Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 10 June 2018.
We all remember the times when we wanted to be like the others, and to fit in. We did not want to be isolated or exposed to being abused or attacked, especially in the school playground. It was safer to conform and not to stand out. And schools could be the most vicious of environments.
And what applied personally could also apply to nations who wanted the trappings of power and importance, to impress the neighbours and to be able to defend themselves more effectively.
And so Israel, which had been a tribal confederacy overseen by the prophets or judges, and which defended itself with its tribal militias wanted something more substantial. They wanted to be able to point to a king with all the trappings of a royal household.
Samuel was not so sure about this and pointed to the taxes and the expenses of a royal household and army. There would be expropriations of land and the best of the people would be drawn into royal service, either into the household or into the army. His warnings of taxation at 10% would pale in the light of modern levels of taxation.
So Samuel said to them: be very careful of what you wish for. This desire really could turn against you. And more than this, they had already been well provided for by their existing set up of judges, so why this demand? Just what was wrong with the judges of Israel?
If there were any failings in the judges of Israel, then they would be even worse when it came to having a king and all it implied.
In our lesson Jesus had quite a different take on rule and authority. He would be tested on the payment of taxes and was able to surprise His interrogators by saying thatis H there were things that Caesar could legitimately claim and that there were things that God could definitely claim.
But these readings concern something even more penetrating that the political state. This was about spiritual authority and the realm of spiritual struggle against powers and principalities both in the heavenly realm and as they affected the human realm.
It was far more than simple folk psychology. It concerned the spiritual forces in society as they affected people personally and often in destructive and compelling ways. They could lead lives into sinister directions and disrupt relationships, poison attitudes and undermine all trust and transactions.
But Jesus also had authority over these powers and compulsions which were far more than just auto-suggestion.
He had a word of command which was personal and which could directly address these powers and influences. These were the exorcisms against personal forms of rebellion and wickedness in the spiritual realm. And they were not only highly successful – they were unbeatable.
And yet faced with the evidence of these exorcisms, the rulers and the people rejected it. It was not just that they refused the evidence of their own eyes, but they refused to acknowledge that Jesus had a personal and effective authority over all these forms of evil.
It is said that there are none so blind as those who will not see. To be presented with but to reject direct evidence with no meaningful or rational reason for doing so, is to blind oneself. To persist in this deliberate rejection is to render oneself incapable of receiving any remedy or aid.
In this sense it is to condemn oneself, and in the spiritual realm this can have permanent effects, placing oneself beyond the love and the aid of God. This kind of self-induced sin, knowingly and deliberately maintained will serve to isolate oneself permanently.
It is to see the mercy and the love and the glory of God and to knowingly reject them, with clear personal purpose and intention.
Who can rescue a person determined to make an end of him or herself? At some stage even God will respect a person’s free decision rather than compel obedience, and He will do so with a grieving and a sorrowing heart. We can reject God once time too many. And this is the rejection of God Himself – it is not the same as a besetting personal sin.
So what Jesus had to say about the unforgivable sin has to be taken seriously, and cannot be trivialized. But this warning is clear and specific. It applies in clear circumstances and requires deliberate and permanent persistence in a lifelong rejection of the things of God.
And it requires the rejection of clear and manifest evidence of the person and purposes of God, even if these do not amount to proof of scientific proportions.
I suspect that not many people come within this form of self-imposed rejection.
But those who do accept the word of God and its revelation and who try to live within it are already incorporated into Jesus Himself. They are as intimate to Him as His own family and are to Him as His own brothers and sisters and mothers.
When they sin He will search them out and bring them back. When they are touched by doubt or sorrow or stress then He will find them and bind them in cords of His love and bring them again into the fullness of His glory.
And those who are in-between: these are the fields waiting to be harvested and to whom He is sending His own and His best: those of His own family and kin – that is, us. It is you and me.