Did you hear it? That terrifying verse in Mark’s Gospel warning us against the eternal sin for which there is no forgiveness?
I think it’s worth unpacking this morning.
One understanding of the unforgivable sin Jesus warns about in today’s Gospel is the very deliberate—once-and-for-all—turning of our hearts against God—a rigid position in which we stand unmovable, with hearts of stone inclined towards hatred of God, of the Good, possibility, relationship, potential.
It’s a kind of air-tight certainty—a kind of righteous knowledge that leaves no room for the potential of something greater than ourselves—no room for mystery or spirit or wonder.
It is the intentional, determined thwarting of God’s spirit, and of God’s people in God’s creation.
What that unforgivable sin is NOT is the presence of doubt. Or anger. Or questioning our faith and our Christian story and ritual.
Anger, fear, doubt, questioning, even periods of feeling in exile, or feeling alienated by or from God are all part of our very human spiritual journey--
It’s okay to wake up some mornings and think—wait a minute—this doesn’t make any sense—my life doesn’t make sense—the world doesn’t make sense—the Church doesn’t make sense—it’s even okay to say GOD doesn’t make any sense--!
Think of the psalmists—they are honest and vulnerable and naked—even—in the presence of God as they offer their questions and doubt and rail against God in anger and frustration--
Mature Christian spirituality requires from us that we ask, and seek, and knock--
That we explore and wonder and take nothing for granted--
Mature Christian spirituality requires this kind of inquiry—holy wondering and imagination--
It is proof that we are fully alive—engaging with God and with God’s creation--
This is the Christian walk.
We dare not go alone.
We are accompanied by one another—by this mystery that is the Church— and by 2,000 years of a living breathing tradition of theological inquiry.
No, It is not our humanity that is sinful. There’s something else that Jesus is getting at--
Listen again to the metaphor Jesus offers the scribes and the crowds—because it tells us something of the sin Jesus warns us against--
He says, “no-one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man...”
When I spent time with this scripture passage I began to imagine the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as the strong man—and God’s creation as the Strong Man’s House.
“No one can enter God’s creation and plunder without first tying up God.”
Perhaps, then, the sin Jesus warns us against today is the intentional tying up of God and the plundering of God’s creation--
Using creation for our own end—to take what we want, when we want it and how we want it—to rely only on our own strength—our own knowledge—with an intentional and final turning away from God in arrogance --
The story of Adam and Eve in the garden gets at this a little bit—they take the fruit, rely on their own knowledge, use the garden for their own means and,
When they hear God walking in their midst—they hide—turning away from God in shame.
Now, I don’t think they go so far though as to willfully turn their hearts and minds and lives against God—Adam and Eve aren’t perfect--
But, I don’t think they sin in the way Jesus warns us about today in the gospel.
But, there is a connection between the Genesis reading and the Gospel Lesson in Mark.
In both readings, the question of freedom is paramount—choice and agency are important aspects of these stories--
And, so, there is something here for us to think about--
Ultimately, I think this Gospel lesson from Mark—Jesus’s dramatic warning about the unforgivable sin is actually a revelation to us about human freedom--our freedom—and our choice about how to move through our lives.
We are made by God with agency—we get to choose how to use our freedom in God’s creation--
We can be like pirates—tying up God, frustrating the Holy Spirit, and plundering God’s creation--
Or we can choose—over the course of a lifetime—to be kingdom builders—working day by day—little by little—choice by choice—crafting a life that in the end is fundamentally oriented to the good—the holy—to the end that is God.
Life is incredibly complex.
There is very little in life that is clear-cut--
We’re going to sin. Each of us. Everyday. We’re going to mess it up because life is messy.
And as hard as we try—as much as we want it—and as much as we do to make things perfect—the Garden is always going to have a snake in it—God’s perfect paradise is not yet realized—not in ourselves—our homes or our jobs or friendships or in our world--
But here’s the thing—we get to choose. Everyday—every minute of everyday—we get to choose how we want to live and what kind of a world we want to help create.
We get to choose to craft a life fundamentally oriented towards God—towards the Good and the Beautiful and the Just--
And, I really believe that we all want to live this way—and that we are—each of us—beautifully made for unity and order and goodness.
Our potential for goodness is Great. Tremendous. It is Awe-Inspiring.
But, we have to choose to live this way—we have to choose to live as co-creators with God rather than creation plundering pirates.
So, what do we do?
We keep putting one foot in front of the other.
We keep asking questions. We keep being human. And we keep coming to church—we keep investing in relationships with one another—we keep serving the poor and volunteering in our children’s classrooms—and we practice hospitality wherever and however we can--
We say thank you—to a Being and Presence and Reality beyond our imagination—beyond our reason—to the Holy Other we call God--
We take a fundamental stance towards God. We resist the temptation to bind up God—to live like pirates.
Instead, we decide everyday to lift our faces to God—even in our sin—or doubt or anger or fear—and we choose—everyday—to keep our whole selves oriented towards the good and beautiful and just and Holy—towards the wonder and mystery that is God.
Anne K. Ellsworth
June 7, 2015
Second Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other reflections