Proper 5B

June 11, 2018

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.”


Even before I knew I would be coming to Newport I listened to a book that provided me with some good background information about Jackson County. It was a biography of Jerry Lee Lewis by a man named Rick Bragg. 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. I’m not sure how often he played at a Jackson County nightspot, but I know he spent a few memorable nights in this neck of the woods. Jerry Lee Lewis isn’t 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.


It was an interesting book. It sensitized me to the extent of the raw emotion that Jerry Lee Lewis generated. 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 even 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.


Knowing what I know about Jerry Lee Lewis and the commotion he could create helps me understand the scene that our scripture lesson describes. Like Jerry Lee Lewis, Jesus was operating in a way that was unprecedented, and many people just didn’t know what to think about it. The desperate and disenfranchised people that Jesus was healing and helping weren’t confused about his goodness, but many of the more conventional religious people of the day – some of whom were members of his own family, were scandalized by his behavior. His unconventional behavior left some people thinking he was out of his mind, others thinking he was an instrument of the devil, and others trusting that he was doing the will of God. Jesus truly was God’s wildest child.


And I’m thinking that there’s a type of wildness that’s admirable. I’m not talking about the stereotypical kind of wildness that moves people to be promiscuous and intoxicated. That’s not the kind of wildness that Jesus exhibited – I’m talking about the kind of wildness that enables you to break the constraints that need to be broken. Jerry Lee Lewis was wild in that way, but that’s not the only way that he was out of control. Jerry Lee Lewis didn’t play by the conventional musical rules. He didn’t play the piano properly – he played it like he was trying to set it on fire. And it set people’s hearts on fire. Of course he also set his life on fire in some destructive ways.


An authentically wild person is different from a stereotypically wild person. An authentically wild person is untamed by the conventions of society, and as I say, that’s not such a bad thing. Many of the expectations of society don’t necessarily bring out the best in us, and it’s both inspiring and unsetting to encounter an authentically wild person.


In my way of thinking Jerry Lee Lewis was both stereotypically and authentically wild. 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 his life 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 helps 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. There’s a video on youtube from one of his early performances where he’s playing a piano that’s surrounded by these young men who were absolutley carried away by his music. As they were dancing around would reach out to touch him like they were touching a god. He was doing something so different from anything they had ever experienced they sort of lost their minds.


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 such a groundswell of emotion without the use of a piano or guitar or microphone, but Jesus was the rockstar of his day.


People were released from their demons and their troubles by his very presence, and it caused 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 teaching and touching and healing!


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. And I’m not unsympathetic with their point of view. None of us really want our worlds to be upended, and few of us are aware of the ways we’ve tamed the authentically wild nature of Jesus.


I guess it’s to be expected, but it’s sort of sad to me that we’ve so thoroughly domesticated Jesus. I know I don’t feel very unsettled by what I know about Jesus, and in a way that makes me think I don’t know him as well as I should. We’ve made Jesus 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 his biographer 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. His nickname is The Killer, and that’s a name he tries to live up to.


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 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 probably 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.


One of things that has been good for me in my work as a pastor is the way in which I’ve always been confronted with people who are living in desperate circumstances. This is not to say that I’m happy that there are so many people who find themselves in terrible situations, but those people serve to remind me how little power I have, and they keep me from living under the illusion that things are as they should be in this world. I know there are many people who do many things to contribute to their own troubles, but this world is not organized in a fair way. I hate the extent of suffering that I have been exposed to in my work as a pastor, but it’s kept me from becoming complacent.


This is not to say that I’ve figured out what needs to change and have worked tirelessly to make those changes, but knowing the names and faces of people who are sick and lost and rejected and poverty stricken keeps me humbly praying to God for help.


Of course you don’t have to be a pastor to be in touch with desperate people. I know we all have encounters with people who are living in desperate circumstances, but as a preacher, I’ve been forced to make sure my words match up with the reality I encounter, and I find this world to be very challenging and confusing. I don’t have easy answers. On one hand it’s easy for me to say that the answer to every difficulty in life is to trust God and love Jesus. I do think that’s good advice, and in an ultimate sense this will solve your problems, but it won’t put food on the table or shoes on your children. And it’s knowing that there are so many sick, and hungry and poverty stricken people in this world that keeps me from being perfectly happy with the way things are.


I don’t really want my world to get turned upside down, but I’m thinking we need to remember how disturbing Jesus was to the world that he stepped in to. And it makes me think our love for Jesus shouldn’t be such a safe thing. Jesus was disturbing to the religious people of his day, and we religious people of our day should keep this in mind.


Jesus wasn’t just a wild man. He was wild in a very specific way, and that’s the thing we are challenged to understand and to follow. We are called to be as radically loving as he was, and that will always be a disturbing thing to this world.


Thanks be to God for the uncontrollable love of his wildest child for us and for this world. May we have the untamed wisdom and courage  to be his faithful followers.


Thanks be to God.





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