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Sunday, June 07, 2015

All You Need Is Love

A Sermon preached June 7, 2015 Proper 5B

I don’t know about you, but every time I read this passage from Mark’s gospel, I am caught up short by the harshness of these words of Jesus.  I took the great liberty of reading you the gospel from the translation known as The Message because I wanted you to hear what Jesus is saying to us so that we can be clear.  I hope you take your bulletin insert home and compare notes later.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the harshness of the words of Jesus, given the context. And, the words are pretty harsh. Indeed, this passage is known as one of the “Hard Sayings of Jesus”. In the translation we have in our bulletin insert, Jesus is reported as saying that anyone who sins or blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has committed an unforgivable sin.

Wait! What? An unforgivable sin? How can that be? Aren’t all things forgiven by God? Or, is it just the Third Person of the Trinity who is different. So, wait. So, you can sin against God the father, and sin against God the son, and there’s nothing you can do that won’t be forgiven. But, sin against the Holy Spirit and you’re toast? What?

It reminds me of that old Jim Croche song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.” Apparently, you don’t mess around with the Holy Spirit, either.

So, what’s going on here? Well, let’s take these words in context and let's ust imagine this gospel scene from the third chapter of Mark. The healing ministry of Jesus has been going on in earnest. And, the Pharisees are not pleased. At. All. 

At the beginning of chapter three, Jesus comes upon a man with a crippled hand and everyone is wondering if Jesus will heal him. It was the Sabbath, you see, and the Pharisees are very strict and rigid about the Sabbath – even concerning healing on the Sabbath.  Imagine!

As the story continues, in Peterson’s translation: 
Then he spoke to the people: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” No one said a word.

He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him.
So, Jesus knows that the Pharisees are angry. He knows they are plotting against him. Still, the crowd gathers around him, pressing him for healing. He can’t say no. Indeed, he doesn’t even take time to eat. His family and friends are growing concerned about him. 

The Pharisees – whom Peterson generously describes as “the religious scholars from Jerusalem” – had begun to spread rumors that Jesus was using some sort of magic, some dark art, something maleficent and evil, to heal people. Which is when Jesus explodes. 

He says, “You can’t send out a devil to catch a devil. You can’t use Satan to get rid of Satan!” 

In other words, you can’t heal evil with evil. 

Which reminds me of something Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached. He said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It’s true, isn’t it? We forget that when we’re anxious or afraid or hurting or frustrated. 

I remember, as a child, trying to open a jar – might have been peanut butter or perhaps a jar of jelly. It seemed the more I pushed and tugged and grunted, the less progress I made.

To my mind, if something wasn’t moving, it meant that I needed to counter that force with more force. That’s not necessarily true. My father would say, “Elizabeth, you can work hard, or you can work smart. Anyone can work hard. Try to work smart.”

And, with that, he showed me how to turn the jar upside down and tap it lightly on the counter. Then, he used a towel and wrapped it around the lid so the sweat and grease from my hands wouldn’t interfere with the traction needed to open the jar. 

Finally, he taught me to pull the jar closer to my chest as I applied gentle, steady pressure. That way, I was using my muscles at their optimum.  He was teaching me to work smart.

I remember following his instructions carefully and hearing him say, “You can do this. Imagine the lid coming off. If you can see it, you can do it.” 

And, suddenly, just like magic, I felt the resistance on the jar give, heard the pop and, Voila!, the lid was off the jar. 

I had still worked hard, but, not as hard as I would have if I hadn’t worked smart.

I think healing is like that.  There’s an old Native American saying that goes something like this: “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.”

I think that’s a bit of what Jesus is teaching us here in this passage. Jesus was about the business of not letting the pain of their daily lives control them – especially the painful imposition of a strict, rigid interpretation and application of the Sabbath laws.

But, then comes the really hard teaching of Jesus. The part about forgiveness and what it means to sin or blaspheme or slander the Holy Spirit.  He says:
“Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.” He gave this warning because they were accusing him of being in league with Evil.
Jesus is speaking to those religious scholars – the Pharisees who insist on a strict interpretation of God’s law – and saying to them and to us today, that to slandering the works of Jesus – accusing him of being in league with Satan to affect healing –  is to slander the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And, in doing so, separates oneself from the very One who forgives all sins. 

See? It’s like trying to open a jar of jelly or peanut butter by holding it out here and cursing and swearing and sweating. Healing miracles are of God. They happen in God’s way and in God’s good time. You can’t force them to happen. You can’t curse them into being. Often, you've got to work with God and allow God to work through you.

Healing miracles are a great mystery precisely because they are from God.

As St. Paul says in today’s passage from his second letter to the church in Corinth: “ . . .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.”

Back to the gospel story: Just then, the mother and brothers of Jesus show up and want to have a word with him. Jesus uses the occasion to underscore the miraculous healing power of love. Love tears down all barriers and divisions because love flows from an obedience to God’s love for us. 

When we are one with God, we are one with one another and the miracle of the family of God heals all divisions of race and ethnicity and gender and age and any other human construct of that which separates and divides us. 

Which reminds me of the words of another song, this one by Lennon and McCartney:
There's nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you in time
It's easy
The refrain, of course, is also the title of the song: “All you need is love.”

Well, life is of’t times more complicated than that, isn’t it? Which is not to dismiss the enormous power of the incarnate love of God in Christ Jesus through the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

I have seen that love in action and it is amazing. Truly. I have felt the power of that love working through my own life. Perhaps you have, as well.  If you have, you know that miracles can and do happen. When you begin to live your life expecting miracles to happen, you’ll find that miracles are all around you. Everywhere. Happening every day.

If you don’t, if you harden your heart and set firm boundaries around your life and your heart, living by rigid rules, you’ll not only miss the forest for the trees, you’ll miss the possibility of miracles in your life.   

You’ll be cutting yourself off from the Source of all life and all miracles. And, while God will always love you and always forgive you, you may find it hard to forgive yourself. Especially when you realize what you’ve been missing. 

Love may not be all you need, but the world sure would be a better place if we all brought a little more love into our lives, wouldn’t it?  

I saw a bumper sticker the other day which was deceptively simple. It read “Everyone does better when everyone does better. “ Think about that for a minute and let it sink in: Everyone does better when everyone does better.

What would happen to you - to this church - to your family - to your neighborhood - to your town and this state - to this country and this world - if we woke up each morning committed to doing better? If we believed that our positive attitude could make a difference? 

Quaker educator and author Parker Palmer has a term for this. It's called "functional atheism". 

If you believe in God, you'll take a risk. Do something that breaks or bends a rule because it helps another person. Just as Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath.

This passage is known as one of the “Hard Sayings of Jesus” but it’s really not so hard once you understand the context of his words and know more plainly what he’s saying.  

So, if you read this passage and the harshness of it catches you up short, just try to remember:

You can’t cast out darkness with darkness; only light can do that. You can’t cast out hate with hate; only love can do that. 

You can work hard or you can work smart, but you'll work a lot less hard if you work smart.
There’s nothing you can do to separate yourself from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even yourself. 

Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.

Everyone does better when everyone does better.

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made. No one you can save that can’t be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you. In time. It’s easy. All you need is love.  

“ . . .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.”

Even so, it is still a wise and true thing and good advice to remember not to tug on Superman’s cape. 

And, it’s just flat out dumb to spit into the wind. 

For heaven’s sake, don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. 

But, whatever you do, please: Don’t mess around with the Holy Spirit, who has many aliases like "Serendipity" and "Coincidence" and "Ruach" and "Shekinah" but, apparently, is sometimes also known as "Jim".



Bex said...

Now I get it! And for me it's always going to be "In the name of the Father and the Son...and Jim. :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lol, Bex. Me, too.

nancmcp said...

First thing I read this morning. Brought me to tears. Your writing always moves me in some way. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks nancmcp