Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
June 10, 2012

Scripture:

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever thought of Jesus as out of his mind? Iíve know about this passage from Mark that says that people were saying he was out of his mind for a long time, but Iíve never thought of him that way. I mean, he proclaimed the true word of God, right? So how could he be out of his mind? If, as we proclaim, he was the Son of God Incarnate how could he be out of his mind? Wouldnít he have to be about the sanest person there ever was? Wouldnít he have to be the exemplar of what human sanity looks like? Youíd sure think so, or at least I would. Yet here we have the Gospel of Mark telling us that his family actually tried to restrain him precisely because people were saying that he had gone out of his mind. How could that be? Were they kidding? Actually I donít think they were kidding. I think they were quite serious, and I think there is something we can learn if we take their charge that Jesus had gone out of his mind seriously and try to understand why the people of his hometown would think that he was mad.

This story is set very early in Jesusí ministry. He hasnít yet done many of the things he will do, nor has he said many of the things that he will say. But as we enter this story we can consider what the people of Nazareth would have known about him even this early on in his public life. He grew up in the house of his father Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter, or perhaps more accurately a stonemason. In the culture of that time and place that meant that Jesus too would be a carpenter, or perhaps more accurately, a stonemason. Sons generally followed in their fatherís footsteps, entering their fatherís trade. Jesusí hometown folks knew even this early in his ministry that Jesus hadnít done that. Instead he had wandered off, down to Judea, where he had taken up with this crazy prophet people called John the Baptist. John dressed like a wild man, ate wild food, and dunked people in the Jordan River, claiming that he was preparing from the coming of the Day of the Lord. John was clearly nuts, and Jesus went running after him.

Then Jesus had come home, only he still didnít do the respectable thing by being an obedient son and entering into his fatherís trade. Instead he went wandering around healing people. Who was he to heal people? But thatís what he was doing, or at least claiming to do. He went around proclaiming something called the Kingdom of God. He convinced twelve guys to abandon their homes and fathers and to go wandering around with him spouting about the Kingdom of God, whatever that was, and healing people too. He argued with the temple authorities from Jerusalem, the wise men of the faith and the guardians of sacred tradition. He called himself the Son of Man, again whatever that meant; and he claimed on his own authority to change the sacred law of Moses, saying things like ďthe Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.Ē In Markís telling of it Jesus had done all of that by the time his neighbors said he had gone out of his mind.

Can we blame them? Jesus was flaunting the social customs and even the religious traditions of his time. He wasnít behaving the way normal, respectable, decent people of his time and place behaved. He wasnít conforming. He wasnít following tradition. He was doing strange new things and claiming some kind of power to make his own decisions about how to live his life. He was spouting things about God and about himself that people didnít understand. He stood out. He drew attention to himself. He wasógaspódifferent! So his neighbors thought he had lost his mind.

We donít think he had lost his mind. Why not? Because we see him as God Incarnate. We see him as living and proclaiming God and Godís will in ways that had never been done before. We see him revealing Godís truth in a new and powerful way. We donít think he was mad because we think he was right.

Which is fine, but we do have admit that Jesus wasnít exactly normal. That is, he wasnít exactly behaving the way his society and his culture expected him to act. He wasnít exactly normal, he wasnít behaving the way his society and his culture expected him to act because he was listening to a higher power than his society and his culture. He was listening to God, and he was doing what he believed God had called him to do. He was listening to God, and listening to God made him do things that caused his friends to think that he was nuts. Christianity began with a man who was so different, so countercultural, so frankly odd that people thought he had lost his mind.

And now the faith that calls him Lord has become to conventional. We Christians have become so ordinary. Nobody thinks our being Christians makes us nuts. True, there are some people who claim to be Christians who truly are mentally illóFred Phelps and the guy who publically burned the Quran come to mind. But people donít think theyíre mad because theyíre following Jesus. We just think theyíre mad period. Being Christian the way the world understands Christian today doesnít make anybody think youíve lost your mind.

Well, let me suggest that if we really were following Jesus Christ the world would think that we had lost our minds, just as Jesusí neighbors thought he had lost his. What would we be doing is we were really following Jesus Christ? Weíd be like Jesus. We would be listening to a higher power than the customs and traditions of our culture and even of our religion. Weíd be doing very countercultural things, just like Jesus was doing very countercultural things. We would be out in the streets opposing every war out country fights, because Jesus taught nonviolence. We would be out in the streets demanding real justice for the poor, because God cares for the poor and wants us to do the same. We would be refusing to obey unjust laws just like Jesus refused to obey laws that he thought were unjust, like the one that said you couldnít work to care for people on the Sabbath. We would be taking in the outcast and welcoming the alien, legal or not. We would be defending those whom our culture attacks, the Muslims, the sexual minorities, the undocumented immigrants. If we were truly followers of Jesus we would be doing all sorts of things that we arenít doing and that our society isnít doing. And people would think we were nuts, which is probably why we arenít doing those things.

Now, Iím not naÔve. I donít expect you or me immediately to start doing all of those things and so many more that our faith really calls us to do. But I think there is still an important point here, or rather some important questions that I think we need to ponder. To what extent do we let social and cultural convention stop us from being true follower of Jesus Christ? To what extent do we go along with the world to get along in the world rather than follow Jesus? To what extent are we more concerned with being respectable than with being faithful? Jesusí neighbors saw him as a threat to their way of life. Does anybody see us, or Christians generally, as any kind of threat to the American way of life, even to those aspects of the American way of life that embrace violence and perpetuate injustice? Does anybody think we have gone mad because we are such radical followers of the one whose neighbors thought he was mad? And more importantly: Should we be behaving in a way that would make them think we had lost our minds? It certainly is worth thinking about. Amen.