Monday, June 7, 2021

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5B)

June 6, 2021

Text: Mark 3:20-35

            We all know family issues can be the most difficult waters to navigate.  If we are honest, we must admit that the ideal Christian family, where everyone is devoted to Jesus, and everybody thinks, speaks, and behaves the way they ought to, is nonexistent.  The Church hasn’t always been helpful in this regard.  While we should hold up the family ideal according to God’s order in the preaching of God’s Law, we must never paint a picture of the families in our fellowship as though they are immune from the struggles and brokenness of fallen people living in a fallen world, as though they aren’t real sinners with real sins that need real forgiveness and mercy from Christ.  When Churches paint that false image, it leads people in the real world to conclude that the Church must not be for them.  Or, people join the Church in the hope that this is the golden ticket that will make all their problems go away, and when it doesn’t work as advertised, they despair.  Or, again leading to despair, a Christian mother or father or son or daughter compares their own family to the other families in the Church, and they wonder why their family can’t get it together like it seems to be the case with everybody else.  Or, worst of all, it can lead to spiritual pride among Christians who appear to have it all together.  But it’s façade.  If you look closely, you will see the cracks, the fault lines.  Now, this is not to paint a hopeless picture of Christian families, either.  Christ is the medicine for all that ails us.  He is the Physician who binds up what is broken, restores what is shattered, heals what is diseased, and even raises the dead.  Nor is this to say that we shouldn’t order our families according to God’s Word.  Of course we should.  Things will go better for everyone.  We’ll be happier.  We’ll be healthier.  And where we fall, we’ll repent, and we’ll live joyfully in the forgiveness of sins.  But this is simply to say what we all know deep down to be true.  The brokenness touches us all, and we shouldn’t paint the family picture any other way.   

            Anyway, the Bible doesn’t paint families that way.  Cain murdered his brother Abel.  Jacob cheated his brother and had to flee from Esau’s lethal intentions.  Laban gave Jacob some of his own medicine.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous, thought about murdering him, and ultimately sold him into slavery.  What is Genesis but the continuing saga of messed-up family relations?  A messed-up family that was God’s chosen people, from whom would come the Savior of the whole world.  And so through the rest of the Scriptures.  Moses’ siblings resented his special relationship with God and office as God’s spokesman.  David’s brothers reviled the little twerp who came to watch the battle and ended up in mortal combat with Goliath.  Never mind David’s sons, one of whom raped his sister, another of whom murdered the offender, and then attempted a coup against his father.  Our Lord’s own family was not immune from these issues.  Frankly, they thought Jesus was insane.  Though they would come around after His resurrection, Jesus’ brothers were initially hostile unbelievers.  And yes, even the Blessed Virgin Mary had her sins of unfaithfulness.  Jesus was embarrassing the family.  She and His brothers wanted to get Him away from the crowd and back home where they could keep Him quiet.  It is no accident that Jesus was born into a family of sinners.  He comes precisely for sinners, to redeem sinners, to redeem the broken, individuals, families, you, and yours. 

            Admit it, you’ve got problems, sins to be confessed and absolved, and your family is as broken as anybody else’s.  The devil has done his worst to divide and isolate you from your spouse, your children, your parents, your brothers and sisters.  Every God-given relationship is a target for his poison darts.  And your sinful flesh is complicit.  You hang on to petty grievances, jealousies, and pride.  Repent.  Satan harnesses these things to put asunder what God has joined together.  And the world, of whom he is prince, is in an all-out war against the family, against marriage as God’s holy institution, against the reservation and preservation of conjugal intimacy within the holy union of man and wife, against children whom we slaughter by the millions in the name of autonomy and sexual freedom, and against our right to resist these things in preaching and Christian confession.  The devil, by the way, is against marriage, because from marriage comes children.  And he is against children because by a Child comes the redemption of the world and Satan’s ultimate defeat.

            So that Child comes into the world, the Son of Mary, the Son of God, to bind the strong man, Satan, and plunder His goods.  And that is to say, you.  To rescue you.  To deliver you.  To bring you out of bondage to Satan and into God’s Kingdom as a forgiven and beloved Child of the heavenly Father.  So He casts out demons and heals diseases.  He touches outcasts and cleanses lepers.  He eats and drinks with sinners and He raises the dead.  And all of the sin, all of the brokenness, all that separates you and I from God and from one another, He takes into Himself.  He takes it off of us and absorbs it into His flesh.  And He sheds His blood all over it.  He is crucified for it.  He dies for it.  To forgive it all.  To forgive you.  To cleanse you.  To heal you.  To justify you.  And He is risen, and that means that in Him, you have new life.  You are baptized into Christ.  You died with Christ.  You have been raised with Christ.  You live in Christ. 

            And that changes how you live toward one another.  Yes, you still live in a fallen world, a sinner in the midst of sinners, and you still sin.  You know that.  You live now in the paradox of the already/not yet, simul iustus et peccator, at the same time justified and a sinner.  But you know that all your sins are forgiven and that Christ’s new life is yours already.  And you know that your spouse’s sins, your childrens’ sins, your parents’ sins, your brothers’ and sisters’ sins, are all forgiven.  Christ died for them, and He is risen for them, and if He forgives them, who are you to hold their sins against them?  And that… that… is the secret for Christian families living together.  Not that there is no brokenness, but that the brokenness is forgiven.  By God in Christ.  By one another in Christ.  We live together with grace toward one another, with mercy toward each other, forgiving one another’s trespasses as God has forgiven ours, overlooking weaknesses, bearing with each other with the love of Christ that covers over a multitude of sins.

            Still, it is true, there isn’t always a happy ending for our families in this life, and many of you know that all-too-well.  Children leave the faith.  Spouses are unfaithful.  Parents neglect or abuse their children.  Not every family member receives the love and healing God wants to give them.  Some family members shun and reject us specifically because of our faith in Christ or our confession of His Word, as Jesus’ family tried to shut Him up when He was preaching.  We pray fervently and persistently for those family members, that God would turn their hearts by the preaching of His Word, bring them to repentance, to saving faith in Christ, and restoration to us.  It does happen, sometimes after years.  We should never lose heart.  Never give up on God’s gracious seeking of the lost.  But it doesn’t always happen.  And here we should say a word about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Jesus says in our text, is the “eternal sin” that “never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:29; ESV).  What is that sin, and should we be worried we have committed it? 

            The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is something very specific in our text.  The scribes, who were Jesus’ family members in a matter of speaking, the Jews, His own who did not receive Him (John 1:11), said that He was demonic, that He was possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons He cast out demons (Mark 3:22).  In other words, they were saying the Spirit within Jesus is the devil.  They were calling the Holy Spirit “Satan.”  That is blasphemy.  And it is not just that they thought the thought or uttered the words.  It is that they knew better, as Jesus points out in His rebuke.  Just as a house, a family, divided against itself cannot stand, so it would never work for Satan to cast out Satan.  The demons have their problems, but they’re pretty good at team work.  To cast out demons is nothing less than the work of God, as every scribe, every theologian, must know.  So the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the conscious, informed, intentional, and persistent rejection of His testimony that Christ is Lord and Savior.  It is to know that the Spirit’s testimony is true, and reject it anyway as evil, satanic, as we see so often in the world today when Christians leave the faith they know to be true for more socially acceptable belief systems.  And it is not that the sin is unforgiveable because it’s so evil, as though there could be any sin for which Christ’s death is insufficient atonement.  No, the reason it is never forgiven is that it is the nature of this sin to reject Christ’s forgiveness right up to death or the Day of Judgment, until it is too late.

            Sometimes Christians are worried they have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit because of some evil thing they said or did.  But the plain fact is, if you’re worried you committed this sin, you haven't, because those who reject the Spirit don’t worry about sinning against Him.  Repent of your sins and know that you are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  And never forget His promise: “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). 

            In fact, what does He do?  He brings you in.  Into His House.  Into His Family.  Whatever problems you have in your own family, among your relatives, you always have a Family here with Jesus, in His Church, gathered around His Table.  Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33).  It isn’t a rejection of Mary and the boys outside when Jesus says this.  But it is the testimony to the even greater reality.  (L)ooking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’” (vv. 34-35).  The Church is Jesus’ Family, the congregation of believers, for the will of God is that you believe and be saved.  Baptized into Christ, you are children of the heavenly Father.  The Church is your mother.  Your brothers and sisters are all around you.  Yes, they have their faults, their casual weaknesses, their sins.  So do you.  That is why we’re here.  Here our Lord cleanses us and tends our wounds.  Here our Lord feeds us.  Here our Lord protects us and gives us life.  Outside, the battle rages, and our enemies threaten and malign us.  But here we are safe in the Father’s House.  And because He is our Father, and because Jesus is our Savior, and because the Holy Spirit possesses us, this House will not be divided.  It will stand, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Beloved in the Lord, welcome home.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

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