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One of my favorite theologians posed the question about this morning’s Gospel the other day, asking, “Do you have to be a little crazy to preach the Gospel?”[1]

To which my response was, “Crazy to preach the Gospel? Nah. But you do have to be crazy to live the Gospel!”

Because, let’s be honest, from the days of Jesus himself, anyone who dared to live the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, not just proclaiming God’s love but actually living it, was considered crazy.

The Gospel, you see, is not something that fits in well with society. Never has … never will.

Society in the days when our Lord and Savior walked the earth was exactly like it is today. In fact, I hate to tell you, but society has pretty much been the same since … well, ever since Cain killed Abel: It’s been about putting ourselves first. Putting our kith and kin first. Putting our tribe first. Today’s society, just like society in Jesus’ day, is based on the attitude of, I’ve-got-mine-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-ever-get-yours!

Everything that Jesus did in his ministry – feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, making the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute speak, the lame leap for joy, including the excluded, loving the unloved, cleansing the unclean, giving hope to those who have known no hope from generation to generation – everything Jesus did went against societal norms. That’s why the scribes came down from Jerusalem … because Jesus didn’t fit the norms.

And I am telling you: If we really live the Gospel – not just proclaim it but live it – I guarantee you, you, like Jesus, will be called crazy. People will say that you are out of your mind.

When I told my family and friends and my parish that I was going to Sudan to be a missionary, they told me I was crazy. Sudan wasn’t safe. It wasn’t stable. It was a country riven by nearly 50 years of war, war that had not quite ended.

When I went to missionary training – if you want to serve as an Appointed Missionary of The Episcopal Church, you have to go to a two-week “missionary boot camp” – they brought in a security trainer who looked just like Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, who talked to us about security issues and how we could keep ourselves safe. We each were allowed to tell him where we would be serving, and he would tell us something about the area where we were going. When I asked about Sudan, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t go to the border region … it’s really unstable and you never know what’s going to happen there. Where are you going?”

When I told him, “the border region,” all he could say was, “Well, good luck.”

When I lived in Sudan, the Sudanis themselves told me I was crazy, Northerners because I was living in the South, Southerners because … well, because I was living in the South. There was no clean water, very little food, the area was very insecure, we had very little electricity, and people were pointing guns at me all the time.

At least once a week, the Sudanis would ask me: “Why are you here? Why haven’t you left yet?”

When I did leave Sudan, and transferred to Haiti, my family and friends again told me I was crazy. “Why do you want to go to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?”

And then when I got to Haiti, the Haitians themselves asked me: “Are you crazy? Why would you leave the comforts of the United States to come here?! We’re trying to leave here to go to the United States?”

You have encountered this reaction as well, haven’t you?

Every time you decide to do something because Jesus says so, isn’t it true that people question you?

You’re generous people, I know, so when you stop to help a homeless person on the street, giving them $20, someone somewhere asks, “Are you nuts? He’s just going to drink that money, you know.”

When you stop along the road to help a stranded driver, taking them to get some petrol, isn’t it true that your parents or spouse looks at you and says, , “Are you crazy? That person could have been an ax murderer!”

You decide to tithe to your church, and then you go to see your broker, who looks at you and says, “Are you out of your mind? Did you stop to think that you might need that money someday, you know, to retire? Or to pay for your kids’ college education? Or to pay for that wedding you’re daughter’s been dreaming of all her life?”

I am telling you: Living the Gospel … every moment of your lives … is … well, it’s just crazy!

Look what happened to Jesus – his love for God’s people led him to the cross!

If we are going to be Christians, if we are going to truly be followers of Jesus, we are going to have to be just a little bit crazy.

• • •

NY Times columnist David Brooks

Last week, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times entitled “The Moral Diet.”

In it, he talked about David Arielly’s new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, a book that shows that “nearly everybody cheats, but usually only a little.”[2]

Arielly’s social science experiments show that people these days “live by the Good Person Construct, try[ing] to balance their virtuous self-image with their selfish desires. They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory.”[3]

Brooks compared how we live our moral lives to the way we follow our diets. We have all dieted, right? So we know how this works. We get up in the morning, and we have a banana and yogurt for breakfast. Then for lunch, we have a salad – a small salad – no dressing, please, because I’m on a diet. For dinner, we have a piece of baked chicken and some broccoli. And then what do we do? We count up our calories and we realize we’ve been really good today, so we say, “I can have ice cream for dinner!”

Brooks points out that what we do with our diets, we do with the rest of our lives.

The Good Person, he wrote, “isn’t shooting for perfection any more than dieters are following their diet 100 percent. It’s enough to be workably suboptimal, a tolerant, harmless sinner and a generally good guy.”[4]

Brooks finished his column with this thought: “As we go about doing our Good Person moral calculations, it might be worth asking: Is this good enough? Is this life of minor transgressions refreshingly realistic, … or is it settling for mediocrity?”[5]

I have to say, when I finished reading the column, my reaction was: “’Good enough’ is not good enough. Not if we are going to live our lives as followers, as disciples of Jesus.”

Because Jesus didn’t do mediocrity.

Jesus, my friends, went the whole way. He lived his life – and he died for us – as a crazy radical, loving beyond anything the world had ever seen.

And Jesus is calling us to be just as crazy and just as radical as he was!

And when we do this, and the world laughs at us or scoffs at what we are doing, or ridicules us and says, “You’re out of your mind” (which the world will do)? Well, Jesus basically is telling us to respond to the world by saying, “So what?”

So what if the world around you thinks you are out of your mind?

So what if your actions and your attitude makes people say, “You are out of your mind!”

This is what Jesus commanded us to do, and if we are going to follow Jesus, this is what we’re going to have to do.

Be a little bit crazy.

• • •

My favorite theologian points out that Jesus’ life was centered in a very specific vision, and that “at the heart of that vision and way is the conviction that God is love, that God desires the health and healing of all God’s creation, that God stands both with us and for us, that God is determined to love and redeem us no matter what the cost, and that this God chooses to be accessible to us, to all of us – indeed to anyone and everyone.”[6]

Let’s be honest:

That vision – it’s pretty crazy.

Because it goes against everything society says.

But that indeed is God’s vision, and it was that vision that Jesus lived, and taught us to live as well.

So the question for us on this Sunday morning is this:

Are you willing to be crazy for Jesus?

Are you?

 Amen.

Sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Manassas, Va., on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year B, 10 June 2012.



[1] David J. Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, “Out of our minds,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=596

[2] David Brooks, “The Moral Diet,” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/opinion/brooks-the-moral-diet.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120608me

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lose (emphases added)

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John 10:1-10

It is odd, in the midst of Easter season, to be thrust back into the life and times of Jesus as he walks purposefully toward Jerusalem and his death, to hear again his words, not as the Risen Lord, but as the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, castigating those in power, telling stories that no one can really understand.

But this is where we are on this 4th Sunday of Easter. No resurrection story for us this day: Rather, a return to the teachings of Jesus, the teaching of the Good Shepherd, of Jesus being both the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold.

Now, we could spend our time today looking at what it means to be a sheep – are they dumb or smart? Dependent or independent? – and how that makes us feel, and how we really don’t know much about sheep anymore, because we are not an agrarian society and we don’t have sheep wandering our streets and fields.

Or …

We can spend our time concentrating on out what it means to be led, to have someone

Good Shepherd, He Qi

(the Risen Lord?) calling us – by name  — and leading us through our lives. We can spend our time together this morning figuring out what it looks like, what it feels like, to follow the Risen Lord so closely that we practically step on his heels, and how the Risen Lord leads us to life abundant (or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, to “real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of”[1]).

In this Easter season, we are called to focus on just what a risky business it is to do that which God has commanded us: to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, and how risky it is to do what Jesus commanded us: to love one another as he loved us. And believe me, living as the Risen Lord calls us to live is very risky indeed .

Start with being called. We all know what it means to be called, don’t we? To be called by name?

Because someone is calling us all the time.

Every day of our lives, we hear the siren song that beguiles us, that beckons us …

To get ahead.

To leave others behind.

To spend, spend, spend … buy, buy, buy!

Every single day, someone out there tells us that we need this new thing or that new thing, that our lives will be incomplete unless we forsake all else to get that particular thing of the day. Do we buy an iPhone 4 or wait for the iPhone 5? Do we get the iPad 2? Or the latest Xbox?

Every single day, someone out there tells us that if we would just do this one little thing – fudge a little on our taxes (“no one will know”) … ignore pleas for help from strangers (“someone else will help her”) … beg off caring for a friend (“she’ll be all right”) – if we would just do that, we will get ahead in the world.

Every single day, we hear the message that if we just work harder, or do this one extra task, or this one little favor, or get this one more promotion, or defeat this one other enemy, we will be able to rest secure.[2]

So we know what it means to be called … because someone is always calling us to stray from the paths of righteousness that the Risen Lord asks us to tread.

Turn your back on all of that, plug your ears so you can’t hear or don’t pay attention to those calls, and listen instead to what the Risen Lord has to say, and trust me, the world will tell you you’re wrong. You’re crazy. You’re a loser. You’re just like one of those people who thinks the Rapture really is going to happen next Saturday, and that the end of the world is coming in October.

See what I mean when I saying that following the Risen Lord is risky?

Face it:

In this world today, in which something like 20 percent of us have more than enough … way more than enough … and 80 percent have nowhere near enough in their lives … enough water, enough food, enough medicine, enough education, enough work, enough money, enough security … it is risky to lead lives of love, instead of hate; to help instead of harm; to share instead of hoard; to give instead of take.

In our society, we aren’t supposed to love wildly, radically, inexplicably and eternally. Far too much of our society is focused on hating someone, on not trusting anyone, on labeling people (Unpatriotic? Un-American? Liberal? Conservative? Left? Right?), on dividing people.

But the Risen Lord, who died for us – for each of us – and who was raised for all of us – didn’t teach us to live like that. He taught us to love. Wildly. Radically. Inexplicably. Eternally.

Society tells us not to live, not to love, like this. But the Risen Lord is calling us, beckoning us, leading us into exactly this kind of life.

This is the Easter season, my friends, when we focus on the fact that God loves us so much that he destroyed death – he demolished death! – so that we can have abundant life! So that we can have lives so much better than anything we ever dreamed of!

Our lives are not supposed to be focused on how much stuff we have, on how many things we can buy, or who has the most toys when they die!

Abundant life isn’t about stuff!

It’s about loving.

It’s about giving.

It’s about caring.

Think about it: What would our world look like if we dared to follow the voice of the Risen Lord, each and every day of our lives?

If we were to focus not on ourselves, but on each other?

Even if those others are people whom we do not know, do not see, have never met and probably never will meet.

• • •

I have been reading a lot lately about how the Church needs to change – not just to adapt to changes in society, but to change how it goes about its business. We are a Church that came into its glory through the Roman Empire, which once despised Christianity and then catapulted it to the religion of the Empire. Our vestments, our hierarchy, the way we do business – far too much of it has been based on the glory days of old.

Now, many voices are crying for us to make straight the crooked paths in the wilderness so that we can bring about this new way of life, a life focused on loving each other as Jesus loved us.

This new life means that we are going to have to do exactly what Jesus did: Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cure the sick, proclaim the Good News that God indeed does love us, the Good News that sets us free from the fetters of a society that doesn’t care enough, that doesn’t love enough.

The Risen Lord is calling us each by name so that we can be the ones to make this new life take root – in our hearts, in our families, in our churches, in our jobs, in our society, in our world.

We are being called out of the tombs of our lives so that we can have this new, abundant life right here, right now!

I know, I know … it is much safer for us to stay home. To do things the way we’ve always done them. To listen to the siren song of society.

But there is another voice out there, another song being sung for us, a song that calls each of us. By name. Right now:

Come. Follow me.

Love one another as I have loved you.

This other song is being sung by the Risen Lord, who seeks to shepherd our lives along paths of righteousness, so that we do not simply survive what life throws at us but thrive in the goodness of the Lord. When we listen to that song, when we allow the Risen Lord to be our shepherd, we find new meaning in our lives. We thrive. We have purpose. We find fulfillment. We know, and we are known. We accept, and we are accepted.[3] We love, and we are loved.

I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I’m willing to take the risk of following the Risen Lord on the paths of righteousness if it means I will thrive … be fulfilled … be known … be accepted … and most of all, be loved.

That’s a risk I am more than willing to take.

Anyone else want to engage in some risky business?

Anyone?

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2011, Year A, at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Montpelier, Va.



[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message (NavPress Publishing Group, 1993), John 1:10.

[2] Paraphrased from Sarah Dylan Breuer, Dylan’s Lectionary Blog: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A, on www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/04/fourth_sunday_o.html, 12 April 2005.

[3] Paraphrase of Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., Abundant Life, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=475, 8 May 2011.

 

 

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