Proper 5b, June 7, 2015

June 8, 2015

God’s Wildest Child
Mark 3:20-35

3:20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This morning’s scripture lesson is an interesting circumstance to ponder. It’s particularly interesting to me in light of a book I’ve recently listened to as I’ve gone about my mindless outdoor labors. And my sense of what was going on between Jesus and the crowd and his family and the authorities is largely colored by what I’ve learned about Jerry Lee Lewis. For some odd reason I chose to listen to a new biography of Jerry Lee Lewis written by a man named Rick Bragg, and it was a fascinating story. Being the relative youngster that I am, I wasn’t very aware of the craziness that Jerry Lee Lewis instigated, but I have come to understand what a wild child he was. He’s not God’s wildest child, but he’s a contender.

Before Jerry Lee Lewis came along I don’t think anyone understood how much ruckus you could cause with a piano. Who would have thought that you could get thrown out of Bible College for the way you played the piano, but he did. And Jerry Lee Lewis’ first hit, A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, got banned from most radio stations in the south soon after it came out because it offended the sensibilities of the preachers and politicians.

I had no idea how much raw emotion Jerry Lee Lewis generated when he came along. His friends, his fans and his family have faithfully adored him, but he’s always been the object of a whole lot of scorn, and he deserved all of it – the praise and the criticism. Different people saw Jerry Lee Lewis in different ways – which is understandable because Jerry Lee Lewis sees himself in different ways. He has a strong belief in God, and he believes God gave him the gift of playing music the way he did, but he doesn’t know what to think about it all. He loved getting people all worked up, but it wasn’t always in such a good way. He has this sense that he was doing the work of the Lord and the devil all at the same time. He is truly one of God’s wild children.

And there is a sense in which I appreciate wildness in a person. This is not to say I condone licentious self-indulgence, but that’s not the only way to be a wild child. While we often associate being wild with being sexually promiscuous and chemically experimental, what I’m thinking is that those are the stereotypical ways of being wild. It takes a lot more creativity and personal initiative to be authentically wild than to be stereotypically wild. I consider an authentically wild person to be untamed by the conventions of society, and that’s not such a bad thing. The expectations of society don’t necessarily bring out the best in us – such expectations stifle creativity and can discourage us from being our most authentic selves.

In my way of thinking Jerry Lee Lewis was both stereotypically and authentically wild, but his stereotypical wildness detracted from his authentic wildness. He was inspirational and he was destructive. He moved people in good ways, and he caused tremendous heartbreak. He pushed the limits of music, and he wrecked his own body. As I listened to the story of this remarkable man I found myself wanting to have some of his fearlessness, but I’m grateful that I haven’t created the kinds of problems he generated for himself and others.

Hearing the story of Jerry Lee Lewis has helped me understand the dynamics that were swirling around Jesus. I’ve watched a couple of old videos of live performances of Jerry Lee Lewis, and he caused people to lose their minds – and it wasn’t just the women. I saw this one video where his piano was surrounded by these young men who were carried away by his music. They would reach out to touch him like they were touching a god. He was doing something so different from anything they had ever experienced before they were carried away by the situation.

Because I’ve seen what a man can do by playing a piano in a new and unbounded way it’s easy for me to imagine what happened when Jesus came along and was able to heal people’s damaged souls in such a new and powerful way. It’s not easy to imagine how it was that he was able to generate the groundswell of emotion that he did without the use of a piano or guitar or microphone, but he was the rockstar of his day. People were released from their demons and their troubles by his presence, and it cause a powerful commotion. Jesus disrupted the way that people understood the reality of God, and that caused even more chaos than a Jerry Lee Lewis performance. Talk about a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on – that’s exactly what happened when Jesus showed up and started talking and touching people!

And it’s easy to see why it got the attention of the religious authorities. Their job was to maintain the established understanding of God and the proper protocols of faith. They weren’t interested in this new way that God’s spirit was being manifested in their midst – they were advocates of the old way that God was understood.

I guess it’s to be expected, but it’s sort of sad to me that we’ve so thoroughly domesticated Jesus. The Jesus that Christianity has defined him to be is welcome at all of the nicest places, and it’s a scandal for anyone who is officially associated with Jesus to show up at any controversial venue.

A pastor who works on the staff of the Arkansas United Methodist Conference told me that her supervisor got some phone calls when she was seen on the news participating in the Prayer Vigil that was held at the Governor’s Mansion that was appealing for the governor to veto the bill that would have allowed discrimination against the LGBT community. One of the comments that was made about her was that they wondered why she was there when she should have been at work. And that’s a remarkable thing. What is the work of a pastor if it’s not to join with others in prayer for our laws to be less discriminatory?

I feel so bad about what we’ve done to Jesus. We’ve made him so safe, and so compatible with what we already believe.

They made a movie about Jerry Lee Lewis back in 1989 that I haven’t seen, but according to my book he was terribly offended by the way he was portrayed. In his mind they cleaned him up too much. They turned him in to sort of a friendly and clueless bumpkin, and that’s not who he was. He was determined, unsettling, and dangerous. He had an edge and you didn’t want to get in his way.

I fear that we’ve done the same thing to Jesus. We’ve made him much more commercially appealing than he really was. It’s true that he was loved by great crowds of people, but most of those people were terribly desperate for access to food and health and work and to God. The people who flocked to him were largely disenfranchised from the essentials of life and the community of faith.

Jesus speaks of this possibility of committing an unforgivable sin – which is about as harsh of an accusation that he ever made. If you’ve ever worried that you may have committed such a sin you can rest assured that you haven’t, because I think the sin Jesus was addressing is the sin of being so self-assured of your rightness about God and everything else that you aren’t even willing for God to change your mind. That is the unforgivable sin – being unwilling for your view of God to be adjusted by the very presence of God.

The officially unrighteous people had no problem hearing what Jesus had to say and being touched by his words. It was the righteous and upstanding people who were unsettled by what Jesus was doing and who he was touching.

The fact that this church is a place where desperate people find some sustenance is one of the things that makes this place so beautiful, but in all honesty it’s also one of the things that has begun to get to me. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve grown to be sort of weary of the number of people who come to our door in need of help. And they really do need help. Yes, many of them are victims of their own bad decisions – they’ve fed their own demons in many ways, but many others are victims of uninvited demons – things like disease, or crime, or social stigma, or our dehumanizing economy. There are so many people who come here in need of some kind of help, and it’s so good that people see this church as a source of life in a death-dealing world, but I’ve grown tired in some significant ways.

This is one of the reasons it’s time for me to relocate, and I’m so happy that you are getting a pastor who is so full of fresh grace that she will have what she needs to deal with the circumstances. I’m not feeling as authentically wild as this church needs for the pastor to be, and I the timing is right for me to go. I don’t think it’s going to be so hard for me to be a wild child in Newport, and if I will allow Jesus to be my guide I’m thinking that’s how I’ll learn to be and to help others be that way as well.

I only met Carissa last Monday, and I don’t really know how wild her soul really is, but I trust that she’s reasonably out from under the control of those forces that try to keep our minds narrow, our behavior predictable, and our hearts contained. Because such spiritual freedom is what it takes to do God’s work in this place – as it does in every place. God needs an authentically wild child in this pulpit and God needs authentically wild children in the pews. God needs us all to be hungry to hear the audacious call of God to be the boldly loving community that God’s wildest child ever – Jesus Christ – has called for us to be!

Thanks be to God – Amen!


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