A Sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on Sunday, June 10, 2018
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better seen.
Following Jesus means being maladjusted to the world as it is.
I struggled with what to say today to all of you. I ditched my sermon topic, in fact. I know that celebrity deaths are not the focus of the Church, but I also know this week has been triggering for many of us.
For those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide, the death of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain brings it all back. For those of us who struggle with depression and have been on the brink ourselves, the death of high profile celebrities can make it all seem so much more real and possible.
If you are feeling particularly thrown this week because that’s you—I just want you to know that I’m here. My cell number is 617-717-4011. Write that down. I have cards in the back of the church on the way out the door.
If you are not someone who has depression right now and you know someone is suffering, CALL THEM. Do not hesitate.
Your life matters. To me, to God. To many. To this beautiful and broken world.
I found a chilling quote from Anthony Bourdain yesterday that said, “I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.”
That sounds like a trap to me. If I’m unhappy, it’s because I failed. Well, that’s a lie. If Satan, the accuser, sits on your shoulder and whispers that in your ear often, CAST THAT DEMON OUT.
We know that depression is not simply unhappiness. It’s not “fixed” by a good job, or the right relationship, or a great family, or world travel or lots of money. It’s a hole that some people occasionally can’t climb their way out of. It is like quicksand.
Depression certainly isn’t helped by the people who come along and tell you to put a smile on your face. It’s not fixed by others pointing out all the things that you should be happy about. And worse, shaming yourself for failing to be appreciative of what you have is even more poisonous and punishing.
Suicide is not a failure on an individual’s part. But sometimes it is the result of a collective failure.
While our violent crime and murder rates have dropped to all time lows, our suicide rates in the United States have risen sharply, by at least 30% since 1999. So much that it has been declared a public health crisis. As a country, we are becoming more of a danger to ourselves than others.
We have a crisis of meaning on our hands.
The majority of Americans live in suburbs dominated by garages, and not front porches. We socialize mostly from behind a screen. We are so fearful of each other that we don’t let our kids go outside to play with the neighbors.
There was an article in USA Today by Kirsten Powers yesterday called “Americans are depressed and suicidal because of our culture.” She says: We are convinced of the false premise that “If only we get that big raise, or new house or have children we will finally be happy. But we won’t. In fact…….in many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: it lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or achieve that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term.
Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.”
Man, that preached to me yesterday. I struggle with depression, and no amount of personal achievement has made it go away.
We call it a mental illness, but depression seems to me to be a completely rational response to just being alive in a brutal world. We’ve pathologized depression as if those of us who have it are somehow maladjusted.
Well, we should be maladjusted.
We should be maladjusted to a world in which people are starving, for food and for meaning.
We should be maladjusted to a world in which traumatized children are taken from their asylum-seeking parents as young as four and put in cages in warehouse detention centers, terrified and alone.
We should be maladjusted to a world where women are sexually harassed and assaulted, who die every day at the hands of partners.
We should be maladjusted to a world where mass shootings are a daily occurrence.
We should be maladjusted to a world in which black and brown bodies and lives are laid waste—where God imaged people are continually treated as though their lives don’t matter.
We should be maladjusted to the truth that the future of human life on our warming planet is uncertain.
We should be maladjusted to our profound disconnection from each other.
Don’t let people gaslight you into distrusting your own sanity because you feel awash in despair over the world as it is now.
Our reading from Mark today features the powerful religious leaders of his time attempting to gaslight Jesus.
We’re only in the third chapter of Mark now so Jesus’ ministry is only just beginning. And people are beginning to question whether Jesus is unhinged. First of all, his preaching is getting more urgent, and he increasingly seems a little manic to the gathered crowd.
And second, he isn’t fitting in to social norms and expectations. Sure, he’s healing people and casting out demons, and that’s great. But he’s been performing these miracles on the Sabbath. He’s breaking laws, and that feels dangerous to those who have been coming to see him.
The crowd begins to wonder about him.
“He’s gone out of his mind,” the people start to say. Even his own family tries to silence him. They run to the scene to restrain him.
The crowds aren’t the only ones who are worried about this Jesus. What he’s doing has implications for the world as it is becoming more like the world as it should be. People in power know that it is dangerous when the hopeless start hoping; when the people pushed to the margins start to believe their lives matter. People get uppity when they are given the gift of dignity and worth.
So the religious leaders figure they should use their skills, and their knowledge of the law to undermine Jesus’ ministry before it gets out of hand. In this scene, they call in the “big guns” to do it. They call in the scribes—the highly trusted biblical scholars.
The scribes deliver their verdict: Jesus is possessed by Satan. “As a ruler of demons he casts out demons!” They say.
Jesus refuses to be gaslit. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “How can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided against itself cannot stand."
It is not demonic to be maladjusted to empire.
It is not demonic to be maladjusted to suffering.
It is not demonic to provide hope and healing to the hopeless.
It is not demonic to tell people that their lives matter.
It is not demonic to be maladjusted to false piety.
It is not demonic to be maladjusted to profound disconnection from each other.
It is not demonic to be maladjusted to the way things are in a world ruled by Satan’s power.
Satan’s end has come, and our job is to prepare for God’s coming reign. The Love Revolution is coming. Jesus might sound crazy to others when he proclaims this, and you may, too, but better to be a fool for Love than an agent of empire’s evil.
Well, we’re saying amen now.
But if Jesus came back today as a street preacher, we would probably all think he was nuts. And if he got too out of hand, we would likely lock him up in a facility rather than listen to a word he said. Since this country is not apt to pay for mental health treatment anymore, he’d likely end up dying in a for-profit jail rather than in a state-run psychiatric ward.
Westboro Baptist Church will almost certainly picket Jesus’ funeral.
Because Jesus is maladjusted to false teachings about who is in and who is out of God’s circle of kinship. Jesus proclaims a holy covenant between God and ALL people. His family is all who do the will of God, he says.
The coming reign of God will be defined by this sort of offensive inclusivity, where all are inextricably connected, where all are treated as beloved by God, where all have purpose, where all are connected, and no one is alone.
A house divided cannot stand.
My UCC colleague Rev. Kelle J. Brown writes:
"This is a call to radical community, where we are so connected to each other, we will journey with each other through every circumstance. This is the moment that we must admit individualism, violence and disconnection is the author of much of our suicidal ideations. We are called to love people for who they are as long and as best we can, while understanding that every person has a universe of thought to which we may not be privy.
If we want to produce an atmosphere where suicide is reduced, then do justice. Love mercy. Create safe and courageous spaces. Love people. Stop oppressing. Cease warring. Resist selfishness. Live as though Black lives matter. Support the unhoused, the ostracized. Honor people's pain without one-ups-personship, or undoing their story to fit a more comforting frame. Accept and honor your children when they come out. Stop overworking people for pennies. Apologize when you are wrong, and do better. Heal from your racism, sexism, classism, and do no harm. Be held accountable. Listen with curiosity. Stop "ghosting" people, walking out of folk's lives without explanation. Your children, your spouse, your friends are still wondering why you left without a word, and if you are well. Trust and believe in people. Balance competition with cooperation. Love the ones God sends to you, instead of discarding them like trash.”
Fight the despair that comes from disconnection with radical connection. Love the ones God sends to you. Be maladjusted to empire, and oriented toward Jesus’ family values instead. Those values say that all children are our children. All people are our people.
You can save lives. All you have to do is answer the call, and show up. Our salvation is completely bound up in one another’s.
I love you. God loves you. Your life matters. We like having you around. So stay put.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.