Lectionary: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15); Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
Sunday, June 6, 2021
2 Pentecost, 21-B: Choose to love
Our lectionary today presents us with a wonderful opportunity to delve deeply into the topics of sin and forgiveness in the context of the identity and ministry of Jesus, the Christ.
In our Old Testament lesson, Samuel is old and ready to stop being the prophet and spiritual leader of the people of Israel. His sons, however, aren’t faithful and the people don’t want them to take over after Samuel, so they demand Samuel anoint a king for them. The countries all around them had kings and now they wanted one too.
This cut Samuel to the quick because he felt like it was an indictment against his leadership. God is their only king and Samuel had led them as a servant of God.
God intervenes in Samuel’s suffering, however, and assures him that it is God they are rejecting, not Samuel or his leadership. Warn them, God says, knowing they will do what they choose.
In the end, they chose to have a king so, against his better judgment, Samuel brought them all to Gilgal, the place where the Israelites celebrated their first Passover after crossing the Jordan into the promised land. Gilgal had become for them an important place of memorial and pilgrimage where they often gathered to remember what God had done for them. It was at this sacred site that Samuel anointed Saul as their king.
Samuel thought their desire for a king was sinful. Our Prayer Book would affirm Samuel’s concern. Our Catechism defines sin as “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” (BCP, 848) If sin is the choice to seek our own will instead of God’s, then the actions that result from that choice are the evidence of sin, not the sin itself.
Our choice to sin causes a disruption of the relationships we have with God, one another, and the world. When we see the effects of that choice, we are called to repent and return to righteousness, that is, to right relationship.
We talked at Bible study this week about the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day. If we aren’t keeping any day holy, if we aren’t setting aside time to restore our relationships with God, one another, and the world, then we are sinning - actively or passively choosing to separate ourselves from God and our faith community. The effects of that choice eventually will be seen in our actions. Seeing the evidence of our sin opens up for us the opportunity to repent, to seek or offer forgiveness, to be reconciled with God and one another.
In our gospel story today, Jesus issues a scary warning: “whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin…” He said this in response to those who said that he, Jesus, has an unclean spirit and did his amazing work by the power of Satan.
Jesus quickly dismisses their claim by pointing out the irrationality of the adversary working in Jesus or anyone else to destroy itself. But his next phrase, “Truly I tell you…” indicates this is what they (and we) really need to pay attention to because it’s important.
Jesus states very plainly that people will be forgiven their sins, but (he says) the one who reviles the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness…” I often hear this discussed as meaning that this is the one sin God won’t forgive, but what exactly that sin is, isn’t terribly clear, so it leaves many of us wondering how to avoid committing this unforgivable sin.
Let’s consider, for a moment, who Jesus is. We believe that Jesus is the full and perfect revelation of God. And what is the nature of God he revealed? According to our Catechism, the answer is: God is love (BCP, 849). We believe that God is love and that Jesus brought salvation by the forgiveness of our sins.
Interpreting Jesus’ statement in our gospel, then, as something God does – withholding forgiveness - misses the point. Jesus is very clear that people will be forgiven their sins – even the blasphemies we utter. But, he says, the one who separates from God, the one who reviles or denounces God – that one can’t have forgiveness, not because God won’t give it, but because they can’t receive it.
This is what happens when we separate from God, the source of our life. The more separated we become the more “other” God becomes to us and the more likely we will hesitate to repent, to change our direction, and reorient toward God.
We begin to fear God whom we no longer know intimately. Our fear furthers our sense of separation and the process goes on and on.
Also, the longer we are separated from God the more we wonder if God would allow us to reconcile even if we wanted to, aware as we are of the hubris that led us to sin in the first place. When someone sins against us we tend to get mad or retaliate. It makes sense to us that God would do the same.
That’s why Jesus’ statement is so comforting: we will be forgiven. That’s God’s to do and it’s been done. We have been saved by the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ who has reconciled us to God.
We celebrate this truth every Sunday. This altar is our Gilgal – the place of our pilgrimage, where we gather to remember what God has done for us. As we say in our Eucharistic Prayer: “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” (BCP, 363)
Then we ask God to sanctify us that “we may faithfully receive [the] holy Sacrament, and serve [God] in unity, constancy, and peace. This is when we make the choice to open ourselves to receive the gift being given to us.
In the same way that Jesus said the world is wrong about sin, we’re also often wrong about forgiveness. I share with you from the world’s current fount of wisdom on forgiveness: Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“Forgiveness,” he says, “is not dependent on the actions of others. Yes, it is certainly easier to offer forgiveness when the perpetrator expresses remorse and offers some sort of reparation or restitution. Then, you can feel as if you have been paid back in some way. You can say: "I am willing to forgive you for stealing my pen, and after you give me my pen back, I shall forgive you." This is the most familiar pattern of forgiveness.” But, Tutu says, we “don't forgive to help the other person. We don't forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves…”
I would add that the reason is: it is only by forgiveness that relationships can be restored and we can be reconciled.
“Forgiveness,” Tutu says, “takes practice, honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness… to try. It isn't easy…” but until “we can forgive,” Tutu says, “we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of being at peace.” Source.
“From the beginning,” our Catechism says, “humans have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.” (BCP, 845) We all make personal choices to sin, but we also live in a global family where the evidence of our collective sin is plain. Whether we actively choose to sin or passively allow sin we see evidence of to continue is also our choice.
The good news is that we are made in the image of God and we have been redeemed, that is, set free to make choices that reflect the image of God, who is love, and who dwells in us.
That’s why it’s so important to pray and to lean in when we see the evidence of sin and bring the presence of the Spirit of God, who dwells in us, into that circumstance, into that relationship, so that all can be restored and reconciled.
We don’t always get to see the healing and reconciliation. Sometimes that happens outside our view, maybe even in the next life. But we trust it will happen because God has promised it.
Breathe in us breath of God and inspire us to know what is your will, then guide us to do it our part in your eternal plan of redemption. As for us, may we choose to love. Amen.