Abundant Grace Community Church of Atlanta, Ga.
Reading for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widow’s houses and for a pretense will make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which makes a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” (Mark 12:38-44 RSV)
We live in a world where things must be just so or people think you are crazy. As you read the Bible passage for this message you may think I’m crazy. For this passage has nothing to do with dogs or being crazy. Actually, if you have read or heard this passage before it was probably centered around a giving or tithing sermon or article. I would like to suggest that this is a matter of perspective. It just depends on how you view things.
When I first came into ministry, I heard a story that kind of makes the point. A traveling salesperson comes into a small hotel looking for a room. At the counter he sees a dog lying on the floor. So he asks the clerk, “Does your dog bite?” The clerk, without even looking up, replies, “No, he doesn’t.” The salesperson then reached down to pet the dog, who immediately bites him. In great pain, he cries, “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite!” To which the clerk calmly replied, “That’s not my dog.”
We in the gay, lesbian, bi and transgender community seem to operate from the perspective that to be the way we are must be very crazy indeed. We are told that we are shameful, vile and evil people. We are told we have no place in God’s realm. We have been to therapists, psychologists, medical doctors, undergone electric shock therapy, and even ex-gay ministries. We behave in ways that are destructive to ourselves and those around us through drugs, alcohol abuse and sex with anyone, anywhere.
We can see this perspective of how we view ourselves after awhile becomes our truth. Since we believe that to be crazy is wrong [and certainly can lead to crazy behavior] then we are wrong, dead wrong. We have come to believe if our life doesn’t pass some magical formula of acceptability, then it’s bad! [CRAZY]
I would like for us to think about changing that perspective of crazy from a negative to a positive. This is where the true idea of “crazy dog” comes into play.
The Crow Indians had a way of dealing with life when they found themselves in a rut, or when challenges became overwhelming. The medicine was to behave as a “crazy dog.” They would have dinner at lunch, breakfast at dinner, or lunch at dinner. They would get up in the morning and put their clothes on backwards, or inside out, or just not put any clothes on (can you imagine your neighbors reaction to that?). Or, they would stay up all night, banging on pots and pans. They would do anything to put the spark back into their lives.
This “crazy dog” behavior also did something else for them. It wasn’t just one Crow that did it, it was the entire tribe! Because staying in a rut or not meeting a challenge would mean death for the whole tribe! This “crazy dog” stuff means taking self-risking steps, daring to seem foolish or weak or strange for the sake of others and your own sense of well being.
As we look at the scripture for this article, on closer inspection we begin to see some “crazy dog” behavior. In this passage Jesus takes on the religious leaders and rulers; in this day it was crazy behavior. Further we have a woman giving the very last of what she had to the church. Who among us would give our very last penny to the church? That’s crazy! Yet in the craziness, there is a call to wholeness, a call to change the perspective of what is really crazy.
Jesus had a ministry that promoted this kind of “crazy dog” thinking. The first shall be last, the greatest will be the least, the strongest are the weakest, the greatest love for someone is to die for them, forgive your enemies 70 times 7, turn the other cheek. We can see this is truly a crazy dog style of religion. No wonder the mainstream conservative churches steer away from it. God forbid in this technical world they appear crazy!
As I mentioned earlier, the mainline church uses this passage as a kind of ecclesiastical fundraising text. They use it to guilt trip people into giving money to the church or those special projects.
In actuality, this is a teaching against the religious establishment and calling for people to do the opposite of what is expected. The clergy of that day in their long robes and prayers have their hypocrisy exposed. They were setting rules that stopped people from experiencing the realm of God. The were expecting to have respect, just because of their positions. Jesus used the example of the widow as an in-your-face, backhanded indictment of a system that would go across country to make one convert and then make them twice the son or daughter of hell. Can our own religious establishment not have learned? Apparently not.
This is but one example. Throughout his life Jesus, again and again, performed crazy dog stunts. He ate with tax collectors, spoke to prostitutes, walked among the lepers, the poor and the sick. He dared to ask if a rule was more important than God’s people. Do you get the picture? God is calling us to be crazy dogs!
All through history we have people following the call of the crazy dog! Sarah and Abraham — kids at their age? Moses standing before the mighty Pharaoh and saying: “Let my people go!” — surely he was crazy. Esther, going before the king at the risk of being put to death, yet declared: “If I die, I die.” Purely crazy. Joseph and Mary — you remember the virgin that was pregnant and the very old man didn’t do it!
We have seen “crazy dog” behavior today as well. Rev. Troy Perry — you’re queer, you can’t preach. You may know him better now as the founder of the largest gay and lesbian Christian church in the world! Harvey Milk — gay, and a city representative. Bayard Rustin, who came out while working for Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Martina Navratilova — the champion of women’s tennis. Ellen — who’d have thought?
Abundant Grace Community Church was a crazy concept, even crazier was the idea of being a place where folks could actually walk their talk. A place of refuge in a wild and hurtful world. A place where one could stand and be who they are without judgment, and certainly without exclusion. Oh yes, we are being called to do some crazy things — it’s all about being a crazy dog.
We likewise are called to do some crazy things. My personal crazy dream is an alternative schools for our gay, lesbian, bi and transgender youth here in Atlanta. We need to come out whenever and wherever it will bring out community a positive witness. We must learn how to forgive and wipe the slate clean. If we don’t the straights will get us.
Robert Kennedy said: “Some people see things as they are and ask why? We see things as they are not, and ask why not?”
This is our challenge. We need to look at our world and loudly ask the question, why not? Why not marriage, why not job protection, why not insurance coverage, why not children of God? Why not?
Jesus calls us as a people of faith to refuse to give yesterday’s answers to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Jesus, through his example, is asking us not to just observe or participate in change, but to be the cause of change to the honor and glory of God.
Take this crazy thought with you this day: “I am gay, lesbian, bi or transgender, and God created me just the way I am. That is good, I am good, God is good! I am a crazy dog to the honor and glory of God!! Amen.
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980s and have been legally married since 2015.