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A Welcoming Church

“Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (Repeat.)

Sermons on this morning’s gospel sometimes spring from Jesus’ quoting Lincoln about a house divided against itself. Or they riff on the meaning of families, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And fair enough; those are certainly red letter words.

But as I read the lesson, those themes are an evasion. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit. The gospel lessons are chosen that have to do with the Holy Spirit. And the passage this morning that talks about the Holy Spirit is vv. 28 and 29 that I just repeated. It is called a “hard saying” of Jesus, so it is tempting to run around it, but let’s not. So, here goes.

In chapter 3 of Mark’s gospel, a great crowd has followed Jesus to the Sea of Galilee. Mark says, “hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.”

Jesus then tells the crowd something remarkable. He says, “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.”

This teaching, and its parallel in Matthew (12:31-32), identifies something startling that we might not have known about – there is something that will never be forgiven. Our Lord, who said from his cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;” Our Lord who by his precious death and
sacrifice has washed away all our sins; that Lord now says, maybe not.

Jesus says there is one unforgivable, eternal sin that can never be redeemed, from which there is no salvation, ever; as Matthew says, “either in this age or in the age to come”. So, really bad, lowest circle of hell stuff, unquenchable fire, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, where worm never dies. A terrible, everlasting separation from the love of God.

So what one sin is it that puts us at this kind of awful, fearful risk? What cannot be forgiven, throughout eternity, is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is disrespecting God, only in extreme form. It means calling good evil. In today’s gospel, the blasphemy is calling Jesus Satan for casting out demons; calling his works of mercy works of the devil.

Calling good evil, and evil good, is blasphemy against God because it perverts the whole notion of good. It perverts morality itself. It frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit. It poisons mankind with its toxic lies. It deliberately and resolutely seeks to defeat God’s purpose of love.

Isaiah, Jesus’ favorite prophet, describes this perversion when he says (5:20), “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

We get to know Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Satan was once the great angel Lucifer. Now he contemplates the seduction of mankind. To do this, he has to turn everything inside out; he must reject good for evil, and accept evil as good. He says, “Evil, be thou my good.” I am done with good; now evil will be my good.

By evil, Satan means a radical lack of conscience and repentance; a moral deafness; a perverseness so deep rooted there can be no hope of change. Satan wants to take us to that upside down place where love is bad and truth is false and hate is good. That is the one eternal sin – to look God away; to reverse morality; to ascribe the Holy Spirit’s work to the devil.

The Holy Spirit is the light that comes from God, and calling that light darkness is the work of the devil. Good is good; evil is evil. Truth is truth; lies are lies. Works of mercy are works of mercy; works of the devil are works of the devil. There are not two sides. The way we know which is which is from Jesus’ commandment that we love one another.

The Holy Spirit came after Jesus to be with us forever, to be our guide. We listen for the Holy Spirit. We watch for the Holy Spirit at work in the world. The one eternal, unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. God be praised. Love your neighbor. Amen.