February 27, 2011
Now, But Not Yet
Being Sane In An Insane World
Years ago I saw a movie that was a parody of Southern California culture. The main character was a straight arrow, a very normal person. The set up for the movie was that his character was considered to be abnormal, simply because he was the only sane character in the midst of a culture that seemed to have gone mad. There was a very memorable scene where he shared with a young man, who was his neighbor, that he feared there really was something wrong with him. The young man had a great line that has since stuck in my mind – just remember; in an insane world it’s the sane person who appears insane. Isn’t that a great line? In an insane world it’s the sane person who appears insane.
As we continue our series Now, But Not Yet, this morning our message is Being Sane In An Insane World. I think we could all agree that our world seems to contain quite a bit of insanity.
Our text for this morning raises some interesting questions about what passes for sanity in our world, as Mark tells the story about this man Jesus encountered. Jesus and his disciples had been crisscrossing the Sea of Galilee, and encountered large crowds each time they came to shore. After one crossing they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus gets out of the boat a very unusual character confronts him. Listen again to the description Mark gives of this man – When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones (verses 2-5).
This guy falls into the category of and you thought you had some strange neighbors. I have met some truly unusual characters in my lifetime, but no one quite like this man. Thankfully. Imagine what it was like for the people in this community, wondering what to do with such a person.
Of the many interesting lessons in this passage, one is that Jesus often raised the question of what is considered normal. Many of the teachings of Jesus went against the norms of his day – and ours. His teachings were so in contrast with the acceptable ways of thinking and acting that some questioned his state of mind. Earlier in Mark, in 3:20-21, we read this – then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Isn’t that fascinating? On at least one occasion Jesus’ own family thought he had taken leave of his senses. What was he doing, they wondered, wandering around with this group of followers? Why can’t he live a normal life like everyone else? Why can’t he do what’s expected of him? You can almost hear them pleading with Jesus – why can’t you be like everyone else? Why can’t you be normal?
Maybe normal isn’t what we should strive to be. Maybe normal is the problem. Maybe the standard ways of looking at life aren’t really the ways we should be looking at life. Maybe normalcy leads us into its own kind of insanity. It’s normal to say, or think, if someone hurts you, hurt them back. If someone takes something from you, take something from them. If someone treats you bad, treat them worse in return.
One of the lessons of the ministry of Jesus, then, is that being out of step with what is considered normal isn’t always a bad thing.
I’m sure a lot of people scratched their heads at Jesus. We have the benefit of 2,000 years that have given us a very different level of insight about Jesus. Those who lived through these events, those who witnessed them firsthand, were often confused because Jesus was not at all what they had expected from someone who claimed to be the Messiah. But Jesus was doing exactly what he was expected to do – he was meeting the expectations God had for his ministry.
It’s amazing what the expectations and opinions of others can do to us. The expectations and opinions of others can drive us to behaviors that violate our own beliefs and values.
Jesus teaches an important lesson about people as well. Everyone, to Jesus, was a person and a person worthy of love and concern. This is the guy everyone would refer to someone else. If you call me up and ask me to go visit the crazy guy who lives in the cemetery and cuts himself with rocks, I’m going to ask you to go with me. He was a hopeless case, written off by everyone.
In verse 8 Jesus calls him this man. That seems like a small matter, but in doing so Jesus rehumanizes him. That’s probably not how others referred to him, but this was a person, not just a problem. He was someone’s son, perhaps a brother; maybe even a husband and a father.
Everyone is a person first, regardless of their condition. One of the reasons people label others is so they can simply write them off and not have to bother with them – they’re a hopeless addict; they’re a chronic failure. Those kinds of labels allow us to wash our hands of someone. But people are not an addicts first, or failures first, or sinners first, or losers first – they are first and foremost people.
There is also an interesting economic question involved here. Verse 15 tells us the man was sitting there, dressed and in his right mind. Luke tells us in his version of the story (Luke 8:27) that the man was not clothed. Where did the clothes come from all of a sudden? I don’t think there was a tunic store nearby. I think Jesus got the clothes from his disciples. Maybe I’m reading too much into the passage but can’t you see Jesus saying Peter, what size sandal do you wear? Don’t you have an extra pair? Thomas what size is that extra shirt in your bag? Matthew, don’t you carry an extra tunic with you?
Jesus, I believe, asked his disciples to provide for this man, and this has been a foundational principle of our faith from the very beginning – meeting the physical as well as the spiritual needs of people. There is increasing need in these challenging economic times. I am grateful for what we are able to do in meeting the needs of people, and we are going to face increasing needs in the coming months. As state governments and the federal governments face difficult economic realities there are cuts that will come that will be painful to people, and we will face an increasing amount of need.
And then we see one of the most unusual aspects in this story, in verse 15. Listen to that verse again. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Why were people afraid? The man was healed – why be afraid of him when he was normal? The time to be afraid of him was when he was running around the cemetery yelling a cutting himself with rocks. He had been chained. Someone was brave enough to try to chain him up on more than one occasion. I certainly wouldn’t want a job like that – would you? That was the time to be afraid, not when he was sitting there, calm, and in his right mind.
I think they were afraid for this reason – here was a guy who was absolutely out of control, living in a cemetery, and cutting himself with rocks, but was completely well. You would have to ask yourself this question – if Jesus could change that guy so much, what might he do to me? The crowd gathered there were not in the same circumstances as this man, but certainly they had some things in their lives that needed to change. But maybe they were happy with their lives; maybe they didn’t want to change.
The reality of life is this – sometimes we’re happy in our foibles and craziness and we don’t want God to mess with them. Don’t we say this at times – I really need to change my life; it’s time for me to address some issues. No, wait a minute. I don’t want to get radical and cause everybody to think I’ve gone off my rocker. We live in a crazy world! Of course we’re off our rockers! God wants to set us right, he wants to return us to sanity.
Lastly, we see in verse 18 that the man was begging to go with Jesus and his disciples, but Jesus told him to go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy upon you.
I wonder what his family thought as they saw him approaching. Imagine how his story must have been received – the person written off by everyone else came home healed. Healing and wholeness had come to this man who had seemed hopeless, and in his healing we see what God wants to do with each person – he wants healing and wholeness, he wants us to bring healing to how we see the world and what we perceive as reality.
Lucretia Mott was a Quaker who lived in the 19th century. She decided the abolition of slavery was a cause worth fighting for, so she quit wearing cotton as it was made at the expense of the lives of others. Her husband was a cloth merchant and she convinced him to stop dealing in cotton. She formed an organization dedicated to abolishing slavery. She was not well received. At times people burned down the venues where she was scheduled to speak. Her life was threatened. Her family was threatened. People thought she was crazy? Why? Because she was convinced it was wrong to sell other human beings as slave. She was the one who was sane; it was the insanity of the time that made her appear otherwise.
Sometimes I wonder what history will reveal about our time. How will history judge our era fifty, one hundred years, and more from now? What is accepted as normal today that will be questioned years down the road, when people will ask, how did they allow that to happen?
May God open our minds and our hearts to true reality!