This is the sermon the Rev. Kevin Johnson preached at the online worship service for St. Alban’s, Theatre Arlington, on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2021.
Pentecost + 2, Proper 5B, 2021
In the year 2018, a skinny 15-year-old girl skipped school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament building; standing there by herself, with a homemade sign reading “School strike for climate.” By September of 2019 in cities across the globe the School Strike for Climate had grown from one solitary girl named Great Thunberg to a global event of over 4 million students. Four million….. If a fifteen year old girl had said, “I’m going to start a movement which will culminate in 4 million followers” how many people would have responded “Have you gone out of your mind? What kind of foolishness are you talking about?”
In the year 2009, an 11-year-old started a blog in order to share with the world the truth of a girl growing up in Pakistan under oppressive, misogynistic religious tyranny. Soon the truth catalyzed worldwide condemnation of the Taliban’s abuse of girls and women. Two years later Time magazine identified Malala Yousafzi as one of the most influential people on the planet. In 2014, at age 17, Malala became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. Seventeen years old, Nobel Peace Prize. If at age 11 when Malala typed the first sentence of her blog she had said, “I am going to change the world and win a Nobel prize” how many people would have responded “Have you gone out of your mind? What kind of foolishness are you talking about?”
In around the year 30 A.D. a 30ish year old Jewish man was wondering the highways and byways of Israel and Judea, using that era’s version of a protest sign and internet blog – itinerant preaching. That is, he wandered around the cities and countryside, unemployed, preaching at people.
Now, when you say it that way “unemployed, preaching at people,” – you kind of go, “Oooohhhh…..,” as in “That doesn’t sound like the model of a good citizen. I don’t think I’d want my kid to grow up and do that with his life.”
To make matters worse, at age 30 Jesus was not married. To cite the words of a 2nd c. rabbinic statement, “…Fifteen is the age for the study of the Talmud, eighteen is the age for the wedding, twenty is the age for pursuing a livelihood…” (Mishneh Avot 5:21). To be 30 years old, not married nor fathering progeny, nor employed, wandering around preaching at people statements that were grossly at odds with the prevailing cultural norms…. is anyone really surprised that “people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind!’” Is anyone really surprised to hear Jesus’ mother and siblings exasperatingly yell, “Jesus! What is wrong with you? Are you crazy?!? Get in this house right now!”
I am certain this incident is the origin of the term many people use when they are exasperated – “Jesus!”
Now, I must confess that this is one of my favorite scenes from the bible. Here’s Jesus, a man who by all cultural norms would be viewed as an inconsequential, no power, nobody – and not just a nobody, but a stirring-up-the-pot nobody – here’s this nobody Jesus who for some reason a “great multitude” of other nobodies seem to be listening to, and following – so great a multitude that the official government protectors of the cultural norms, the Pharisees, began to get nervous, spreading dangerous lies and barely veiled threats against this nobody pot-stirring Jesus.
But, the lies and threats don’t seem to slow Jesus down. If anything they catalyze Jesus even more. Jesus heals a paralyzed man here, a withered hand there – on the Sabbath! Jesus even goes so far as to not only cast out demons himself, but extends that power to twelve followers. The Pharisee protectors of cultural norms are getting very nervous.
They adopt the Karl Rove method of politics – find a boogey man, a common enemy that everyone fears, and attach that to your opponent. The Pharisees find the ultimate boogey man – Satan – ‘Ol Beelzebub himself. They begin to spread the rumor that this nobody, loser, rabble-rouser Jesus could only be drawing his power from one source – Satan.
Satan – he’ll drive you crazy for sure.
Is it any wonder that when Jesus gets to his hometown people were whispering, “He has gone out of his mind”?
Then there is Mary. Beloved Mary. Standing in street. Hollerin’. “Jesus! What is wrong with you? Are you crazy?!? Get in this house right now!” It is a mother’s cry of protection and exasperation and of fear for her baby boy.
Except, Jesus. Oh Jesus, has been graced with enough foolishness to believe – to really believe! – that he can change the world.
And he did. And he still does, today. Change the world.
You see Jesus is foolish enough to believe – to really believe! – that sinners and tax collectors and Syrophonician pagan women and all those folks that the protectors of the cultural norms think should not be at the table – Jesus believes that they should be at the table.
Black transgendered women? – a group that is being killed at the highest per capita rate in the United States today – Jesus thinks they deserve a place at the table as much as the bible thumpin’, no dancin’ teetot’ling TV preacher. Undocumented immigrants who risked their lives slippin’ across the border last night in the cover of darkness? – Jesus thinks they deserve a place at the table as much as those whose undocumented relatives arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620. All those people who the cultural norms push out to the edges, Jesus is crazy enough to believe belong.
Change the world? Yes. Then and now. “Who are my mother and my siblings?” Jesus asks looking around him. “Here are my mother and my siblings” he says spreading his arms wide. Here they are.
All of them. Then and now.
You see, the Christ who worked through Jesus of Nazareth still works today. The Christ works through Geta Thunberg, who at age 15 was graced with enough foolishness to believe that she could change the world in order to protect creation itself. So she stood, solitary, outside the Parliament building with her sign. Soon, there were 4 million signs. Changing the world.
The Christ works through Malala Yousafzi, who at age 11 believed she could find liberation and dignity for girls like her. So, she typed away, courageously exposing the truth while her religious oppressors searched for her. Soon, the world knew.
The Christ, still at work. Then and now.
I wonder, I just wonder what might happen if we authentically asked for the grace to foolishly believe that we can change to world…. (click on video, below).
And may God grace you With enough foolishness To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world, So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done To bring justice and kindness
To all the people of God.