Sermon for Proper 5, Year B June 10, 2018

Genesis 3:8-15                   Psalm 130                                            2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1                     Mark 3:20-35

When I was working as a Hospice Chaplain I visited with a man who said he learned to read late in life by reading the Bible.  It was the only book he had read and he was reading it again for about the 5th time.  In one of our discussions, he said there is one sin for which we cannot be forgiven:  blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  I did not remember having read this in the Bible, but I knew enough not to question what he said.

It was not the first time he had said something that made me realized that we read the scriptures differently.  He read them to know what was necessary for salvation; I read them to understand the nature of God and our relationship with God.  Someone who believes the scriptures to be literally the word of God sees and remembers passages that I overlook, since I do not focus on individual scriptures.  I focus, instead, on the overarching message.

Today’s reading from Mark contains the verse he was quoting:  Jesus says:

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

This is a difficult passage, I admit.  I understand God to be forgiving and capable of turning everyone’s live around.  So, for Jesus to say this, challenges my theology.

And, I suspect that others find it challenging as well, since in our tradition, we teach that all sins may be forgiven.  In the Episcopal Church, we speak of scripture, reason, and tradition as being the foundation for our practice of faith.  All three are important, since there are times like this when what we read in the scriptures contradict what we teach in our tradition.

Applying reason helps us to resolve these conflicts.  I turned to a commentary by Theologian William Barclay to help me.  He says that when reading this scripture.  We need to note that Jesus was not speaking of the Holy Spirit as we might.  The Holy Spirit, for the Jewish people meant God’s guidance which enabled them to recognize the truth.  With this in mind Barclay writes:

If people refuse to exercise any God-given faculty they will in the end lose it.  If they live in the dark long enough they will lose the ability to see.  If the stay in bed long enough they will lose the power to walk.  . . . And, if people refuse the guidance of God’s Spirit often enough they will become in the end incapable of recognizing that truth when they see it.  In their eyes, evil becomes good and good evil. They can look on the goodness of God and call it the evil of Satan.

This makes sense to me.  We are capable of turning our backs on God and when it becomes habit, we can become incapable of seeing God’s love being expressed.

Jesus said this in response to the scribes who were telling people that Jesus was evil.  The scribes were the “they” who said that Jesus, “has an unclean spirit.” In this story, the scribes are people who had repeatedly resisted God’s spirit and were no longer capable of seeing God’s truth.  I suspect we all know people like this, people who see evil in everything.  People who do not trust others and assume that every good act is just a ploy to trap or manipulate others.

With this in mind, it is not God who refuses to forgive, it the person’s repeated unwillingness to accept the spirit, God’s guidance, that makes them incapable of seeing the truth.  All that is required for forgiven is repentance – but if we are no longer able to see what we do as wrong or hurtful, we will refuse to change – to repent.  Consequently, we cannot be forgiven.  Is this condition eternal?  I don’t think so.  Jesus sometimes exaggerates to make a point.  Throughout the Old Testament God intervenes when people stray, and in the New Testament Jesus comes to us because God refuses to give up on us.

I believe this is as true today as it was when Jesus was born.  God has not given up on any of us.  The spirit of truth reveals God’s love to us daily – that is, when we are looking for it.  Today’s lesson is one that teaches us to look for evidence of God’s love in our lives and let it guide us to the way of truth and life.

As our gospel reading continues, Jesus is told that his mother, brothers, and sisters are outside asking for him.  He responds by asking, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Jesus looks at those around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  He is not denying his own family, but letting the people know that they, too, are his family.

I’ve heard many people talk about their church family, and that is what Jesus is doing here.  Note too, that he defines his family as anyone who is doing the will of God.  Thus, the truth being revealed is that it is God’s love that unites us and makes us a family.  God’s love shared and lived as part of this community of seekers.

Today, these two portions of the gospel can be summed up as seek and you shall find.  It is up to us, then, to seek the truth of God, for it is the truth that leads to life.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God open our hearts that we might feel your presence.  Show us your way that we might see the path you have set for us.  Help us to become a light to those who live in the darkness that they, too, might see the healing power of your love.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.