“The Only Unforgivable Sin”

June 6, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 3:20-35

“and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 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.

“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”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And 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.””

| Centering Prayer |

If you are troubled by persistent thoughts of

Wanting to harm yourself or others,

Speak up, tell someone you trust, and ask for help.

If you suspect someone else of thinking about homicide or suicide,

Be direct.

Tell them you care for them.

Ask them directly if they are having persistent thoughts

Of harming themselves or others.

If so, use every influence you possess

To lead them into the care of a physician or mental health professional.

Occasional thoughts are normal;

Persistent thoughts of suicide or homicide are not.

They are a sign of an illness or medical condition

That is treatable with proven interventions.

Relief is achievable.

Lives can be saved

If only we 

Overcome the stigma,

Speak up and speak out, and

Commit our lives to wellness.

I’m leading this message

With straight talk about suicide and homicide because

The Church taught from the mid-13th century on

That suicide was an unforgivable sin.

This terrible legacy continues to this day.

It was Thomas Aquinas who listed six unforgiveable sins

That go against the Holy Spirit,

The first being despair,

Which consists of thinking that

“One’s own malice

Is greater than Divine Goodness.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_sin)

The flaw:

God’s goodness is limitless,

The intention to do evil or ill will is finite.

God wins, all the time.

Goodness overcomes evil.

God’s amazing grace saves even those

Who harm themselves or others.

So, no.

Suicide is not an unforgiveable sin,

Nor does it condemn one to hell.

Suicide is not an act of despair.

Suicide is always a personal, family, and community tragedy.

Hearts are broken by suicide.

God’s heart is broken.

Healing comes with time, faith, and the love and support of others,

Redeeming the life and memory of the loved one

Who took their own life.

Hearts are repaired when we experience God’s empathy,

Relating our loss to God’s loss of His beloved Son,

Who, through his resurrection,

“We die into the loving, tender arms of God.”

(https://www.franciscanmedia.org/franciscan-spirit-blog/7-things-to-know-about-suicide)

Jesus speaks about one sin that can not be forgiven

In this third chapter of Mark,

Blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. 

He teaches,

“whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit

Can never have forgiveness,

But is guilty of an eternal sin.”

(3:28-29)

Blaspheme is a verb meaning

To “speak irreverently about God or sacred things”.

(Oxford Languages, as found at Google dot com)

You might think this harsh of Jesus.

Simply speaking irreverently is worse than

Breaking one of the Ten Commandments or

Breaking one of the Seven Deadly Sins?

It doesn’t sound right.

There is more to the story.

Understanding comes with context.

Allow me to set the Gospel playing field.

Jesus had just been baptized by John and

Endured forty days of temptations by

The head of the Department of Evil,

Satan in the flesh.

Jesus had started his Galilean ministry,

Called his first disciples, and

Casted out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue. 

He heals, preaches, calls followers, and

Appoints twelve of his followers

He named “apostles” to do three things:

“Be with him,

Proclaim the message, and

To have authority to cast out demons.” (3:14b-15)

Jesus is in the exorcism business

And business was booming.

Jesus wants his apprentices to

Take up some of the demand and follow in his footsteps.

Today’s gospel is like an Oreo cookie.

It is one narrative

Split by a second story,

A common characteristic of the Gospel of Mark.

It begins with a family context,

Pauses,

Speaks about accusations made by scribes from Jerusalem,

Pauses, and

Concludes with a return statement about family.

Let’s talk about the family of Jesus.

Jesus returns home,

Bringing a crowd with him inside his house.

His family comes to restrain him,

But they can’t get to him because the room was too crowded.

Their assessment of Jesus?

He was insane,

Beside himself.

He, and his brother love traveling salvation show,

were just plain nuts.

Someone is going to get hurt.

Get the straight jacket on him.

Get him out of there.

Take Jesus to a safe place,

Cool his jets, and

Talk some sense into him.

His own family look at Jesus from the outside

And make an incorrect assessment.

His mother, brothers (plural), and sisters (also plural) ask for Jesus. (3:32)

He hears the request, then teaches

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (3:35)

If his own family didn’t get it right,

What chance do you or I have?

What do we fail to hear or see in Jesus

That God longs for us know?

Let’s talk about the cream in the middle

That separates the two ends of the chocolate cookie.

Scribes are like pop up killers throughout Mark.

They pop in and out of the story,

Taking pot shots at Jesus

Throughout his ministry.

Scribes come from Jerusalem to confront Jesus

In a similar way his family confronts him.

But they come to a different, incorrect conclusion.

They didn’t fear for his sanity.

The scribes made a theological claim that

Jesus was the ruler of all demons,

Named Beelzebul,

Associated with the pagan, Canaanite god Baal.

The scribes did not attribute the power of casting out demons to the Holy Spirit.

They claimed Jesus was able to cast out demons

Because he was the head demon,

The leader of the Department of Evil.

Their recursive flaw is obvious:

Satan vs. Satan means the self-destruction of evil.

“If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come,” Jesus teaches. (3:26)

They look to Jesus and see the work of the devil,

Not the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is the context for “unforgiveable sin.”

The unforgiveable sin, Jesus explains,

Is more than blasphemous or disrespectful talk about God.

It is claiming that the work of the Holy Spirit

In Jesus’s words and actions

Is the work of Satan.

To attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan

Is to thwart the dynamics of forgiveness,

Is to walk away and close the door to redemption,

Is to reject the grace God is granting to us.

To claim that Jesus does Satan’s work

Is to remain shut outside the house,

With the scribes and Jesus’ family,

While his true kindred are inside the house

Doing the will of God

At the feet of Jesus.

Therein lays hell.

Hell is of our own creation,

Our choice to shut ourselves outside,

Making false and misleading claims about Jesus.  

It isn’t so much as belief or unbelief,

Hell is about a stubborn refusal to come into the house of Jesus

And attribute his power and grace to God.

Free choice implies

The free choice to walk away from God.

I can’t make you behave, and neither can God.

It’s a bad choice, but

It is yours to choose. 

Look to Jesus.

What is it that you see?

I see Jesus inviting us to come in from the outside.

There is a place for you and me

To abide in his house,

At his feet.

I see the Holy Spirit,

God working in the words and actions of Jesus.

I see Jesus victorious over Satan,

Casting him and every other demon out from those who are possessed.

I see Jesus winning over the power of evil

Every single time.

Look to Jesus.

What is it that you see?

Amen.

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