Second Sunday after Pentecost- Sermon based on Gospel reading Mark 3:20-35
Good morning, Gobin family. I am so grateful to be here with you this morning and always honored to have the opportunity to speak among the great cast of gifted preachers here in our community.
We have quite a task this morning. The gospel text given us by the lectionary committee is one full of… let’s just say “interesting facets.” In the context presented, Jesus has been engaged in dialogue with the religious leaders regarding the meaning of the Sabbath. They are furious that Jesus allows his disciples to be active on the sabbath. Jesus refutes this with a question that outside of context will not make much sense to us.
Looking at one of the synoptic accounts He asks them, “which one of you, if your oxen got lost or fell into a ditch wouldn’t do something about it? Would you leave it because it was the Sabbath?” The answer is, “of course not!” Further, when we dig just a little deeper we find He is asking them about a commandment given within the deuteronomic law, which they were all very familiar with. Under the law of Moses the people were told to love your neighbor as yourself. Further, as a practical example it goes on, “if your neighbors’ oxen get lose and you find them, you should return them at once. It goes on, if your neighbors’ oxen get lose and you can’t find your neighbor you should care for the oxen as if they were your own- until your neighbor returns.” This is a beautifully practical example of loving your neighbor as yourself. Notice when asked about the Sabbath, Jesus gives an example regarding what one should do when your oxen get lost. He is calling back to the primacy of loving God through loving neighbor.
I encourage you to hold this as we focus in on the verse I would like to highlight today. In our 1030 service we will try to address the unimaginable sight of Jesus being called Satan or from the devil. But for our time this morning I thought we’d go with an easy one as we tackle the so-called “unforgivable sin.”
“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”—
As I consider this text, I honestly cannot ever remember hearing this passage preached on in church. I might suggest that is because it feels irreconcilable.
We know God is forgiveness itself. So how could there be a sin God couldn’t or wouldn’t forgive? Can this be? It doesn’t help that we don’t have a clear understanding of what this particular blaspheming is?
As a child this left me rattled as I often thought, “how will I know if I’ve committed this damnable action?!” If I do this will the sky grow black as a maniacal laughter fills the air?! It can’t just feel like a normal Tuesday, right?!
This left us to simply ignore it, praying for enough cognitive dissonance to not have an anxiety attack. This also left me questioning the logic of this special sin. Why can you blaspheme God or Jesus but not the Holy Spirit- as if Jesus was granting special protection for the most ambiguous of the Trinity.
Anytime something like this arises in text or doctrine, I like to start with what we know. We know God is Love. We know God never punishes. We know God is not retaliatory or retributive. And finally we know God does not need our protection.
Again, we go to the context for answers as we attempt to build a clearer vision for what Jesus is speaking about here. As we mentioned, Jesus has been engaged in an ongoing debate with the religious leaders that center in on 2 primary themes-
- What is the sabbath for?
- The breaking down of what we might call cast systems- (who is in and who is out)
Both of these engage with how we treat our neighbor and the labels that we use to oppress people. We are forced to ask, “is the sabbath something that reminds us of God’s separateness from us, or is the sabbath to remind us of the ways that we reflect the divine image?”
This text goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ radical healing ministry; which I must reiterate, is not simply intended to demonstrate how powerful of a God we serve.
These healing stories are designed to short circuit our systems of worthiness and deserving.
For this reason, these healing acts are political in nature. They are intentionally designed to reconnect people who have been excluded back into the body of community.
As Jesus showcases the radical grace freely given to all, (specifically those deemed sinners by the religious elite) regardless of deserving it, He is in effect doing 2 things- He is showing us that there is no action we engage in that changes our ontological Belovedness.
He is also reminding us that as soon as we refuse to ignore our pain we will inevitably project it onto another. Simply said, whatever pain we don’t transform we will transmit to others. It is with this in mind that Jesus confronts the religious leaders.
This brings us to blaspheming the holy spirit. To give us a little clarity, I’d like to draw from Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage which says,
“Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One another and the one who forgives.”
With brilliant poetic clarity Peterson gets to the writer’s real intent. Jesus is pointing out that as soon as we label someone else, categorizing them as less than, as unholy, or as a sinner, we cut ourself off from the divine flow of mercy that is happening through them. In this way, it would be like sawing the limb that you are standing on and wondering why you fell.
I personally believe it is for this reason Jesus never calls another a sinner. Ever. He is not ignoring the reality that we make mistakes and fall short of Love’s intent for us. Rather, Jesus is saying, YOU are not your worst mistake. He affirms that even your worst mistake can not reverse the divine image implanted within you.
It is not that this sin is unforgivable, it’s that when I ignore your innate divine dignity, I am cutting myself off from the flow of forgiveness and mercy. In the flow of reality you become a conduit of what you yourself have received.
In this view, I am the man born blind. I am the person on death row. I am the one struggling with depression. I am them and they are me. This is OUR pain. These are OUR shortcomings. To use Paul’s language, this is OUR sin. When we deny mercy for another I deny it for myself.
This is precisely why Jesus follows this with the statement “everyone that does the will of my father is my mother, brother, and sister.”
He’s making the declaration that we are all part of one body. One Whole. To ignore this, is to ignore life itself, because without connectedness and communion, we don’t exist fully as our truest selves.
In this way, becoming who we REALLY are is a matter of learning how to become more and more deeply connected.
This is a central theme for Jesus teaching; we are all connected. Any sense of disconnection is only an illusion. This verse CANNOT mean that I can do something which would force God to stop forgiving me. For God to cease to forgive would mean God had ceased to exist.
Rather, NOTHING can stop the flow of divine love; we cannot undo the eternal pattern even by our worst sin. Nothing in the Universe can stop the relentless outpouring of grace and mercy; because regardless of what we might see, hear, or feel- the good news is, Love wins.