That kind of astonishment just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?
This kind of question always comes when innovation happens. When people do stuff that we just don’t expect. You’ve heard the stories about what they used to say the Wright Brothers, right? “If God wanted man to fly, he’d have given us wings!”
Or when television replaced radio? Who would want to watch that all day?
Or when someone suggested that we’d all be connected by a network of computers called the internet…that we access the sum of human knowledge—and cute cat pictures—on things that we carry around in our pockets?
If it is outside of our experience, or if we just can’t imagine it, then we automatically think it’s fantastic, impossible, and even a little crazy!
And that’s exactly what happened to Jesus…they thought he was out of his mind!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been on a roll. The Gospel of Mark says he's been driving demons and healing people right and left. He says that God’s Kingdom is here right now! On the way, Jesus has become so wildly popular with the crowds that it was hard for him to enter the towns and, by today's passage, even to find time to grab a bite to eat.
Jesus is on a roll.
But is he also a little crazy? Has all this success gone to his head?
His family is worried, perhaps a little embarrassed, and afraid that Jesus might have gone over the top. They want to bring him home for some rest, some home cooking, and a little quiet.
Of course, there were detractors who said that Jesus is really doing the devil’s work! Some religious officials from the home office in Jerusalem pay a visit and conclude that Jesus is not simply crazy, he's possessed! They say that the only reason he can cast out demons is because—wait for it—he has one of the chief demons inside him!
So, which is it? Has Jesus gone over the edge? Is he evil disguised as good? How has Jesus' ministry of preaching, teaching and healing created such controversy?
The truth is that Jesus is so totally what the religious authorities don't expect that they have absolutely no idea what to make of him.
In today’s parlance, we might say Jesus was being a “disruptive innovator.” That he is disrupting the religious system the way that Uber was supposed to have disrupted the taxi business or that the PC disrupted the typewriter business. But the problem with disruption theory is that people think that if you break enough dishes someone will eventually invent the paper plate… they break things just because they can—and hope for the best!
That’s not what’s happening here. Sure, Jesus is announcing a new vision of God and introducing a new way of relating to God, but instead of simply replacing the old with something new, Jesus is calling us back to the heart of the whole divine enterprise in the first place!
At the heart of Jesus’ vision is the love of God. Jesus’ says God’s Kingdom rests on God’s desire for the health and healing of all God's creation, that God stands both with us and for us. Jesus is showing us that God’s love is there for all of us – no matter who we are or where we are from.
So, when Jesus heals and casts out demons and sits with people who are considered sinners, he shows us what God is doing. And when Jesus confronts unclean spirits; heals diseases of mind, body and spirit; reconciles people to their community; comforts the brokenhearted and the lost; and stands up to power that creates injustice, it feels like a bolt out of the blue because it’s like nothing that any of us expects.
That’s why when we first see Jesus—or we meet someone who has taken Jesus into their lives—our first impulse is to ask “What? Are you out of your mind?”
Why is that? Well, for one thing, we too often make religion into something that regulates our relationship with God, instead of it being our loving response to a loving God who loves us first.
Religion offers us a way to structure our thinking and relationship about God and how we make meaning out of the world we live in. Our liturgy and scripture and tradition all give us forms by which we express our grateful response to all of God's activity. These are all good things.
The trouble arises when we get it backwards: when our faith stops being a framework that facilitates our relationship, but instead becomes a way for us to manage and control God. This is the thing I hear over and over again from people who tell me that they are “spiritual but not religious.” They do not want their spirituality to become a strait jacket for themselves or God.
This is the predicament that the Scribes find themselves in today's story. It is not that their way of relating to God is wrong—they are, in fact, part of a rich tradition of faithful service to God and God’s people. It is just that Jesus wasn’t what they expected. They were so used to the way things are, that they forgot how things can be. And that can happen to any of us!
Jesus reminds them that the Law is there to help people love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as deeply. He reminds us that loving God is more than simply good behavior; it is abundant, joy-filled living. When Jesus heals, even on the Sabbath, when he welcomes everyone, banishes unclean spirits, and brings the sick back to health, Jesus points us to a God who is lavishly merciful, unpredictably generous, and uncontrollably gracious.
Jesus points us to God who is bringing together people who are bound not by family, tradition, or even religious or national affiliation, but who are bound together in seeking God and living in the fullness of life in Christ.
And while it might sound that way at first, it’s not crazy at all.
Some said Jesus was out of his mind; in reality, Jesus was then and is now showing us the mind and heart of God; inviting all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers.
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A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5B-1), June 6, 2021
Given at St. John's Episcopal Church, Clearwater, Florida
Here is a video of the sermon.
Here is a video of the entire liturgy.
The program may be found here.