The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Which Madness Will You Chose?

Is there any sanity in this text or is it an invitation to madness?

by Roy M. Terry IV

Gospel Reading:  Mark 3:20-35

For Sunday, June 10, 2012: Year B − Ordinary 10

It is hard to differentiate the voices in your head.

Oh, come on now, you all have them, the “voices” that is. Admit it. Our minds are a flurry of questions, doubts, fears, struggles and even ego trips. Determining which of the voices is of God or “Satan,” well that’s where it gets difficult.

We live in the illusion of sanity and that illusion is defined by community allegiance, talk radio, agendas we support, hip new authors and our desire to be content. How we define sanity is really a result of which narratives we believe to be true, practical and contribute to our comfort and survival. Everything outside of that, well that’s crazy!

Accusation of Insanity

The text for this week is full of conflict and tension. The crowds have grown so large that Jesus cannot even get around. His family is trapped in their quarters and Jesus is basically cornered for display.

The accusations rise and the crowd becomes combative. All this “in-breaking kingdom” stuff, with healing, miracles, demons, well—to be quite honest—is getting out of control.

There has to be a solid rational reason for all this stuff that’s going on through Jesus. “Satan!” Ah, the good old Satan “rational”. It makes sense doesn’t it? Fueled by the Scribes and the Pharisees the crowd starts to label Jesus as “…out of his mind,” “Beelzebul,” everything but God.

The Satan-source might make more sense because we can see the evil in the world, the brokenness, the crazy magicians throughout the ages who perform spectacles and sorcery, but God? As revealed in Jesus? Well, that just doesn’t make sense.

The Only Sanity in the Text

Amidst the flash mob of speculation, Jesus’ family might appear to be the only truly sane people in the group. Concerned for his wellbeing they try their best to get him out of the scene.

The plea of insanity can spare a life or destroy it. The Scribes seek to use it for destruction, Jesus’ family seeks to use it to get him out of the situation. If one can convince the crowd someone is insane, we can justify it all and get on with our ordinary self-centered lives again. But then we are left with Jesus, who by the end of the text has distanced himself from everyone – mob, Scribes and family.

Jesus’ teaching and life step far outside that which would be considered normal.

The Imagination of a Madman

I remember sitting in a class on eschatology being taught by Dr. Willie Jennings. On one particular day Dr. Jennings was explaining the gift of imaginative space. He went on to share how God has gifted us with the ability to think beyond what is possible. Imagination is a gift and the freedom to use it can be dangerous, for it opens the mind to possibilities beyond what appears possible.

The danger is that usually others bound in the illusions of normalcy will find such freedom “to imagine” a threat. That is why for centuries much of the church has taught that using your imagination could lead to sin – or worse “Satan!” Dr. Jennings went on to say, “You see I am confident in this gift, for in Jesus I believe in the imagination of a madman.”

The Hardest Question

Aside from all the blasphemy and eternal damnation is this text an invitation to madness?

Rev. Roy Terry serves as the pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL. In addition to working at the church, Roy enjoys supporting his wife and daughters equestrian pursuits, playing in the Holy Moly Band, getting a few tattoos and singing classic rock tunes at the local sports pub. He has been published in Christian Century, Duke Divinity Schools publication Divinity, The Ekklesia Project, and was a contributor in Diana Butler Bass’s work on re-traditioning churches, From Nomads to Pilgrims and Christianity for the Rest of Us.


  1. Drew Downs says:

    It is clearly call to the irrational and the creative. And away from self-preservation and legalism. It certainly is toward what THIS WORLD calls madness…

  2. Jennifer says:

    What a beautiful quote from Dr. Jennings. I can see why you remember it. That, Sir, WILL preach.

    I’m not a Sponge Bob fan, but my kids love it. One episode that I happened to catch was about Sponge Bob and Patrick playing in an empty box. Squidward hears all kinds of incredible noises-gun fire and such- coming from the box. When he looks in, he sees those two idiots and nothing else. Sponge Bob tells him they are using their ‘Imagination’. It was very well done as far as annoying cartoons go.

    Anyway, not to sound [read} too cliche-ish, but if we as the church are so determined to stay in the box, I wish we would stop being afraid and try something different. Use our imagination. Make the Squidwards wonder what the heck is going on and climb inside with us to find out.

    *Please note. I am NOT using Sponge Bob in my sermon. That show is really annoying.*

  3. Roy says:

    Jennifer: thanks for sharing! I happen to love Sponge Bob – and would have no problem using a Sponge Bob illustration in a sermon. Some of the best, and most creative, social commentary comes from cartoons – “Southpark” “Family Guy” and yes even Spong Bob. I was talking with a friend yesterday about the text – the invitiation to live into the imaginative space of the kingdom – to embrace all that is good – and to not blaspheme the Holy Spirit. We both agreed that following the imagination of Jesus might actually challenge us to see the work of God unfolding in places we never expected – or even through people we might consider outsiders or better yet our enemies. To deny that work, to rest in our own categories, to continue to form God in our image – well – is to stifle the imagination and just possibly blaspheme the HS.

How do you read?