Saturday, June 27, 2015

Asking Directions From A Stranger Sitting On A Stump In The Middle Of Nowhere - Psalm 23, John 10

Psalm 23:1-6

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

John 10:1-11

1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice."
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

            Some of you know I have been away for several days.  I was in West Virginia in an area known as the National Radio Quiet Zone.  I did not even know there was such a thing.  Because of scientific and military research installations in that area, there are no cell phones and no Wi Fi for the Internet. 

            It is the perfect place for a spiritual retreat. 

            When I left, I had a problem.  My GPS system in on my cell phone.  I had a map – you know, those old fashioned paper products.  Up is north, down is south.

            But still, before I left the National Radio Quiet Zone, I got lost. 

            I found myself driving down a country road – it did not have any signs, no intersections of other roads, no stores, no painted marks or lines down the center of the road – nothing.

            I was beginning to get worried and I finally came to a man who was sitting by the road on a stump of an old tree.

            I stopped and asked, “How far is it to the highway.”

            He looked at me and asked, “What high way?”

            I told him my situation and that I was trying to make my way to Florida and he gave me some instructions – go so far, turn this way, go another distance, turn the other way, yada yada yada.

            Before I left him I said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing out hear in the middle of nowhere sitting on that stump.”

            Without a hint of hesitation he answered.  “Beats sitting in a car driving around lost in the middle of nowhere.”

            I smiled and drove on – I had my directions.

            Guidance on how to get out of the National Radio Quiet Zone.

            Trusting instructions from a total stranger.

            Now in this case, it turned out well.

            My being here before you is proof positive that I made it out of there and back home.

            But it occurs to me that we often look for guidance for our lives from sources that may, or may not be, the best of sources.

     On my second day of college, I went to the school bookstore to buy a handful of books that I would need for my English literature course. I bought all the books that I would need for the course, except one. They were out of copies of that book. And it was the very first book we would study. The very first one!

     I wasn't alone, there were four others who had been in the book store trying to get copies of that book, and we were too late.

     One of the book store workers suggested that we might find copies of the book in the bookstore of Anderson College, which was about an hour's drive away.

     "Great," I said, "My car is parked right outside. Let's go."

     And off the five of us went, introducing ourselves to each other and trying to get to know one another as we went.

     It wasn't until we got to the city limits of Anderson, SC, that we realized that none of us knew where Anderson College was – beyond being somewhere in the town of Anderson.

    "I think it might be this way," one of the students said. "Go down this way."

     So I turned and went down that road until he yelled up from the back seat, "Turn left up there."

     And I turned left.

     Now take a right at the light.
     And I took a right.

     Now turn left and then make another left at the next turn.
     I did all that.

Finally, after several turns, I came to a stop sign and turned around in my seat to face the fellow who had been giving instructions and asked him if he had ever been to Anderson, SC.
    "Nope," he said, "I'm from New Jersey and I never even heard of Anderson College. I'm as lost as can be, and I'm just having fun getting you as lost as I am."


   Sometimes I think that the leaders we pick out for our lives are as lost as we are, and leading us nowhere fast.

            We need to be careful about our sources of leadership. 

            In 1982 the Air Force Thunderbirds suffered a tragic loss of four jets and pilots.

            You probably know about the Thunderbirds.  Like the Navy’s Blue Angels this demonstration team performs in air shows all over the nation.

            In 1982, during a practice, all four jets flew into the side of a mountain and crashed.

            What happened? 

            The lead jet suffered a jammed stabilizer.  The other pilots, in accordance with their training, did not break formation.  These jets are so close together that they have to follow the leader very carefully and closely, and not knowing the leader had a malfunction, they all crashed.

            One has to be careful about the leadership you follow.

            That applies to political leaders, religious leaders, Scout leaders, youth leaders, educational leaders, good friends, or strangers sitting on some stump in West Virginia.

     Human leadership will always have the potential for misleading us – intentionally or otherwise. 

Our Scripture lessons today from both Psalm 23 and the Gospel of John teach us that we can trust our spiritual leadership in our Lord.

     The Lord is my shepherd.

     When I think about a shepherd, the first image that I have is of a person leading a group of sheep from one place to another place. A shepherd does many things for the sheep, but one thing he always does is lead.

     Now what does that mean to me that the Lord is MY shepherd? My guide? My leader?

     Well, obviously, the first thing that it means is that I have some direction in my life. I am going from point A to point B.

     A lot of people are wandering aimlessly in life. They don't know where they are headed or how they will get there.

     When they lose their jobs, they don't know what to do.
 They have no leader.  They have no direction.
     When they are faced with a decision, they don't know where to turn.

When they come to the end of their high school or college careers they have this wonderful experience of graduation – but then they flounder.  The have no direction with what to do next.  They have no leader in their life to guide them.

When faced with a tragedy, they don't know how to respond.  They have no leader.

        But Christians can say, the Lord is my shepherd. He is my guide and he is my leader.

     And so our life has some direction. We are on a journey from point A to point B, and the Lord is guiding us on that journey.

     Point A is birth. We all started there. And we are all headed to point B, which not death, but life--life in the Kingdom of God. That is where we are headed. We have some direction in our life.

            What a wonderful thing – to have some direction in life.

     A young child trying to deal with first friendships struggles on how to respond when a playmate wants to fight about something.

     The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord has told us, treat people the way YOU want to be treated.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We teach this golden rule to our children, and as we do, we are introducing them to the one who can lead them through life, who will be their shepherd.  We have a guide as we move from point A, birth, to point B, life.

     A teenager faces all sorts of issues. Should I go to college? What should I major in? What career is for me? Should I be sexually active before marriage?  Should I take drugs? When
should I marry?

     The issues become more complex and more varied as we grow up, but the solution remains simple and singular: The Lord is my shepherd.
    In all the questions I face, in all the struggles I experience, the best leadership eventually comes from him.

     And as we grow older, we struggle with how to be a good husband or wife, how to raise children, what career decisions we should make, how to handle our finances. Again, the problems are becoming more and more complex, but the answers are simple and singular:  The Lord is my shepherd. The best solutions eventually comes from him.

     And we grow older. We deal with adult children and young grandchildren.  We face transitions into retirement. We struggle with health issues.  Again, the problems are becoming more and more complex, but the answers are simple and singular: The Lord is my shepherd. The best solutions eventually comes from him.

     And think about the times in our lives when we tend to turn to the 23rd Psalm. It is at those times in our lives when we need leadership.

     It is often read at weddings. A man and woman stand before the people of God announcing their intention to live together as husband and wife. Starting a new life, they desperately need leadership -- more than they even know.

The Lord is my shepherd.
     At a funeral, we gather at the graveside and read the comforting words from the 23rd Psalm, because in the midst of our grief, we need guidance.  The Lord is my shepherd.

     Do you need direction in your life? Well, of course you do.  We all need direction in life.  We all need guidance in our moral and spiritual development.

            We have a million voices trying to lead us – most of them are like strangers sitting on a stump – we don’t really know we can trust them, but we do.  We listen to peer pressure, celebrities, Friends on Facebook we barely know.

            But in the midst of all of those millions of voices trying to tell us how to live our lives is one voice we can always trust.

            The Lord – the Lord is my shepherd.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

More than Motivation - 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

NEW TESTAMENT  2 Corinthians 5:6-17
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight.Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[a]even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[b] we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

I saw an advertisement recently – like most advertisements, I have no idea what they were trying to sell me.

A man is dressed in an academic robe and he is standing at a podium.  Before him is a vast crowd of young people in caps and gowns.  Their faces are eager and expectant.  Parents sit nearby, many with both a smile and a tear.

The speaker at the podium addresses all of them and says something like, “Congratulations class of 2015.  You stand at the crossroads.  Before you is your future.  Your future is filled with college debt that you will pay for the rest of your life.  You will be incumbered with even more debt for a house mortgage.  Credit card debt will overwhelm.  So good luck.”  And with that he sits down.

Man!  How depressing is that?

Yep, life is hard.  Good luck.

In the movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone addresses his son and says, “Let me tell you something you already know.  The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.  But it ain’t about how often you get hit, it’s about how you can get hit and keep getting back up that matters.”

Life is hard, and it seems that every where I turn, people are looking for something to motivate them toward an easier life.

Employers try to motivate their workers.  Presidential candidates are already beginning to get ready for another cycle of elections and want to motivate the people to vote, and to vote for them.  On television there are advertisements trying to motivate people to lose weight, work out and exercise. 

Go online and it is easy to run into these short motivational quotations.

These quotations are everywhere!
Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.  John F. Kennedy.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.  Confucius.

If you can dream it, you can do it.  Walt Disney.

All good and wise sayings – they all have a point.

 Marie-Pier Charron is a Life Coach and she talks about motivation as something that everyone is looking for, but don’t really need.  What people need is something deeper than motivation.  Charron says that she thinks of motivation as being like the sap in a tree.  The tree needs the sap for its survival.  Sap carries water and nutrients throughout a tree.  Charron says that sap is essential for the tree, but “it’s useless if the tree is rooted in poor, unhealthy grounds.”

If you want to move ahead in life, Charron says, don’t just look for motivation – be sure your roots are healthy. 

As Christians, our roots are found in Christ.  Our motivation is found in Christ.  Our nutrition comes from Christ.

Paul, in our New Testament lesson, is struggling with being a Christian in a difficult world.  He is trying to lead other Christians to keep them motivated. 

But he doesn’t go for the sap of motivation.  He goes to the root of our lives.

“The love of Christ urges us on.”

It is a sense of being compelled by Christ,
Driven by Christ,
Required by Christ,
Controlled and constrained by Christ.

Now that is considerably more than simple motivation!

It is the very core of our being. 

The love of Christ urges us on.

Paul's teaching to us is that God engages us where we are, as we are, and begins to work on us then and there. In the verses preceding today's lesson, Paul reminds us of the challenges and difficulties of living the Christian life in this world. 

It is a tough life – filled with hardship and death.  At one point he writes about the process of aging and growing closer to death.
He says "We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day."

But Paul is motivated by a life rooted in love.  It is not rooted in success, or accomplishments, or achievements, or the possession of things, or the adoration of others.  It is rooted in love.  Therefore, as Paul puts it, "We walk by faith, not by sight."

To all of this, Paul adds an astonishing claim: "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation."

This phrase, “in Christ” is a phrase unique to Paul, and he uses it a lot  --- I mean, he REALLY uses it over and over in his writings.

Obviously it doesn’t mean one is physically and literally inside Jesus Christ, like some vaccination being injected into His blood stream.

To be “in Christ” means to surround oneself with Christ and His teachings in such a way that everything we do we do in the context of Christ and his teachings.  It means that everything we look at or read or hear comes to us with the influence of Christ and his teachings.

To be “in Christ” means the Christian life is not about grinning and bearing it until the end so all things can become new. It means we are right here and now a new creation in Christ.

Nor does being “in Christ” about awaiting salvation that comes after we die – we have a new life in salvation right now.  This is not a about "pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye." It is about living in the Kingdom of God right now, in the middle of the Kingdom of this world.

That means the marriage which seems so dead-ended that divorce is the only alternative can be transformed, and you and your spouse can be changed and renewed in the process.

It means the job with no future is a place were God can meet us and create new beginnings.

It means that in a life increasingly suffering failing health flooded by despair and loss of purpose and meaning can be renewed to find hope even in the face of death.

It means that a life shaped by a trail of dishonesty, duplicity, broken or illicit relationships, can be the place where God meets you and begins to make you new.

Notice that the text does not say "If you are in Christ there is the possibility that you might become new."

It says "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has passed away. Everything has become new."

Dietrich Bonhoffer was a pastor in Germany during the years of World War II.  He was an outspoken critic of Hitler and the Nazis.  Not surprisingly, he was arrested and put in jail.  During the last days of the war, he was executed for his faith.

Approaching his first Christmas Eve in the Nazi prison Bonhoffer wrote:  “I believe we ought to love and trust God in our lives, and in all the good things he sends us, that when the time comes (but not before!) we may go to him with love, trust and joy.”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1971), p. 168.)

He said this in the midst of a life that would have led others to despair.  But Bonhoffer was a Christian, and as such he lived his life urged by the love of Christ.  He was a new creation.  He walked not by sight, but by faith.

The more we live our lives IN CHRIST, rooted in love, the more we can not only endure the troubles of this world, we can over come them and our spirits can prosper.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,

And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Today's Special - $99.99 Tickets Reduced to $00.00 (Genesis 3:8-15, Mark 3:19b-30)

Genesis 3:8-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then theLORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Mark 3:19b-30

Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

I love this story that has been going around the Internet lately.

The first time I read this I thought, “only in Florida,” but to be honest this story is so crazy it could have happened anywhere.

I’ll read it to you as it came to me, and some of you have probably seen this…

“A married couple in Florida, Tito and Amanda Watts, were arrested a few days ago for selling “golden tickets to heaven” to hundreds of people.

“They sold the tickets on the street for $99.99 per ticket, told buyers the tickets were made from solid gold, and that each ticket reserved the buyer a spot in heaven — simply present the ticket at the pearly gates and you’re in.

“Tito Watts said in his police statement: "I don’t care what the police say. The tickets are solid gold… And it was Jesus who give them to me behind the KFC and said to sell them so I could get me some money to go to outer space. I met an alien named Stevie who said if I got the cash together he’d take me and my wife on his flying saucer to his planet that’s made entirely of drugs. You should arrest Jesus because he’s the one that gave me the golden tickets and said to sell them. I’m willing to wear a wire and set Jesus up...."

“Amanda Watts said in her police statement: "We just wanted to leave earth and go to space and do drugs. I didn’t do nothing. Tito sold the golden tickets to heaven. I just watched."

“Police said they confiscated over $10,000 in cash, drug paraphernalia, and a baby alligator.”

Now I hate to say it folks, but that story is not true.  A simple search on reveals this whole story is made up. 

But it is still a good story.

It’s a really good story, complete with religion, baby alligators, and an alien named Stevie behind the KFC.  There is something about this story that is so bizarre that it becomes believable.

Jump over to the New Testament lesson from Mark and what do you have. 

You have Jesus.  And he is not selling forgiveness for $99.99 but he is giving it away free of charge.  And the people don’t know what to think, so not knowing what to think, they start believing the craziest things.

This business of God forgiving people, and people learning how to forgive each other, is so crazy that people can’t handle the truth.

Listen to what Mark says in his gospel.  “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

It is a shame that Mark is such a short Gospel.  I would love to have more detail here, but all Mark says is “They tried to restrain him.”

I want to know how they did that.  Did try to lock him in the closet?  Did they tie him up?  Did they chain him hand and foot?

But the fact is, they were worried about Jesus.  They thought, according to Mark, “He has gone out of his mind.” 

Now every family has one of those relatives – you know – the crazy one.  It may be your uncle, cousin, or even your Daddy.  And if you can’t figure out which one is the crazy relative, chances are, it’s you!

And now the family of Joseph and Mary suddenly think that Jesus is the crazy one of the family.

After all, this comes early in the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus has just recently started his ministry and gathered his disciples.  I suppose that Mary certainly remembered the birth of her son, the angels, the wise men, and the star in the sky – but then again all that was 30 years ago.  The memory has faded.  It was a hectic time, you know, giving birth to a child in a barn.  Now that Jesus starts up his ministry it is easy to believe Jesus has gone out of his mind.

After all – who in their right mind would believe that God would forgive us?

It is easier to believe Jesus is crazy – or to believe some story about an alien named Stevie behind the KFC.

The scribes go one step further.  The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said Jesus is possessed of the king of demons.

After all – who in their right mind would believe that God would forgive us?

It is easier to believe Jesus is possessed by demons – or to believe some story about some husband and wife selling golden tickets to heaven for $99.99 each.

It was the writer C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity who pointed out that there are only three possible things you can believe about Jesus.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”

It has to be one or the other – either nuts or the Devil himself – or, the one and only other possibility.  He is who he said he was, the Son of God.  For C.S. Lewis, one cannot straddle the fence and say that Jesus was a good man or a great teacher – that doesn’t fly.  You have to either believe that he is who he said he is, or he is just plain nuts or in cahoots with the Devil.

After all – who in their right mind would believe that God would forgive you?

Over in Genesis there is a drama about guilt and the need for forgiveness.

Adam and Eve are walking in the Garden, and they are hiding.  They have committed some grave sin and they are afraid to be in the presence of God. 

It is an interesting story.  Genesis puts it this way, “Adam and Eve heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

Which is a strange thing for God to say – it’s not like he doesn’t see all and know all.  It’s as if God is playing along with their little game. 

“Where are you,” and Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

Another strange thing because up until now Adam has been completely naked his whole life.

But it is not a physical nakedness.  Not anymore.  It’s a spiritual nakedness.  Everything in his life is exposed.  Everything is out there in the open. 

There is no hiding anything from God.




Why don’t we find it easy to believe that Jesus will forgive?

Because we know the depth of our guilt.

We may clothe ourselves in denial, or try to hide our spiritual nakedness from being exposed, but the guilt is there.

There is in this Sanctuary an adulterer who believes his secret is safe, but from time to time he hears the stirring of God moving in his life, and he is afraid of being found out.

There is in this Sanctuary the young adult who has failed to honor his mother and his father as the Ten Commandments require.  It has been years since words with the parents were shared.  What divided them and poisoned a relationship between parent and child has become a rusty memory – old and faded.  But from time to time the stirring of God can be heard and there is fear that the parent may die before the ancient wounds can be healed and the relationship restored.

There is in this Sanctuary the young person who bullies another.  The heart is filled with hate and anger and jealousy.  Or perhaps it started with what was believed to be innocent teasing.  Or perhaps it was just something everyone was doing to this one poor soul.  But from time to time there is the stirring of God in the heart and there is a haunting fear that the one who is being bullied might be pushed over the edge into a sea of self destruction and suicide.  How would one deal with that kind of guilt?

There is in this Sanctuary a person who has caused hurt and pain in another’s life.  There is a racist sitting in a nearby pew.  There is an embezzler who so easily justifies every theft from work.  There is the gossip – what’s the big deal in that – it is just a person’s reputation at stake.

We are guilty, and we walk through life thinking we can hide.  Our naked sins will not be exposed.  But when we feel the stirring of God in our lives we are afraid of judgment.

And here comes Jesus with the crazy notion that he will forgive us for our sins – forgiving whatever we have done.  Giving us an opportunity for a new life – a new, and improved life.

And this is not some golden ticket being sold for $99.99 by some alien from another planet named Stevie hanging out in back of the KFC.  This is Jesus, and he is serious. 

Everything can be forgiven.

Well, wait a minute.  There is that fine print. 

In Mark, we read that Jesus said, “I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but “  and here comes the fine print… “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.”

Uh oh!

I wonder who in this sanctuary is guilty of that one?

And what is that one anyway?

What is this unforgivable sin?

Well, it is found in the context of the reading from Mark.

“whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—  because they had said, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”

That is the unforgivable sin – to reject the forgiveness from Jesus.

Centuries ago St. Augustine put it more eloquently, “He who dies in a state of obstinancy is guilty of the sin against the Holy Spirit.”  (Augustine, "Enchiridion," lxxxiii.)

John Calvin put it this way, “They sin against the Holy Spirit who, with evil intention, resist God’s truth, although by its brightness they are so touched that they cannot claim ignorance.  Such resistance alone constitutes this sin.”  (Institutes, III, III, 22)

Or to put it more simply, the only unforgivable sin is when a rational mind thoughtfully and deliberately turns down God’s offer of forgiveness.

A person who is irrational, suffering from deep depression, even to the state of being suicidal, is unable to rationally turn down God’s offer of forgiveness and therefore cannot be guilty of this unforgiveable sin.

It is difficult to believe that anyone in a clear mind would turn down the offer of God’s forgiveness.  But if that is possible, then that alone would become the unforgiveable sin.

So … Jesus is offering forgiveness – not at $99.99 per ticket – but free of charge. 

It’s up to you.

Accept this forgiveness – and you have forgiveness.

Reject this forgiveness – and you don’t have forgiveness.

So – what’s it going to be? 

Are you going to hide like some naked Adam and Eve in the shadows of the world? 

Or are you going to bask in the light of the Son of God and live as forgiven people?

Copyright 2015.
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.