The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 5B (6/10/2012)

Lessons:

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

Semicontinuous Series

1st Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20, [11:14-15]
Psalm 138

Prayer of the Day

All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text

3:20 ...the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

St. Mark 3:20-35 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: The Saving Work of the Holy Spirit

If there is one claim we can make about Jesus with any degree of certainty, it is that he regularly proves to be more gracious — more forgiving — than those who disagree with him. He dismisses the crowd that had assembled to stone an adulterous woman. He eats with those who were rejected as “sinners” by the good religious people of his day. He speaks to a Samaritan woman who wasn’t welcome at the well when the other women were there to draw water. He allows a renowned sinner to anoint his feet with perfume, to the shock and dismay of his dinner companions. He even offers forgiveness to a criminal dying beside him on the cross.

That is why his words in this week’s Gospel lesson are so surprising: “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.” This is a passage that had people of my tribe deeply concerned when I was young. We didn’t quite know what he meant, of course, so whenever this verse was discussed, we wondered if perhaps we had inadvertently blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and were doomed. It was a frightening prospect. No forgiveness? An eternal sin? Is this what it seems to be at face value? Is there some infraction that, once committed, makes it impossible for God’s grace to be effective?

That is the danger in pulling verses or phrases out of their original context, and trying to make sense of them. Sometimes context makes all the difference in the world. In this instance, the words of Jesus are surrounded by claims that he is exactly the opposite of what he claims to be. “He has gone out of his mind.” (verse 21) “He has Beelzebul.” (verse 22) “He has an unclean spirit.” (verse 30) In response to these accusations, Jesus makes the claim that anyone who “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit” ends up beyond the reach of forgiveness.

Those of us who are Lutherans can’t help but remember that in his Small Catechism, Luther testified that the Holy Spirit had, “called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” If, indeed, the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to build faith and effect forgiveness, then to deny that work of the Spirit means to decline the forgiveness that God wishes to grant us through the work of that same Spirit. It may well be that to “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit” means nothing other than to reject the Spirit’s efforts to call, enlighten, sanctify and preserve us in faith. Those who reject the saving grace of God that comes through the Spirit, reject the forgiveness that God desires to give us.

Rather than fuss about accidentally committing a sin that is unforgivable, perhaps we would be better served to draw near to the promise of Christ, and pray for the help of the Spirit, that our faith might grow stronger, our capacity to trust in the Gospel might grow deeper, and our efforts to live in a way that witnesses to the grace of God might become more effective. After all, that seems to be much more consistent with the message of One who forgives adulterers, eats with sinners, welcomes outcasts, and makes eternal promises to convicted criminals. Surely this One also desires to bless us with faith,hope and peace.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Who, in this Gospel, seems to have rejected the possibility that Jesus is from God?
  2. What does it mean that Jesus depicts himself as one who is trying to “tie up the strong man?”
  3. What do his words about family mean to those who believe? To those who don’t believe?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. How do I understand the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life?
  2. In what ways does my faith give me hope and peace?
  3. How might I witness to someone who is worried about “blaspheming the Holy Spirit?”