a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “A Love That Heals”
Coral Isles Church – U.C.C.
February 13, 2022
Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 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.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
How many of you knew that Jesus’ family thought he was crazy? I’m not the one saying it, the Bible says so. Don’t call me a blasphemer! Now, I know the word “crazy” is not appropriate these days. Don’t say I am insensitive. I am using the word as inappropriate as possible to jar us all a bit, if I can, me included. Our story this morning tells us Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, at least at this point in his journey.
I want to use this passage to talk about our journey. We say, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here. Easy to say. Harder to practice. Especially in, well, certain circumstances. Like when I act in a way you would call crazy. Or when I talk in a way you would call crazy. Or when I suggest to you that we ought to do something you would consider crazy. Everyone has heard that saying, “that’s just crazy talk,” right? So here’s my crazy talk:
This passage includes stuff about the mental health of Jesus, the political motivations of the religious leaders, and a blockbuster ending about “the only unforgivable sin,” and I’m going to cover all of that in 15 minutes, give or take.… [ wink, wink – because you know every preacher can’t tell time, right? ]. Now that’s crazy talk to say I can do all that effectively in that time frame. So if I am going to do it, let’s get to it!
The Scripture tells us Jesus has “gone back home.” That should be a place of love and encouragement and acceptance, right? Yet, for many who have experienced abuse, insensitivity, no love, encouragement or acceptance home is a place of fear, pain, and even horror. Let’s be honest, when Pat Conroy, in his book Prince of Tides, has the protagonist’s sister, who is suffering from mental health issues, describe her home life as “Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” way too many people can relate. Maybe even some of us here. Jesus can relate. Jesus wasn’t doing anything but he had become such a rock star that the crowds gathered around him so heavily no one could even eat, says Mark. It is unclear just what Jesus was doing, except maybe trying to eat.
What’s even weirder is if that is what he was trying to do, why wasn’t he at home with his family? It says his family had to come to get him – means they weren’t there, right? They had to come get him because they had heard some crazy talk. People were saying Jesus was “outa his mind!” They went to restrain him!” That’s how bad they thought his condition was!
Now on top of that the religious leaders were piling on. They were saying he wasn’t just crazy, but that he was possessed by an evil spirit, by the most evil spirit one could have: Beelzebul! Now, as is often the case when someone is doing stuff that those in power, that leaders don’t like, that the head of our family finds uncomfortable or challenging, they feel threatened. Jesus is saying stuff that makes them feel “called out.” Often times when someone who is perfectly fine with themselves starts speaking truth to power those in power respond by saying, “well they’re just, you know, having problems.” In other words you and I know that’s just crazy talk, pay no attention to them. Their words are chosen to discount Jesus’ effectiveness in word and deed. They are threatened by his “crazy talk,” because the people know his truth in the face of their religious falsehoods.
Now Jesus points out the fallacy of their argument, that he is casting out the destructive spirits that are causing people pain and suffering by the power of the destructive spirit itself. That’s kinda like the logic of the witch hunts of the 1600’s. You know, an uppity woman gets in trouble with her community and the punishment is, we’re going to dunk you. If you live you must be witch so we’ll burn you at the stake. If you drown and die we know you weren’t a witch. Some would say our “legal system” hasn’t really changed much since then, but that’s another sermon.
Let me address another legal problem as briefly as I can: this business of the “unforgivable sin.” Truth is I haven’t read a good explanation of this. Rev. David Lose gives a reasonably lucid one. He writes [WorkingPreacher.org, 6/1/2015 ], most scholars say this means, “refusing to acknowledge the work of the Spirit of God to renew and redeem creation. But that doesn’t mean it’s a one-time slip of the lip or anger in the heart. There’s a sense of an on-going rigidity or constant setting-one’s-face-against God’s activity that seems to be implied. Indeed, the sin Jesus seems to name is an on-going, even permanent refusal to be open to the movement of the Spirit.
He points out that this is more about a lifetime rejection of God’s ability to do what God can do. He points out few people can really claim to have done this or charge others with this sin. Finally he reminds us that everything written in the Gospels was written to address a specific concern of a specific group – a congregation of 1st Century followers of Jesus that may or may not have any real parallel 2000 years later. Some verses and stories are rooted in questions we can never really understand. So let’s get on with what we can understand, sort of.
I was reading the story of Lane Johnson. Looking at him you would never think Lane Johnson would be dealing with mental health issues. He is a professional athlete, weighs probably 275 pounds plus, stands probably 6 feet 5 inches tall. Has a contract for 72 million dollars. But Lane has to deal with anxiety. It is so bad many days he would be so anxious he would throw up or have dry heaves. He was so worried about making a mistake, worried that as a left takle for the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team, if he made one wrong step his 100 million dollar quarterback would get injured and his name would be in the paper for failing. He's gone through a lot in trying to learn how to cope with this. He says he “put his pride aside and asked for help,” he also got educated about it, and when he struggles he gets with a teammate or friend and they exercise together or play Sodoku, change his focus to calm himself. He says he urges others like him to be vulnerable enough to seek help from others. That’s the best advice any of us can have. So as you watch that “Big Game” tomorrow remember that a lot of these athletes who “have it all,” often have some of the same struggles we normal people have. And if you are struggling remember right here there is a room full of people who want to be helpful if you ask.
Let me shift gears to look beyond Super Bowl Sunday to this month of Black History. None other than Michael Curry, the Right Rev. Presiding Bishop of the whole Episcopal Church, the one who preached at the wedding for the now defrocked Prince and Princess of whatever there in bloody old England, says what we need are more “Crazy Christians,” [ "We Need Some Crazy Christians," Michael B. Curry, Faith and Leadership, 2012. ]. He says, “Jesus was, and is crazy.” He points out that Jesus said things like, “blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the reign of – or Kingdom – of God.” He said, “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,” and he said, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” All of this is just crazy talk, right? Or maybe something only religious fanatics try to do, right? I mean all those folks who say they take the Bible literally never talk about this part, do they? But Bishop Curry says, we need more Crazy Christians.
Rev. Curry points to “Harriet Beecher Stowe, …. born in 1811 into a devout family committed to the gospel of Jesus and to helping transform the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream God intends. She is best-known for a fictional work titled “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
“In this fiction, she told the truth. She told the story of how chattel slavery afflicted a family, afflicted real people. She told the truth of the brutality, the injustice, the inhumanity of the institution of chattel slavery. Her book did what YouTube videos of injustices and brutalities do today. It went 19th-century viral. It rallied abolitionists and enraged vested interests. The influence of that book was so powerful that Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe for the first time, ’So this is the little lady who started this great war!’
Harriet “had been raised in a family that believed that following Jesus means changing the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. And sometimes that means marching to the beat of a different drummer. Sometimes that means caring when it is tempting to care less, or standing up when others sit down. Sometimes it means speaking up when others shut up. Sometimes it means being different -- even being crazy.
“When Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Inc., died … an old Apple commercial from the 90s went viral on YouTube. The tag line for the commercial was “Think different,” a phrase that is grammatically incorrect -- which is part of the point. The commercial showed a collage of photographs and film footage of people who have invented and inspired, created and sacrificed to improve the world, to make a difference. They showed Bob Dylan, Amelia Earhart, Frank Lloyd Wright, Maria Callas, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Henson, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Mahatma Gandhi and on and on. As the images rolled, a voice read this poem:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things. They push the human race forward.
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.”
So let me add to all this “Crazy Talk.” Let me suggest what we can do. Let’s become more aware of, supportive of, engaged with people period. Let’s also at the same time, be aware of God’s welcome for us even with all our issues that strain or challenge our mental health. Then let’s also be more ready to understand that our brokenness and someone else’s brokenness can be a gift to help us change reality for the better. Let us be crazy enough to work to heal each other in gentle, loving ways, and let us be committed to healing the wider world around us as well.
One more way we can be aware and engaged: I can’t help but think that in this crazy world many people are hurting and expressing their hurt sometimes in hurtful ways. Compassion goes further than hate or fear or rejection of the person who is hurting. There are a lot of people spewing hateful things these days [ hasn’t there always been? ] but we cannot miss that they are the ones most likely hurting deeply for some reason or another, and whose mental health may be fragile. Their crazy talk may “drive us crazy,” but don’t let it. Seek to see the pain behind the wild words and actions. Doesn’t mean we condone what is dangerous or support what is violent or evil. But before we judge we seek to understand and then let us remember that God’s spirit is a spirit of love and reconciliation and of healing.
I know, it’s a crazy idea right, loving our “enemies.” They called the man named Jesus crazy for saying and doing things like that. Call me crazy if you want, but I think we need more of Jesus’ craziness in this old world than ever before. Call it crazy talk but I think that is the way to transform this old world from the nightmare it often is, to the blessed dream God dreams for our world. AMEN.