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Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

May only the truth be spoken, and only the truth be heard. Amen.

Sometimes when we’re presented with a choice, neither option seems like an easy one.

Today’s gospel presented me with an uncomfortable choice about what to preach on: Jesus says two things in this passage which often stop people short, and could certainly be added to the list of “Things I Wish Jesus Never Said.”

But he did say them and we can’t just pretend they’re not there.

The first is when Jesus 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 passage is sometimes used by those who oppose Christianity and the idea of a loving God by saying—Aha! See! There is something that God won’t forgive you for! There are limits to his mercy!

 And then there’s the individual response to reading that passage, where we think, “Oh no! It can’t be true…” and then immediately start to wonder if we’ve committed that sin or not.

The second is when Jesus’ family is outside trying to collect him, and his response is to ask who his family is? And then pronounce that those gathered around him in the house are his family. Those who do the will of God are Jesus’ family.

This passage has been used in many different ways, including justifying the abduction of Indigenous children from their homes to be placed in religious schools where they could be part of the church’s family, instead of remaining in their birth family.

There are so many reasons why this atrocious way of thinking directly contravenes the message of the gospel. Let me assure you that when Jesus said, “let the little children come to me,” he didn’t mean to rip them from their homes, their communities, their history and their language.

So I had to decide which of these two difficult portions of scripture to engage with today. I’ve opted to go with the first, largely because the second option isn’t a fifteen minute sermon, and I’m sure you don’t want to be here all day. There’s a popular saying in church-land that there’s a fine line between a long sermon and a hostage situation.

So, here we are: “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 want to draw your attention to the phrase: “can never have forgiveness.” My friends, it’s Grammar Time.

 I want you to notice that this wording is passive in the sense that it doesn’t mention anyone withholding forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t say, If you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit– God will never forgive you.

Jesus says you can never have forgiveness.

 It’s not that God regards such a sin as incurably horrendous. Certainly more horrendous things have been done… like telling Indigenous children that their language and customs were of the devil, for example.

The authorities watched Jesus heal people time and time again, and yet they couldn’t open their eyes and see the Spirit at work in him. Maybe the Scribes couldn’t handle the popularity of Jesus, but whatever it was, they never even seemed to try to be open to the light that Jesus offered. One blasphemes against the Holy Spirit when one ignores the Holy Spirit.

One commentator points out that if one lived in the dark long enough, one would lose the ability to see.

And if a person refuses the guidance of God’s Spirit often enough, they become, in the end, incapable of recognizing the truth even when it stares them in the face. They just couldn’t begin to realize that the truth was embodied in Jesus, so how then could they ever come to know his unwavering forgiveness? They could not have that forgiveness.

I suspect that by now many of you probably know that C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite Christian Apologists, and now that we’ve had our grammar time, it’s story time.

In the final book of the Narnia series, “The Last Battle,” there is a scene that involves a group of dwarves. The dwarves are suspicious of everything because they were tricked by Narnia’s enemies into believing in a “false Aslan,” who is the Christ-like figure, and they are determined to never get taken in again.

Their rally cry is, “The dwarves are for the dwarves!” When the end of Narnia is occurring and Aslan opens the door to the new Narnia, the Dwarves are brought through the door, but they believe that they’re huddled together in a dark stable.

Lucy, one of the main characters, tries talking to the Dwarves to tell them that they’re in this beautiful place. But the Dwarves don’t believe her, they refuse to accept what she says to them. They’re convinced they’re simply in a dark stable.

Then Aslan appears, and Lucy begs him to help the Dwarves, and Aslan says I can only do so much. He creates a glorious feast for the Dwarves, but they reject it, and refuse to eat it. They are convinced it’s rotten and smelly, and won’t touch it.

Lucy is understandably distraught by this. Aslan says to Lucy: “They will not let us help them,” “They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own mind, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

What a hard hitting truth for a children’s story…. “they are so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

This is what Jesus means when he says, they cannot have forgiveness.

To put it another way, I suppose you could say that the only unforgivable sin is the one you won’t let be forgiven.  I confess that I’m one of those people who will tell other people that they are forgiven much more easily than I forgive myself. I’m gentler with others, I’m more patient with others, I’m more understanding with others. But I’m not always so gentle, patient and understanding with myself.

Thankfully God sent us Jesus to help us learn how to forgive others, and yes, how to allow our own sins to be forgiven too. Jesus offers us a place in the kingdom of God, but he can’t make us accept it, just like Aslan said he could only do so much for the dwarves.

If our greatest need had been technology, then God would have sent an Inventor.

If our greatest need had been enjoyment, then God would have sent an Entertainer.

If our greatest need had been money, then God would have sent an Economist.

But our greatest need was to know grace and forgiveness, so God sent a Saviour!

Now, it’s up to each of us to decide… will we choose to open our hearts to the love and forgiveness of Christ, or will we side with those who reject the power and authority of God over Satan and the evils of this world? The Scribes and those who blaspheme the Spirit couldn’t have forgiveness because they weren’t willing to accept what Jesus offers to each and every one of us.

There are all sorts of forces, things, events, and sometimes even people, by which our lives are broken and through which we’re separated from God. But our gospel passage today tells us that Christ is stronger than anything that fragments our lives or tries to keep us from accepting his radical offer of love.

We don’t have to sit in a dark stable, suspicious that we might be “taken in.” Let the Spirit “take you out.” Out of the darkness, out of loneliness, out of jealousy and pride, out of complacency, and out of sin.

The only sin that can’t be forgiven is the one we won’t let be forgiven. Forgiveness is available to all who earnestly seek it. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

 Jesus is waiting, it’s your move next. Amen.