June 9, 2024

I preached a few Sundays ago about Kit Smart and the importance of being crazy enough to, as he wrote, “Hear the Hallelujah from the heart of God.”  I’d like to expand on that notion a bit this morning and talk about what it can really mean to go “out of your mind.”

An absolutely amazing picture is painted in our scripture reading from Mark this morning.  Crowds were gathering to hear Jesus speak, and it’s clear that for many, it was a kind of circus sideshow.  They wanted to come hear the crazy man.  In the same sentence that Mark says the crowds were swarming around him, he points out that a lot of people who heard Jesus speak thought he was a few Fruit Loops shy of a whole bowl.  The situation was so distressing to Jesus’ family that they were trying to get him to back off – maybe disappear for a while.  Listen to this: “and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”  And apparently Jesus didn’t do much to convince the crowds that he had all his marbles.  Because when they told him his mother and brothers were there to see him, he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And then he looked at the crowds gathered around to listen to him, and he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Don’t you think if he were concerned about the rumors and trying to demonstrate that his elevator went to the top floor, he would have said something a bit more conventional, like “Oh, I’m glad they came to see me.  Tell them I’ll be right there.”  If I may be so bold, I think Jesus may have seen some merit in being “out of his mind.”  Let me try to explain that.

You and I are so often like those crowds who gathered for the sideshow, who came to spend a fun afternoon chuckling under their breath while they listened to the lunatic from Galilee.  The media moguls have figured that out; they know what turns us on.  From the so-called “reality shows” to the kind of stories that often pass for news these days, what we so often are drawn to are caricatures of humanity that are so broadly and outrageously drawn that they can serve to reinforce everyone’s sense of their own normalcy – the validity of their own view of the world.  It’s a lot like going to hear a so-called prophet we think is off his rocker.  Chuckling at him makes us feel superior and fortifies our own convictions.  We all find that very satisfying.  The problem is that, whether we’re talking about relational ethics, politics, or theology, simply having one’s own predilections and prejudices strengthened doesn’t necessarily lead to greater wisdom or truth.  Witness the cancer of retrenched partisan ideology that has become our political system.  Both sides in this current run for the presidency paint their opponent in the most extreme terms they can think of.  It helps their own supporters feel superior and confident in their leader. Don’t we all do it? Depending on which end of the political spectrum you are on, the other guy is either a senile, doddering, old fool, or a megalomaniac out to destroy our democracy.

Truth is, we spend most of our time in our own minds.  We are marinated, basted, and sautéed in the ideas that have formed us; we swim in the ocean of our own thinking; we wrap ourselves in the comfortable blanket of the world view carefully crafted in the factory of our minds.  There is a certain arrogance in this business of living constantly in our minds.  Our unshakeable and utter dependence on the validity of what we think we know carries the implied assumption that any of us is capable of comprehending truth all by ourselves, that we can actually grasp reality and know with omnipotent certainty divine and eternal intentions and determinations.  It is the idolatry of setting one’s own mind on a pedestal as if it were the epitome of Divine Intention.  Clergy are particularly susceptible to this kind of idolatry.  The great German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this danger well.  While preparing today’s sermon I stumbled upon a remarkable phrase from Bonhoeffer dredged up by William Willimon.  He wrote about “the curse of theology.”  Bonhoeffer (writing in the day when all clergy were presumed to be males – so excuse the exclusive language) wrote, “The greatest difficulty for the pastor stems from his theology.  He knows all there is to be known about sin and forgiveness . . . The peak of theological craftiness is to conceal necessary and wholesome unrest under such self-justification . . . The conscience has been put to sleep.  Theology becomes a science by which one learns to excuse everything and justify everything . . . The theologian knows that he cannot be shot out of the saddle by other theologians.  Everything his theology admits is justified.  This is the curse of theology.”1  That’s quite a comment from one of the world’s greatest theologians.  What Bonhoeffer refers to as “necessary and wholesome unrest” is that unsettling word from Jesus, that business of going “out of your mind,” that many pastors try to avoid by tying their theologies up in neat little ribbons and bows.  Whenever you hear a preacher (including this one) issue an unequivocal declaration of what “the Bible says,” or what “God wants,” be afraid, be very afraid.

I think Jesus would have us go “out of our minds” from time to time.  I think he wanted us to see a larger world than the one that neatly fits into the box of our preconceptions and expectations.  I think that’s why he always said things that surprised, disturbed, and even shocked his listeners – things like “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” and “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division! . . . father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother,” and “Who are my mother and my brothers? . . . Here are my mother and my brothers!”  He loved to confound people’s expectations; he always found a way to throw them off balance, to get them “out of their minds.”  You and I could stand to get out of our minds from time to time.

What is it to be “out of your mind?”  First of all, I think it’s a wonderful expression of humility.  If I’m willing to step outside of my own world view long enough to entertain another perspective, I just may be able to stop worshiping at the shrine of my own truth.  Humility seems to be a rare commodity these days.  Folks are convinced that those who disagree with them are delusional, wrong-headed, or, in the extreme, communists, socialists, fascists, or instruments of the devil.  I love the old bumper sticker we used to see every now and then.  It simply said, “Have you ever stopped to consider that you might be wrong?”  Getting out of your own mind, if even for a brief excursion, is a great way to let a little air out of an inflated ego.

Secondly, to go “out of your mind” is to expand your world view in a way that shifts perspective and opens you to greater insight and greater possibilities.  A world that fits inside one’s own small brain is a very little world indeed.  There’s a whole wide universe of ideas, realities, and truths out there.  And none of us can ever master them all.  If you can practice stepping outside of the reality that you’ve constructed in your head, it can be truly astounding what you can learn.  It’s a scary thing to do.  Once we admit that there’s more truth than we know, it can shake our confidence and make us afraid that our whole world might collapse on us.  But if we muster the courage to look further, and experience more broadly and deeply those alien ideas that don’t always fit our assumptions, we gain not only more awareness, but a greater understanding of how little we truly grasp.  That’s what folks back in the time of Samuel couldn’t figure out.  Every nation around them had a king.  It was the thing to do.  So they wanted a king so they could be like all the other nations.  They couldn’t think any further than that.  It was all that their minds could grasp, and it turned out to be disastrous.  It wouldn’t be the first time in history that a nation got stuck in a rut due to a lack of vision.

Finally, to be out of your mind is to establish a greater bond with those around you.  Maybe that’s the deeper truth behind Jesus’ words about his mother and brothers.  He said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Knowing what is “the will of God” is pretty tricky stuff, I admit.  But the task of searching for that will, and striving always to get closer to comprehending it takes us away from being embroiled in our own agendas, and needs, and persuasions.  It puts us on common ground with one another because when we acknowledge that it’s the Lord’s will and not our own that’s determinative, we can no longer separate ourselves from one another through judgment.

I’m very pleased to be in church full of people who are always going “out of their minds.”  There is a culture here of searching, growing, listening, and learning.  It is very healthy.  We have many opportunities to speak with one another and to listen. I’m confident that you will all continue to demonstrate the humility that comes with knowing none of us has a monopoly on truth, and that you will make the love that you have for one another manifest in knowing each other to be your own brothers and sisters.  Because of that, I always love our times of eating, and sharing, and listening. After all, it’s a great opportunity to get “out of your mind.”

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care, cited by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource, June 10, 2012.

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