe that the love of God is greaterthan all the powers of evil and death … We need some Christians who are crazy enough to catch a glimpse of the transforming, transfiguring, life-changing vision of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christians who are crazy enough to follow him into the work of helping God realize God’s dream for all people and for all creation.”( Curry Pp 6-7.)

    So I wonder this morning, I ask on this very morning when we gather for the first time in over a year without anyrestrictions: Can we be those Christians? Those welcoming, inclusive, merciful, forgiving, and loving Christians? Or, because I think that we can and that if the Church is to survive, we must, am I just crazy? I hope so. And I pray you are, too! Amen.  

 

[1] Michael B. Curry, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus. Morehouse Publishing, NY, 2013. P 3.