Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 16, 2017
Are You Insane?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, July 9, I offered a sermon: “Are You Insane?” I’d like to present a small portion of what I preached in this week’s Advance. I’ll try my best to reconstruct what I said, though I preached from notes, rather than from a fully-written sermon. The preaching text was Matthew 8:28-34 where Jesus heals two demoniacs.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man? The Shadow knows!” Jesus also knew! And so he was well-able to confront and deal with evil in all its nefarious manifestations.
All of us can fall prey to the various demons roaming our world. Demons are primarily the evil and destructive forces that hold sway where ever we look. Many of these evil and destructive forces are linked with the many ways we descend into craziness. It’s quite easy to be at least a touch insane in our too often-insane world!
Our sanity is very much linked to the many thoughts swirling within our minds. When I drive on our expressways, my thoughts often rush into the realm of the “crazy.” I wonder why everyone is trying to kill me! I wonder if my fellow drivers are taking drugs or are just completely drunk! Paranoia wanders unfettered through the halls of my thinking.
We all need ways to calm our brains. One of my three cats - the elder - is named “Molly Marie.” I picked out Molly at the animal shelter. My beloved Beth said I picked Molly because she reminded me of myself. She is an overly anxious cat - needing reassurance on a regular basis. Approximately 100 times a day I say to her “It’s okay, Molly!” I wish I had someone telling me the same thing!
The beloved brothers and sisters of Morgan Park Baptist Church have only known me as a married person. Beth served well as an anchor for me. Without her in my life, it may well be that I’ll become unmoored. Please let me know if I drift into dangerous territory!
There are two major times of “insanity” in our lives. The first major time of insanity is during our adolescence. We never fully recover from the assault of puberty.
A few weeks ago, I came across a bundle of Beth’s diaries in a box in the basement. I had to cut them open since I have no key. They are from her junior high and high school years. I finished her diary for 8th grade and am now reading the one from her high school freshman year.
Everything is so INTENSE - the plethora of crushes and craziness. Who likes who - who doesn’t like who. There is so much emotion spilling over from the pages of these diaries. The diaries help me understand better what Beth went through - the chaos - the sturm und drang - of being a pubescent girl.
The other major time of insanity is old age especially the older we become. It’s hard staying flexible as we age. We often come to the unwell idea that our opinions are so very important. We want to share our opinions with everyone even those who want nothing to do with our opinions.
It’s insane to think we are our opinions. To believe “I’m right and everyone else is wrong!” is plain nuts. And, unfortunately, many of us not only become less physically attractive as we age, we also become decidedly grumpier.
The truth is that life wounds us all. We do not come to old age with our hearts fully intact. We all get treated unjustly. We all endure times when we’re ignored. We all suffer serious setbacks. Most of us are never properly honored and celebrated.
By the end of the day, many of us are carrying anger and even bitterness. This leads easily to a certain insanity which narrows our vision, making empathy and compassion nigh unto impossible to feel.
What is largely missing in our lives today is a sense of purpose. Because we have little purpose, we drift aimlessly. There is but one purpose placed before us in our culture: the need to be wealthy! Such a purpose leads to a multitude of unwell ideas.
As the psychiatrist Adam Phillips notes: “The quest for wealth usurps all other quests - for redemption - for justice - for truth - for love.” We value only that which we can buy - things we can purchase and possess. But too often we become possessed by the very things we possess.
The rich often harbor the insane idea that God is the One behind their success. This is unwell in every sense of the word. God never rewards people with wealth and success. This is blasphemy on an epic scale.
Yet the wealthy (and the powerful) almost always feel that God is on their side. God somehow “doles” out divine favor on those deemed “worthy” of such riches and success. The poor are poor because God wants them poor. If the poor only “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” - they too would be rewarded (by God) with wealth and success. This is a deep and abiding insanity!
This mistaken and hateful insanity leads the poor, the weak, the marginalized feeling forsaken by God. No wonder the poor and the powerless are filled with all varieties of rage and self-condemnation. If God has “blessed” the rich and famous, then God must be cursing the poor and unfortunate. I firmly believe that the so-called “prosperity Gospel” preached by some misguided pastors is demonic.
God is Almighty, All-Powerful. But for creation to happen, God necessarily “withdrew” the divine power to allow space, a place, for the nothingness out of which creation occurred (The so-called “Big Bang” of 13.75 billion years ago).
This thought is, decidedly, deep and difficult theology. But the kenosis of God (a Greek word meaning an “emptying” of power) was critical to creation.