Third Sunday After Pentecost

S. Pentecost 3.24 Mark 3:20-35

“But when his own people heard, they went out to lay hold of him, for they said, ‘he is out of his mind’.”

In his BBC Broadcast Talks, August 1941, C.S. Lewis said: ‘it’s foolish to say about Jesus, as people often do: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell.’

This keen insight is often summed up as the “Lunatic or Lord” dichotomy. Most people forget there are three reasonable options: lunatic, devil, or LORD— a forgetting which I find interesting. Lewis had earlier noted that the claim to forgive sins, all sins, of all people is incredibly silly and conceited unless the one doing the forgiving were actually God—because only God is the injured party in every sin humans commit. For instance, if you steal Fred’s bike and I forgive you for that (without either returning it or reimbursing you), Fred is not going to acclaim me as a ‘great moral teacher’.

No, Fred will say I’m silly and conceited, and yet Lewis notes: even Jesus’ enemies, reading the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness or conceit. And that’s true enough. But they do, quite often get the impression—in the Gospels as well as in the modern world—of Jesus either being a nut or being demon-possessed, as we see in our Gospel this morning. I would say, a quarter of the way into the 21st century, Lewis has persuaded nearly every one that “Great Teacher” is not a great option for Jesus.

It seems we’re down to just Lewis’ sensible 3 options which, if I were making odds, I would rank in this order of [current] popularity 1) Lunatic—the solid majority option, though, in fairness, I’d wager a great many would add a ‘lovable’ in front of ‘Lunatic’ in Jesus’ case, as lunacy seems to have gone mainstream, become more acceptable, faintly charming even, lately [along with felonies and senility, lunacy apparently no longer bars you from high government office]; 2) Demonic—a solid runner-up, as belief in demons, fairies, the little people, and aliens is also on the rise; or, 3) LORD-God—a distant last I’d say, in the polling. I’d put “LORD”, generously, at around 10% of the popular vote, though—if Elijah’s world is anything like ours—probably less than 1% who say this wholeheartedly believe it.

It’s my own quite unscientific poll, of course. But I do keep my finger to the wind (which finger, I’ll leave to you to figure out 😉 and my ear to the ground with a personal and professional interest in such questions.

I know this outlook may seem gloomy and even defeatist, especially to those who remember when pews in churches like ours were much more crowded. But crowds can be… overrated. To quote the immortal Yogi Berra, commenting on a famous NYC nightclub: “No one goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” I’m with Yogi. The right crowd and no crowding is preferred.

Because the crowd is fickle. It can turn on you in a heartbeat. Being popular quickly breeds envy, resentment. Ask John Mayer. Check back with Taylor Swift in a few years. We see it in politics, business, art, and sadly, romantic relationships. Familiarity breeds contempt, as Karl Marx said.

But Mark’s Gospel shows us plainly it has ever been thus with Jesus and he’s not fussed about it—not one bit; so why should we be? He told the crowds in his first Sermon on the Mount, early on that, “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” With Jesus, the few, not the many is always the crowd you want to keep. 😉

And yes, this morning we see multitudes gathered around Jesus. But, after miraculously feeding the 5,000+ with a few loaves and two fish, how many were left when he said the real food he gives is his flesh? I count only 12; and some of those were wavering. And how many were left on Good Friday? I see just a handful, then: John, the Marys, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, one thief, and a few anonymous others who’ll still hang with him, admit to even knowing, much less loving him. Even after the Resurrection, the Ascension, there’s only 120 (of the at least 500 who witnessed the Resurrection) actually in church on the day of Pentecost. At the end of that day, 3,000 were added but that’s out of like a couple hundred thousand devout Jewish pilgrims.

Hermann Sasse quipped that Jesus did not say wherever 2 or 3 million are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them. Nah; just 2 or 3 is all he’s after. Shoot, the 1 lost sheep is what Jesus is after, not the 99 who need no rescue.

Big numbers, crowds? Totally overrated. The sooner we get over the perennial “hankering for bigness”, the better…

Shoot, even his blood relatives (like family to him 😉 thought Jesus was out of his mind—acting like he’s God or something with the preaching, the healing, the forgiving of sins, especially. Lewis was right about that.

It’s only salt in the wound, I’m guessing, in that famous passage when Jesus says “Amen, I say to you: all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.” And Mark clarifies: he said this because they said: ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

Jesus is not saying [as the popular view goes] that you can talk all the smack you want about God the Father, or God the Son; but say one mean thing about God the Holy Spirit—and no soup!… er, forgiveness for you, buster!

No, as the Athanasian Creed says, and we’ve been discussing in Sunday bible study: the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet each Person’s not 1/3rd God, but each Person by himself is God and Lord. So, you can’t diss Jesus without dissing the Holy Spirit.

But, as Hooker says: ‘we should be careful of coming up with too many ways of denying Christ’ 😉

Christian faith isn’t wholehearted belief, or perfect clarity on all the scriptures present (even I don’t have that; he says with great humility ;-). Faith’s simply the non-rejection of Jesus. Fuzzy on the details is fine. And because familiarity does breed contempt, Jesus favors the slow reveal. Just sitting at his feet, hearing the word, eating the supper as he gives it to you, slightly… puzzled—as you’re doing right now! makes you his brother, sister, mother.

And Peace, surpassing all understanding, guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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