St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
June 10, 2018 – Third Sunday of Pentecost
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
This morning I want to comment first on the Gospel lesson we just heard and then consider today’s reading from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Christians in Corinth.
In the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, between last week’s reading – when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath – and today’s lesson, Jesus had traveled with his disciples, curing crowds of sick people, called the remaining apostles making a total of twelve, and “then he went home.” So his family was nearby.
This reading is about the truth – what the truth about Jesus is and where people stand in relation to that truth. It is clear that Jesus has been casting out demons or unclean spirits. In his day this meant healing of physical and mental disorders as well as exorcism of demonic possession. His family members seem to believe the popular opinion that he is out of his mind himself. The scribes who have come from the religious center of Jerusalem accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the ruler of demons. Beelzebul is a name for Satan, derived from the name of the Canaanite god Baal. “Baal-zebub” means “lord of the flies.” Satan is the name of a supernatural being opposed to God.
Jesus challenges the scribes – “How can Satan cast out Satan?” No, that isn’t what has been happening. Jesus has tied up the “strong man,” Satan, and he has been able to plunder the strong man’s house, the demonic world, because he has defeated Satan.
Then Jesus makes a very strong statement, a really frightening statement: “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” What does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. This is about truth and lies. Remember the phrase from John’s Gospel (8:44): Jesus says, “When [the devil] lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” But speaking of himself in John’s Gospel (14:6), Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” People who call what is holy and good demonic and evil endanger their souls. The people who plotted against Jesus to destroy him. People who deliberately refuse to see and witness to the truth. People who call God the opposer of God and the opposer of God, God.
Thinking about how we stand in relation to the truth, especially the truth taught by Jesus and revealed in his life and ministry, is extremely important. We are called to witness to that truth and to be true to the Holy Spirit. The details of how we do that will be different for each of us in our varied circumstances and challenges. We need to watch ourselves and our perceptions of truth. In Jesus’ time and in our own there are at least two major barriers to people seeing the truth, prejudice and self-importance, self-centeredness. These factors have led to the murder of millions of God’s beloved children and to Jesus, God’s Son. We all have prejudices and we all have a tendency to be self-involved. By the light of the Spirit of truth we may see how to change and grow in the direction of the truth revealed in Christ. Today’s Gospel teaches us that this may have eternal consequences.
That brings us to our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, a passage which is full of faith and assurance of ultimate truth about God and our lives. He writes, “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” While our physical selves, our bodies, inevitably “waste away” day by day, St. Paul reminds us that another process is happening at the same time. Our “inner nature,” our minds and souls, are being renewed by God. Writing to people who have accepted Christ as their Lord, St. Paul points out that by the work of the Holy Spirit the followers of Christ mature and grow inwardly over time, into the mind and likeness of Christ. And this is what is truly important.
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
St. Paul challenges us to look beyond what can be seen, beyond what is, in fact, so often our focus in life – that which is temporary, physical, finite. He contrasts this mortal life with eternal life, calling eternal life a “weight,” that is, substantial, compared to our mortal lives, which are relatively insubstantial. We need to look at where we are going ultimately, by the mercy of God. We are going where we will see what we cannot now see. We are going to behold the glory of God which is beyond all that we can even imagine now. We are going to Christ. We are going to our true home, where our hearts will be at rest. As C.S. Lewis wrote, in an address called “The Weight of Glory”, “the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.” This vision of our journey’s end may guide us as we journey now.
The “earthly tent” of each of us will die. We mourn the loss of those we love, those with whom we share the journey of life and faith, when they die before we do. We have lost many dear friends in the parish in recent years and months. It is right for us to mourn. Jesus wept when his good friend Lazarus died. But even while we grieve the death of the body, we have hope in everlasting life, which The Book of Common Prayer describes as “a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other” (page 862). In the words of St. Paul, from his First Letter to the Corinthians (15:54,57): “Death has been swallowed up in victory … Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.