SERMON: Crazy Love

SERMON: Crazy Love

A sermon preached at St. Mary’s – Iffley, Rose Hill and Donnington by Clare Hayns on 9th June 2024

2 Corinthians 4. 13-5.1
Mark 3. 20-end

Crazy Love

The other day I had dinner at one of the colleges and met a chap who had studied law at Oxford, had got a place at a law chamber in London, and was enroute to becoming a successful barrister. He was doing pretty well, but he told me his main passion had never been law, and what he really wanted to do was to write comedy. He told me one day he decided to make a change to his life, and so he wrote to 20 different production companies seeing if they had a job for him; and got no answer from any of them. He then went and sat in their offices, one by one. He did this all whilst working in the chambers. 

All his friends and colleagues told him he was completely out of his mind, and it would lead nowhere.

He persisted. And on the very last one on his list he sat in the foyer until he was seen by the lead producer, who took his card but told him there was no work. He went home despondent. And that night he got a call from the producer. His assistant was suddenly sick, and was he available that evening to go to Wales for three months! He told me he left his job there and then, went to Wales to work for this company, and five years later he’s still there now working as a writer and producer on major comedy TV shows.

Although his family and friends thought he was crazy, I don’t think they went as far as trying to restrain him, and if they had done, I don’t imagine they would have had much success. 

To our gospel:

“When his family heard it, they went out to restrain Jesus, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind”. (Mark 3. 21)

People were saying ‘he’s has gone out of his mind’. The KJV ‘he is beside himself’. In modern language it would be ‘he’s gone completely crazy or ‘he’s mad’.

I’d like to caveat this as we’re not talking about mental ill-health here in the way we would understand it now. Having worked with people struggling with mental illness I know the language of ‘madness’ can be problematic. But here we are thinking of those who are considered ‘mad’ because they act in a way that is at odds with the norm, or they think in a way that is different to us.

 Jesus’ family were so concerned and confused by his actions they could only assume he was out of his mind. And the religious scholars came all the way from Jerusalem to argue that he ‘has Beelzebub’, which means he was demonic, satanic.

What was Jesus doing or saying that would elicit this kind of reaction from his family and from the scribes?

This is early on in his ministry and so it’s likely that only a few months before this, Jesus had been living with his family, working in his family business, as he had been for the past thirty years.

And then, probably quite suddenly from his family’s perspective, he had left the security of all he knew, gone to spent time in the desert, and was now living an itinerant life, gathering a crowd and creating a stir wherever he went. He had been curing everyone and anyone, had been releasing people from what the bible calls ‘unclean spirits’, and he was now gathering such a crowd he couldn’t even eat.

This was all so shocking to those who knew him and to those who were watching him, and the only way they could explain this was by saying he must either be out of his mind or be working for the devil.

They set out to literally restrain him. The verb used here is the same one that is used when Jesus was restrained in the Garden of Gethsemane. The idea that Jesus’s power could be restrained is of course ludicrous. But we can understand their concerns. His family were worried, not without good reason. People were beginning to question who he was, he was being watched by the religious leaders, who were questioning his rule breaking and authority. He was under threat, and so they, probably with all good intentions, set out to protect him from himself.

Can I invite you to look at this little passage from Mark’s gospel. It’s so cleverly constructed. It’s a classic ‘Markan Sandwich’, with a parable in the middle sandwiched between two chunks of text with a similar theme, this time about family.

If you look carefully, it begins with crowds, then family (Jesus birth family),  then scribes… then we have the parable about the strong man and the house, then scribes, Jesus’ family (now very much outside), and ends with the crowds being on the inside, and a redefinition of what family means. [1]

“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.” (Mark 2.34-35)

The little parable in the middle of the two sections about family is Jesus’ answer to the scribes who were accusing him of casting out demons in the name of Satan. He uses common sense in this story to argue that if he was Satan then how could he divide himself to defeat Satan – it makes no sense at all. ‘a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand’.

It’s hard now for us to understand quite how shocking Jesus’ words and actions here would have been to those who heard them, and to Mark’s readers, especially his teaching about family.

The widening and changing of the entire understanding of what family might mean would have been unfathomable to those who heard Jesus speak about this in an era where family ties were highly important. The idea that Jesus could describe the crowd, those people that he’d only just met, those who would normally be outside the family bond, as his mother and brother and sisters, would have been truly shocking.

The other reasons it was so shocking was Jesus was redefining norms about who’s in and who’s out. Those who were possessed by a demon, physically sick, all those who in Jesus’ culture were considered outsiders, they were all welcomed, forgiven, healed. And they weren’t just healed, they were now part of his family.

Jesus wasn’t out of his mind, he was doing exactly what he was called to be doing, healing the sick, releasing the bound, including the excluded, loving the unloved, creating a new family where all belong. And those who follow him today are invited to be part of this new family.

And we are also sometimes considered crazy, out of our minds as well. Because there is something inherently crazy about faith.

In our second reading from Corinthians, we are asked to believe that ‘the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus’. We believe that Jesus was eventually trapped, tied up, and killed, but he rose again, breaking even the bonds of death. And through him we are also raised in the same way.

What’s most important to us isn’t just the here and now, just the things we can touch and see. Even if our physical bodies are declining (which they all are!), we are still being renewed day by day by God’s spirit:

‘Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day’ (2 Corinthians 4.16)… ‘we look at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4.18).

Faith invites us to have an eternal perspective, to worry less about our declining bodies, our strongly held views, or even our political viewpoints.

We are part of this newly defined family, and so are invited to see one another as fellow brothers and sisters. We’re not individuals coming to church to say our own prayers and then going back to our families.

We will shortly gather round the communion table, and each time we do that we are remembering we are the Body of Christ. We are part of this holy family, where each one of us matters and is loved and included. And that changes the way we look at one another because, believe it or not, the people sitting round you are part of your family! Have a look at one another. These are your brothers and sisters.

It’s good to let ourselves be shocked once again by the craziness of our faith.

 I’d like to end with a quote from Bishop Michael Currie who wrote a book called ‘Crazy Christians”. He challenges us to be a little braver in the way we live our lives, risking being thought of as ‘out of our minds’ every now and again.

“We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And those who follow him, those who would be his disciples, who would live as and be the people of the way. It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness”. [2]

[1] You can see the structure if you look carefully in Mark 3 – Crowds (3.20) – family (3.21) – scribes (3.22) – parable (3.23-27) – scribes (3.30) – family (3.31) – crowds (3.33)

[2] Crazy Christians: A call to follow Jesus, Michael Curry, 2013