Sermon–June 7, 2015


2 Pentecost—Year B

June 7, 2015

William Bradbury

1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35
It’s hard to keep your head when everyone is talking about you. Every month some celebrity from Hollywood or politician from Washington goes off the deep end or stops just short and checks into rehab. It’s easy to make fun of such people because most of us don’t know what a burden it is to carry the projections of the crowd on such a large scale. But make no mistake, we are social creatures and projections, both good and bad, are toxic to our well-being.

Everyone knows it is hard to be the one kid the class picks on.  What we may not know is the distress that comes with being the class favorite, the one everyone looks up to and counts on. In both cases the ego can’t help but believe what others are saying and once we identify with the feelings aroused we may feel like we are losing control or coming undone.

Most of us were neither the goat nor the hero, but I suspect all of us have experienced the feeling of coming unglued or of being overwhelmed by what’s going on in our lives.

So how does Jesus handle what is happening to him: his crowds are enormous: in Mark 2 we are told the crowd was so large that the people carrying their paralyzed friend on a stretcher had to get on the roof and lower him down in front of Jesus. In chapter 3 such a large crowd gathers at the beach he tells “his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.”

Today, later in chapter 3 he’s back home—Capernaum, not Nazareth—and Mark tells us the crowds were pressing in so much “they could not even eat.”

Everybody wants to hear Jesus teach about the Kingdom of God that is breaking into the world. They want to watch him heal the sick, forgive sins, and cast out demons, which all point to the fact that God the King is returning in Jesus to lead and care for the people.

But not everybody thinks this is a good thing: his family is worried about his mental health: They go out to restrain Jesus for people are saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” Rational, sane people don’t announce what God is doing and then act as if God is doing it through them. So maybe the adulation has gone to his head.

I remember well meeting “Jesus” on an adolescent psychiatric unit in Atlanta: at least he told me he was Jesus. In fact, he was an 18 year old who had been drafted to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers. Thinking he was Jesus was a comforting refuge from having to live inside his tortured mind.

Maybe Jesus was getting a bit too Messianic himself, so better the family come get him and take him back to Nazareth where he can rest and recover his sanity.

The bigwigs from Jerusalem, however, have a darker theory about what is going on with Jesus: They say he is possessed by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons. Beelzebul means “Lord of the Flies”—which you might have learned when you read the novel in high school.

This is enough to make anyone crazy, but Jesus is the sanest man in the room. He manages to stay sane because his sanity is not anchored to his ego which is subject to the needs and attacks of others. Rather, all his thoughts and feelings, fears and fantasies are anchored to the True Self in the depth of his being. The True Self that is connected to, empowered by, and directed through the Spirit of God.

The True Self creates a gravitational force field that holds together all the parts that make up a human being, organizing everything in a harmonious orbit around the True Self.

When we are feeling fragile we wonder if Jesus can help us like he helped that crowd in Capernaum.

The first thing to notice is what Jesus has already done for us: in his joining with the brokenness of every human being he creates a pathway from the fragile, overwhelmed ego into the safe harbor of the True Self, which is Christ in us.

Jesus has already done this for you and for me. All that is necessary is for us to awaken to this reality and then to participate in it. To enjoy the benefits of this grace toward us is to accept by faith that we are anchored to Christ in the depths of our being and therefore we can trust in his faithfulness to stick with us even when we in un-faith wander away from him.

Compare that to what we normally do: When we’re feeling overwhelmed it’s easy to go from negative thought to negative thought and thus spiral out of control until we’re in the dumps or in full blown panic attack. It’s a short trip from “Oh, no I’m having that bad feeling again” to “why does this always happen to me?” to “This is going to end badly.”

There is another way: when you are beginning to feel unsteady turn to Christ in your mind and heart and thank him for having connected you to Father, Son, and Spirit so that you are never alone and never have anything to fear.

I suspect that what Paul writes to the Galatians is what he regularly says to himself: He writes “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I would recommend memorizing this verse, Galatians 2:20, or the 23rd Psalm—The Lord is my shepherd…”

Or something shorter like Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Let the Spirit lead you to your own verse that reconnects you to your True Self which is Christ is in you.

I first read about the True Self in the writings of Catholic monk and spiritual giant Thomas Merton. And being quite immature myself at the time my fragile ego decided it would imitate Merton and live out of the True Self. But all that happens when the ego turns the spiritual life into a project is you get more ego—dressed up in religious language and pious activities. Thus the False Self is strengthened.

Merton writes: “Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self….My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love— outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.”

Merton says, “We are already one [with God and ourselves and our neighbor]. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” 

We are NOT who mommy thinks or friends think we are, just as we are not who our enemies think we are. We are who God thinks we are in Jesus Christ.

We are NOT even our own feelings and thoughts that are constantly firing through our mind: the thoughts of unworthiness or of specialness. We are who God thinks we are in Jesus Christ.

Saint Paul puts it this way today in the Message version:

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye.”

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18