Monday, June 11, 2012

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 10 2012
The Rev. Kate Ekrem

Jesus said, “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"-- (Mar 3:28-29 NRS)

OK, what?? I thought this whole thing was about forgiveness, knowing God forgives us, being able to forgive others, Jesus saying we’re forgiven, so what is this? Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness? What does that mean? And most importantly, what if I did it accidentally, whatever this blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is, and I don’t even know??

What is this sin against the Holy Spirit? What sin could possibly be unforgiveable by God?

Well, obviously theologians have come up with lots of answers over the years. St. Thomas Aquinas said it had to do with despair, thinking yourself beyond God’s redemption, saying “I’m so bad that God can’t possibly forgive me”. Which is of course also the sin of pride, right? Assuming our sins are so important that they are more powerful than God’s power to forgive. John Calvin takes a similar tack, saying we sin against the Holy Spirit when we deliberately resist God’s love and forgiveness, just for the sake of resisting.

I think those guys might have a point. But I always like to look at the text. Who is Jesus talking to here, what is he responding to? He’s responding to these religious leaders who have said, you are working with Satan. Who think it’s their job to judge him, to decide whether he’s good or bad, from God or from Satan. And even though they see the healing he’s been doing, the hope he’s giving to people, they say, well, you are working for Beelzebub. Maybe they don’t understand what’s going on, maybe it’s all so new and crazy and weird that they are scared. They condemn it because they don’t understand it.  And maybe they see quite clearly that Jesus is undercutting them, showing people that God’s love and care for them, as evidenced by his healing power, doesn’t have to be regulated by the religious authorities, doesn’t have to be paid for, isn’t only for those who do special rituals or show particular reverence to traditions.

And even when Jesus is trying to show them that God reaches out to everyone, they insist on their own standards of judgment, their own system of  judgment. They thought that they were judging Jesus, but don’t realize their judgment said far more about them – and had a far deeper effect on their own lives – than it did about Jesus. 

When Jesus says judge not lest ye be judged, he’s pointing to the truth that judging others is judging ourselves. Like the old joke: there are two kinds of people in this world, the kind of people who say there are two kinds of people in this world and those who don’t. In putting people in categories, you put yourself in the category of people who put people in categories.

Jesus, I think, was in the category of people who did not put people into categories. To Jesus, each person was and is a unique individual. He didn’t look at the paralyzed man and say, oh, he’s a sinner, not deserving of God’s healing, before saying take up your mat and walk. He just saw the need, saw the whole person.

I just watched the movie Finding Forrester again. I remember when it came out, because part of it was filmed at my seminary when I was there. I almost but not quite saw the back of Sean Connery coming out of his trailer.  It’s a great movie, Sean Connery plays a J.D. Salinger type of author, who wrote a famous book but then went into seclusion for decades. And he’s discovered living in a housing project in the Bronx by a young African American teenager who aspires to be a writer, but is also very gifted at basketball. All these elite private schools want him to be on their basketball team, but deny his gifts as a writer. So it’s all about how we struggle with how our culture puts people into categories: black and white, scholar and athlete, old and young, poor and rich, as these two characters create a relationship across every one of those boundaries. In the final scene, which was filmed our seminary refectory, the reclusive author comes out of seclusion to support the young writer and makes a speech in his English class. He ends by saying, Jamal Wallace is my friend, and you can see the surprise and disbelief on all the faces – you are friends with him? But you’re not in the same categories!

It reminded me of the moment in this Gospel story when Jesus looks around at the rather wild and desperate group that has been following him, crowding into the house he’s staying in so much that he can’t even raise his arm to eat, the misfits, outcasts, and his relentlessly clueless disciples, and says, you want to know who my family is, THIS is my family. These wackos, they are my peeps.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that perhaps the sin against the Holy Spirit is to execute judgment on others, to deny the humanity of another person, to solely see them as a category, to deny their uniqueness as a creation of God, that God is in them, that God could love them. Because, of course, to deny that God could love them is to deny that God could love us.  That’s where it is, right? We judge others to justify ourselves, because it’s ourselves we judge most harshly. And perhaps that brings us back to the traditional understanding of the sin against the Holy Spirit as one of despair, thinking we’re beyond God’s love and God’s redemption.

In other word, it's disagreeing and denying the whole point of Jesus' ministry, this new vision of God and new way of relating to God. And, as one more contemporary theologian has put it, "at the heart of that vision and way is the conviction that God is love, that God desires the health and healing of all God's creation, that God stands both with us and for us, that God is determined to love and redeem us no matter what the cost, and that this God chooses to be accessible to us, to all of us -- indeed to anyone and everyone." (David Lose) No categories needed. 

The sin against the Holy Spirit is to refuse to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God loves you. That God loves everyone. God gives us enough freedom of will to let your own self-judgement be God's judgement. But God does love you. And you can't deny it. 

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