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Message for 10 June 2018–“Spirit Elevation not Condemnation”

The first part of today’s message recalls an incident at a family dinner (Mark 3:20-35); the second part is Paul’s encouragement (2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1).

In Mark, Jesus was confronted by both his family and religious bureaucrats. The situation was so bad that Jesus’ relatives could not eat in peace. Jesus’ family went outside to confront him because his words incited a crowd and Jesus was accused of being crazy, under Satan’s control. Deep into this multi-layered fiasco, Jesus’ family tried to restrain Jesus. The crowd reminded Jesus that his family sought him and in response Jesus proclaimed that “ ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ “ (Mark 3:35). This incident suggests that Jesus may have alienated his family by publicly demoting them while elevating those more receptive to his teachings. The implication is that service to God transcends family attachments. Have you thought about how your relationship with God interfaces with your other allegiances, commitments and priorities?

While he was arguing with the religious bureaucrats, Jesus declared that he could not be supporting Satan while also setting people free from Satan’s control. This is when Jesus said, “ ‘. . . if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand’ ” (Mark 3:24). Then Jesus stated, “ ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ “ (Mark 3:29). In calling Jesus demented and implying he had an evil spirit, the text suggests that the critics risked a gruesome afterlife.

Is it possible to have an unforgiveable sin? There are enormous implications with this issue. On the one hand, some interpreters argue that Jesus became angry amid the accusations against him and that he lashed out. The view is that Jesus could not have meant that any sin is unforgivable and if so then why not cite more likely candidates for eternal consequences such as genocide, pedophilia, or other heinous crimes. After all, isn’t God secure enough to absorb insults? Why punish anyone eternally for what amount to a finite, sin of insulting?

On the other hand of the eternal sin issue, some reject the idea that Jesus mis-spoke or overreacted. They argue that Jesus wasn’t angry but that he was justified in declaring an unforgivable sin. A rationale behind this view is that people have no right to question anything that God does or what the Bible contains, even if it violates decency, reason, or God’s compassionate redemption. Blaspheming the holiness of God is the worst possible sin the partisans argue and therefore what Jesus supposedly said is entirely true.

Thankfully, the pessimistic view about unforgivable sins doesn’t withstand scrutiny. People of goodwill are invited to push through contradictions, hypocrisy and focus on the splendid consistency of love (which, in the end, overcomes any chance of an unforgivable sin). Reflective and responsible children of God question the possibility of an unforgivable sin. To suggest that anything is unforgivable violently contradicts God’s love while undermining unconditional forgiveness and salvation. Rather than be consumed by arguing on either side of eternal sin, it’s better to focus elsewhere. As with most theological arguments, there’s no benefit pushing either side of the controversy too far, especially if it means losing perspective on humans’ core mission: to receive and share God’s love.

Now we turn to 2 Corinthians and a more positive situation with Paul’s encouraging words about spirit’s eternal nature. Paul embraced his audience by reminding them of the futility of trusting in mere physical existence. “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The outer nature is the physical body, and the inner nature is humans’ and God’s spiritual nature. Eternity is a matter of faith, not about focusing on temporary, external matters. People age and various other factors eventually claim the life of every human. The hope is that your partnership with God will yield a liberating spirituality, a state of mind and manner of living which trumps earth’s evils.

Many inspired teachers have a similar message to Paul’s. The material world is critical in day-to-day living, but transformational, personal spirituality helps direct attention to another realm, that of the spiritual universe. There’s no denying the importance of physical life in terrestrial existence, but the goal of spirituality is to surpass slavery to biology. As with many other truth seekers, Paul challenged his audience to exceed mundane consciousness by yearning for and achieving spiritual vitality, being aware of and choosing to live empowered by a God-infused life. Have you both the awareness of and dedication to this form of transformed existence?

Hope for fulfillment beyond the body is a wonderful encouragement, from Paul. Without your constant vigilance in pushing through obstacles it’s easy to become distracted and consumed by worldly matters. Avoid the trap of elevating physicality over your eternal spirit. Material possessions and worldly gain amount to rubbish compared to the priceless treasures God provides you. Keep your perspective and priorities straight, and refuse getting trapped in a prison of mind or body.

Don’t be troubled by a debilitating fear of an unforgivable sin. And given what Jesus experienced with his relatives, also avoid being consumed by dysfunctional family dynamics. Rise above the static and celebrate love, joy, peace and other priceless perks of a spirit-filled life. Embrace God’s presence and thereby accept everlasting blessings rather than persistent disappointment.      –Reverend Hoxey