Last Sunday, the Daughters of the King hosted their annual book study and luncheon. We discussed our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent book, “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus.”
Curry opens his book citing the story in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus performs his first miracle by healing a man with a withered hand. Jesus does this on the Sabbath, inciting the religious authority’s wrath (who see Jesus’ act as violation of the faith’s rules and regulations). Jesus’ popularity swells after this miracle, whose crowds alarm the authorities. Mark says, “When [Jesus’] family heard of it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21).
In offering compassion to someone in need – despite the law prohibiting him to do so because it was the Sabbath – Jesus earns the reputation as a crazy person. It is an early indicator of just what an unlikely Messiah Jesus would be.
Curry writes, “So, forgive me for saying it this way, but Jesus was, and is, crazy! And for those of us to follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way, are called to be exactly that - crazy. If you asked me what the Church needs today, I would say this: we need some crazy Christians . . . crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God – like Jesus.”
In today’s story by Luke, the unlikely Messiah encounters an unlikely disciple in a Roman Centurion, who asks Jesus to heal his slave. We know the centurion is an unlikely disciple for a number of reasons:
- He’s a Roman, a Gentile solider who represented everything that was loathed and feared by the Jews of first century Palestine. He was also a pagan who worshiped other gods like Mithras and, of course, the emperor.
- The centurion has true compassion for a slave who, in his world, is nothing more than a piece of chattel.
- The centurion has good relations with the Jews in his community, relations so good that he builds them a synagogue. So convinced are the local Jewish leaders of the centurion’s goodness that they approach Jesus to vouch for his care and compassion for the Jewish people and to convince him to heal his sick slave.
Don’t forget the Jews, like all those conquered by Rome, suffered under the brutal yoke of Roman control. The Pax Romana was achieved by the Roman legions’ brute force, not through kindness and compassion. Those who lived under Rome’s rule universally despised Rome, so there was no love lost between the Jews and the Romans.
The centurion was different. The Gentile Roman world would have seen the centurion’s compassionate behaviors toward his slave and the conquered Jewish people as being crazy, just as the Jewish world saw Jesus as being crazy for how he embraced the world’s marginalized, unclean and disdained.
Jesus was an unlikely Messiah. Instead of being a zealous, politicized and military leader who relied on violence to achieve his goals, he taught the principles of justice, mercy and loving your neighbor as yourself. The centurion was an unlikely disciple because no one expected a Roman Gentile military leader to embrace and live that life of Jesus in their lives. They were both crazy!
Many people today view Christians through the same lens conquered peoples viewed Rome 2,000 years ago. Feared and disdained, we are seen as being a part of an institution that harms people.
Truthfully, there isn’t a shortage of “Christians” whose behaviors reinforce this belief. While many so-called Christians may preach a loving, all embracing Savior, they don’t seem to emulate one. People, including us at Christ Church, don’t experience that in the abstract either. Daily, hideous things are done and said in the name of Christianity.
Two weeks ago our administrator, Karen Rockwell, discovered two prayer petitions in our alms bowl with some less-than-Christian words written on them. One said, “Stop letting fags attend church. Haters of Christ.” And the second read, “It’s wicked what you do! You don’t know the God of the Bible and if you don’t repent your church will be burning in hell.”
You might imagine my shock when I read those petitions. It felt like a personal attack on me and this parish. My shock soon turned into sadness, then my sadness turned into compassion. It would be easy for me to write off such people as cranks, ignorant or misguided. The truth is, people who are filled with such virulent hatred need love, because Jesus spread out his loving arms on the cross to heal them no less than he did for you and me.
People who hold these beliefs and believe they are actually of God desperately need the unlikely Messiah in their lives. They need to hear the message of the crazy Jesus. And who will they hear it from, if not us? We need to hear Bishop Curry’s call and become crazy Christians.
We need to proclaim Jesus’ crazy message to those people who believe that we adhere to such a virulent expression of Christianity like those who wrote those petitions as well. They too need to hear from crazy Christians.
Both groups need to know that the truth of the Gospel is that God calls us to love our LGBT neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, our Asian neighbor, our non-believer neighbor, our “whomever-we-think-is-different-and-‘less-than-us’” neighbor. By word and deed, our crazy Jesus calls us to follow the new commandment to love one another just as he loved us. For much of the world, that’s just plan crazy! However, in order to show the world how to become the human family of God, we need to present to a world that defines us by those who wrote those hateful petitions, some crazy and unlikely disciples. In order to heal the world, we need to witness to those who wrote those hateful petitions that the god they believe in is not the God of Jesus.
Both groups will think we’re crazy, but that’s okay.
Only in our craziness will we begin to authentically follow Jesus and change the world from the nightmare it often is, to the dream God intends. Ultimately, that’s what Jesus calls us to do: to follow him.
So . . . call me crazy. How about you?