Michael B. Curry: We need some crazy Christians
Today’s Christians need to be as crazy as Jesus was, says the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
September 11, 2012 | Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. A version of this sermon was preached at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, Ind., July 7, 2012.
This day we are commemorating the witness of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a woman who used her words to set the captive free. I’ll say more about her later, but right now I want to note that in 1943-44 her witness was celebrated in a Broadway play titled “Harriet.”
It was Helen Hayes who played the part of Harriet Beecher Stowe. At the end of the play Beecher Stowe’s family stands around Harriet and sings the words of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” affirming the Christian witness of this brave and bold woman. Part of the hymn goes like this:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
For a text today, I offer these words from Mark 3:19-21 (NRSV): “Then [Jesus] went home; 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.’”
The King James Version of the Bible translates the concern of Jesus’ family for him in these words: “He is beside himself.” The old J.B. Phillips New Testament translates it, “People were saying, ‘He must be mad!’” But my favorite is from the 1995 Contemporary English Version, which says, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.”
So forgive me for saying it this way, but Jesus was, and is, crazy! And those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way, are called and summoned and challenged to be just as crazy as Jesus. So I want to speak on the subject “We need some crazy Christians.”
I don’t want to be too quick to judge Jesus’ mother and the whole family. They had good reason to be concerned. We just read from 1 Peter a teaching that reflects what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). That’s crazy. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, read just a few moments ago, Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). That’s crazy.
What the world calls wretched, Jesus calls blessed. Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit. Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice might prevail. Blessed are those who work for peace. Blessed are you when you are persecuted just for trying to love and do what is good. Jesus was crazy. He said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.” He was crazy. He prayed while folk were killing him, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Now, that’s crazy.
We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God -- like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way? It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness.
Let me suggest one example of such a call from the New Testament: Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene. For whatever reason, Mary often gets a bum rap.
Think back to the crucifixion of Jesus. Crucifixion was execution by the empire for crimes against the state. It was public torture. It was an intentionally brutal means of capital punishment, an execution designed to send a message that revolution and revolutionaries would not be tolerated. If you were a supporter or follower of the person being crucified, it was dangerous to stand too close by during the execution. The rational and sensible thing to do was to go into hiding or exile.
Having said that, let’s call the roll of those Jesus called to follow him; let’s take the attendance of the apostles at the crucifixion of their Lord. Simon Peter? Absent. James? Absent. Andrew? Absent. Bartholomew? Absent. Thomas? Absent. Judas? Definitely absent. Mary Magdalene? Present and accounted for! That’s a disciple! When the old slaves sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” there was a woman named Mary who could answer, “I was there!” Now, that’s crazy!
Now, it may not be obvious at first, but we actually have a day to remember crazy Christians. I think we call it All Saints’ Day. It’s not called “All the Same Day”; it’s All Saints’ Day, because, though they were fallible and mortal, and sinners like the rest of us, when push came to shove, the people we honor as saints marched to the beat of a different drummer. In their lifetimes, they made a difference for the kingdom of God. As you know, we are even working on a book to help us commemorate them. We are calling it “Holy Women, Holy Men.” But we might as well call it “The Chronicles of Crazy Christians.”