We believe in one God…
5 June 2021
4th Sunday of Easter
1 Samuel 8.4-11, 16-20; 11.14-15
2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1
We as Christians share in the belief that it is through Jesus Christ that we have the forgiveness of sins. The bonds of sin and death have ended! In the Gospel reading we heard today there is one very problematic sentence. “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” (Mark 3:28-9).
Jesus is essentially saying ‘all sins and blasphemies are forgiven except those sins against the Holy Spirit’. How does this fit in with our view of a loving God, or what we believe to be sin? Do we just skip over this sentence, sweeping it under the rug so to speak, a little confused as to why this sin is unforgivable, or even how do sin against the Holy Spirit in the first place.
If we take a look at what sin means and look to the way the word ‘sin’ is used, how may we hear the word ‘sin’ used today? Perhaps we have heard of ‘sinful’ acts that are, in truth things, just not really all that good for us, such as the ‘delightfully sinful’ act eating a decadent slice of chocolate cake all by yourself. In itself this is not necessarily a sinful act, providing no harm is done to any one else. Now if I had stolen the cake, or eaten it at the expense of another, this changes the context of the act of eating the slice of cake as I have chosen to ignore the two Great Commandments: to love God and to love one another.
Other acts labeled as ‘sin’ may include acts of immorality, where we intentionally or unintentionally choose to do the wrong thing. In church we encounter ‘sin’ in scripture, as we have today, and also in the confession of sins in the Eucharist. Is there a difference between doing something immoral and something sinful, or are all acts of immorality sin?
So what is sin? Is it possible to differentiate sin from every act of immorality? One of the simplest explanations I found in regards to the nature of sin, is that it was anything that takes us away from God. Using this definition we can see that there is a difference between immorality and sin. Sin interferes with the relationship that exists between ourselves and God, it separates us, closes us off, and removes us from God presence.
In the context of the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus talking to a group of Scribes from Jerusalem. Jesus has refuted the accusation made by these Scribes, claiming that Jesus was possessed by a demon. At the time, possession was believed to be a common cause of insanity.
In the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus uses several small parables to refute the scribes, He has this limitation to forgiveness. All sins are forgiven, except sins against the Holy Spirit. If sin takes us away from God, the forgiveness of sins draws us back into a right and closer relationship with God.
So how does one sin against the Holy Spirit?
From the Gospel reading we can see that the Scribes are sinning against the Holy Spirit by denying that Jesus is working with the power of God, and not that of Beelzebul – as the Scribes claimed. It is by denying God’s presence and workings in the world through Jesus Christ, that the Scribes are separating themselves from God and God’s will. The Scribes failed to recognise the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God amongst them, instead labelling it a demon.
This act of the Scribes closed their hearts and minds to God’s presence, preventing them from being witnesses of God’s Spirit in the world, as made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the very person through who we have access to the forgiveness of sins. If Jesus is the means through whom we are able to receive redemption and the forgiveness of sins, by rejecting Jesus we cut ourselves off from this possibility.
Through rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, the Scribes rejected the gifts God made possible through him. It was this denial of the Holy Spirit, this denial of the true nature of Jesus as being of God, that closed off the possibility of the forgiveness of sins. In this light, the unforgivable sins, sins against the Holy Spirit, are unforgivable not because God is unwilling to forgive, but that the one who sins is unwilling to enter into God’s forgiveness.
For me at least, and hopefully for you too, this understanding of sin makes sense. The unforgivable sin is unforgivable because we stop ourselves from entering into this relationship with God. God is a God of relationship and a God of love. It takes two to tango! God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love is open to all who seek it. Just as we seek a relationship with God by coming here today in person or online, through our prayers, and through the faith we profess.
Through Jesus Christ we have the forgiveness of sins. The bonds of sin and death have ended. These are gifts given to us freely from God. God wants to have a relationship with us.
Yet, in the eyes of the Scribes in the Gospel reading, this is not the case. To them Jesus may have been seen as a mad man possessed by demon. Keep in mind that it is all too easy for us to look at these readings some 2,000 years later and say that the Scribes were wrong. They didn’t have the full story, much like the Israelite’s in the reading from 1 Samuel asking for a king. Our desire to fit in, to maintain the status quo, our human nature may at times cut us off (or at least hinder us) from doing God’s will. We may at times think we know best, that we are the one’s with the full picture. The Israelite’s asked for a king, without taking into account the full reality of what that meant. The Scribe’s rejected Jesus as one who came from God. A statement he refutes, with the parable (and reality) of a house unable stand once it is divided against itself.
Are these two houses equal? Do we live in a dualistic world of good and evil where two opposing rival forces constantly battle to either maintain the balance or overcome the other. Where does evil and Satan fit in for us today? For those of you who are Star Wars fans, do we believe in a Light Side and a Dark Side? How can Satan, who has no firm ontology (that is meaning of being or existence), be equal to God?
Through Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Death has lost its sting. The strong man has been bound up and his house plundered. As we profess in the Creed each Sunday, we believe in one God – not one God and one anti-god. The powers of sin and death, the power of Satan, the Accuser or the Evil One is not equal to the power of God.
Just as Paul’s faith sustains his preaching and sharing of the Good News, like the Corinthians we too are encouraged to not loose heart. We are not pawns in some cosmic battle between good and evil. This is the Gospel we preach. This in the Good News we have of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evil is not greater than Good. All have access to the forgiveness of sins made possible through Jesus Christ, our Lord.