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Sermon, June 6, 2021

Take Heart

Pentecost/Ordinary Time II (RCL Cycle B; Track 1)/6 June 2021

This morning we start our long journey through the “Green Season,” also known as the Season After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time.  The term “ordinary” does not mean common place, every day, or the usual; rather it refers the number of weeks – as in “ordinal numbers.”  Anyway, our time together for the next six months will take us through much of Mark’s Gospel as well as several excursions into the Gospel of John.  Here we are given an extended opportunity to consider the depth and meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is accused of being possessed by Beelzebul, the “ruler of the demons” (Mk. 3:22). Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing had attracted wide attention and a large following. Therefore, he not only drew opposition from the religious authorities, who viewed him as a threat, but also from his family, who misunderstood his actions.

In the opening verses of the reading, Jesus has returned home to Nazareth for a time of respite from the crowds that press upon him and his disciples, to the extent that they don’t even have time to eat. But there were those who thought that Jesus had lost his mind. Unable to comprehend his activities, and perhaps concerned by the unfavorable attention they might draw from the religious and political authorities, some of his family sought to “restrain him” (3:21).

Scribes from Jerusalem who questioned Jesus’ authority were also present. The power manifested by Jesus was clearly undeniable — the blind received their sight; cripples were able to walk; lepers were cleansed; the possessed were restored to normal life. But he also presumed to forgive sins, ate with sinners, and broke Sabbath laws. Thus, the scribes accused Jesus of being in league with the devil and casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of demons. If Jesus transgressed the law, then it followed that his exorcisms and other actions could not be of God.

Jesus refutes their accusation by pointing out that if Satan is divided against himself, his power is annulled. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (v. 23). In like manner, a house or a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

This truth is further illustrated by a parable (v. 27) in which a strong man (Satan) guards his property until he is overpowered by one who is stronger (Jesus as the Messiah), who plunders Satan’s household. With the full power of God, Jesus has burst into the realm controlled by Satan and shattered the effects of evil — the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Jesus goes on to declare that “people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter” (v. 28); but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an “eternal sin” (v. 29) that cannot be forgiven. Here blasphemy is used in the sense of abuse or insult.

Jesus had been filled with God’s Spirit (1:10). Therefore, to accuse him of being allied with demonic forces is to attribute the work of God to Satan. This charge is beyond forgiveness because it is a conscious denial of the goodness and grace of God’s Spirit, who is present in all of Jesus’ actions.

What places one in mortal danger is deliberate rejection of God who is at work in and through Jesus. Ironically, by attributing the liberating and healing activity of Jesus to the sphere of Satan, the scribes themselves are committing the ultimate insult toward God.

In verses 31-35, the narrative returns to Jesus’ family, as his mother and brothers wait to see him. When Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (v. 33), he calls attention to a broader dimension of relationships. The arrival of the Kingdom of God has changed everything and takes precedence over all other loyalties, even as it redefines relationships. Thus, the person who performs God’s will is the one who truly is mother or brother or sister to him. This pronouncement does not belittle family loyalty, but is a reminder that devotion to God’s purposes is foremost.

In this somewhat puzzling passage, Mark shows us that Jesus is the one who brings liberation from the power of evil. The radical nature of true discipleship is defined in terms of the formation of a community that responds without reservation to the outreach of God’s love through Jesus — and does the will of God.

In the Epistle reading from the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul affirms the connection between the faith of Israel in the past and in the present. The “same spirit of faith” (2 Cor. 4:13) that inspired the Psalmist (cf Ps. 116:10) now enables the preaching of Paul. Through this Spirit we know that God raised Jesus from death and will likewise raise “us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence” (v. 14).

Paul goes on to offer encouragement to the converts in Corinth, telling them not to lose heart. For while in this present life we may know affliction, it will be merely transitory. In our trials we need to focus on what cannot be seen. Our external life — our temporary shelter, or “tent” — may perish. But we know that we will have an eternal dwelling with God: “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1).

This is our hope and consolation today as well. For no matter what we may face in our lives, the future we anticipate with Christ will overcome our suffering and losses. Through Jesus Christ, who died and rose, God’s presence endures forever and will bring about the deepest fulfillment of our souls.  Consider how easy it would have been over this past year with the pandemic to fall into fear and despair.  I believe that the sustaining power and presence of the Holy Spirit kept us and nurtured us even when the only way we could gather was via “Zoom.”

What does this mean for us on this 6th of June 2021?  It’s this.  We are encouraged not to lose heart no matter what the circumstance; because the Reign of God is near at hand and is already here.

Amen.

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