Sunday, June 10, 2012
Sermon - Like Falling in Love
Like Falling in Love
James Sledge June 10, 2012
So, Jesus’ family thought he had taken leave of his senses, that he was out of his mind. Probably not the most unusual occurrence in families. Families frequently think a child is acting in ways that aren’t rational. And on occasion I’ve had parents come to me as a pastor, seeking assistance in some sort of intervention they were planning for a child they thought had taken leave of his or her senses. But that’s pretty rare.
However, I’ve had a lot of dealings with another situation where people can seem to have lost touch with reality. It’s a common condition, one that afflicts most all of us at some point in our lives. It’s usually called “falling in love.”
Falling in love leads people to do any number of less than completely rational things. There’s a good reason that people who are in love say, “I’m just crazy about Jane,” or John or whomever. People who are in love will drive for hours and hours just to spend a brief bit of time with their beloved. Natural tightwads will inexplicably experience bouts of extravagant gift giving. Meticulously laid out career plans may be put on hold or abandoned altogether. And sometimes such behavior becomes too much for friends and family to sit idly by, and they feel the need to stage some sort of rescue or intervention. Someone needs to reconnect the person with reality.
Jesus’ family seems to be engaged in just such an activity in today’s gospel reading. The story is pretty short on details so we can’t say for sure why the family thinks an intervention is in order. The NRSV translators seem to think the family is only trying to protect Jesus’ reputation. They go to “restrain him” because other folks were saying Jesus was crazy. I understand the translators preferring that Jesus’ family not come off too bad in this story, but suspect that may have colored their translation.
As I mentioned during the reading, the verse literally says, “When his family heard, they went to restrain him, for they said that he had gone out of his mind.” Now perhaps the second “they” in the sentence refers to other “people,” but it seems just as likely that there had been a big family meeting and at the end “they” said Jesus was crazy and “they” needed to go and get him before something terrible happened. And so they head out to “restrain him,” which sounds a bit like they had a commitment order or a strait jacket or some such thing.
But just what is it that makes Jesus’ family think he needs restraining? Why are they convinced that an intervention is necessary? After all, he is healing people, and that sounds like a good thing. Does that make him crazy?
It strikes me that one of the real problems with Christian faith, at least with Christian faith as it gets lived out in good, respectable congregations, is that we have tried to fit something that involves a passion not unlike “falling in love” into something neat and orderly and rational and respectable. We’ve tried to shoehorn something that looks just a little bit crazy into a something that is done very decently and in order.
And as a pastor in this decently-and-in-order denomination, it occasionally dawns on me how caught up I am in this arrangement. I realize that I often preach to folks, even plead with them, to live in ways that look a little crazy without actually connecting that craziness to any passion. It’s like trying to convince someone to fall in love. I tell people, “Give freely and selflessly of your time. Give extravagantly to God, the Church, and those in need. Rearrange career and life plans to align yourself with God’s will.” But such things simply sound crazy without the passion, the “in love” part.
I don’t think that anyone was ever convinced or explained into falling in love. It has to happen to you. You have to meet someone, spend time with him, get to know her, and then begin to realize – sometimes quickly and sometimes gradually – that you are falling for her, that your life is starting to become reorganized around him.
In just a few minutes, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism. It’s a quaint little ritual. There’s sometimes a treasured baptismal gown that’s been in the family for generations. Even in churches that frown on cameras disrupting worship, almost no one begrudges grandma snapping a few photos. And speaking of grandparents, it’s not at all uncommon for them to urge their grown children, even those who rarely go near a church, to get their kids baptized.
But I wonder if we parents would bring our children for baptism, or if grandparents would lobby for getting the grandkids done, if we realized the risks involved. In the waters of baptism God claims us. At our baptisms, God speaks the same words Jesus heard. “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”
In our gospel story today, the folks who would seem most likely to get Jesus, to be drawn to him – the good religious folk and his very own family – think he is either crazy or possessed. But in the throes of passion, Jesus redefines family. “My mother and brothers and sisters are those who are crazy in love with God, just like me.”