St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, June 10, 2018
The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5B)
First Lesson: Genesis
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-40
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Several years ago, there was a story in the news about a new trend floating around on the Internet. You might’ve heard about it at the time. It was called the “Blasphemy Challenge.” Did you ever hear about this? The “Blasphemy Challenge” encouraged atheists and other non-believers to record videos of themselves denying the existence of the Holy Sprit and uploading them to YouTube for the whole world to see. When I first heard about it, I was curious to hear what people were saying in their videos. So, I went online and watched some.
To be honest, they were really hard to sit through. They made me uncomfortable.
I was struck by how much pain and suffering the people in these videos must have had to take time out of their busy lives to tell the whole world that they renounced God and the Holy Spirit.
Video after video, so much pain and anger.
And, there were many others that I didn’t watch. Countless videos of people whose voices have remained silent over the years, despite their deep wounds. Videos of people who simply have no interest in God or living their lives according to a particular faith.
For me, perhaps the most tragic part of this story was coming to the realization that we, as Christians, are at least partly responsible.
After watching some of the videos, I asked myself, “Why would someone do such a thing?”
Was there a point to all of this? Or, was it simply a gimmick to seek attention?
Well, I can think of a lot of reasons why someone might do this. Like many of us, I grew up in a small town in Alabama in the heart of the “Bible belt” where you’re considered an outsider if you don’t show up to church on Sunday mornings or if you’re not involved in the youth group at a particular church in the community. I grew up in a place where you would be looked down upon if you ever even hinted at the fact that you had doubts about God. I grew up in a place where you’re very soul was in jeopardy if you didn’t conform to the way that others think you should behave, where Holy Scripture is used as a means to control and oppress others for fear of being punished by God for all eternity.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
The “Blasphemy Challenge” was inspired by a verse from today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus says to the crowd, “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.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this lesson to be pretty challenging.
According to the Gospel, God will show mercy to anyone who asks for forgiveness, with one exception. If you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, you can never have forgiveness.
It makes me wonder, “Why is this particular sin so unforgivable?”
And, for that matter, what exactly does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?
Does it mean simply announcing to the world that you deny the existence of the Holy Spirit like the people in those videos? Or, does it mean something far worse?
Earlier in our lesson from Mark, Jesus is accused by the religious authorities of being full of “Beelzebub.” After all, he must be full of unclean spirits if he has the ability to cast out demons. What other explanation could there be?
Jesus responds to the accusation with a question. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Jesus asks the crowd. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
I think the same can be said about the Kingdom of God. As followers of Jesus, we must continually ask ourselves, “If we are called to be servants of Christ in this broken and hurting world, how can we do anything but love those whom society rejects?” “How can we do anything but work to reconcile God with God’s creation?”
When we encounter the atheist or the non-believer, we are called to respond with love. When we encounter those from faith traditions that are different than our own, we are called to respond with love. When we encounter those with lifestyles that are different than our own or those who have made poor decisions in the past, we are called to respond with love, and by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. Jesus came to teach us not to demonize others for who they are or what they’ve done but to knock down the walls that divide us and to show mercy and compassion.
Perhaps, then, the real blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is inhibiting the work of the Holy Spirit. If God calls us to look for ways that the Holy Spirit might be living and moving in our world, perhaps stories like the “Blasphemy Challenge” are signs that God is not yet finished with us. Perhaps the voices of the angry and wounded, of the oppressed and downtrodden, is the voice of God telling God’s people that the work of reconciliation and healing is not yet complete.
Indeed, Jesus tells the crowd gathered that it is the religious authorities who are guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They are guilty of attributing the work of God to the work of the evil one. They are guilty of demonizing the one who has come to challenge the status quo.
We, too, are often guilty of this in our own time and place.
We’re guilty of this when we take it upon ourselves to judge others, and we’re guilty of this when we limit God’s ability to show mercy and compassion through our words and actions.
Like the religious authorities who accuse Jesus of being full of unclean spirits because of his ability to cast out demons, we also demonize that which we don’t understand, and we often overlook the work of the Holy Spirit when it comes to us in ways that we might not recognize.
Thanks be to God that we have the hope of the resurrection and that, at the end of the age, Jesus will be the one to come and judge the earth, not us. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives in more ways than we can possibly imagine. As St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 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.”
Beloved, may we always look to the one who came, not to conform to the way that he was expected to live, but the one who came to cast out demons. May we always look to the one who teaches us that his way is the path that leads to eternal life, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.