The sort of liberation Jesus offers comes with a helping of crazy.
Mistaking GOD for a demon
This morning we truly begin the season after Pentecost. Unlike the other seasons of Advent, Christmas, the season after the Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, this season does not have an overarching theme. This is the season in which we return to the main story. We’re here, shortly after the beginning, and the story will take us to moments before the big rising action and climax we deal with in Holy Week.
The unobservant will breathe a sigh of relief –whew! Finally! Back to normal!- It certainly seems like a return to normal, I suppose.
The story we cover for 6 months, the whole rest of the story, however, is grand and potent; full of lesser stories which build on each other. It is full of many short pieces, like today’s, which are directly dependent on their context. And in Mark, framed by what is around it. The passage before it and after it really make the reader’s sense of it.
This is the season in which we need to keep up with the story rather than relax. We feel like the pressure of Lent and Easter is off so its time slow it down. Summer vacation(s) certainly set the wrong tone. Our work, now, is all the more important.
If you were to flip in the gospel we call Mark to the beginning, you would see that the gospel begins with John the Baptizer and Jesus’s baptism. Then it moves to the calling of disciples, healing and teaching, and then in chapter 3, to the calling of the 12 to be apostles: that they would do Jesus’s work in the world.
This story of Jesus taken for a victim of demon-possession and the redefining of family comes after they have been called to do his work.
So chapter 3 ends with a story of Jesus, but one of Jesus showing the Apostles what their work looks like.
If it is going to be anything like what Jesus experiences, then they will be abused for doing the right thing.
We see in chapter 2, how Jesus is being chastised for eating with the riff raff and messing with Sabbath law. We see now a distrust, a deep distrust of GOD’s work. They see it and they think it is demonic. Even Jesus’s own family think he is crazy or possessed.
It’s just a king…
This is so much like what we see in Samuel.
About 1,000 years before Jesus, the people break GOD’s heart again in perhaps the cruelest way possible. And they don’t even know they’ve done it.
All they’ve said is that they want a king. How can that be cruel?
Because that request undoes everything GOD has been doing. Centuries of work with these people, for these people, in spite of these people. What they unknowingly do is reject GOD’s very mission.
In asking for a king, to have what everyone else has, they are not only saying that GOD isn’t enough, but that they don’t want GOD as their king. They want a person, tangible, with them, to be their king. This makes Samuel 8, to use Daniel Kirk’s phrase, the “Anti-Exodus text”.
The story of Exodus, as we know, is when GOD liberated the people from slavery in Egypt. But GOD’s action, his direct action was in bringing the people out of the earthly rule of a human king who oppressed and brutalized the people, preventing them from being with GOD. He was a human obstacle to their intimacy with GOD. So GOD got rid of the problem. GOD became their king again so they could be the blessed community again.
To want a king is to reject that liberation.
To reject that liberation is to reject the kingship of GOD.
So GOD warns them through Samuel of what having an earthly king means to them: earthly oppression and divine estrangement. Like when they were under Pharaoh. And this comes, not because GOD is mad, but because when lives are on the line, they do not trust GOD.
This rejection of GOD is very much the stuff of what Jesus speaks to in Mark; a rejection of the Spirit, of GOD’s very work / mission with humanity.
When I was 18, I drifted away from the church. I didn’t quit so much as stopped going. I hardly went for over 2 years. I didn’t reject GOD or even the church. I just didn’t want this. And I didn’t feel as if this wanted me.
Many around us are feeling rejected. Or they go further than I did and reject the church. But most of these don’t reject GOD so much as reject the intermediaries, the obstacles to GOD. They see in the church that earthly kingship, that rejection of Jesus as crazy and demonic.
For many, they don’t see GOD at work in the church at all or in the lives of Christians.
That Jesus’s own family doesn’t believe in him, that they try to dismiss him is tragic, but telling. It isn’t a historical footnote in the life of the earthly Jesus, but the warning to these new apostles that rejection hurts–it hits close to home.
Jesus offers a sign of grace and hope to his followers, however. It isn’t all bad and menacing. In fact, it is extremely generous. Jesus describes GOD’s grace as forgiving everything, everything.
The only one who can’t be forgiven is the one who refuses to be forgiven.
Like the one who wants Pharaoh or Saul rather than GOD. The one who wants power and wealth and oppression to order society rather than the blessed community. The one who doesn’t want the kingdom to come at all! Because they don’t very much mind that people suffer: suffer oppression rather than suffer the burden/responsibility of the cross.
In other words, the only ones ineligible for grace are the ones who opt out.
Crazy and creative
So this story, which shows these newly called apostles what Jesus’s ministry is like – that it involves rejection and persecution, that even mothers and sisters and brothers will think you’re crazy, that your work won’t make sense to a world that continues to reject GOD as their king and instead further invests in systems of oppression. That they’ll call you crazy and out of your mind. They care about you; they’ll want to help, so they’ll look for professional help.
All because you reject evil and love the Kingdom.
The next chapter, that finishes the frame, is a bunch of seed parables. Hard and dry ground, the mustard seed, and all that. Stories / teachings of rejection and blossoming faith in GOD and GOD’s work in transforming the world.
Our story is no different. Their problems are our problems. But their grace is our grace. This isn’t a story of permanent pain, but a story of love and commitment to love.
We don’t have to commit ourselves to oppression and isolation and these things that destroy our spirit and drive away the Spirit from us. We can make GOD more important than our country and our culture. That the love of GOD is more important than the like of strangers. That the joy of grace can be felt in the discomfort of not fitting in.
I’m certain Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina is right when he says that “we need some crazy Christians!” We have enough reasonable, logical, fair-minded, level-headed Christians. And far too many legalistic and duty-bound faithful who really could use a bit more faith before they’re really considered full. Plenty of these kind of Christians.
We have far too few creative, chaotic, whimsical, compassionate, shouting-Hallelujah!, giving-up-their-lives and carrying-the-cross Christians. Far too few artists painting and sculpting and weaving and sewing and singing and writing GOD’s dream for the kingdom!
If the world doesn’t think we’re crazy, then we’re doing something wrong! But the people seeking GOD will come anyway. So let’s make sure they’ll find Christ is here. And that he’s the reason we’re crazy.