Sermon: Have We Lost Our Marbles?
Scripture: Mark 3:20-21
Date: February 5, 2017
Last week a truck overturned on the interstate near Indianapolis. Not particularly noteworthy except for the cargo it was carrying It was carrying 38,000 pounds of marbles. Now I used to play marbles when I was a kid and as I remember, most marbles didn’t weigh much. The average glass marble only weighs about two tenths of an ounce. So I did the math. 5 marbles to an ounce. 16 ounces to a pound – so 80 marbles to a pound. The truck was carrying 38,000 pounds. Multiply 38,000 by 80 and it turns out that the truck spilled more than 3 million marbles on the interstate. Now that’s a lot of marbles to clean up. As I listened to this story I could hear my mother’s voice saying to me, “make sure you clean up all the marbles or someone will slip on one and break their neck.” Sometimes it was a challenge getting them all cleaned up because they would roll all over the place. So imagine the challenge of cleaning up 3 million marbles. And, of course, all of the news people, reporting on this story, couldn’t resist and reported that the truck driver had “lost his marbles.” which, of course is slang for “losing your mind”. Now I did a little research and apparently this phrase dates back to an article in the Portsmouth Ohio newspaper that appeared in April of 1898 that talked of someone getting confused in a speech as “getting his marbles mixed.” So the phrase evolved from a synonym for confusion to the more familiar comparison to losing one’s mind. And in fact, I have been accused of “losing my marbles” on more than one occasion. Some of my friends thought I had lost my marbles when I left law school after a pretty good first year and enrolled in seminary. But that has worked out okay, although there have been some times in the last thirty seven years when I have wondered if I had indeed lost my mind. And I suspect there have been similar times in your life. I recently read that the average American has at least 10 different jobs in the course of a lifetime and that the average tenure in one job is 3.8 years. That’s a lot of opportunities for us to question whether we’ve lost our marbles or not. And I think there are times in the church, that we wonder if some of the collective marbles of the church are missing. I know that there were some in the Kentucky Conference who thought the early St. Luke pioneers who started this church had lost their marbles when they decided to build on this piece of property that was out in the middle of nowhere at that time. But forty years later that has worked out pretty well. Sometimes stepping out in faith and taking on a ministry or project that seems bigger than you can tackle leads people to wonder if you’ve lost your marbles. Which brings us to this scripture passage. Mark tells us that even Jesus’s family worried that he had taken on more then he could handle. He was attracting great crowds of people and trying to meet all of their needs, to his own detriment and much to the consternation of the priests and the Pharisees. Even the Romans were becoming wary of Him because they viewed the kind of crowds that He was attracting as a threat to their authority. But yet He persisted and so some were worried that he had lost his mind. Everywhere He went He was generating great excitement.
And I think St. Luke is such an exciting place to be in ministry because you are willing to risk losing a few marbles, in a good way, for the sake of meeting people’s needs. This church has a history of doing big things.
For example, experts would say that a church the size of St. Luke shouldn’t take on a project like the Life Center. In fact, I think there were some who said that to you. And you did it on the cusp of an economic downturn. And yet you stepped out in faith and now it is hard to imagine the church without the Life Center and the ministries that it has opened us to. And I know that there were some who thought we had lost our marbles when we started the balloon fund and said if we can pay an additional 78000 dollars each year towards the mortgage we will pay off the loan in half the time and save a million dollars in interest. But in a few weeks we will celebrate the second anniversary of the fund and in that time we have paid off nearly two and a half additional years.
As St. Luke has continued to grow you have discovered time and again that it was worth the risk of losing your marbles for Christ. The Apostle Paul knew a little about losing your mind for Christ, essentially giving up all he had known and been taught to follow Him, and I suspect that was what He had in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians that “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”
Jesus’s family wanted Him to back off, play it safe, in order to appease the powers that be. Through all these years of ministry I have learned that churches that are intent to protect their marbles, play it safe, all of the time are churches that aren’t doing much for God’s Kingdom. And so every time I hear someone question whether we’ve lost our marbles, I take that as high praise.
Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t experience some growing pains. We have our disagreements and struggles, sometimes we stretch ourselves beyond our means, but in the end we always seem to come come out stronger.
Our overall giving sometimes falls short of our needs. We‘re doing well in retiring the debt, but we sometimes fall behind in our giving for the rest of the ministries of the church. We all need to do something about that. And sometimes we stretch our people resources pretty thin. But you know what (and some of you will probably think that I have lost my marbles when I say this) but God will never call us to ministries that are beyond our resources, both material and human. We do not fall short in our giving because the resources aren‘t there. God has blessed us as a people with an abundance of resources, more than enough for the ministry of this church , and He is calling more than enough people to be in missions, and to work with our children and to teach Sunday School, and to staff all the ministries of the church. The problem is that many of us aren‘t responding to His call. We are not always open to what God is placing on our hearts. We don’t always use our gifts the way God wants us to. Because we think that God has lost His marbles in calling us. I know that’s true for me. There is always so much more that I could be doing. Should be doing. But one of the great things about St. Luke is that we are family and though, like any family , we have our “marble losing” moments, we always pull together , meet the challenges, and come out stronger in the end. Because though we are not always of one mind, we are of one heart.
In her book, Up With Worship, Anne Ortland writes:
the average church is too much like a bag of marbles – we scratch against each other and make a little noise, but we really don‘t affect each other much. The church should be more like a bag of grapes that mesh together, producing a sweet-tasting wine because of the interaction.
Now she uses the imagery of grapes here to describe the church, which is the same imagery that Jesus used when He took the cup at the last supper and talked about a new covenant between God and His people. The church is intended to be the visible representation of that covenant, a community, the body of Christ. John wrote:
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (the cup of Jesus at the last supper), purifies us from all sin.
In applying that passage to the church today, one writer has described the church in this way:
There is a common goal among believers – to glorify Christ and to spend eternity with Him someday. There‘s a common lifestyle – “if we walk in the light – we have fellowship.” There‘s a common sacrifice – we’ve given . . time, money and some pleasures of the world for something we agree is greater. There are common values, common worldviews, common habits, and traditions that bind us together as the church. If you think about it, the twelve apostles were a diverse group. Simon the Zealot was a patriot – who hated the . . . government. Matthew was a tax collector- a collaborator with Rome. But Jesus united them. Thomas and Peter were opposite too. Peter was impulsive . . quick to believe . . .Thomas was melancholy, a thinker, slow to respond but deeply committed. All these personalities must have occasionally unnerved each other. But they were united by a cause bigger than their own egos and personalities – the deity of Christ.
And for the sake of Christ, they managed to turn their marbles into mushy grapes, and they celebrated community every time they gathered and shared the cup of Jesus. And it didn’t matter that people sometimes thought they were out of their minds. It is not an easy task for the church to become that kind of community. In some ways we have to lose our marbles because the church at it’s best is a diverse group of people. We come from many age groups, many interests, many economic classes, many ethnic backgrounds, many political persuasions , many levels of faith, and God wants us to become a community that is centered in Christ. And sometimes we look at the diverse group of people that He sends our way and wonder if He’s lost His marbles.
But the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. And it seems to me that He gives us two keys to becoming community even in the midst of our diversity. The first of those is found in the words of Jesus himself. He said: “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Love one another. Now that seems like pretty basic stuff for us now, as it was for the Jews of Jesus day. Or is it? You see, there is one word there that might give us trouble, that we often tend to overlook when thinking about this familiar statement. And that‘s the word “new“. Jesus apparently didn’t think this was basic stuff. This is a new commandment. Now that was a pretty shocking statement coming from Jesus considering the thousands of years of interaction between God and humanity that led up to that moment. Since the very beginning of time, the moment of creation, God has desired that humanity live in community with one another. Creation tells us that God didn‘t want Adam to be alone, and so He created Eve. And community was born. When the people of Abraham struggled to live in community, God first offered them His covenant and promised a land in which they could dwell together , a promised land. And as Abraham‘s descendants searched the wilderness for that promised land, to help them live in love and community with one another He gave them ten basic commandments. And as the years progressed and the community began to break down, He sent messengers and prophets to call people back into community, into love with one another and with God. And eventually God sent Jesus, His own Son, to show them what love was. This is a new commandment because the people had no clue what it means to love one another. Never have really. Because love for one another is a reflection of Christ’s love for them. And so the New Testament gives us lots of guidelines for how we are to love one another. In fact, that phrase “one another” is one of the most commonly used phrases in the New Testament. Paul says that we are to: be devoted to one another, honor one another, live in harmony with one another , accept one another, instruct one another, be patient with one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgive one another, submit to one another, encourage, live in peace with one another, and try to be kind to one another. The writer of Hebrews says that we are to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. James says we should confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. And Peter writes that we are to love one another deeply and live in harmony with one another . One writer sums all of that up with these words:
The Bible talks about bearing one another’s burdens. There‘s a love that happens in the fellowship of the church that doesn‘t happen often in other circles, because we are willing to confess our faults and our problems to one another.
Now that is counter cultural, but sometimes we must be willing to lose our marbles for one another. And so when we come to this Communion rail we are celebrating community with and for one another. That’s certainly been true at St. Luke and because of that this is one of the the most harmonious churches that I know of. But you know we can do better. Sometimes its hard to become a part of the fellowship of a church. Sometimes people fall through the cracks and get lost. Just as Jesus cares for each one of us in a personal, individual way, that’s how we are to care for one another. We must continue to reach out to one another until everyone in the church experiences that new commandment , is included in God‘s family.
Someday I want to see the Giant Redwood trees in California. They stand hundreds of feet tall and have trunks large enough that it would take several people with hands linked together to reach all the way around. Some of them are thousands of years old. So you would think that trees that large and that old would have massive root systems in order to stand and survive. But a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of the storms that have recently hit California, I read where one of those huge trees had become uprooted and had fallen. And the article said that they actually have very shallow root systems. And that they have been able to survive because their roots are intertwined with one another. They literally hold each other up. It seems to me that’s a beautiful picture of what the church ought to be. Of the New Covenant.
And then the second key to being the community of God is to show that love to others. That‘s what John is talking about when he says that no one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God’s love is seen through us. Now it’s mind boggling that God chooses to reveal His perfect love through such imperfect vessels as us but that’s what He intends because people inside and outside of the church are looking for a place where they just don’t learn about God but where they can experience God’s love.
Sometime ago I read an article in which the author was lamenting the cold, impersonal society we had become. He blamed it all on the architecture of our homes. He wrote:
These days, thanks to the electric garage-door opener, you can drive straight into your house, put down the garage door before you ever leave your car, never risking contact with a neighbor. We used to build big front porches with a swing, now we build a back yard deck with a privacy fence.
The church needs to be a sharp contrast to the cold, impersonal society we‘ve become. George Barna has done a lot of polling of unchurched people. He asked a group of the unchurched if they were to try and select a church to attend, what would be the criteria upon which they would make that selection. Can you guess what the number one response was? It was not some of the typical things we think about. The quality of the facilities, or the children‘s programs, or how good the sermons are, or style of worship, or even theological belief or doctrine. The number one criteria was “how much the people in the church seem to care about each other.” He concluded that because of the impersonal world in which we live, people are starved for love and affection and the reality is they will seek it out wherever they can find it.
I heard a preacher talk about a controversy that arose in the large church he was serving about the greeting time during worship. Some didn’t like it. It took too long. Distracted from worship. Made guests uncomfortable. So they were going to vote on doing away with it at the leadership meeting. And the pastor said that he was leaning towards voting to stop it. But in the week leading up to the vote, he received a note from a lady. It read, “Please don’t let them do away with the greeting time. That is the only time during the week that I am ever touched by another human being.” When we care about each other, we reflect God‘s love. It is so wonderful to hear visitors talk about how friendly St. Luke is, and how comfortable they felt coming here. We are a friendly church, but we can do better. Because sometimes there are people who are not greeted well when they come to worship. All of us need to be about offering hospitality to those who come. It’s more than having greeters at every door welcoming persons in to God’s house, helping them find their way. Showing the love of Christ needs to be all of our mission. All of us need to take time to find out who‘s sitting with you in the pew. Inviting them to share a cup of coffee with you. And we need to be sensitive to those who are missing and reach out to them. We need to be losing our marbles in offering the love of Jesus to everyone who comes our way. That’s how God’s love is made complete in us. And through His love the church loses its marbles in the eyes of our impersonal world and becomes the image of Christ, a place of welcome and worship and love and refuge. Where everyone can bring their joys as well as their struggles and know that they will be loved unconditionally. That’s what this Sacrament is all about. The unconditional love of Jesus who from the Cross calls us into community together.
Several years ago, Ken Medema wrote a song about what that community ought to be. He wrote these words:
If this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?
And if this is not a place, where my spirit can take wing, where can I go to fly.
If this is not a place where my questions can be asked, where shall I go to seek?
And if this is not a place where my heart cries can be heard, where shall I go to speak?
If this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to fly?
That’s the kind of place, the kind of church, that reflects the very heart of God. A church that has lost its marbles, and has taken on the cup of Jesus. May we gather today as a community that is in stark contrast to what is going on in our world today, a community of love and grace.
Oh Lord, may we continue to strive, as your church, to love one another in all things, even when there are those who think we’ve lost our minds. Let us love one another, as you have loved us.