The Defects of Jesus, III: Reckless

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March 15, 2020

The Defects of Jesus, III: Reckless

Passage: Luke 8:26–37 (selected verses)

Bible Text: Luke 8:26–37 (selected verses) | Preacher: Reverend Dr. Jo Forrest | Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.

Click here to listen to this sermon.

In January, Bill conceived of this Lenten sermon series to consider the defects of Jesus—those character traits society teaches to avoid in the pursuit of excellence—yet create the good life God intends.

At that time, I selected Jesus’ risk-taking. Throughout the past few months, my experience in risk management tells me, Jesus was not just a risk-taker, his ministry was one reckless encounter after another. He would have never survived a corporate risk review.

In these unprecedented events of the last month, I pondered; should I change this sermon? Reckless? “Fear not” is spoken over 300 times in scripture. Our faith history endured through plagues and tragedies and frightful events. In the weeks ahead, turn to scripture for comfort.

I kept returning to this story from Luke. Like a kaleidoscope, with every turn, clarity of human and divine nature comes to the fore in extraordinary beauty.

What might be thought of as Jesus’ recklessness is something for us to behold and embody, particularly in a time of uncertainty.

Holy spirit, truth divine, fall upon our hearts.  Silence in us any voice but yours, open these words of scripture to startle us with the enduring truth of our lives and our future. May we follow your son. Amen

In Luke’s gospel, we learn that into the chaos of Roman brutality, a child is born. God’s son becomes the animating force to heal the sick, bring clarity of vision, and break down the barriers between people. Amidst pervasive fear, Jesus methodically approaches the common folk to reverse the established order with his saving grace. In place of fear, he restores love.

Evident in the sermon he preaches to a crowd on a Galilean plain,
the poor are blessed and woe to the rich,
those who are excluded, hated, reviled are blessed
woe to those who are filled for they will go hungry.
Pushing even further, Jesus calls anyone who “will listen”… “to love your enemies and do good for those who hate you.” Shortly after this sermon, Jesus and his disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee. In the wide-open water they encounter a storm and with just a breath Jesus brought calm. Listen to what happens next as they land on distant shores.

Luke 8:26–37 (selected verses)
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.
When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man….
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.
Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned….
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
And they were afraid…. Then all the people of the surrounding country asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
So Jesus got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Imagine taking on the task to teach some of the most accomplished athletes in professional sports new practices to improve their ability to win.

The most accomplished meaning Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and their teammates.

The man who did just this is George Mumford.

He persuaded these titans to move from a mindset of seeking to fiercely demolish their opponents to, instead, be fueled by their love of the game.

What do you say to change someone’s mindset?

Mumford started carefully, promising they could “get in the zone” or “play in the flow.”

Mumford introduced new daily habits…he taught the daily habit to become so mindful of your body and breath; you literally slow time between stimulus and response.

Teaching in a secular arena, he speaks in a way that resonates on the street, and yet is seeped with scripture: “know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

After you hone your mind to be fully present, when you arrive at the free throw line, you are literally deaf to the roaring crowd. He quotes one of my favorite psalms, “be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10).

And he describes listening only to the “still small voice” while coaxing these athletic gods to be vulnerable to a higher power.

Gaining their trust, he becomes blunt: “don’t be hatin’.”

Or in non-street terms, don’t be a hater.

Hate does not win…love and compassion do.

Don’t hate the other. Don’t hate yourself for any prior mistake. The here and now is different from the past. Don’t hate yourself for the past. Pick up and begin again.

Let your love for the game and the desire to merely connect the ball and hoop become so fundamental that everything else fades.

In a lecture filmed before Kobe’s death, Mumford glows describing the day when Kobe turned his mind and body, to just love the game; he scored more points in the first half than ever before.[1]

In my normal exuberant way of bubbling when a new idea resonates, I bounced with stories of Phil Jackson, the Lakers, and Kobe while walking with my husband. He calmly reminded me that Bulls fans have known of Jackson’s mindfulness practices from long ago. I am late to the game.

Perhaps.

But, in this game of life we are in today we need to hear “don’t be hatin’” again.

With a focus on the good, you can move from thrashing within and fearing the chaos of the other, to instead rest at the eye of the hurricane. In the middle of the hurricane you experience calm. In the eye, you can think.

Mumford placed alongside drills and endurance training the daily practices to tune your mind toward the good.

Don’t be hatin’.  You cannot hate your way to excellence.

When you enter the game, keep your eye on what matters now.

In the face of an elusive virus, may we keep our mind and heart of your entire being focused on love of God for us and for others. We have the power to create space, and love, and harmony, and time, and calm.

Jesus sought to change the way we engage in the game of life.

This most unlikely carpenter brought the tools to build love against the weapons of destruction.

When others see risk, Jesus imagines a future.

As tribes build walls, Jesus breaks down barriers.

Others hoard, Jesus provides.

Once an “enemy,” Jesus creates friends.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of a man known only as the Garasene demoniac. A man no longer fit for human companionship, naked, as good as dead, and living in a tomb.

Jesus’ desire to love this exiled man…and to teach us what love looks like…compels him and all his followers to sail across a turbulent sea and into foreign lands.

He restores this man “into his right mind” so he is able to sit at Jesus’ feet like the other disciples, be clothed, and return to his city, reversing everything in his life.

No wonder the people of the area of the Garesene fear Jesus, telling him to leave. Reversal implies chaos. No one wants the established order to be blown up.  No one wants to be vulnerable. Twice the story tells us they were consumed with fear.

When we are most afraid is exactly when we fight. Or, we retreat. Or we exclude. And, everyone begins to look like an enemy.

At the opposite, we have to imagine, this man found fellowship with Jesus’ disciples. Imagine this man finding a new community that truly “gets it” to revert to street slang.

Each of the men and women whom Jesus called found their lives upended. From outward standards nothing grew easier or more stable. Leaving home and trade, to become itinerant in Galilee, they followed him into places they had always known were life threatening.

How foolish.  And yet, no wonder they wanted to travel with Jesus.

In Jesus, reckless love abounds.

In less than six minutes Amy Cragg can run a mile, and then another mile, and another, for twenty-six consecutive miles…in other words, Cragg is an elite distance runner.

In 2012 she missed the Olympic team by running one minute, twelve seconds, slower than her next competitor. Fourth place sent her home.

In the 2016 trials, at the mid point of the race, she starts, as she describes, to “bonk,” despite a strong start. That is when one of her toughest rivals, Shalane Flanagan, slowed down—during the race—to say, “we will stick to each other, we will finish.”

Gavin Kilduff studies rivalries as a professor of management at NYU. Across a wide variety of industries and throughout sports, he found motivation is not a fully rational process.

In any rivalry there are opportunities to compete and cooperate and science shows you can do both effectively and both parties can improve.

Supportive rivalries click into place when you’re working for something larger than your own success.

What matters is the order in which you do them.

In that race, Flanagan brought Cragg back from bonking, and miles later, as Flanagan faded, Cragg slowed down her pace. At the right time, she did take off and promised, “you’ve got this, I will see you at the finish line.”

Cragg won the trial. And Flanagan?

Cragg’s promise to see her at the finish motivated her. Flanagan took third and they both qualified for the Olympics. They continued to train together…hard. Competing every day. On the world stage in Rio, they finished less than three minutes apart.[2]

At the end of the day, athletic competitions are a zero-sum with one person or one team taking gold. But competing and excelling are fueled by feelings and relationships, creating far more than only win/lose.[3] Competition and cooperation raise everyone’s boat, even among the most privileged and tenacious.

Flanagan’s influence persists into this next wave of runners.

At the 2020 time trials in Atlanta earlier this month, 139th seed Molly Siedel, who works as a barista and 10th seed Aliphine Taliamuk had six miles to go, faced twenty mile per hour wind gusts and a 1,300-foot ascent. Taliamuk said simply, “let’s to this.”

They finished within seconds of each other, qualifying for the team. Coach Flanagan posted in social media, “if you are lonely at the top, you did it wrong.”[4]

We don’t do this alone. “This” meaning the game of life.

The superstars of center court excel by loving more, not by hating. They create calm by becoming vulnerable to a higher power.

Elite runners find speed and a capacity, when training together, for the good of the other and themselves.

Jesus brought the church into being by calling each of his disciples and each of us away from our self-centered lives to care for the welfare of the other.

Reckless love lures us into a word of hope beyond any human construction that is not divided by those who are able and those who are vulnerable.

We don’t survive a pandemic alone, we do so by honoring all of God’s people.

To love each other calls us to disrupt our routines, slow down, and join together, online.

We closed in-person worship to create solidarity between the frail the strong the young the old. No one will be the other or left behind. Was it reckless? No, this is how we love the entire body of the church.

Sure, we are homesick for what once was. As we move through more bad news and restrictions, we will find ways to rise, better angels will appear.

The very nature of divine love might look reckless. The man from Garasene—no longer called the demoniac—receives the task from Jesus to go and tell people in the city and country that love wins.

This is the truth.

[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Health/michael-jordan-kobe-bryants-meditation-coach-flow-ready/story?id=38175801

[2] “Marathon Women,” Olympics 2016, https://www.olympic.org/rio-2016/athletics/marathon-women

[3] Adam Grant, “Become Friends you’re your rivals,” A TED Original Podcast, https://www.ted.com/talks/worklife_with_adam_grant_become_friends_with_your_rivals/transcript

[4] Martin Fritz Huber, “The Many Surprises of the Olympic Marathon Trials,” Outside, March 2, 2020, https://www.outsideonline.com/2409987/2020-olympic-trials-marathon-results?fbclid=IwAR34E_oBfqoMgH4iq8HGg8bKIfZ16TlNxzUDPd9jLCKLD5P-JyJu_o9mwVI#close