Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 28, 2018

2018.01.28 “Enter The Crazies” – Mark 1: 21 – 28

Central United Methodist Church
Enter The Crazies
Mark 1: 21 – 28
Pastor David L. Haley
January 28th, 2018

The Scream

“Edvard Munch, The Scream”

 

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, the Revised Standard Version

     

Today, I want to revisit a sermon preached 9 years ago, entitled “Enter the Crazies.” (How many remember?) The reason I want to revisit it is because, sadly, in the intervening years it has become not less, but more relevant.

The idea for “Enter the Crazies” came from a sermon preached by The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler in 2006, who was then and still is the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, GA. In his sermon Rev. Candler describes an experience I recognize, as will many of us. 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.” [“The Crazies”, preached on Day 1, January 29, 2006, http://www.day1.net].

Unfortunately, most of us know what he is talking about. I have served in seven different ministry settings, both rural and urban, and in every place, Rev. Candler’s experience has been true. Just when things were going well, “enter the crazies.” We go to church to peace and comfort, some lesson of love; and, instead, what we find is some crazy person, disturbing us.

“Wait,” you say? “Let me get this right. Pastor, are you calling us crazy?” No. Maybe. Yes. All of us are on the spectrum of what is normal, or abnormal, whatever that is. All of us have “issues” of some kind or another, which make us act out. Some of us have addictions, some of us suffer from various forms of mental illness. Even those of us who consider ourselves “normal” have problems; as the old saying goes, “All the world is mad except Me and Thee and sometimes I wonder about Thee.” Being human includes this as part of our human experience; where did we ever get the idea that “church” would ever be a crazy free zone? What I’m calling the “crazies” today are when our issues become disruptive and threatening to our relationships and our health and our safety, not only to us but to others. When we cannot tie them to any known pathology, some would go so far as to call them evil. Think, for example, of the Las Vegas shooter,  Stephen Paddock; investigators do not yet know WHY he premeditatively killed 58 people. Was he angry, deranged, or just evil?

Since I preached this sermon almost 10 years ago, the situation has become more troubling, evoking fear in all of us. Because, now, it’s not just a question of people being disruptive, but rather of them being murderous. Because of the easy access to lethal weapons (easier than access to mental health care) – no one knows when or where the crazies are going to erupt. Will it be in a workplace, as in San Bernardino? In a restaurant, as in Orlando? At an outdoor concert, as Las Vegas? At a church, as in Texas? In a school, as in New Town? This week, the shooting at Marshall County High School, in Benton, KY, where a 15 yo showed up with a handgun killed two and injured 19 others, was my high school, the place where I grew up. But do you know that this was the 11th school shooting since the beginning of the year? It is becoming difficult – if not impossible – to tell, who the crazies are, and when and where they will pop up. It may well be that our greatest failure is not only that this continues to happen, but that we have become normalized to it.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, many among us feel like the crazies have now taken over the hospital, and are running (ruining?) the country. The values most of us believe in mostly strongly, are the exact opposite of those which now appear to be running the show, whether it is anti-education, anti-science, anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-women, even anti-truth! The old crazies that we thought were dead – such as racism and white nationalism and misogyny and even glib talk of nuclear war – have come back like zombies to confront us again; the crazies have taken over. When and where and how do we begin to stop this?

The answer is suggested in Mark’s Gospel, when – for the first time in Jesus’ ministry – the crazies appear. In Mark’s Gospel, this occurs just 20 verses into chapter 1. In these 20 verses, Jesus shows up, is baptized, does a sojourn in the wilderness, begins his ministry, and calls disciples; so far, so good. But on their very first outing, just where you’d think they’d be safe – in church, no less – it happens. A man who had apparently had been sitting there calmly and civilly, became disturbed – demon possessed, as Mark describes him, in the terminology of the time – and stands up and yells at Jesus: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Wouldn’t that have interrupted the offertory! Thank God, at least, guns had not been invented!

What to do? Have the ushers escort him out? Hit the panic button under the pulpit? Sadly, not only schools but churches are having to think seriously about such things, and formulate plans for violent or active shooter situations. (When the day comes when a pastor has to wear a sidearm to church under his/her robe, is the time for me to retire.)

Jesus Casting Out DemonsIn Jesus’ case, he neither ignores the man nor becomes impatient, and he certainly does not allow himself to be taken captive. Instead, with authority he addresses the man – or more properly, the demon possessing the man – saying:

“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!”  

Do you wonder, as I wonder, what Jesus looked like when he did this? Was he angry, or did he remain calm? Did he yell, or did he whisper? Did he touch the man, or remain at a distance? Did he point at the man, make a gesture of invitation, or one of authority? Quiet! Stop! Come out!

As a pastor, as a firefighter/paramedic, I’ve seen many confrontations over the years; thankfully, none were deadly. In college, once when I was alone working in the ER, , a man walked through the door with his hand in his back pocket and said he had a bomb. That was an interesting conversation; I still remember my stomach turning upside down. Eventually, a police officer subdued him; fortunately there was no bomb. Once, on a medical call, a man attacked a police officer; our fire officer ordered us to stay out of it; thankfully, reinforcements arrived. On domestic calls or with intoxicated or disturbed individuals, you never knew when they were going to snap, calm one moment and beserk the next. Or, who they would talk to, maybe me, maybe someone else. But I will tell you this: always the best way was to remain calm, and to speak with comfort, confidence, and authority. This is the way I see and hear Jesus confronting this man.

Confrontation – even real ministry – to crazies does not mean bending and being shaped by their agendas or trying to cater to their endless needs or responding to their complains and demands. Real ministry means listening and speaking the truth and doing the right thing in love, even when the “right thing” may be difficult for everybody.I cannot tell you the exact right things to do in the face of all the complex problems we face today, whether racism, hatred for the stranger and immigrant, the opioid crisis, or gun violence. But I will say that there does come a time when we need to stand and say like Jesus: “Quiet! Stop! Come out!” And then work together to find a solution, to stop the hate, to stop the dying, to stop the killing. In fact, we are sworn to do so.

Today, as Ed and Patty affirm for Baby Charlie his baptismal vows – and we re-affirm ours with him – we use a words and a ritual that go back to the very beginning of the church, almost to the time of Jesus. As with most rituals, often we go on autopilot and fail to realize what we are saying, which is unfortunate, especially in regard to the first two, literally the entrance vows to the church, which say this:

On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do we? In whatever forms they present themselves? When is the time and how is the way, to stand up to the forms of evil – the crazies – in our time and place, and say, calmly, confidently, and with authority: “Quiet! Stop! Come out!” even if it means putting ourselves on the line. Because in the face of evil of any kind, there are only three choices: to be perpetrator, a bystander, or resister. By our baptismal vows, we are sworn to resist.

With life-changing authority, Jesus speaks. To the crazies who show up around him. To the crazies who show up around us. To the crazy inside each of us: “Quiet! Stop! Come out!”

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