I was walking around the square a few days ago, on my daily round that ends up at a food cart, when I passed the Solidarity Singers. It was a nice day and they had gathered as they have almost every day since 2011, to sing their songs of protest against the policies of Governor Walker and the republican led state legislature. As is typical on days like this one, tourists, business people and state workers were out as well, and their were large groups of school children gathered at the Capitol or at the top of State St, enjoying field trips in the last days of school before summer break. As I passed the singers, I thought to myself, what do all these people think of this little group of singers? I know what I was thinking, “They’re crazy! How can they keep it up for all these years?”
A couple of weeks ago, I was here at Grace to welcome and host participants in the Poor People’s Campaign Wisconsin. They’ve been gathering at Grace each week since May before rallying at the State Capitol, some of them risking arrest by performing acts of civil disobedience. This group is part of a nationwide movement led by the Rev. William Barber, drawing on a movement MLK jr began in the last year of his life. In this political and cultural climate, with little chance of effecting policy changes, this movement seems futile, unlikely to change the opinions of policy makers who seem to be focused on finding new ways to punish poor people, people of color, and other marginalized people. They’re crazy, what’s the point? I was tempted to think.
Then, I thought about us, about this congregation. Here we are on a beautiful Sunday morning, when there are so many other things we might doing—watching the triathlon, eating brunch with friends, reading the Sunday NY Times. Those of us who attend church are in the minority, increasingly so. We’re out of step with culture, with the zeitgeist. So why do we still do it? Are we crazy?
Well, hold that thought. I’ll get back to that later in the sermon, and if all goes well, at our congregational conversation at coffee hour, we’ll have a chance to talk about that question.
But first, let’s take a look at this gospel story, or stories, in which Jesus is called crazy, or out of his mind.
Let’s back up a bit, because this is really the first time I am talking about the gospel of Mark since Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s important to remember that Mark was very likely the first of the gospels to be written. It’s the shortest and in many ways, it’s the most puzzling. The portrait of Jesus that emerges from Mark’s gospel is quite unlike that of the Gospel of John, for example, but this portrait is even strikingly different from Matthew and Luke, who were written a decade or two after Mark, and probably used Mark as a source for their own work.
The Gospel of Mark is written with an extreme sense of urgency. One of the words that appears most often is the word “immediately.” The urgency is eschatological. Jesus preaches the nearness, the arrival of the reign or kingdom of God, and by that very preaching the forces, cosmic and human that are opposed to the coming of God’s reign, take action to silence him. So, here, we are very early in the gospel. Jesus has just called his first disciples. After his baptism, and the arrest of John the Baptizer, Jesus himself begins public ministry of preaching, healing, and casting out demons. In last week’s gospel reading, from a bit earlier in chapter 2, we see the Pharisees criticizing Jesus, and then beginning to conspire with the Herodians, a group they would have generally opposed, to take Jesus down.
In today’s story, we see more conflict, more opposition. I want to draw your attention to the importance of location and family here. First off, our reading picks up in the middle of a sentence that begins “Then he (Jesus) went home;” literally, into his house; where the crowds gather and press in so much that he and his disciples aren’t able to eat. Then, his family shows up and the text probably should read here: “they (his family) were saying “he has gone out of his mind” literally, “he has stood outside”—we might say he is really out of it. Note the importance here, of who is inside and who is outside.
As if to emphasize the importance of the imagery of house here, in the next little episode, Jesus tells a story about how a house divided against itself cannot stand. And then, the story ends with Jesus’ family outside, calling to him, asking Jesus to come out. Here, Jesus underscores the point—it’s not those people, standing outside, claiming he is crazy, or outside of himself, who are his family, but rather, it is those people gathered around him, listening to him, whoever does the will of God, who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
The response of Jesus’ family is only one part of the opposition Jesus faces here. The scribes, the consummate religious insiders, the pundits, if you will, the gatekeepers, the monitors of acceptable teaching, are on his case as well, charging him with satanic influence, even satanic powers. Such language can be off-putting to those of us with modern sensibilities but it’s important for us to be able to name evil, to recognize its power, and to confess all the ways that we are in bondage to it. In our day, such clarity is a moral necessity, key to our being faithful Christians.
Who is inside, who is outside? Who belongs, who doesn’t? Who is family? These are questions we should be asking of ourselves, our community, our nation. When families are being torn apart, people marginalized and attacked for the color of their skin, their national origin, their sexual orientation, it is incumbent on us to ask these questions.
As a congregation seeking to be faithful to the call of Jesus Christ, seeking to share the good news of the love of Jesus Christ in our neighborhood and the world, these questions should be at the center of our reflection. Are we among those seated around Jesus, listening to his words, seeking to do the will of God? Are we so on fire for Jesus Christ, so ready to take risks, experiment, name and combat the evils that beset us, so committed, that others looking at us claim we’re crazy, or demon-possessed? Or are we those people looking in from the outside, offended by the risky, risk-taking behavior of the true followers of Jesus, rejecting them, worried about our status or popularity, or standing in the community?
We are having conversations about risk-taking, experimenting, developing new programs or ministries that will reach out and connect with our neighbors. We are blessed with so many good things here at Grace, stable finances, a beautiful building in the best location in the city, amazing people with incredible gifts, skills, and commitment. May we have the courage and creativity to imagine new possibilities for ourselves, our congregation, our city.
In a season when Christianity is on the decline in our culture, when our nation is so deeply divided and for so many of us going in a dangerous direction, Jesus calls us to follow him into that uncertain future, to recognize and name the evil that opposes him, to embrace all those of whatever nationality, or color, or sexual orientation, who would join us, as we build a community of inclusion, welcome, committed to do God’s will.