Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 23, 2017
Are You Insane 2?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Sunday, July 16, I preached on “Are You Insane 2?“ I offer a piece of that sermon in this week’s Advance with some additional reflections.
In Mark 3:19-22 we read how Jesus’ family, when they heard what Jesus was saying and doing, came to restrain him for people were saying Jesus had gone out of his mind - that he was crazy! (The religious leaders from Jerusalem claimed Jesus was demon-possessed!)
So you are in good company if someone says to you: “you’re crazy!” If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me! Therefore, if someone asks “are you crazy?” - the only appropriate answer is “sometimes.”
We’re all a bit insane because our society and our world are so unwell. And when it comes to religion, there is a lot of craziness blended into the mix. It can’t be helped.
Our faith is what we embrace as a way of dealing with the insanity of living, the brokenness of living, the hurt of living, the harm that comes with living.
We cannot get though the ebb and flow of a normal life without the anchor of a spiritual life. As the late playwright Dennis Potter phrased it: “Anyone who claims to be totally uninterested in any sort of spiritual response to the ache of life is little more than a narrow-headed thug!” (quoted in Reimagining Christianity by Rev. Dr. Alan Jones)
We all need the comfort of a spiritual life - the consolation of faith in something or someone. Without it, all that is left is the way of the thug - the way of the bully. Bullies abound in our world. Sometimes they are even applauded!
Yet for our religion, for our faith, to be an asset to our sanity rather than a spiraling descent into madness, we need to grasp a very important truth: our religion, our faith life, does not give us all the answers to our questions about life’s mysteries - about life’s inherent ability to wound us.
To claim that our faith, that Christianity, has all the answers is insane. Christianity, at its best, deepens our questions. At its worst, Christianity mistakenly claims to have all answers. The Bible, unfortunately, does not have all the answers. I wish it did!
There is much talk about God and much of that talk is rubbish. To talk about God blessing some people and not others is rubbish. To talk about God healing some people and not others is rubbish. To talk about God keeping some people safe and not others is rubbish.
God will not heal you if you send in a contribution to some religious charlatan on TV who claims he can heal you through the TV screen! Such promises are rubbish and, I believe, blasphemous.
It might be helpful to keep in mind what the humorist David Barry wrote: “If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all its glories and God decides to deliver a message to humanity, God will not use - as a divine messenger - a minister on cable TV with a toupee!” (edited)
Pain abounds. Too much pain pushes us into physical, psychological, and spiritual corners - pushes us into a vast array of dead ends. Pain colors over everything else. Pain distorts all our other senses. Pain can easily cripple our free will.
Pain often tells us that we’ve done something wrong, like when I accidentally punched a pillar in our parlor before worship last Sunday. The pain that comes with such an act is obvious. I knew immediately what I had done wrong!
But much of the pain we suffer comes from psychological (and spiritual) pain, resulting from our broken world, resulting from unfortunate and even evil parenting, resulting from the loss of loved ones.
Psychological pain doesn’t heal as quickly and as easily as my hand healed. Such pain can sometimes shut off our ability to truly feel at all, which is what clinical depression is primarily about.
As most know, one of my Master’s degrees is in counseling psychology (from Louisiana Tech University). I’m a licensed professional counselor (State of Illinois) - something very rare among pastors. Where healthy spirituality, healthy psychology, and healthy physiology come together is where I have set up my tent.
When pain overwhelms us, we find it hard, if not impossible, to trust. Evil is, in a certain sense, the diabolical/demonic untrustworthiness of our world.
We come to our beloved church, our beloved community, to find a place, a space, within which we can reconnect with our divine-inspired desire to trust. I fear many no longer seek church because our world seems to be rapidly sowing the seeds of cynicism and malevolent mistrust. Cynicism and mistrust eat away at our souls!
Only God can be in God. God’s power is so unimaginable that nothing created can co-exist within the awesomeness of the Almighty. Old Testament authors were correct in proclaiming that no one could see God and live. Only God can live within the conflagration we call God.
Because of this theological truth, God chose to withdraw divine power in order to allow the nothingness needed for creation to occur. This self-emptying of God (called kenosis in Greek) was essential.
Created things, such as we humans, cannot live, this side of the veil, within the divine presence. This is why, in ancient Jerusalem, the priests placed bells on the bottom of their mantles to “warn” God that they were entering the Holy of Holies (see Exodus 28: 33-35) God could then, in a sense, turn down the “heat.”
Basically, all we are doing is just “walking each other home.” If we remember this foundational spiritual truth, we’ll not easily succumb to the insanity assailing us from almost everywhere we look.