2 CORINTHIANS 4: 15-18
MARK 3: 28-29
June 10, 2012
Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon
2 Corinthians 4: 15-18
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
On the day I called, you answered me, you increased the strength of my soul.
Mark 3: 28-29
“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”
Our Scripture readings today are a mixed bag. We are told that faith in the living Christ extends grace to more and more people, and brings thanksgiving and endless forgiveness even while our bodies are wasting away and we are suffering all kinds of hard times, which Paul calls “slight momentary afflictions!” On the other hand, the Gospel says that those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit are guilty of an eternal and unforgivable sin. It appears that while most of our sins and most of what we say will be forgiven, this one thing can never be forgiven. Jesus, as quoted in Mark, reminds me of the Creation story when God offered Paradise to Adam and Eve but gave them one forbidden fruit. And when they took the fruit they were not given a second chance but were thrown out of the garden “to till the ground from which they were taken.”
Here we have a second unforgivable sin. What is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is it swearing, using the name of God in vain? Hopefully not because it seems like every other word we utter these days is OMG! As a grandmother I feel like I am pushing a rock up a hill when I tell my 3 and 7 year old grandchildren to try “Oh My Gosh”, or “Oh My Goodness.” Truly I do think that it is a good thing to stop habitually saying Oh My God, but somehow I do not think that this is what Jesus was talking about.
In this passage Jesus was talking about the scribes who were saying that his healings were not by the power of the Holy Spirit but by the power of Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons (also called the Lord of the Flies.) In slandering Jesus they denied that the Spirit was working through him and in doing so they cut themselves off from the saving grace of the Spirit. In cutting themselves off, they did not damn Jesus but damned themselves. Just as Adam and Eve turned away from God’s direction and chose to align themselves with the serpent, the scribes aligned themselves with the lesser power of evil. And aligning ourselves with evil does not bring endless grace and forgiveness but leads toward a pretty poor outcome.
But is it unforgivable? As a Universalist pastor I cannot agree with this reading. I trust that with God all things are possible, including forgiveness for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. And as the rest of the Torah and the Christian Scriptures that followed showed, even Adam and Eve and the succeeding generations were redeemed when God renewed the covenant over and over again. Paradise and the tree of life was not destroyed for all ages but was guarded by cherubim!
If the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Eternal Life, then blaspheming the Spirit is in a sense, aligning ourselves with Beelzebul and choosing death over life. Anyone who aligns themselves with death rather than life knows how hard it is to come back into the graces. We align ourselves with death when we fall into despair and stay there. We align ourselves with death when we alienate ourselves from each other, from creation and from the creator. We align ourselves with death when we seek revenge rather than risk forgiveness. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is not an “ordinary” sin, but I trust that as with every other sin, this choice holds within itself the possibility of radical change.
Radical change is what Jesus offered in his ministry and is what threatened the scribes and what both threatens us and saves us. We may not be able to get out of our destructive choices by ourselves, but with God, all things are possible; even if the Gospel of Mark says that they “can never have forgiveness.” Maybe even Jesus (or Mark) was still learning about the power of the Holy Spirit!
Oh Spirit of Life and Love, Unseen and yet Eternal God. Help me to not lose heart, even when I doubt you and deny you and your power. Help me to call on you in my darkest times and answer my prayers. Increase the strength of my soul even when my body is wasting away. Oh My God, when I come face to face with your healing power, I bow to Your Spirit and offer thanksgiving. With you, all things are possible.