[Sermon] Radical Forgiveness
The forgiveness of Christ comes, not through conscious choice, but as a thief in the night
Last Sunday, I preached a sermon that I thought you might enjoy. It wasn’t recorded, so I posted the manuscript here...
[A sermon based on Mark 3:20–35‘Jesus Accused by His Family and by Teachers of the Law’]
When I was 17 years old, I disowned half of my family. Yes, “disown” is an awful term. I mean, I never owned them in the first place. But you get it.
Also, I won’t take you too deep into the weeds here. I’ll spare you the long backstory and nitty-gritty details. I have family. You have family. You know how it can go.
But just to give you a little bit of context to address the elephant in the room — why? Here’s the gist…
My mother died of cancer when I was 16. The way I saw it at the time, my aunts and uncles on her side of the family contributed greatly to my mom’s suffering (and thusly my suffering) before she died. They put a lot of extra burdens on her that I thought were cruel and unnecessary.
So after I graduated high school and moved away, I was done with them. Done.
In theological terms, they were ‘dead in the law’ to me. They were awful to me, my mother, and themselves. They did not match up to the kind of family I believed I deserved. So I canceled them (before canceling people online was even a thing).
What’s really crazy is, some of them died shortly thereafter (mostly of drug-related causes like overdose and cirrhosis of the liver) and I carried my resentment for them longer than their hearts were beating. My resentment for them outlived them.
In our gospel text from Mark, we find Jesus embroiled in the dynamics of family and religious/political power.
Jesus has gone viral! In this scene, we have two groups of people. The bigger group are people who hear the Word of God preached through Jesus. It speaks to them in the midst of their messy lives and creates new life in them. They experience the resurrection truth right then and there and they want more.
The other group, perhaps a small group huddled in a dark corner, thinks Jesus is demonic. This group consists of not only religious authorities but Jesus’s very own family who think he’s lost his mind.
Now, we have to back up to the previous scene to see why this dynamic is happening… In that scene, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand. Sounds like no big deal, right? I mean, Jesus heals people all the time. But here’s the thing… He heals this man IN THE TEMPLE and ON THE SABBATH.
Now, if I were a shoplifter (which I am not), I’d make sure no security cameras were on me when I committed my dastardly deed. I’d make sure the shopkeeper wasn’t looking. I’d wear a hood or a hat pulled down low to cover my face. In short, I wouldn’t want to get caught.
But our Jesus here doesn’t do this. Not only is he working on the sabbath. He’s healing someone on the sabbath. And it’s not like this guy was begging — or even asking — to be healed! Jesus basically walks up to the guy, grabs him, and says, okay buddy, let’s do this right now.
He doesn’t do this in private like a 1-on-1 bodywork session. He does it AT THE TEMPLE in front of every religious/political authority in town ON THE SABBATH.
Jesus, as a Jewish rabbi, is blatantly breaking the law here. Really, he is doing the work that he was sent to do: to reveal how God’s love and healing operate OUTSIDE of the law.
The religious authorities don’t like this. In fact, they’d be justified in killing Jesus for this (which eventually happens).
So, again, on one side of the room, we have the religious zealots. On the other side of the room, we have the misfits, ragamuffins, and outcasts who are getting their demons exorcised by Jesus through Christ’s Word of unconditional mercy and forgiveness. The former group wants to wrangle Jesus back into the predictable ring of reasonable forgiveness under the law. The latter group is like, NO, JESUS, KEEP GOING — PREACH, JESUS!! The latter group has been freed. Their hearts have been softened and set ablaze with this divine fire that does not consume.
The former group is in bondage to law, sin, and death. To them, Jesus looks like a demon acting lawlessly and outside of convention.
They are correctly defining him! They think a man of God should only operate within the law. So do I!
And yet, here he is forgiving people who they don’t deem should be forgiven.
So they accuse Jesus of being a demon or Satan. But he argues, how can Satan defeat God by casting out demons like he is? They are wrong. Jesus is “tying up the strong man” — aka the word of the devil that leads to mistrust in God.
It is only Jesus’s Word of Divine forgiveness that is stronger than the word of the devil — which can be summed up in the line ssssspoken by the sssssserpent in Genesis 3: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
The word from the devil that Jesus has come to defeat is a word of doubt and skepticism about God. It is a word that leads us to curve in on ourselves and attempt to be our own gods. It is a word that makes us NOT trust our unconditional forgiveness. But Jesus’s Word, when it hits the heart, is ultimately more powerful.
The devil’s word says that we must do x, y, and z in order to justify our existence.
God’s Word in and through Christ says that we can do nothing to justify our existence, but rather, our existence has been justified not in what we do for God but by what God has done for us in Jesus.
Our existence has been justified in our createdness itself. You and I exist.
Take a moment and feel your heartbeat. Isn’t that miraculous? Now, ask yourself…
“What have I done to earn my next heartbeat?”
Life is grace upon grace.
The religious leaders say that if you break the first commandment — “Thou shalt have no other gods before me…” (which encapsulates all of the other commandments and Levitical laws), you deserve death. Jesus comes along in verse 28 and says that all are forgiven their sins and EVERY slander they utter. Yes, EVERY.
That. Is. Radical.
The religious authorities accuse Jesus of trying to replace God. But Jesus turns around and accuses them of replacing God with the law.
When we make it to verse 29, we can easily get turned around. Especially when our religious nerve has been triggered and we’re either out for blood or looking for something to do to justify our salvation. It says, “…but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
It’s easy to say, “SEE! THERE’S something you have to do! I can do it better than you! I never say the bad version of ‘gosh-darnit’. I always say my prayers and am only thankful for the Holy Spirit!”
But blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is not like saying something bad about it.
Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is when we reject the pull to Christ and His offer of forgiveness. The only people who can’t be forgiven are those who don’t WANT to be forgiven. And you can’t make yourself or anyone else WANT to be forgiven. This is God’s work alone.
Which leads us to the final verse when Jesus “disowns” or maybe better “temporarily shrugs off” his family.
What Jesus does here is different than what I did. Jesus wants them to want the radical unconditional forgiveness he preaches. I, on the other hand, did not want to forgive. I did not want my aunts and uncles to enjoy the forgiveness that Jesus offers to all of us. That was way too radical for me. I can say that I wanted them to get back within the boundaries of the law before I granted forgiveness to them. But I don’t even know if that’s true. Honestly, I don’t know if there was anything they could do, after the death of my mother, to get back into my good graces. That resentment that I held felt really good and atoned for a lot of pain and suffering that they caused me. Looking back, I was more like Jesus’s family than I was like Jesus.
But then, one day, the cloud of judgment… Lifted…
This is the metanoia — the divine heart transplant — of forgiveness. I must’ve heard a Word from the Holy Spirit that offered this radical forgiveness to them. And thereby, me.
Now, I’m not saying they were right or justified in what they did. Also, I won’t be going back anytime soon looking to rekindle old family relations (I think my aunt is still alive). But I can say that I only hold them in the light of love that can only come from outside of them and me, in Christ.
And so, it is my job — my call — to offer you the Word of Christ’s radical forgiveness.
No matter what you do; no matter what you’ve done. In Christ, you are completely forgiven all of your sins.
In this light, you are free. You don’t have to do anything to gain your forgiveness or salvation. Period.
Anything you do in this freedom comes as a result of this love from God — not as a requirement to gain love from God.
Now, you might call me a crazy person for saying that. You may even call me Satan.
Or, these words from Christ might transmit straight through your ears into your heart. They might, in the spirit of the great physician, offer you a heart transplant of sorts that turns you towards your life ahead with pure joy.
May it be so. But know that it is not up to you or me. The radical forgiveness of Christ is yours.