Pastor's Ponderings: Meandering through Mark 3:28-30 bible study (October 17, 2023)
May the Grace, Peace, and Love of Jesus Christ fill your day with joy!
Yesterday, I asked for a host of prayers for folks in our congregation. Today, we all need to remember in prayer the people of Israel and the people who lived in the Gaza strip to Israel's south. The hostilities of many years from both sides of this conflict have created circumstances in which neither side finds the will or the drive to settle for peace. You need to know that the ELCA has an on-going relationship with the ELCJ (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan). We have been advocates with the government of Israel to leave the one hospital that serves both Palestinians and Jews, the Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Golan Heights, alone instead of knocking it down to serve as a gun position over the west bank. The conflicts in this area of the world are complex, and the guilt for this war lies on both sides with a lack of heart for peace. Both groups can find plenty of reasons not to forgive the others. So, let's pray for God's wisdom and a true change of heart for peace which is filled with mutual forgiveness and respect for all the people, their land, and their very lives. Just in case you do not know the history of these two peoples, Abraham is the father of both groups, through a servant's child, and through Sarah's child. In the Old Testament God promises to be with both families who are related by genetics to one another. So, I guess this means the war is a brawl between relatives who treasure the same ancient history.
Today we are looking at Mark 3:28-30 for our bible study. This is one of the most difficult passages from Mark. It is found in Matthew as a near duplicate in 12:31-37, and in Luke in a much more abbreviated use in 12:10, and as you might expect, it is not in the Gospel of John at all.
This is a troublesome passage for me. I can look at it in several ways. First, there is no sin for which Christ did not die. However, this passage makes that a difficult theological thought. I believe that my first statement is absolutely true, however, Christ's forgiveness involves our participation. We must have repentance and penitence if we are to receive the gifts of Life, Forgiveness, and Salvation which Christ's sacrifice and resurrection bring to us. That repentance and penitence can only happen if the Spirit of Christ is moving in our life, enabling our faith to bring us to that metanoia (change) of heart. So, if we refuse to accept the Spirit's work in us, then there is no way that we can be restored to righteousness with God, hence we will not be forgiven for rejecting the Spirit. The Good News for us is that the Spirit will never stop pursuing us to restore us to the passion of Christ for our lives.
Now let's look at another way of addressing the issue of this passage of the shocking loss of forgiveness for this sin of rejecting the Spirit. In this passage we must remember that Christ is not talking about the Spirit who is gifted in all of Her fullness by Christ at Pentecost after His ascension. The issue for this passage is it appears and is spoken by Christ in the face of the orthodox leaders of Judaism who have absolutely reversed the role of the goodness of Christ's work in the world, calling this Grace and the Holiness of God the work of the evil one rather than the great good that it is. For the Jews the Spirit of God had two functions. The first was to open hearts to know the Truth of God. Second, she was with people to help them recognize that very Truth when they saw it. These leaders were unable to do either of these things. In fact, they instead did not know God's Truth, nor did they recognize it! Both of these gifts of the Spirit were no longer in their lives. They were without understanding and the Wisdom that God gives to every person of faith to see His work through the Holy Spirit. If we are always in darkness, we eventually lose our ability to see. If we never walk, we will ultimately lose our ability to walk. If we never study, we will eventually lose our will and ability to study.
The religious leaders of Christ's faith were caught in a moral wreck for which the forgiveness of the Savior provides no remedy. The presence of the Spirit is a void in their lives. What happens for we who have faith is that moved by Christ, and brought to faith by the Holy Spirit, our hearts understand our brokenness in the presence of the Holy One of God and all of His Great Goodness. The presence of the Spirit calls us to repentance and Penitence. These leaders had rejected the Spirit work in their lives to the extent that they could no longer allow their hearts to be moved to compassion and thanksgiving for the Lord's Son. They saw in Jesus only threat and evil, when, in fact, they were the ones who in that very state in their own lives, thinking themselves above reproach and superior in their practice of faith, yet they were unable to any longer have their hearts moved by Christ's Goodness. A person who has no sense of sin, or of God's Goodness, can never be repentant, and therefore is incapable of receiving Christ's forgiveness!
There is only one condition of forgiveness, in knowing Christ by the Spirit's gift of faith, we must come to penitence, but without knowing our sin, we cannot enter into this wonderful relationship with Christ, His forgiveness and Grace, and the experience of a transformed heart. Today there are many people who do not think that they need this relationship with Christ any longer. Their lingering absence may indeed mean that they will eventually lose their will and desire to come into the Kingdom of God through the Savior. This is a real danger and reveals to us, who are still active in our faith, the need for workers to get into the vineyard to harvest so many who have lost their way.
There is a modern-day parable about what happens when a person is no longer actively living their faith. We are called to see the flame of a warm, welcoming fireplace fire in the midst of winter (brokenness in the world). The coals are glowing red, yellow, and even blue as they cast their warmth through every piece of the fire, yet if one coal is withdrawn from the intensity of the fire, it becomes less and less inflamed, and eventually loses all of its warmth. But again, when brought back into the body of the fire, its flame is rekindled in all of its fullness. You and I are the fire of Christ's love in the world. Those absent, or never present, are the ones who no longer have that hot flame of compassion for Christ's work in the world, or even in their own lives. In our faith and fire for Christ, we are called to restore the lives of those who have lost their faith and its power. Otherwise, in the coldness of their hearts they may completely lose their way with Christ, and here we arrive once again at this troubling passage. At what point is there a failure to see God's Great Goodness and Love, and instead to reject it out of hand?
There is a great deal to think about here, and of course, there is always a great deal of Christ-work for us to all be doing every day!
In Christ, Pastor Kim Taylor