Sunday, June 10, 2012

...maybe just a little bit crazy.

Mark 3:20-35
"and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 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.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It is a maddening race for bread every Tuesday and Thursday at The Table. 
The Table is a meal and fellowship offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community.  It’s where I’ve been doing my Field Education requirement at Seminary, and alas, it’s the reason I had to leave you all and my position as Director of Children and Youth Ministry - at least, leave you all in a professional capacity. 
Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, or “Hot Metal” as we tend to call it for short, runs out of money every six months, has a completely voluntary music program, and doesn’t even pay their interns. Just last year the staff took voluntary pay cuts.  If you came to one of our staff meetings, you’d all probably think, “what a bunch of insane yahoos.”  But they serve a meal after every Sunday worship service, and the food at The Table on Tuesday and Thursdays is prepared and donated by local churches, youth groups, Rotary Clubs and even Accountant Firms.  
Jack is a seventy-five year old retired man who runs The Table. He and his partner of 30 years, Larry, are there every Tuesday and Thursday.  Jack directs the show and barks orders to the volunteers from his chair in the kitchen, and tries not to cuss. Larry does the grunt work - taking out the trash, folding the tables, stacking the chairs.  
Once a month, Jack and Larry cook the meal and pay for it out of their own pockets.  This is Jack’s passion - feeding people - and he is a volunteer, doesn’t get paid a dime.  He keeps the crowd in line with the stern love and care of a mother hen, or maybe more like an arthritic sheep dog.   He nips at the heels of the young people who don’t clean up after themselves, and barks and snarls at the drunks who come in with foul language and demanding tones. Jack and Larry travel to the North Side every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to the Breadworks to load piles and piles of fresh bread into the back of their rusting Blazer, and they take it to Hot Metal, sort it, and mountain the loaves on a table in the center of the sanctuary-turned-dining hall.  They have to cover it with a tablecloth to deter stray hands from swiping a few loaves before it’s time. But when Jack gives the ok, there is a mad dash for bread.  Old women suddenly become nimble.  Cool Occupy Pittsburgh kids become feverish. Even the drunks start walking in straight lines.  
But the crazy thing is, there is always enough bread.  Often, there’s a bunch of bread left over. Jack would never let anyone go without, and often squirrels loaves of bread away just in case one of his regulars arrives late for dinner.
But this insanity for bread isn’t about there not being enough. Ever since I’ve been coming to the Table, no one has gone without.  Everyone who has wanted some has gotten bread.  This mad dash for bread isn’t about getting bread at all, really.  It’s about hunger. These people are hungry.  They’re hungry right now.  They’ve been hungry before. They'll be hungry again. So they rush for bread.
From the outside though, this looks like a chaotic mad scene.  
And I think this is what it looks like to the Scribes and the Pharisees and even to Jesus’ family when they see him come back home. When his family hears about him being crowded by all these hungry crazies, they try to restrain him. Jesus is in a mad house of mad people - smelly, sick, tired, mentally ill, physically ill, desperate hungry people. From the outside, this is crazy.  And the people are crazy.  And Jesus looks crazy.  
His family tries to get him back under control, but they fail.  And the Scribes and Pharisees up the ante by not just accusing him of being crazy, but of being possessed by The Demon among demons, Beelzebul.
To the Scribes, Jesus proves he isn’t crazy, or demon possessed (often considered one and the same thing in this context).  Jesus proves how very rational he is.  He provides a clear, reasoned proof: “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”

And then he seems to reject his family.  When they come to him, “standing outside” and call to him, Jesus replies to his crowd of crazies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Even though this passage was one of my favorites as a snarky teenager, whenever I disagreed with my parents on something I could just quote this verse and I’d be in the right! - I didn’t really get what this passage is about.  Much to the chagrin of my sixteen year old self, this passage isn’t about being anti-family, or a contrarian, or antiauthoritarian.  This passage, like most of the Bible, is about hunger.

It can be so easy to demonize those questioning Jesus, calling him crazy, possessed.  They don’t get it, whatever “it” is, so obviously, they’re just like all those others who don’t see the world the way we do.  They’re wrong. We’re right.  We’ve got it figured out, and they’re the ones who are fatally misguided. But if I look to see where I find myself in this story, and I’m honest with myself, I’m right there on the side of the Scribes and Jesus’ family, questioning Jesus’ sanity.  I’m the one who, like they do, comes from a relative position of privilege. I’m the one who wants to deny that there is anything wrong or sinful or misguided about myself.  I’m the one who wants to prove to everyone else how right I am about politics, social values, and theological insights.  I’ve got it all together, obviously, because I’m not sleeping under a bridge, and I have all my teeth, and I can line my walls with diplomas. 
I spend my days rushing from one meeting to the next, eating granola bars and hydrating with iced coffee.  I worry about how I’m going to pay for my son’s college, and about mortgages and health insurance and organic bananas and whether or not I understand the theological difference between sanctification and justification and if people think I’m smart, and nice, and generous and pretty and socially skilled and...  I’m not crazy. I’m completely sane.  Right? 
Isn’t it so easy to demonize those who are different from us?  
People have been flocking to Jesus for healing.  They have been knocking and nudging and racing just to get a chance to reach out and touch Jesus.  They have the mad look in their eyes of people on the edge.  Jesus is their last hope.  
Jesus’ family sees this and is worried about him.  They wonder if maybe, he, too, has been trapped by the insanity of the throngs of people who are possessed by their own need. 
The Scribes see this and claim that Jesus has been possessed by the very evil one who, from their cultural and historical perspective, has caused all this disruption.    
And it is so easy for us to get wrapped up in the orthodoxy and authority and propriety of things.  We want so desperately to fit in, to belong, to be part of something, and that pressure to cave - to say what the committee wants you to say, to do what your parents think you should do, to follow along with cultural norms just because that is what everyone else does, to sign at the dotted line - this pressure is overwhelming. 
When you don’t cave to the pressure - when you give up the promotion, when you take a different path besides college and financial stability and dental insurance, when you decide to give your life over to a poor Jewish peasant who gets himself killed -- people wonder if you’re sick.  People wonder if you’re crazy.  People may even wonder what demon has possessed you.
If we look at the whole of this 3rd chapter in Mark - heck - if we look at Jesus’ entire life and ministry, we see how everything gets flipped over - pulled inside out, turned upside down.  Just when you think you’re traveling on a straight line, that moebius strip flips you over, and suddenly what you thought was inside is now outside, what was on top is now on the bottom.
Those who are valued most in this Jewish subculture - those who have it all together and have their I’s dotted and their t’s crossed - the ones who live their lives as if they get it - they’re the ones who don’t get it.  
But the unclean spirits know who he is. They get it.
The unclean humans know where to get healing. They get it.
The ones who seem to “have it all together” in Jesus’ society, they are the ones questioning him.
Those who are “inside” of this house, pushing against each other to get sight of Jesus.  They’re the ones who have been pushed to the outside of the culture.
Those who “belong” - those who have the right answers and are responsible and have made few mistakes, they’re the ones outside of this house, peering in, ready to drag Jesus outside with them.
This entire passage turns our value systems upside down and demand that we reevaluate our entire existence.  It makes us ask:
Who is family?
Who is faithful?
Who is a sinner?
Who is sick?
Who is healthy?
Who is stable?
Who is crazy?

It can be so easy for us to slip into an either/or dichotomy here. But this text isn’t about who is “out” and who is “in.” It’s about who we think is out and who we think is in.

Verse 21 says that “he has gone out of his mind” - literally the Greek says, “he has stood outside.” But here he is, inside this house, surrounded by those who are hungry for healing and life and hope and bread.
It can be so easy for us to slip into an either/or dichotomy here. But this text isn’t about who is “out” and who is “in.” It’s about who we think is out and who we think is in.
I mean picture it - Jesus inside the house with all of the sinners and coughing, hacking, snotting, dirty, crusty, smelly, lazy people. And he’s with his disciples, a few fishermen, an ex-tax collector, a Zealot who’s really just a crazy fanatical nationalist, and the one who would have it so wrong as to actually betray him and lead him to his death, Judas. These aren’t just the lovable sinners.  These are the ones who cut you off in traffic, who sell their foodstamps to buy booze, and leave their kids at home alone so they can get their next hit.
And outside - picture it -  Maybe there’s a goat tied to a fence post.  Maybe chickens are pecking at the ground. Firewood stacked somewhere. Laundry hanging on the line.  And the ones with all the skills and degrees and ironed dress shirts and homeowners insurance and stable lives are standing in the dusty yard in front of the house. 
So it’s not about who is right or who is wrong. It’s about having the humility to know that we’ve all got it a little bit wrong - the liberals and the conservatives, the right and the left, those who believe in a literal Satan, or those who fight against the Powers that control, manipulate, and victimize -- anyone or any group that thinks they’ve got it all figured out.  This passage is about the desire, the need, the hunger, to be on the inside. 
It’s not about having it all figured out.  It’s not about being “right.” It’s not about depending upon some king, like in our first reading, who’s going to make life easy and give you all the answers and tell you what to do. It’s about living in to the promise and insanity of Jesus.  It’s about being inside of that house with all of those coughing, dirty, desperate people who need Jesus.  It’s about realizing that we’re the coughing, dirty, desperate people who need Jesus.  It’s about realizing that we’re hungry too.
The people who “have it all together,” according to the social, political, and spiritual standards at the time, are the ones who call Jesus crazy, and worse, Satan himself. But those who recognize their need - their pain, their brokenness, their disease - they are the ones who get it.  Those who crowd and push and shove just to touch Jesus, those who want to be inside with Jesus, the crazy ones, they are the ones Jesus calls family.  
It’s about longing.  It’s about recognizing that you don’t have it all figured out, you don’t have the answers, you don’t “know” anything.  But you feel.  You are drawn to the one who heals, who forgives, who feeds.  
And this is what it takes to be a leader, too.  We’re all struggling with Mary Louise’s move.  It’s going to be a tough transition without her, and maybe you’re wondering, like I have, “What in the world are we going to do without her?”  But this is what I know.  I know that we’re going to be just fine as long as we stay hungry.  As long as we know that we’re hungry. 
We can be the leaders we need at this church, in this neighborhood, in the city, in this world, not because we have all the right answers, or because we have theological prowess, or because we think we’re right.  We’re leaders because we know we’re hungry.  We know we’re weak.  We know we’re all just a little bit crazy.
Weren’t you all a little bit crazy when you decided to take the risk and become More Light?
Weren’t you all a little bit crazy when you decided to take the risk, use up your cash allowance and hire a Director of Children and Youth Ministry?
Weren’t you all a little bit crazy when you sent your kids to Nicaragua, or took off on a plane there yourself?
Or when you made the commitment to give away 10% of your income to other organizations that are just as or even a little bit more crazy than you are?
Yup.  We’re crazy.  But also, hungry.
As Simone Weil once said, “The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”
Faith is not about believing.  It’s not about saying yes there is a God or no there isn’t.  It’s not about saying, yes, Jesus bodily rose from the dead, or it’s just metaphor.  Faith isn’t answering catechism questions correctly, or having it all together, or even being a “responsible, contributing member of society.” Faith is about the realization that you’re hungry.  That there is a part of you that is desperate to share a meal with those who are hungry like you are.  Faith is this crazy hope that if you just touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak, you’ll be healed, you’ll be fed, you’ll get some rest.
And that scary line about those who will never be forgiven?  It should scare us.  But the fact that it scares us is proof that we haven’t committed the sin.  This is a sin of certitude.  It’s the sin of thinking that you’ve got it all figured out.  It’s the sin of worshiping your answers, rather than the One who makes it possible for us to ask the questions, and who doesn’t give us answers, but instead, feeds.  This “unforgivable sin” is one of completely and absolutely denying our own hunger.  
It’s a madhouse to watch that crowd of hungry people rush to the table for bread.  But it’s also a little bit mad to be the ones giving it away for free.  It’s a little bit mad to crowd together in a hot church on a Sunday morning when it’d be so much more comfortable at home in our beds or cradling the New York Times crossword and a cup of coffee.  It’s a little bit mad to trust that the body and blood of Christ is enough to sustain us.
Jesus chose to spend his time so close with the throbbing pulse of humanity that he was accused of being out of his mind.  God chose to reveal Godself in this messy crazy life.  God chose to feed us with God’s very self, through flesh and blood, bread and wine.  All we have to do is be hungry. And maybe a little bit crazy.
We are hungry.  
We are crazy.
Thanks be to God.


  1. Very good sermon! At least so says your somewhat crazy father ... praise be to God. :-)

  2. Incredible. You have filled my heart and spirit....I was so hungry, more so lately.....THANK YOU>
    GG Loyd