“I’m With Crazy,” Mark 3:20-35

crazy

Mark 3:20-35

20 Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”  22 The legal experts came down from Jerusalem. Over and over they charged, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He throws out demons with the authority of the ruler of demons.”

23 When Jesus called them together he spoke to them in a parable: “How can Satan throw Satan out? 24  A kingdom involved in civil war will collapse. 25  And a house torn apart by divisions will collapse. 26  If Satan rebels against himself and is divided, then he can’t endure. He’s done for. 27  No one gets into the house of a strong person and steals anything without first tying up the strong person. Only then can the house be burglarized. 28  I assure you that human beings will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind. 29 But whoever insults the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That person is guilty of a sin with consequences that last forever.” 30 He said this because the legal experts were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.”  31 His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. 32 A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.” 33 He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. 35  Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”

When my sister and I were little, we loved dressing up in frilly dresses and going to the ballet.  We usually went out to eat as a family before the ballet, so one night we found ourselves in a nice restaurant in our fancy dresses, and my sister had a bad habit of rocking back and forth in her chair.  My mom always warned her that one day, she was just going to topple herself over, but she kept doing it anyway.  Sure enough, that night she pushed too far and ended up upside down on the floor of this nice restaurant, dress over her head, and everyone in the restaurant staring at us!  At that moment, I wanted to act like I didn’t know any of these people!  But of course, I was guilty by association.  It was one of those moments where a t-shirt like this one (slide) would have been appropriate: “I’m with crazy.”

We all have moments with our families or friends where we just have to own up to the company we keep and be proud of who we are and who they are, despite the fact that they might be a little different or perhaps crazy.  Or perhaps we have found ourselves to be the ones that people are pointing at and saying, “yep, I’m with that one, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”  And on a more serious note, millions in this country are affected with mental illness and are often labeled “crazy” by society, but they, in fact are human beings loved by their families and by God.  It takes courage to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves and advocate for those with mental illness.  We claim mental illness as a reality and seek ways of understanding.

We also see terms like “crazy” and “insane” make its way into our legal systems with the insanity defense. The basic theory behind it is: One who is insane lacks the “malice aforethought” or the intent required to perform a truly criminal act because the person is either incapable of discerning the difference between right and wrong, or incapable of restraint, even in the face of such knowledge. The insanity defense gets a lot of publicity, but is rarely used.  Yet it remains popular and polarizing in our society because it raises some fascinating questions.  Can someone be held accountable for doing a bad thing if his or her mind is clouded with craziness or mental illness?  How do we really define crazy?  Aren’t we all just a little insane?  And what’s the line between “crazy” and “genius”?  It seems true that some of history’s most creative and enlightened people would be considered crazy by some standards. Just think of Van Gough or Beethoven, or Galileo, or Sir Isaac Newton- all thought to be crazy…and just look what they contributed to our world.

In today’s text, it is Jesus who is accused of being crazy- so much so that his family has been called in to get him under control and perhaps perform some sort of intervention.  His family, along with the Pharisees, believe him to be possessed by an evil spirit- one who throws out demons by the authority of evil.  But Jesus challenges these accusations of him being crazy by giving them a parable about how it is not plausible for Satan to throw himself out.  It wouldn’t make much sense for one evil spirit to throw out another or rebel against the other.  The evil entities would collapse under threat of rebellion and division.  Jesus doesn’t take offense to the accusation of being out of his mind- rather he uses the accusation to show those gathered that there is a dividing line between saving faith and damning disbelief.

We must not be so quick to judge the good and miraculous as evil and out of order.  Jesus challenges his witnesses to see that here is a truth worth remembering: that the kingdom of God, the work of the Spirit, when on the move will always disrupt and disturb the “sane” or “normal” world.  If “craziness” persistently violates social norms with little regard for oneself, then the work of Jesus fits the description (Homiletics).

There is a popular apologetic argument in the study of Christ which boils down to these options of Jesus as “lunatic, liar, or Lord.”  This was especially made popular by CS Lewis with this quote:  “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

I hear what Lewis is saying here, but it seems to me like we shouldn’t just have these three options to choose from- it seems clear that based on this morning’s text, that we can call Jesus Lord, but also can lovingly define him as a little crazy, or genius, or what have you.  And maybe we need to claim Jesus’ brand of crazy a little more in our walk of Christian faith, especially in today’s world where Christianity is becoming less and less relevant and difficult for people to understand.  We need to lift up the Jesus who was rebellious, drew attention to himself because of his radical acts of love and healing and strange teachings.  We need to lift up the Jesus who was, in fact, a little crazy.  In fact, we need to be willing to stand up more in today’s broken world and say loud and proud, “I’m with crazy,” and maybe even be wearing the t-shirt.  Jesus’ friends and family were wondering if he was crazy.  But it is we who need to be asking ourselves if we are crazy enough.

Are we crazy enough about Jesus to be his followers in a world that often rejects him?  Are we crazy enough to stand up for our beliefs in a Savior who went around healing and teaching and getting himself into trouble?  Are we crazy enough as a church to break outside these walls and show this community the crazy love of Christ that permeates through and in all things?  Are we crazy enough?  Are we brave enough to proclaim, “I’m with crazy” and stand firmly grounded in our faith?

When Jesus challenges his accusers and defends himself against being crazy, he points out that he cannot be possessed by an evil spirit because one evil spirit would not go around casting out other evil spirits.  He uses the example that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  In this I also hear that Jesus is the ultimate example of everything good and holy, and that evil cannot and will not prevail against him.  When we place our faith firmly in Jesus as our common cause, our divisions should not get the best of us.  This is especially important for us to hear as United Methodists in a denomination that is torn apart by divisions right now, especially around the topic of human sexuality.

When I was at Annual Conference a few weeks ago, I took part in the clergy meet and greet where people could come and meet those of us whose names were on the ballot to be elected as General Conference delegates.  Instead of people coming up and asking my name, where I served, and why I wanted to go to General Conference, I had people walk up to me and the only question they asked is where I stood on the issue of homosexuality and the church.  They didn’t care about anything else.  How I responded determined if they stuck around to listen more or if they walked away and didn’t want to engage me further.  Many of us experienced this, and found it to be very disheartening.  When did our denomination become so focused on these dividing issues that we have lost sight of our common cause for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?  When did we become so divided that we cannot even engage in conversation with each other?  When did we stop giving thanks to God for the things that unite us?

One of my colleagues (Bob Coleman), in a reflection about Annual Conference, pointed out that it became clear that we are wrestling with ourselves.  We all wrestle with ourselves on our choices of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, life vs. death.  But at the end of the day, we all long for meaning, a sense of being loved, and a sense of belonging.  At this conference session, however, the question was, “Where do you stand on this issue or that issue?” and if the response was not what was expected or hoped for, then there was no further conversation.

Since we hope and have faith that Jesus was present at Annual Conference, what question was he asking?  When he healed people of their illness or rid them of an evil spirit, he didn’t come and ask them where they stood on this issue or that issue before he healed them.  When Jesus began the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, he didn’t probe her for answers or ask her where she stood on anything before he offered his grace.  He simply asked her if she was thirsty.  I’ll admit that there were times when I was tempted to ask my fellow delegation candidates where they stood on an issue, and I wrestled with myself over this- if I even wanted to know, or did I want to risk feeling the divide grow deeper through such questions.  But perhaps the question we should all be asking each other is, “Are you thirsty?”  and I know my response would be, “I am, too.”  I am thirsty for Jesus, for knowledge of God’s grace and love, and thirsty for a community where I belong.  And this is what we should be offering the world in place of our divisions and threats of being a church and denomination that will not stand because of its divisions.

Perhaps the world expects us to fail and fall apart.  The world looks at us and says, “Those crazy Christians following their crazy Jesus.  And they can’t even get along.”  But the truth is that we need to be crazy for Jesus and wear our “I’m with crazy” t-shirts proudly.  The world needs us to come together for the cause of Christ.  The church today needs to embrace her craziness and stop worrying about fitting in and being relevant.  The church needs to embrace its weirdness and let its freak flag fly.  I would venture to say that if this happened more often, the church would be less put off when the homeless person wanders in on a Sunday morning and we would offer him or her a seat of honor and give great dignity.  If we embraced our crazy, then we would encourage extravagant generosity among the people- the kind of generosity that makes people talk about you behind your back.

Embracing crazy would look like the church starting ministries that would bring in children and adults alike, but that would also reach out to the prostitutes or rescue addicts with no regard for its own reputation.  Is this sounding anything like Jesus yet?  And finally, a church that stands and says, “I’m with crazy” would preach the frightening depths of God’s demands upon humanity, for righteousness and holiness, yet counter this message with the amazing and near offensive amount of grace afforded to us in Christ who does not expect perfection from us, but instead challenges us to embrace our humanity and be made whole in him (Homiletics).

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of crazy that I would be happy to stand for and embrace.  We need to bring crazy back.  Because if we don’t, we risk losing sight of the Jesus who shakes up the norms of this world and calls us to join his cause of radical teaching and love in a world that needs to hear it.  If we don’t stand with Jesus and say, “I’m with crazy,” then who do we stand with?  Let us stand firm with him and in him, that even when our foundations are shaking, divisions are all around us, and people are standing around asking difficult questions and throwing out accusations, may we hear Jesus ask the ultimate question: Are you with me or not?  I pray that the answer is yes, that we may stand firm together, not counting the cost.  Amen.

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