A sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
Today’s Gospel lesson takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry. Controversy already surrounded him, because he cast out demons, he kept company with sinners, and he healed people on the Sabbath. These things challenged the established religious authorities, and made those who were in power uncomfortable—Jesus was not under their control and he appealed to many poor and ordinary people. As Jesus cured people and set them free from their demons, these authorities came up with the idea that he was a trickster, who was himself a demon or serving the purposes of demons. Thus they sought to deflect any focus on their own shortcomings, or indeed the ways in which they cooperated with the evil forces in their world—the occupying Roman armies, the wealthy exploiting and oppressing the poor—by tagging Jesus with being the servant of Beelzebul or Satan.
Jesus and his disciples had gone to the mountains to get away from the crowds, to reflect and to get organized. As soon as they got back home, the crowds were back, pressing on them so close that they couldn’t even sit down to eat. The scene is pretty chaotic. It is like many such scenes in our own lives, where elements are scrambled together, we don’t experience them in a simple sequence, and the interpretations of what happens bump up against one another.
There are two separate but interrelated strands to today’s story—one the strand where the scribes from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of casting out spirits by means of an evil spirit, and the other where Jesus’ relatives come and try to take him away and calm things down. Families who love a person look out for their welfare and aren’t afraid to express their concerns. Of course, in some cases they might be influenced by things that others are saying, even by others who don’t have their family member’s best interest at heart. And looking at what was happening with Jesus, wouldn’t it be reasonable for his relatives to think, “If he keeps this up, he might get himself crucified?”
But the scribes came down from Jerusalem to accuse Jesus of being allied with the bad spirits. This is the controversy that wraps around everything in this story. Jesus response is to the scribes, not to the family—he’s talking about by what spirit he does what he does. He casts out demons and heals the sick by the Holy Spirit. He brings the forgiveness of everyone’s sins by the Holy Spirit. The Lord comes like a thief in the night and ties up Satan by the Holy Spirit, and sets free those who have been the slaves of the evil spirits.
In Jesus, the Holy Spirit bursts out into the world, bringing healing and hope. Manipulating the rules and crushing the truth in order to stop the movement of the Holy Spirit are what Jesus is referring to when he says, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
There is lots of speculation about what the “Sin against the Holy Spirit” is, but it is not really such a mystery—the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is opposition to the life and forgiveness that Jesus brings. We should not think of this as mechanical or a one time thing—being opposed to eternal life is eternal death, seeking to undermine God’s little ones, and deny them the mercy that Jesus brings, separates one from that very mercy, the source of our life.
And we should be careful not to confuse our own ideas with the movement of the Holy Spirit. People say: I feel great, so this must be the Holy Spirit. And if someone disagrees with me about what’s making me feel great, then they must be against the Holy Spirit. This is not what Jesus is referring to. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of the self-giving of God, there is nothing self-indulgent or selfish in it. The spirit of Jesus is all generosity and welcome—forgiveness for sinners and rest for the weary. When we live in the Holy Spirit, it is not about how good things are for us, but how welcoming God is for others.
So Jesus’ family came, and they were worried for him. It is only when we understand the true bonds of family that we can appreciate how difficult this situation was for them. This son and brother is being accused of all sorts of things, and it’s clear that he is doing things that they, his sisters and brothers and mother, would never have done. Is he crazy? Possessed? Let’s go get him and take care of him. That is the love of families. Yet he remains inside the house. Not because he did not love his family, not because he was having such a great time partying—remember it said that he couldn’t even sit down and eat with his friends. He was there to give of himself, to welcome, forgive, and to heal. That’s hard enough for any of us to understand, even family. He gives himself and includes all in his family: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Thus Jesus casts out the unclean spirits by the Holy Spirit. And as Paul says in his letter to the church at Corinth which was read this morning: “Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”