Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 1, 2009

2009.02.01 “Enter The Crazies”

Central United Methodist Church

“Enter The Crazies”

Mark 1: 21 – 28

Pastor David L. Haley

February 1st, 2009

“They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.  They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.  They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. ” – Mark 1: 21 – 28


A few years ago, in a sermon on the radio program Day 1, The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, GA., shared a church experience I recognized, and I think most of us will as well.  It is, at the same time, is a profound warning we ought to consider.  Listen to what Rev. Candler said:

“I have served five churches in my ordained life, and it never fails. In every place I have ever ministered, just when things are beginning to go right, the crazies show up. Just when I am having a delightful conversation, some crazy person interrupts.  Just when the committee has reached a spectacular decision, the crazy one jumps up to speak. Just when it looks like the entire congregation is happy, the crazies show up angry and upset.” [I want to acknowledge my indebtedness to Rev. Candler’s sermon, “The Crazies”, preached on Day 1, January 29, 2006,].

        Unfortunately, most of us know what Rev. Candler is talking about.  I have had 7 different ministry settings, both rural and urban, and in every place, Rev. Candler’s experience has been true: every place, every church, has its “crazies.”  In my experience it’s worse in urban churches, which seem to have more than their share. We go to church to hear some word of comfort, some lesson of love; instead, we hear a crazy person hollering at us.

        And of course, it’s not just churches.  Every institution has such people; they might even be part of the management.  We ask, “How did that person get there?”  We sometimes even find usually reasonable people acting crazy, even in our families. We ask our spouse, or our son or daughter, “Where did that crazy remark come from?”  Sometimes the craziness even comes from inside us: just ask Rod Blagojevich or Ted Haggard.

Not surprisingly, the same thing happened to Jesus. It began early on, just when he was starting out, just when things were starting to go right, and continued throughout his ministry. 

For example, in today’s text, just after Jesus gathered the first of his disciples, he began public ministry by going to the synagogue to preach. The people were astounded and impressed, but as soon as he began, the crazies showed up.  Although they go by different names, in every Gospel, there appear people who are disturbed, crazy, possessed by demons or afflictions.

      In today’s reading, it was a man with an “unclean” spirit who showed up in synagogue yelling, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 

      How that crazy man got in the synagogue we’ll never know. The text does not say whether this man was a stranger, or a regular attendee, someone there every Sabbath.  It does not say whether he was an usher, a member of Trustees, or Staff-Parish, although I have my suspicions.

Throughout human history, we have tried to understand such people. In the gospels, they were labeled as people “possessed by demons” or “unclean spirits,” first century understandings of what we would today classify as forms of physical or mental illness.

If the moment is right and we are with people we trust, we call them crazy.  We may roll our eyes when mention is made of them. As for the people themselves, we may avoid them, or become impatient or even be rude to them.  

In order to prevent misunderstanding, let me explain who I’m talking about, who the “crazies” are. 

First, there are those in church, as in life, who suffer from various forms of mental illness. Although estimates vary (one study, for example, found 81.5 percent of the population of Manhattan, New York, had signs and symptoms of mental distress (Srole, 1962) – the current prevalence estimate is that about 20 percent of the U.S. population are affected by mental disorders during any given year.  They are in our communities, they are in our churches, they are in our families.  Many suffer from one or other of the two most prevalent forms of mental illness, either bipolar disease (which we used to call manic-depression), or schizophrenia.

We know — though we sometimes forget — it is not their fault. The best scientific explanation is that it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. We can no more blame “crazy” people for their behavior than we can diabetics or epileptics for theirs. Because of their altered perception of themselves and the world, their world is as real to them as ours is to us. Along the spectrum of “normal” human behavior, in severe forms their illness sometimes makes them act what we call “crazy.” 

I want to say that if you have someone in your family who suffers from any form of mental illness, my heart goes out to you. In some ways, I don’t think we have made much progress in the treatment of mental illness, not nearly as much as in the treatment of physical illness.  We don’t still have “Bedlam” as the London mental institution used to be called, but I could take you to places that would make you wonder. Treatment – usually very expensive – is available, but who will pay for it? Third party insurance is difficult enough, and if you don’t have insurance at all where do you go?  All of us, I’m sure, have heard the horror stories that families with mentally ill members go through.  What I pledge to you as Pastor is that I will support you and pray for you, and help you find the most appropriate and affordable care for yourself and your family.

And then there is the whole issue of compliance. Many mental illnesses can be successfully treated with drugs, but first of all, who can afford them; and secondly, all those drugs have side effects; and thirdly, when patients take the drugs, they begin to feel “OK”, and decide, “I don’t need this anymore.”  And then they begin to act crazy again, sometimes to the point of becoming dangerous to themselves and to others.  And then, as hard as it might be, you have to do what you have to do to protect yourself and your family and the person you love, even from themselves. I’m sure we all agree, any family that has a family member who suffers from mental illness, our heart goes out to them for the tough issues they have to deal with and the equally tough choices they have to make.

But there’s another kind of “crazy” people I’m talking about in churches, and those are not people who are mentally ill, just neurotic: people with “issues”.  The origins of those issues may be in family and personality, but the arena of their acting out is often in church.  It may have nothing to do with “church”, but we in the church – as a place welcome to all — are the ones who become embroiled, like bystanders at a train wreck. I’m talking about people with issues of authority and anger and control, people who are lonely, people drawn to church but for the wrong reasons. Such people are sometimes even called, “crazymakers,” because like Rev. Candler said, just when things are looking up, you can count on them to show up and make things crazy.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in 35 years of ministry, it’s that ministry is rarely neat.  If, in the church, as we say, we welcome everyone, then don’t be surprised when we find all kinds of people with all kinds of issues (sometimes, it seems, even more than our share.)  Secondly, because these issues come out of our lives – our upbringing and circumstances and personality – I’ve learned never to take them personally. On the other hand, I’ve also learned that the person who yells the loudest or engages in the most extreme behavior shouldn’t get all the attention. 

Sadly, let me also say that sometimes the people in the church with issues are the pastors. The role of pastor, with its intimacy in people’s lives, and acclaim, sometimes attracts people for the wrong reason, people with issues they are blind to, which eventually get acted out. (Again, the case of Ted Haggard, prominent in the news this week, is an example.) The Roman Catholic Church is paying the price for too many priests with fixated adolescent sexuality, some of whom become predators and monsters. (See the documentary, Deliver Us From Evil.)  Occasionally we get them in the Protestant Church too, but our ordination screening processes are doing a better job of screening such candidates out. 

I told you at the beginning that with God’s help and yours I am determined to take care of my self: my relationships, my physical and mental health.  Because as I think any pastor with any experience knows, there but for the grace of God go I.

Finally, there’s one more kind of crazy: Sometimes the crazy people are us.  Let’s be honest:  there are times in life, when we are lonely or unhappy or depressed or surging or sagging in hormones (both men and women), when we, too, become kind of “crazy.” When our overly egotistical perspective keeps us from seeing the truth about ourselves as God and others see us.  When we don’t act right or treat others like we ought.  When church becomes more to us that it ought to be. When we do the right things for the wrong reasons.  That’s when we – whether pastors or people — may be the ones who need help, and often are the last to know.  That’s when we may need our church family to speak the truth to us in love.

I read an interesting discussion a few years ago in regard to whether “spirituality” was sufficient to address emotional and psychological issues.  The conclusion was “No”, that they are two different realms, and while we may be growing spiritually, that does not free us from the need for therapists and counselors to address our emotional and psychological issues.  In fact each may be arrested or advanced by the other.

Now, that the church should attract all these kinds of “crazies” is not necessarily a bad thing.  Every healthy church should have its share of crazy people; what better place for us to go?  Look at the gospels, look at Jesus’ ministry.  The first people to show up after he called the disciples were the crazies: the demon possessed, the people with unclean spirits, the people with something wrong.

We could regret this fact, we could complain and lament, we could pretend – like some churches do – that such folks do not exist. Or — worse — like some diseased churches, we could let the crazy people set the agenda, such that the church becomes diseased as they are diseased. As distasteful as this might be, you know as well as I know that it sometimes happens.

And you may believe this, and may agree even less, but with the more frequent occurrence of church shootings, I have heard convincing arguments, by pastors whose congregations draw larger numbers of disturbed or violent such as are sometimes among the homeless, of having armed security.  As Pastor Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John’s Downtown United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, told us last year at the urban ministry conference, “We’ve sure that our security guards are not the only ones packing.”  Isn’t that a scary thought?

So this is what I like about Jesus’ response.  Jesus neither ignores the crazies or becomes impatient with them, and he certainly does not allow himself to be taken captive by them.  Instead, he speaks the truth to them, setting them free.  Jesus said to the man:

“Quiet! Get out of him!” The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly — and got out. Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!”  


Real ministry to the crazies does not mean bending and being shaped by their agendas or trying to cater to their endless needs or responding to their boundless complaining. Real ministry means speaking the truth and doing the right thing in love, even when the right thing to do might be difficult for all involved.

A healthy church is where each of us can bring our craziness not to run rampant over each other, but face to face with Jesus, who reveals to us the truth about ourselves, breaking our bondage to our selves, and setting us free.  Healthy individuals are those who do not deny their craziness once it is revealed, but seek help and healing wherever it may be found, not only at church, but including and especially at church.

Because, here, with life-changing authority, Jesus still speaks.  To the crazies who show up around him.  To the crazies who show up around us.  To the crazy inside each of us. And now, as then – in time – he sets us free.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.



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