Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 6, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 2

Pentecost 2, 2021
Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

At the seminary I attended, they didn’t let us preach until our final year.  So, after two years, that means you get the chance to speak from the pulpit for the first time.  And frankly, it’s quite terrifying!  And, so, I figured the best way to start that sermon was by saying something funny, in order to break the ice.  So, I climbed up into the pulpit and began by saying,
“The first time I was arrested as a teenager . . .”

It worked.  They laughed, I relaxed, and continued on with my sermon.  What I didn’t know at the time is that if you use a joke in a sermon, the joke has to be the point of the sermon, because that’s the part people are going to remember.  In my case, after that opening, everybody in the room was probably thinking, “Wait.  First time?  As a teenager?”  And then they probably forgot my whole point, which was that when Jesus says, “Follow me,” it’s different than when a cop yells “Follow me!”  I started with something so distracting that people missed everything else I said.

And in that same spirit, let’s talk about this . . .
In today’s gospel reading, perhaps you noticed Jesus says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”  Kind of jumps out at you, doesn’t it?  Makes you forget everything else in the reading because you’re wondering, “Have I blasphemed against the Holy Spirit?”  If Jesus says it’s the one unforgivable sin, then I definitely don’t want to be guilty of that!  Well I can tell you straight away that if you’re worried about this unforgivable sin, it means you are not guilty of it.  We do not come to faith on our own; we do not decide to follow Jesus.  No, the Holy Spirit calls us to faith, nudges us in the direction of God, gives us the desire to follow Jesus.  So, the fact that you are listening to these words today tells you that you have not blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is why you’re here today, in person or online.  You don’t have to worry about this sin.  So then, let’s talk about someone else’s sin . . .

In the first reading this morning, we heard the familiar story of Adam and Eve.  Or, at least part of it.  Adam and Eve have already disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and are now hiding from God in the garden.  And today’s reading starts with God finding them, sort of hiding in the closet with a blanket over their heads so God can’t find them.

And then we get the first case of what-aboutism, and throwing your companion under the bus, and kicking the dog.  You may think those are new concepts, but we have them right here in the first book of the Bible.  Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent.

However, Adam is really swinging for the fences here when he says, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  Can’t even be bothered with saying her name!  He blames both “the woman” and God.  As though, in the previous chapter, when God was creating everything, God had said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner . . . so that he has someone to blame along with me when he messes things up.”  Adam hasn’t been with Eve for more that a few verses and he is already blaming God and her for his own mistake.  It’s like you buy your kid a new car, he crashes it, and then blames you for giving him a car.

Anyway, then Eve blames the serpent, and the serpent is cursed forever for working against God’s plans.  But, you know who else worked against God’s plans?  The scribes in today’s Gospel reading, that’s who.  As we heard,  “the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons’.”  (This is the only time in Mark’s gospel where the name Beelzebul comes up, but that demon is sort of like the ruler of demons.)  So the scribes are saying that he has the authority to cast out demons because he has a bigger demon—the king of demons.  Which is silly, of course, and Jesus shows them that it doesn’t make sense by saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Quoting Lincoln.  Or, wait.  That was Lincoln quoting Jesus.

But what really matters to them is that the crowds have gathered around Jesus, such that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.  They are jealous and afraid.  So the scribes come down to sow doubt into the people.  Clearly, everyone sees that Jesus is healing people and casting out demons.  That’s why the crowds are there.  So the scribes figure the way to get the crowds to abandon Jesus is to call into question the authority of these miraculous deeds.  Good things are happening, as everyone can see, so their strategy is to get people to think Jesus is working with satan, to undermine their faith in him, and to say that he is insane.  And the response to that from Jesus is, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”  Again, if you, personally, are not trying to align Jesus with satan, and undermining people’s faith in him, and saying that Jesus is insane, then you are not guilty of the unforgivable sin.

Taken as a whole, in this quotation, 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”  Like the opening to my seminary sermon, we get all distracted by the second part of the sentence.  And we miss the rest, because that blasphemy part worries us.  Worries us needlessly, as I have already pointed out.  But the first part of that sentence is the good news.  The very good news!  And it’s even better than the translation we have.  Because in the original language the phrase is, “all will be forgiven of the people, the sins and the blasphemies which they might have blasphemed.”  All will be forgiven.  All.  That means even throwing your companion under the bus will be forgiven; even blaming God for giving you that companion to throw under the bus will be forgiven.  Being arrested more than once as a teenager will be forgiven.  All will be forgiven.  Full stop.

And that sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  If everything will be forgiven, what is to prevent people from acting badly?  If all will be forgiven, why should I bother to be a kind and law-abiding citizen?  And all I can say to that is, if the only thing keeping you from being a criminal and a jerk is that you think you might not be forgiven . . . well, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.  

Of course, we all know that civic and criminal law works that way.  Fear of punishment keeps us from doing things that will harm other people, like running red lights.  But God is not part of the Ohio Revised Code; when Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms,” he’s not talking about heavenly jail cells.  And so hearing that all will be forgiven should be good news to us.  That’s the kind of thing that would make us crowd around Jesus, such that Jesus and his disciples cannot even eat.  

And then we have that other uncomfortable part of today’s reading.  The part where Jesus seems to turn his back on his family.  His family sends word that they are outside, and Jesus asks, “Who are my brothers and sisters?”  And as we heard, “Looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.”  Is he speaking metaphorically when he calls those seated around him his family?  Well, of course he is.  But here’s the important thing about that.

The people sitting around Jesus, just listening to him, are doing the will of God.  They’re listening to Jesus.  The people who accept his miraculous deeds of healing are his family.  On the other hand, the ones who say he is working with satan or that he is insane are not doing the will of God.  They are blaspheming the Holy Spirit, because they are denying who Jesus is.

If you want to do the will of God, sit near Jesus.  If you want to be part of Jesus’ family, embrace his words and his healings.  Don’t try to call Jesus away from the people; don’t try to undermine his authority.  Just sit and bask in the glow of Jesus.  Stay close to him.  And in that, you will be doing the will of God.  You are the sisters and brothers of Jesus, because you listen to his words, no matter how many times you might have been arrested as a teenager.  And all will be forgiven.  All.


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