June 10, 2018
I can recall it like it was yesterday. It was summer, and my home congregation was living in the interim as we were waiting for a new pastor. In the meantime, I was helping the congregation bridge the gap from the pastor that was called to a new congregation, to the time that we awaited receiving a new pastor. I was in the pastor’s office and I was going over worship with the supply pastor that was present with us that morning. As we are talking I noticed a Victim’s Advocate for the Sheriff’s Department walking towards the office. She introduced herself and informed us that one of the congregation’s members took his own life over night and was found that morning by his mother in their backyard.
I was left stunned, not quite knowing what to say or do and the supply pastor, not yet called to his first church, was also wondering whom to reach out to. Since worship could not be put on hold, a member of the congregation that was a licensed lay minister went to sit and be with the family in their time of need.
What drives individuals to the point that they feel their last option is to take their own life? I wish I had an answer to this, however, it is not always that clear. Usually, the individual feels like an outsider in one way or another. In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus welcomes the outsiders in and makes the insiders question what it truly means to be a child of God.
For the scribes, to be a child of God, is to follow the rule of the law. Everything is simply black and white and there is no gray area. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for a conversation to further one’s understanding of what it means to live in creation and to be in relationship with it. Their understanding of Jesus is one that leaves little room for God.
Thus, they come to the understanding that Jesus has “gone out of his mind.” They are stating that he is just as crazy as some of the demons that he has vanquished from those that are suffering from “unclean spirits.” For them to state that he is crazy, they are trying to discredit him. They are attempting to get the people that are following him to realize that he is not following the rule of the law that was brought down to them from Moses. Yet, there are so many people that have come to listen and hear what he has to say that they can barely move and are not even given enough room to eat dinner.
By making these declarations, the scribes attempt to say who is in and who is out. They look upon those following Jesus as outsiders as well as those that he is reaching out to in love and compassion. It is in the scribes’ declaration that he is out of his mind that his family has came to talk some sense into him. Perhaps, they are afraid of the shame that could come upon the entire family as Jesus continues to heal and proclaim God’s kingdom. Perhaps, they are afraid of what could happen to Jesus; for Mary must recall everything that has happened up to this point and realize that Jesus is not an ordinary son to her. However, it does not seem to matter their reasoning, Jesus appears to have disowned his family at this point. In their rejection of him, we see the relationship of the Trinity hold fast. In their rejection of Jesus, it means that the rejection continues over to the Holy Spirit. To reject the Holy Spirit, hardens the heart and a darkness sets in.
That same darkness that leads to a hardened heart can project itself in our lives today as despair. A despair that is hard to come out of through your own strength. Unfortunately, those that find themselves in that darkness of despair today are often stated as being out of their mind. At one point or another, I am sure that we have all been in that darkness. Some people just have a much easier time of climbing out of the darkness.
Unfortunately, I have been a witness of despair taken to the point of death. A pastoral colleague, whose spouse took their own life. A pastoral colleague who took his own life the day before his installation in a new church. I have also been a witness to family members that have come back from that despair. It affects us all.
The darkness that we encounter today are not physical demons (a devil with horns), but demons that haunt our mental acuity. Evil exists and it attacks us in ways that highlight our weaknesses and at times leaves us gasping for breath. We argue over how to care for those that need emotional and mental help. Many times, that help is not available or very hard to attain. The Center for Disease Control just released some staggering numbers that the instances of suicide are up nearly 30% over the last two decades. These numbers should be a call for us to do something different.
This past week there have been two prominent suicides in the celebrity community, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While these celebrity deaths highlight the growing concerns in our society, there are approximately 121 people in our country that decide to take their own lives every day. It is something that tends to get swept under the rug and rarely talked about. In the past, those that have taken their own lives were looked down upon and brought shame to their families. Because that is what society does!!! Those that think they know better quite often have the loudest voice and it becomes the prevailing understanding.
As society places groups of people on the outside, Jesus stands there to welcome them. When we begin to reject children of God, we begin to create our own kingdoms. Ones that are not the kingdom that God has intended for us. We reject the ideas and people that we fail to understand, or simply do not want to understand. We leave no room for the holy Spirit to work in our midst and refuse to see the good that is present in all of God’s creation.
It is in the middle of rejection that Jesus places himself. He knew that there were going to be struggles and that change was not going to come easily. The scribes and other authorities are not going to let him simply walk in and set everything in order. Their rejection did not start with Jesus. The rejection came to anything that they deemed fell outside of the law of God. Those things that fell outside of the religious rule as they heard not only from Moses, but also those laws that established themselves over the years.
It is here that Jesus brings a message of love and hope. A love and hope that welcomed the outsiders to be a part of the beautiful creation. A creation that encompasses the entire world. A creation that God called good.
While the scribes were busy drawing a line in the sand, Jesus was busy stepping over that line, or simply erasing it. While they were busy deciding who was in and who was out, Jesus was on the other side identifying with those that were marked as out. He was caring for them and loving them.
That same love washes over us today. A love that knows no bounds and welcomes all into the restoration of creation. Jesus calls us to action by calling us to do things that do not make sense. Things that are counter to our culture, just as they were counter to 1st century Israel. We too may be called out of our minds when proclaiming the love of Christ and the hope that he provides. If we are, then we are in good company. We are in company with Jesus and the disciples that carried his message forward into a world that needed a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.
The church needs to be a place of welcome for those that feel that they are on the outside. It needs to welcome those that feel they have nowhere else to turn. It needs to be a sanctuary for all of creation. If you have ever felt that despair and darkness, where depression has set in and hope has vanished, know that: You are important, and God made you just the way you are! You are pretty enough. You are smart enough. And you are good enough! You are loved! Loved by those that surround you and embrace you. You are loved, and you matter. You never have to face your challenges alone! There is always someone to turn to or a person that will walk with you to find that help.
For those that have lost a friend or family member to suicide, they are not alone. They are welcomed into the arms of our Lord. Probably with even a few more tears on Jesus’ part, but they are not lost and forsaken. They are a beloved child of God. Created in God’s image.
Jesus welcomes those that are outside of the peripheries. His wide-angle lens brings all into view as a son and daughter of God. He welcomes all of us into the greater family of God. We are called together as one family to share in the body and blood of Christ. We are called together as we are, where we are. Jesus welcomes us all to the table and loves us all. In this love we are restored and experience the grace of God.
Let us pray. Boundary breaking Christ, we give thanks for the families we are born into. More importantly, we give thanks for the family that is called to you in baptism. Through the waters we come together glorifying your word and receiving grace upon grace. Amen.