Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 6 June 2021.
• First Reading: Genesis 3: 8-15 (Adam’s confession – the Lord’s judgment of the serpent)
• Psalm 130
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4: 13 – 5: 1 (So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen)
• Gospel: Mark 3: 20-35 (A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand)
The problem – and the mystery – of evil have been around since the human race first became aware of itself.
For the Greek philosophers the question was about what was ‘Virtue’ and how was it to be secured and sustained? The converse of what was not virtuous therefore also had to be thought about.
For ancient Israel, the question was never so abstract as ‘Virtue’. It was all about fellowship with God, and how this had one been present but had been forfeited.
The fault of Adam and Eve did not lie in an abstract aberration or misunderstanding. Nor was it a matter of ignorance or even stupidity. No, this was a deliberate flouting of a direct command of God, and for the purpose of some kind of ‘higher’ self-image.
And, yes, Adam blamed Eve – and God for creating her, while Eve blamed the serpent – and God for creating it.
And so before pronouncing His judgment on Adam and Eve, God condemned the serpent. But He did so because the serpent had indeed deceived Eve and led her into sin. If Eve could have claimed that she had been persuaded, and maybe at length, then the serpent had been there to mislead, misguide, distort, beguile and seduce Eve, and ultimately destroy her relationship both with God and to undermine her relationship with Adam.
And in relations between the sexes, we are still puzzling this out and looking for an understanding of the proper relationship between them.
You might also say that the dark arts of persuasion in advertising and campaigning are also those of persuasion, the misuse or mis-presentation of statistics, the use of distorting images or narratives, are still very much with us and are present in every attempt to change our minds on matters of the values that we honour, the way we use our resources, and the actions that we take. In other words, in all aspects of politics, economics and culture.
It is now part of the way that the world is, and it is endemic in our civilization. Even those cultures wholly hostile to ours are under the same forms of persuasion and the control or manipulation of local opinion and loyalty.
And yet when Jesus was busy teaching and healing, He was also being accused of being in league with the devil. The signs and wonders that He was performing and the teaching that He was giving were being ascribed to the power of spiritual evil even when there was noting amiss in Jesus’ life by which He might be accused.
The accusation of being in league with Satan was used to distract attention from what Jesus really was saying and doing. It was done in full knowledge of the scriptures that pointed to the coming Messiah, and in the light of the signs that were there to be seen.
But Jesus approached it with a simple but clear logic: He had authority over all works of evil and this applied to the abstract evils in society and to the personal evil that could be encountered in people who had chosen that path.
But Jesus had the authority to exorcise any and all kinds of evil presence or spirit. He had authority to discern them and then to force them out of their abiding place. This being so, how could He possibly be in league with Satan when He was opposing him at every point? Jesus had authority over these personal evil presences in the world and He would eventually confront and overcome Satan himself.
Therefore it must be an act of determined blindness and rebellion to ascribe Jesus’ words and works to Satan, when Jesus Himself was dedicated to glorifying His Father in heaven.
And this was the unforgivable sin – the sin by which a person would entrap him or herself, the sin by which a person might deliberately make him or herself blind, deaf, and stripped of effective reasoning. It is a sin that is self-inflicted and which is self-maintained, like a kind of voluntary spiritual prison. It is self-adopted, yet it does not have to be.
But there is something else in our Gospel lesson for Jesus says clearly and emphatically just who His brothers and sisters are.
These are those who hear and keep His teachings. These are the people who already have a spiritual kinship with Him. These are the people already dedicated to Him, personally and who have found themselves in Him and Him alone.
There is however another narrative in the world and in parts of the church. This is that Jesus is brother to all of mankind, regardless of any kind of relationship or loyalty. It takes His love for the poor and the helpless and uses it to suggest that His love for all us is unconditional. Well, His self-giving on the cross was utterly unconditional, and nobody has ever disputed it.
But the giving of the Holy Spirit was to those who were gathered together awaiting His gift. These were the people already dedicated to Him and finding a new kind of love for one another.
Yes, Jesus had all the time in the world for the poor and the outcast, for these were the people who having nothing would be and were willing to listen to Him, who valued people for their hearts and not their possessions or abilities. These would indeed form the backbone of the church – but they would do so by accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and by that alone.
So yes, we do live in a time of powers and principalities, of lies, distortions and subtle insinuations.
But Jesus in indeed Lord, He is victor, and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.