Sometimes, when I read the Gospel for the week, I am immediately struck by a particular idea or line and I feel like the Holy Spirit is moving and I know what I should say.
Today is not that kind of Sunday. When I read the Gospel today, I was reminded of sci fi author Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In that novel, the fictional electronic guide book by the same name has the words Don’t Panic stamped on it in friendly looking text. I think today is more of that kind of Sunday. We heard the Gospel reading and all I can think is that now it’s time to remind ourselves not to panic.
Jesus is being surrounded by huge crowds—he is exhausted and they surround him with demands. The people with power, the religious authorities, say that his power comes from the ruler of demons. His family, those who know him and love him, believe that he has lost his sanity. And then he tells a parable about Satan and division and a strong man being overcome. Finally, he says that whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has committed the unforgivable sin. Is it time to panic yet?
No…not yet. Instead, we need to engage with the question of what we embrace and what we reject. Instead, we have to ask ourselves how our world has become so divided.
This story has two rejections (one framed by another). The outer frame is bookended by those who reject Jesus, both the authorities and the family. Then we have, inside of Jesus’ parable, the statement that the rejection of the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin.
So the answer is that we should avoid rejecting the Holy Spirit, but what does that look like? What if we don’t recognize the Holy Spirit? It is a very sobering thought think that we might inadvertently blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and commit an unforgivable eternal sin.
I think though that we need to understand and remember that we leave and reject God, rather than God leaving or rejecting us. God is always reaching out to us–again and again iniviting us into relationship. The once Archbishop Rowan Williams in “Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007 p. 151) said it this way: “The most truthful image we can have of hell is of God eternally knocking on a closed door that we are struggling to hold shut.” That’s essentially the truth—the only thing that can take us away the overwhelming and unlimited love of God is ourselves.
That being said, let’s look at the life-giving corollary of fully embracing the Holy Spirit. In all areas of our lives and over and over again we each have moments that allow us to choose to turn toward or away from God.
Often, these moments are couched in terms of loyalty or affiliation. We are told that because we are members of a particular nation, a political party, an educational community, an economic strata, a career path, a gender or romantic identity, living in a particular local community…that we should make a choice. And those choices, when based upon human categories lead to injustice—it leads us to put our time and energy and resources into things that do not bring justice, life, and equality for the world. It leads us to things that move us away from the Holy Spirit.
For example, our current social structures tell us that wealth equates with success and worthiness. Our world tells us that we are consumers and that we more than anyone else are entitled to what we have. We are told that we can measure worthiness in terms fo external realities—where we live, what we wear, how we speak, who we know.
The Holy Spirit tells us that there are enough wealth and resources in our world that every living creature can be provided for. She tells just that God loves every creature without bounds and without reservations, welcoming each and every one with the same sense of care—and instructs us to do the same. She tells us that we can build a world where security and peace for everyone are the groundwork of everything we do.
What should we reject and what should we embrace?
We should reject brokenness and embrace wholeness. Our own brokenness makes us afraid and doesn’t allow us to stay in relationship and to stay in communication with each other and with God.
We are divided when we see one group of people as less important than another, less human than another, and less lovable than another. It is our brokenness that allows us to lose sight of other human beings because they are different than us—at least on the outside.
At the same time, our brokenness keeps us silence in the face of destructive power. Our brokenness that sometimes makes truth hard to see and even harder to say. Our brokenness separates us from our most deeply held beliefs and allows us to limit the family of Christ to those who are like us and close to us, rather than everyone who want to join with us in doing the will of God. Like Jesus, when we speak truth in face of evil, when we affirm that being able to say and name the forces of evil is not the same as BEING evil, we are affirming that we are a house that remains undivided. In those moments we are embracing wholeness.
I believe that God calls us to reject the external and embrace the intrinsic.
Let me tell you what I mean. I recently watched, as the pandemic started to recede a bit, two teenage girls becoming friends. On the surface, they seemed to have nothing in common. One is clean cut and fresh faced, while the other is covered in piercings and tattoos. One lives with her family and the other lives on her own in an apartment. One is white and one is a person fo color. On the surface they have nothing in common. And yet, they meet daily and share tasks and talk and do the all the things teenagers do. I asked one of them “Why do you think you are friends? You don’t seem to have much in common.” She answered: “When I met her, I met myself.”
That’s what it looks like to embrace the Holy Spirit. That is what it looks like to understand what love is about. That is what it looks like to do the work of encountering holiness in our world. And that is the radical demand of today’s Gospel: that we be willing and eager to connect with and love what is intrinsic.
When we embrace what is intrinsic we know that:
- We can’t judge by the outside appearance—We need to look deeper.
- We can’t judge someone once and stick to it— We need to reach out again and again
- We can assume that everyone will always agree—we need to continue to explore how others came to the place where we find them, and entertain the idea that they have something to teach us.
This month, as a parish and as a broader community we are celebrating Pride Month, a time set aside to lift up the LGBTQ voices and perspectives. In part that is so we can reinforce and reiterate our strong belief that everyone is important and everyone is loved. That no one perspective is less important. We are affirming that we want to include everyone in the conversation and make sure that everyone has a voice. We want to invite everyone into healing the brokenness in ourselves, in the community, and in the world that tries to divide us.
If rejecting God is what we want to avoid, what then should we do in order to do better? Don’t panic. Take time: To know each other, to trust each other, to work together. Look for what is intrinsic, look for the reasons that God loves each one of us. Embrace that, celebrate that, and protect that. And the Holy Spirit will be embraced.
Preached by the Ven. Hailey McKeefry Delmas, Deacon, Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, San Carlos, on June 5, 2021.