Sometimes it might even seem to us that Christ is out of his mind in what he asks of us: but the love we are called to live is the love we have already received. So we follow.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 10 B
Texts: Mark 3:20-35; 1 Samuel 8:4-20
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Some people thought Jesus was out of his mind.
Isn’t that stunning? Sure, lots were following him. Many brought loved ones for healing, others came to listen. But at home in Nazareth, crushed by the crowds, some folks thought he’d lost it.
So his family tried to restrain him. “You’re embarrassing us in front of our neighbors,” perhaps they wanted to say.
But are we sure of what we think of Jesus? This story, along with Israel’s demand for a king, places us firmly at the intersection of our faith and doubt. What do you really think about Jesus anyway? How much does what your neighbor thinks about you matter?
Some would say our faith in Christ is a sign of we’re out of our minds.
Plenty in our modern world look at us, people who hold belief in an unseen God, as separated from reality. By their measurements, we don’t fit. It’s a matter of point of view.
In 17th c. Salem, Massachusetts, the communal belief about witchcraft led to an hysteric period of trials and executions of people we today might call misguided, even mischievous teens, and others caught in the web. The community decided what was normal.
We gather in this space, collectively go on our knees to pray to a God we can’t see, and sing to this God, and listen to words from this God. This seems strange to many. But is there any sign apart from this that we’re not sane?
Not really. We’re flawed. We make mistakes, or in our faith language, we sin. But we’re mostly rational, functional human beings, we contribute to our communities, do good, care for our families, we’re normal people. We’re likely not out of our minds.
But consider the strangeness of what we hear about Jesus, and about faith.
In today’s Gospel Jesus casts out demons. Today we see signs in many of these exorcism stories of actual disease. Some look like epilepsy, others like serious mental illness. Whatever Jesus actually did, we sometimes understand it differently than back then.
For two millennia people of faith have had visions of God that taught us, inspired us. People who were perhaps transported out of their mind to see the love of God on an intense level, to understand creation and the divine will. But today, wouldn’t these people be sent to a psychiatrist, and medicated? Today’s world understands visions very differently.
Yet those stories of exorcism witness to God’s power to enter our lives and bring wholeness. We are blessed by them. Those visions over the centuries open to us the truth about God’s love and grace. We are also blessed by them. Who says they’re not normal?
Each group and culture decides what’s within the pale and what isn’t. But what if we’ve got a problem with Jesus ourselves?
It’s possible that we sometimes think Jesus is out of his mind.
At this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has cast out a lot of demons. He’s done many healings. But he’s also offered forgiveness, as if he had God’s authority. He’s claimed authority over God’s Sabbath command. He’s spent time with publicly outcast people. Tax collectors. “Sinners,” as if that’s a title.
People likely weren’t bothered by the healing or exorcising demons. But declaring God’s forgiveness and grace, spending time with so-called “bad” people, interpreting God’s law as intended to bless, these were problems. They’ll only get more so. Wait till he starts talking about taking up crosses and following him to the cross.
But are you also embarrassed by Jesus? Do you wish you could restrain him when he calls you to vulnerable and sacrificial love? Are you willing to forgive utterly as God forgives? To welcome into your company people you find objectionable?
It does seem that, like Jesus’ family, sometimes we’d like to get him to stop talking and come inside, before the neighbors think we’re crazy like he is.
It’s a question of who we want as our true authority.
The Israelites were tired of the era of the judges. When things got bad, God raised judges to lead the people. But Samuel, a good judge, named his sons judges, and the people didn’t like them. So they asked for a king, like their neighbors had. An authority who was in control. Trusting God to guide them, following God’s ways, that wasn’t what they wanted. Even with the very dark side of having a authoritarian ruler that Samuel laid out for them, they rejected following God as ruler.
We prefer ourselves as our final authority. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul,” the poet has said. We don’t want an authoritarian ruler. But we’d rather have ourselves as the final verdict in how our lives are run. Like Israel, this is a rejection of God.
Jesus’ radical view of servant love, shaped by the cross, is often more than we want to do. So we sometimes think, “he’s a little over the top, let’s do it our way.” We restrain Jesus from annoying the neighbors, or making them think we’re strange.
But Jesus says his true family doesn’t restrain him, they follow.
Loving as he loves. Forgiving as he forgives. Hanging out with all people, all kinds. Not crushing people with God’s law. Loving God completely, and loving neighbors. Jesus’ family follows God’s path of love as authority.
It’s not an easy path. Why do you think we’ve tried to restrain Jesus so often? But Jesus longs that we realize this path of Godly, Christ-like love enables our lives to make sense, provides far more blessing and joy than it costs, makes our hearts and lives whole and well. You know this: you’ve met this astonishing Love of God in your bodies and lives, in Word and Sacrament, in each other. You know the love God took to the cross is the only thing that gives peace and hope. Walking in that path is the only thing that makes sense, too.
Others might think you’re out of your mind, but they already thought that with you coming here every week. What difference does it make to take it the whole way, and follow God fully, not yourself?
And what do you care what the neighbors think? Just love them and care for them in Christ’s name and you won’t have to worry about the rest.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 “Invictus,” William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)