The Revd. John "Jack" Chrisman has enjoyed two careers.
The first was in the U.S. Navy from which he retired as a Captain.
The second was as a Priest in the Anglican Communion. He trained for the sacred ministry in England, then served parishes both there and in the U.S.A.
Jack and his wife Donna washed up in second retirement on the shores of Sarasota. We have become good friends.
Jack preached last Sunday at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key where both he and I are Priest Associates.
I was greatly "fed" by his sermon which is reproduced here (with his permission).
SERMON BY THE REVD. JOHN "Jack" CHRISMAN
Holiness and madness -- like genius and insanity -- have traditionally been viewed as closely associated.
It does not take any stretch of the imagination to see John the Baptist take his rightful place among those religious leaders who, by their radical relationship with God and their unorthodox style of teaching, have been used by God to stir up faith. This is traditionally is called stir up Sunday from that phrase in the collect.
These Spirit-infused men and women come from all walks of life. Some, like the prophets of Israel, have back grounds an varied as sheepherder, priest, scribe and farmer. Yet they share a common trait in that they teach in ways designed to unsettle the conventional wisdom of the day.
They practice spiritual "Shock Therapy", they "deconstruct" the carefully constructed cultural reality to make way for the discovery or rediscovery of the reality of God. They are divine eccentrics, and they use their unself-conscious eccentricity to express God's alternative way of life as a summons to unfasten ourselves from the structures that penetrate and permeate and govern our ordinary lives.
By virtue of their very being, these "mad" people of God create conflict -- much more than they bring harmony or peacefulness. That is perhaps why they usually don't live too long.
Since they refuse to derive their living from the world, they can't be bought off, and they can say what God gives them to say.
They are fiercely independent -- making them opt for strange ways of subsistence, like eating grasshoppers and wild honey, and wearing scratchy camel-hair
Did you ever wonder why the Gospel writers felt it so important to point out what John ate and wore? I think he is the only man in scripture who gets this kind of treatment.
Well, it was to point out that very apartness and independence. They are not big on compromise; they have no fondness for or toleration of politics, they aren't into making everyone feel good about themselves, about building collective self-esteem or any of the other psycho-babble we hear so much of these days.
Therefore, they are not just out of step with the world, they are "upside down" in it. That is why they can broadcast God with abandon and exercise their twofold ministry of protest and awakening, whether they are addressing royalty or public officials, large groups, or their closest followers.
In their untamed holiness -- in their "Holy Madness" -- they both fascinate and repel . They see that the cultures they address as people waiting at a railway station for a train that will never come, or for a train whose destination is death. And in their God-drunk, God-driving way, they jar their people out of their spiritual stupor, but always with the intent to bring them to faith through amendment of life.
When asked why she used images of the bizarre and grotesque in her writing, Flannery O'Connor, a woman who herself was possessed of "Spiritual madness"? replied, "To the hard of hearing you shout; to the blind you must draw large and startling figures." that sums up the ministry of the prophets in general and John the Baptist in particular. Often there is no softer, easier way to get across saving truth.
The eruption of John The Baptist into our lives during these weeks every year in Advent signals a necessary lesson that the Church insists we take in every year.
And this lesson does much to delineate "Holy madness" from just plain madness.
Unlike so many "anointed" people who have succumbed to excessive egoism, self-importance and self-promotion, and we know them don't we? -- the Jim Jones's, the Baker's or the Swaggart's of the world -- John reminds us that WE are to be instruments of the work of God in the world.
WE are meant to be servants, not sensations, WE are not the ends, but one of the many means. In other words we should be ever watchful that conviction does not evolve into conceit.
That is the hallmark of John's ministry. At what must have been the height of his popularity, when "the people of Jerusalem and all Judaea were going out to him, and all the region of the Jordon, and they were baptized by him .. confessing their sins" (Mt 3:56), John points to the One whose sandals he is not worthy to carry, the One who will baptize them with "the Holy Spirit and fire." (v.11).
John's way therefore is the way of instrumentality -- and his way is to be our way as well. Unless we are clear on the Source, we remain untransformed, and our spiritual experience inevitably becomes harmful -- a toxic side-effect from the cure the experience was meant to be.
An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated composer and conductor, what was the most difficult instrument in the orchestra to play? The great maestro replied without hesitation, "Second Fiddle. I can always get plenty of First Violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm now that is a problem, and yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony."
This is one of the most significant Advent truths that John the Baptist brings to us, though "playing second fiddle" is often considered a step down in our culture, it is always the posture of the disciple of Christ Jesus. The way of self-promotion must give way to personal transparency, The desire to "be better than" must submit to the desire to "be the servant of".
It is the posture that I would recommend to you this Advent Season. It is the posture that Barrie Shepherd captured so very well in the marvelous prayer that reads:
"As I begin this day, become flesh again in me, Father. Let your timeless and everlasting love live out this sunrise to sunset within the possibilities and impossibilities of my own, very human life. Help me to become Christ to my neighbor, food to the hungry, health to the sick, friend to the lonely, freedom to the enslaved, all in my daily living." AMEN and AMEN