Sermon for Adel Parish church 1st Sunday after Trinity.
Choose love rather than condemnation…sermon for Adel Parish Church 1st Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Mark 3: 20 – end
“I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees, but they wouldn’t dance and they wouldn’t follow me”…we all know the song. Even as a child I realised that in the gospels; fisherman, or even tax-collector, was a better bet than being a scribe.
In today’s reading they’re accused of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…for which they can never have forgiveness. Given all the other sins recounted in the bible – that seems a bit harsh.
So who were the scribes and what exactly have they done?
They’ve heard how Jesus is healing people of major physical and mental ills. They’ve also heard how Jesus talks of forgiving sins as well as restoring bodies. So they’ve come to see for themselves.
But they haven’t really come ‘to see’; they’ve already decided. Scribes were educated men who copied, and interpreted the Torah – the laws of Moses. They had everything neatly boxed into right and wrong, good and evil…and Jesus didn’t fit. He did wonderful things you’d think must come from God, but he didn’t go about it in the ‘right’ way, and anyway, only God could forgive sins.
The scribes are so sure about the system they’ve built up, that they can’t see beyond it. The healings; the wonderful joy and freedom in people who had suffered terrible mental illness; they can’t deny these. If these illnesses were caused by demons – Jesus was clearly casting out these demons.
But because Jesus doesn’t fit their idea of ‘good’ they’re convinced he must be evil. They come up with the ridiculous accusation that it’s by the power of Satan, that Jesus casts out Satan. As Jesus points out – if Satan is working against himself then he’s finished – but this doesn’t convince the scribes, because they hear Jesus’ words and assume it’s Satan speaking. They’ve seen good, and labelled it as evil.
And it’s at this point we hear, ‘people will be forgiven for their sins, and blasphemies, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.’
When we consider the whole passage this begins to make sense. It’s through the Holy Spirit that Jesus forgives, heals and makes whole. But if the scribes could look at the relief and joy Jesus was bringing – and say it came from Satan – they’d be unlikely to accept that healing for themselves. Jesus doesn’t say, God won’t forgive, but they can’t have forgiveness.
This week, it made me think of vaccine deniers. Not people with good reason to be hesitant, but people who’ve decided vaccines are ‘bad’, and come at every argument from that perspective.
Show the vast array of independent scientific data…all of those scientists must be part of a worldwide conspiracy to cause harm.
Point to improved health where vaccines are used…it’s fake news. Since they’ve decided the very thing that could save them from disease is evil – there’s no way they’ll accept the protection a vaccine offers.
Likewise the scribes; they can’t be forgiven because they’re rejecting the one who can bring forgiveness. It’s not that they can’t see the light – but they’ve called the light darkness. As the ‘Message’ bible translation vividly puts it, they’re ‘sawing off the branch on which they’re sitting’.
So should we be worried? Everything I’ve read about this passage suggests that if we’re worried about committing this ‘unforgiveable sin’, then we probably aren’t. If we’re open to God’s forgiveness – God will find us.
But still, Jesus condemned this sin very publicly. I read some interesting advice for public health officials on how to engage publicly with vaccine deniers. It said you’re not really talking to the vaccine deniers as they probably can’t be persuaded, your audience is the general public…who might need protecting from misinformation.
Jesus responds to the scribes, but knows they’re unlikely to accept his words. His audience is the crowd…and us.
Is he warning that once we think we know good from evil, when our religious establishments have neatly categorised it into rules we can teach and apply, our eyes can become closed to the work of the Holy Spirit?
Here he is talking about seeing something good – something from God – but labelling it evil because the religious ‘rules’ say it is.
I think it can be a problem for churches today. For those convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, other faiths are seen as wrong. But this can close our eyes to the obvious goodness and love involved. We see them as dangerous rather than entertaining the possibility that they hold some truths within them, from which we might learn.
We know, from Jesus himself, that divorce isn’t the best path. So in the past the church refused to remarry divorced persons. The ‘rule’ stopped us looking beyond; seeing many new relationships are built on love that surely is of God.
And still today, Christian organisations tell us that gay relationships are sinful, against God’s plans. Beyond some isolated bible verses though, anyone who takes the trouble to look, who sees the genuine love between many gay couples, must surely find it looks very like the love of God as it’s reflected in all wholesome relationships.
The trouble is, rules feel safe. How am I supposed to judge whether changes in society are the breath of the Holy Spirit, or an erosion of true Christian values? How can I know whether the church should follow, or resist?
Well people came to Jesus for healing. Following him is never easy – but it always involves healing and wholeness. Jesus seems to be saying to the scribes that if it’s healing and wholeness they’re seeing – they should trust it comes from God. Perhaps that’s not a bad guide for us too.
And anyway – when I have to account for my life before God – I’d rather justify having loved too much, than having condemned too much.
Lord God – open our eyes to the actions of your Holy Spirit, that we might share in your healing and forgiveness.