Guest Worship Leader ~Rev Aled Edwards OBE
Readings ~ Genesis 3: 8-15 Mark 3: 20-35
Jesus and Beelzebub
Today’s reading brings back many memories. I remember preaching in Botwnnog Church in Bangor Diocese when the church was full with summer visitors, I had decided that summer to preach a series of sermons. One Sunday I had preached on today’s passage. The following week I reflected back and claimed foolishly that the week before we had done the sin against the Holy Spirit. One kind parishioner responded kindly saying that whatever I had done the week before she had not considered the sin against the Holy Spirit.
I begin today with a confession for my own background. I was brought up to the sound of quarry-men in the Gwynedd area. They were mostly godly men tough and very resilient. My lasting memory of them as a child was that many of them could not breathe because of the slate dust. They were tough and had a wicked sense of humour. When someone had ideas before beyond his or her station, they applied humour. They could sometimes be very quick witted. Some would say that what they did in terms of the humour was a little cruel. I can remember the story of a young man called William going to the caban or cabin where they had their lunch and also indulged their wicked sense of humour. They were renowned for giving each other nicknames. This poor young man called William decided to be brave. He claimed to be so wide awake that they would never give him a nickname. Until his dying day he was known in the quarry as Will Wide Awake.
Sometimes in ministry – only very rarely I would have people being rather blunt or rude. Whenever that happened I used to think: ‘don’t say the first thing that goes into your head. Be wise. Be careful.’ I have to confess that’s not always worked. I love applying a degree of humour and honesty whenever people believe that they’re being honest with me. There is a famous wisdom isn’t there that if you can’t take it you shouldn’t dish it.
A few months ago, during a really heated debate around racial justice issues two Black Lives Matter groups went logger heads with each other. One very brave young woman whom I admire enormously said what she thought. She’s a committed Christian. Someone questioned who she was and who she represented. Someone had challenged her integrity and the authority of the group she represented. The questioner further claimed that she hadn’t heard of her group or of what they did. I will never forget the answer my friend provided. Her response was sharp. She said to the person who challenged her “I’m not responsible for your poor life choices. I’m not responsible for what you choose not to know. You are! Accept responsibility for what you say and for what you choose not to know.” Wow!
There was a kerfuffle around Jesus in Capernaum that day. The crowds had gathered around Jesus. His family were concerned for him. His disciples couldn’t eat around him. There were just too many people.
Into the middle of that noise and business the teachers of the law arrived with a different sort of noise. They arrived very much on Peter and Andrew’s home patch. Scholars suggest that the house mentioned here was their house. They were men who could be very honest in what they said. Sometimes they were very blunt and could offend. They also arrived close to where Jesus himself had been brought up. They seem to be very honest blunt people from Nazareth. They were only 30 miles away from Jesus’s home patch. Honesty was very much one of their trademarks.
So we have to reflect on that unforgivable sin. These teachers of the law arrived at this house in Capernaum ready to suggest that Jesus worked through Beelzebub or the devil.
Jesus in a very honest way reminded them of the power of his actions. After all, he had been able to heal the sick, to make the blind see and to cleanse individuals of the things that troubled them. The interpretation of the age was the many of those inflicted had demons. In those scenarios Jesus, seemed to be able to be strong. So strong that he could even drive out demons. Jesus didn’t hold back. He said precisely what he meant and he said it with force.
Jesus proceeds to tell them that all sins may be forgiven except for one – the unforgivable sin. What’s the sin against the Holy Spirit? On first reading, it’s suggested that if anyone claims that Jesus worked through evil, that was the sin against the Holy Spirit. It was unforgivable. Am I the only one who perhaps thinks but that was an outrageous comment to make? For me it doesn’t seem to rest well with other sayings in the gospels. God in his love for us, through the life and ministry of his Son, forgives. On the cross Jesus pleaded in his pain that God the Father should forgive those who had crucified him, ‘for they know not what they do.’
And so we ask the question: is it God the Father who condemns us for what we do or do we ourselves, by what we do and say, make ourselves unredeemable.
The closing section to this part of Marks Gospel seems to re-emphasise a degree of harshness. To this conversation and conflict Jesus’ own mother and family arrive. It seems a little harsh the Jesus should ask ‘who is his family?’ Who are they?
Jesus moves on quickly to a pattern of embracing and of loving. He brings to the scene a sense of kingdom that is diverse, inclusive and rich. It is not the case that he excludes. It is not perhaps the harshness of words that come to the fore but a sense that his kingdom is embracing. He offers a renewed sense of family. It’s about an embracing rather than exclusion. Forgiveness is perhaps, after all, is offered to all accept except to those who choose not to receive it. What can be given to those who believe that they have everything. The answer may be – nothing. Even forgiveness!
God whose love will never run dry, will never fall short, will never fail: In wonder, we worship you.
God whose love knows nothing of our distinctions, our notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, and which encompasses everyone: In wonder we worship you.
We praise you that your love reaches us, in our struggles and our joys, in our hidden place of fear and shame, in our sorrow and disappointment.
We praise you that in your love you meet us as we are, where we are, sweeping aside any sense of inadequacy, overturning misplaced dependencies, and opening a window of light and hope.
We think of the violence that is done to your world. Help us to turn away from the unthinking destruction of the Earth’s riches for our own gain and instead to strive to be faithful stewards of the earth, sea and sky. Where the human desire for power has wrought violence and conflict, may there be peace; where greed has wrought destruction of your world, may there be restoration and renewal; where over-consumption has led to desolation and famine, may there be an overabundance of blessing.
We think of the violence we do one another through blame, judgment and scapegoating and we are sorry. We think of the violence we do to ourselves by imagining that we are not good or worthy enough to be loved, even by you. Banish our shame, we pray. Teach us of your love, transform us by your grace.
And because words can never be enough, we come to you now in a time of stillness, bringing to you the people and places on our hearts today…
God of love and hope, renew in us a deeper sense of who we are in you so that we may shamelessly love you, ourselves and our neighbours. This we pray through Jesus Christ, our brother and saviour, who taught us to pray, saying, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever, Amen.