...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." Mark 3:20-35
This year, the Season of Living into the Mission of the Church (Sundays after Pentecost) begins right away with Jesus in conflict. Conflict with friends (vs.21), conflict with authorities (vs.22), conflict with his family including his mother (vs 21,31-35), and, aiming at the scribes, Jesus' own provoking of conflict about the Holy Spirit (vs.29-30). No easing gently into the work of the kingdom. No nice long walk through fields in Galilee listening to lovely sayings and intriguing parables. Conflict.
Mark characterizes sin against the Holy Spirit as looking at the good - Jesus healing, for example -and seeing evil. To refuse to see the good implies some deep moral corruption, a purposeful willing to reject new life, to reject that “sigh too deep for words” coming to our aid (meditation one). That person wills himself against repentance- like Bunyan's man in the iron cage (meditation two). It is not that God is not “pitiful” that is, full of pity. Or that repentance at the last moment, accompanied by great rejoicing in heaven is not possible. But rather that a person disables himself by a willfully hardened heart.
In this post Pentecost-event church, you and I are called upon the carry the spirit into the darkest places (meditation three). May God give us the strength to endure.
Meditation One (introit) the Spirit intercedes
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
-Paul of Tarsus c.5-c.67 Letter to the Romans 8:22-27
The enemy's behavior is like that of a military leader who wishes to conquer and plunder the object of his desires. Just as the commander of an army pitches his camp, studies the strength and defenses of a fortress, and then attacks it on its weakest side, in like manner the enemy of our human nature studies from all sides our theological, cardinal and moral virtues. Wherever he finds us weakest and most in need regarding our eternal salvation he attacks and tries to take us by storm.
-Ignatius Loyola 1491-1556 The Spiritual Exercises quoted from Gail Ramshaw's Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary
from “The Answer”
"Forever round the Mercy-seat The guiding lights of Love shall burn; But what if, habit-bound, thy feet Shall lack the will to turn? "What if thine eye refuse to see, Thine ear of Heaven's free welcome fail, And thou a willing captive be, Thyself thy own dark jail? "Oh, doom beyond the saddest guess, As the long years of God unroll, To make thy dreary selfishness The prison of a soul!
-John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892 The Answer vs 14-15-16
Christ before Caiaphas, Duccio, detail
The Pharisees condemn Jesus before Pilate, Duccio, 1308-11
Meditation Two (insight) so hardened my heart
Man: I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out; Oh now I cannot! Christian: But how camest thou into this condition? Man: I left off to watch and be sober: I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the word, and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me: I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent. Christian: Then said Christian, Is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair? Man: No, none at all. Christian: Why, the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful. Man: I have crucified him to myself afresh, Heb 6:6; I have despised his person, Luke 19:14; I have despised his righteousness; I have counted his blood an unholy thing; I have done despite to the spirit of grace, Heb 10:29.
-John Bunyan 1628-1688 The Pilgrim's Progress
Meditation Three (integration) without you he's left hanging
He needs you That's all there is to it Without you he's left hanging Goes up in dachau's smoke Is sugar and spice in the baker's hands gets revalued in the next stock market crash he's consumed and blown away used up without you
Help him that's what faith is he can't bring it about his kingdom couldn't then couldn't later can't now not at any rate without you and that is his irresistible appeal
-Dorothee Soelle Meditationen und Gebrauchstexte quoted from The Theology of Dorothee Soelle
The Last Word
Here is the Good News: Jesus is not out of his mind; Jesus is not filled with demonic spirits. Rather, Jesus has the mind of God; Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit - and invites all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers.
Do not care much who is with you and who is against you; but make it your greatest care that God is with you in everything you do. … Above all things, keep peace within yourself, then you will be able to create peace among others. It is better to be peaceful than learned.
-Thomas a Kempis c. 1380-1471 The Imitation of Christ
The sin against the Holy Spirit is willful despair.
Sometimes I get into moods of darkness thinking about how I've wasted, frittered away and sometimes ruined my life. I confront myself with my mistakes, recklessness, and recurring sins. I fall easily into despair. But I know that when I'm doing that I'm sinning against the Holy Spirit.
I've observed that no matter how often or how deeply I've messed up, the Holy Spirit has always made a nice shepherd's pie out of my left-overs. Every wrong turn yielded up a creative path toward something good in spite of myself. When I forget the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, or doubt that the Spirit can get me out of my latest scrape, I'm sinning willfully.
The Spirit says, There she goes again... Oooo. Ouch! Just watch that girl spin out of control! Okay. Let's see what kind of ART I can make with her mistake this time. Humm, we'll take a little of this part of her life... and that...throw in a tad of new stuff...voila !
Maybe it's why I love collages as an art form.
Here's the other part of the sin against the Holy Spirit: not taking delight in how the Spirit takes up the shards of a broken situation and re-assembles the pieces into something new and often better.
Broken, but still hobbling in interesting ways, or, maybe even better than ever,