When our Buts Get Too Big for our Pews

The text for this sermon is Mark 3:19b-35.

What exactly is the unforgivable sin? I am sure if you took this question out onto the streets of Columbus the majority would not have had the luxury of having just read Mark 3 which offers a clue. They would guess crimes that are truly heinous, murder, rape, being a Wolverine fan.  However, you, who likely did not need any clues, have just heard Mark 3:29 read and know that Jesus taught whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit cannot find forgiveness.

So, what does it mean to blaspheme against the Spirit? This was Stephanie’s question, a close family relative of mine by marriage. It stood out to me when Stephanie asked me this question several years ago, because Stephanie had never asked me a bible question. I have always suspected that she did not think much of Lutherans and their Bible acumen. She once told me that she went to a bible believing church, challenging me it seemed to counter that I went to a bible believing church, too. I just said that I go to a church that loves Jesus.  She thought that was snotty and it was a little.

What had her rattled was a sermon her pastor had just preached on this text. In her mind, she had done everything God could expect of her. She had been dunked, and prayed the believer’s prayer, asking Jesus into her heart. She had faithfully tithed. Well close to it, as long as God isn’t as picky as the IRS, she figured she was safe. She went to worship too, not every Sunday but surely God can’t expect that kind of commitment. All of her God bases were covered. She was a lock for heaven. Then she hears there is one sin that could get her thrown onto the down escalator to eternity. Blaspheming the Spirit. What is that?

I shouldn’t make fun of Stephanie’s insecurity about God’s forgiveness, because all of us suspect deep down that the deal is too good to be true.  We say God forgives all sins, but…Right? Our buts are big in our pews. It is hard for any of us to talk about God’s uncompromising forgiveness without putting limits on it. It wouldn’t surprise any of us that there are some sins that God just cannot stomach to forgive. What is hard for us to understand that the one sin that God can’t forgive is using the words damn and Holy Spirit in the same sentence. Anyone can do that, just listen to me when I slam a hammer into my thumb while trying to be handy. Murderers welcome to heaven, idiots who say the wrong thing, the down escalator is over there.

Our hope as Christians lies in our belief that through Jesus, God will welcome us at the end of our life. Nothing we will have done in our lifetime, will dissuade God from saying come on in to my Kingdom. God will forgive all of our sins. This hope allows our life today in the Kingdom of Man, to be lived fully, completely as if we were already in the Kingdom of God. In Christ we do not live for today, but for the promise of glory tomorrow. Our hope of forgiveness brings joy into our life today.

We lose our faith when we lose hope that our sins will not be forgiven. We lose hope whenever we believe that something we have done cannot be undone. All of us have done things we are ashamed. Some of us even have people who have not been able to forgive us for what we have done to them, an ex wife who we cheated on, a coworker who we stepped on as we climbed the corporate ladder, a daughter we abandoned when we left her father to find ourselves at 45. It hurts, really hurts to know that someone hates us and likely will die hating us. Yet, still we trust that God will forgive us even when the person we hurt cannot.

If we did not trust that, if Jesus promise of forgiveness was a lie, despair would overwhelm us. So this lesson in Mark should cause all of us to be uneasy. If God won’t forgive something as careless as cursing, how can God forgive those things that I have done that I hope never to have to say out loud? Trusting God’s forgiveness is the foundation of our faith, when we lose that our faith crumbles, life leaves us and we die.

In the Mark text today Jesus is portrayed as kind of a rock star. Crowds are beating down his door so bad he can’t even eat in peace. His teaching blows their minds and his healings show how powerful he is. Religious headquarters in Jerusalem hears about Jesus and sends down some men, scribes they are called, to check out this new rabbi from the sticks.

The scribes determine everything they heard is true. He is healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching with authority. He knows scripture, too. Yet, the thing they can’t figure out was why doesn’t he look like a religious guy should? He works on the Sabbath, a clear violation of scripture and told others to do so too and not to worry about it. He goes to parties where people drink too much, including his disciples. And the people at these parties are not the sort of people that good religious rabbis hang with.  He taught that God would forgive the sins of all people, even people still actively in a state of sin, like a prostitute still working every night. Worse, he said that he would forgive their sin in God’s name. Blasphemy.

So, the scribes as they are preparing their report for Jerusalem are scratching their heads. Jesus is obviously powerful and knowledgeable about God sort of stuff. Yet, he doesn’t look…Godly. If he isn’t Godly, but is powerful, then he must be getting his power from somewhere. It must be Satan, the second greatest power in the cosmos. So, they started telling the crowds, Jesus gets his power to do these things from the devil. This is the unforgivable sin, telling the crowds who found life in Jesus that his power comes from Satan not God.

The crowds are following Jesus around like a rock star because he offers hope their sins will be forgiven and a better life will come. Hope their leprosy does not mean they will always be shunned. Hope their poverty does not mean they will always be hungry. Hope their bleeding will stop. Hope they will not be known forever as the woman with seven husbands. This hope made their life worth living again. If Jesus’ promise of forgiveness is lost, then their life is lost again. If the scribes are right and Jesus works for Satan, their hope is killed.

In verse 28, Jesus reaffirms that all sins can be forgiven. He even says the sin of blasphemy, misusing God’s name or making claims on God’s name that cannot be made, even this sin can be forgiven. The unforgivable sin though is what the scribes are doing; teaching that the Holy Spirit is not present and apparent in Jesus’ life. The unforgivable sin is saying that Jesus is not God, does not have the authority to forgive sins, his promises of forgiveness cannot be trusted. The unforgivable sin is robbing people who have found hope in Jesus from that hope and life it brings.

Jesus came to bring life not to take it. Jesus came so all of us find the path to a life that shines with our potential. Jesus came so we would not be condemned to a life of fear and despair, but instead a life lived in joy knowing that everything wrong about me can be made right by Jesus. The unforgivable sin is when a church person, like these scribes, like many churches around us, people who know better, teach that there is an unforgivable sin. The unforgivable sin is when we say God forgives all sins but…The unforgivable sin is when our buts get so large in our pews and we put limits on God’s grace and entire groups of people cannot find a home here, determine they are unwelcome, and never seek the light of Christ.

So I told Stephanie, not to worry, the cliff notes version of the bible that us Lutherans use says all of her sins will be forgiven. I added, too, that God will forgive her sins not because she has been dunked, said the right prayer, tithes or worships regularly. God will forgive her sins because God sees just how beautiful she is and God loves her passionately.  Amen

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