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Binding the Strong Man: The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 6, 2021
Mark 3:20-35

In an unscripted sermon Fr. Kieswetter spoke about the disturbing aspects of today’s gospel reading. Have you ever worried if you’ve inadvertently committed THE unforgivable sin? (So Jesus can forgive the people crucifying him, and yet there’s some other worse sin out there that is a bridge too far for God???)

And not just that, but today we have a story about demonization: the authorities threatened by Jesus’s growing popularity literally call him a devil. (Leading Jesus to talk about the unforgivable sin, above.)

We live in a time of almost unrelenting demonization of ‘the other,’ don’t we? It’s particularly easy online. Maybe you’re heard about the evolutionary idea that there are three levels to our brain; roughly speaking that there is a lizard, mammal, and human part. At the most basic (lizard) level it’s concerned with survival, and it manages our fight or flight responses. Only past this lizard part do we deal with the more complex areas of emotions and creativity. When we’re threatened — physically, mentally, or ideologically — how easy and natural it is for us to retreat into that lizard part of our brains, and we see that happening with the scribes in today’s gospel: they’re threatened by Jesus, and they respond by attacking him, demonizing him. And that happens in our world today, where dialogue gets stunted by online blow-ups, stereotyping those who think differently, and refusing to hear our opponents because we’ve deemed them to be guilty of ‘wrong-think.’ We cast them into the outer darkness.

But Jesus, while he at times is harsh (like today) with his opponents, again and again transcends labels, stereotypes, and the shaming of others. He calls the loathed tax collector, he creates communities and experiences of table fellowship where mutuality can flourish. Some scholars believe that today’s disturbing words are aimed not at the scribes, but at the early Church: the evangelist wants to reinforce the Church that the Jesus movement really IS the coming of the Reign of God; it really is where we’ll find transformation, mercy, and peace. It can be ours, if we want it. But this will involve vulnerability: opening our hearts and letting God (and other people) in where there may be hurt. Our lizard brain survival response may be to shut down, or run away. But Jesus warns: do not mistake his action for anything but the power of God. God is more ready to be with us than we realize. And that love and mercy is available to us. The only thing in our way is ourselves, denying the power of God. The only thing that cuts us off from God, I think, is to refuse to accept the power and mercy of God. I’m less concerned about inadvertently committing a mysterious unforgivable sin than I am with my fight-or-flight response putting up a barrier between God and myself.

If you feel that you’ve put a barrier up between yourself and God, instead, reach out. Reach out to God in prayer (as bizarre as that might seem for some). Reach out to God in the life and activities of the Church. Reach out to God in your neighbour.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter