Lord of the Bubble Bath

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The gift Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel is this…  He shows us that the power of God is among us.  He tells us that God’s place is with his people.  The One who brought everything into existence is with us… always… to deal decisively with sin and death, to free us from their grip, and to give us life… now and forever.  Nothing can stop the redeeming and creative power of God… not small-mindedness, not pigheadedness, not well-meaning ignorance… not evil.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 3:20-35

June 10, 2012

Peder Stenslie                                               

The first chapters of the Gospel of Mark tell the amazing tale of what happened in Galilee when Jesus first began his public ministry.  His preaching and teaching and the healings he performed sent a great shock wave through the whole region. 

Nobody had ever seen anything like it before.  Everyone wanted to meet Jesus, hear him… or maybe see him heal someone!  The crowds that gathered to see him were so huge and relentless that Jesus and the disciples weren’t able to eat… they weren’t able to sleep… they could never be alone.  It was completely crazy. 

Word of the madness spread throughout Galilee, and beyond.  Eventually, it made its way to the powerful religious authorities in Jerusalem. The local scribes and Pharisees of Galilee had already tangled with Jesus several times.  With things now totally out of hand, it was decided that it was time to send the “big guns” into action.  So here come the powerful Jerusalem scribes with the full weight of their power and authority to take control of the situation.

And how do they do this?  They launch a covert and very cowardly attack.  Among the people, but away from Jesus, they make devastating accusations.  They spread the word that Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul, and that “by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (v. 22).  In other words, they warn the people that Jesus’ power is demonic.  If you go to him, you go to the devil.

And this was the reason that Jesus’ family began to panic.  They were fearful for Jesus’ well-being.  Some of the most powerful people in all of Israel were accusing Jesus of being possessed by a demon.

When Jesus got word of these accusations, he called the Jerusalem scribes to himself in order to confront them face to face.  This bold act of Jesus must have horrified his family.

Once the scribes stood before him… and he had their full attention… he told a series of parables in order to answer their accusations.

Most parables of Jesus try to communicate things that are difficult to understand… things like the values of the Kingdom of God, the nature of God’s love… the mysterious way the Spirit of God works in world.  And they often use images that it can be challenging to grasp the meaning of.  But these parables are different.  They are exceedingly simple and use brutally straight-forward logic.

The people have seen Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons.  Now the scribes claim that he himself is possessed.  So Jesus asks:  “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”

A child could accept that logic.  The scribe’s accusations are absurd.

Then Jesus comes with another parable of a different sort.  “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” 

In this parable, Jesus lays out for the scribes the way things are… a truth they are doing everything to deny.  The strong man is Satan… or evil… or that power in the world that robs God’s people of life and health and joy.  The strong man’s property is the lives of those who are devastated by his destructive power.

The message here is that as Jesus heals the sick and casts out demons, he binds evil and takes away its power.  God, in Jesus, has come to fight for his people.  He has come to confront the power of evil and deliver his people from its clutches.  In the words and deeds of Christ, the Spirit of God is moving and bringing forth God’s purpose.

This past week, my daughter Solvei drew my attention to an article in Newsweek magazine.  It was about new theories regarding the history and scope of the universe.

The gist was that, through astronomical observation, mathematical analysis and some heavy theorizing, some members of the scientific community are shifting the way they view the universe.  For example, they question whether the universe is a single entity that began with a single bang and has been expanding ever since.  They propose, instead, that our universe is a “single expanding bubble inhabiting a grand cosmic bubble bath of universes – a multiverse.” (Greene, Brian. “The Mystery of the Multiverse.” Newsweek 28 May 2012: 20-25.)

The article was full of language describing the mind-blowing size and age of the universe, the billions of galaxies, stars and planets, the mysteries of things like black holes and dark energy and the ever-changing nature of space.

For me, what is so incredible about the article is how it reminds me how we often let our ideas about reality become very small.  It is so easy for us to let our world shrink down into tiny, life-draining obsessions and petty conflicts, thinking, all the time, that we’re living the big life.  How would we live differently if we lived our lives aware of how utterly miraculous and vast the world we are a part of is?  How would our values change?  What pursuits would we give our energy to?

The article also reminds me how our ideas about God often become very small.  When you consider the stunning glory and mind-shattering vastness of the universe, it is crystal clear that the power that created it all is far beyond our capacity to comprehend.  Such a realization ought to demolish our foolish ideas that we can somehow contain the fullness of God in our ideas or doctrines, or that we can understand how he is working in our world or even our lives.

Scripture… and science… should create in us tremendous humility as simple creatures of the one who put us… and everything else… here.  They both make it clear that there is very much that we do not understand about this world and the universe we live in.  And they both help us see that God is always far more than what we expect or understand him to be. 

Yet this magnificent one has come to us throughout history, most grandly in Christ. He makes known to us things we need to know. He fights for us.  He calls on us to be a part of his work… his Kingdom… on earth.  To answer this call requires listening, learning, changing, growing.  It means opening ourselves to his love and grace, and giving our energy to those things God has taught us have value.

One of the trickiest parts of today’s Gospel lesson is the middle section.  Still responding to the accusations made by the Jerusalem scribes, Jesus says:  “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

“Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.”  “Guilty of an eternal sin.”  What do these disturbing statements mean?  People come up with all sorts of wild ideas when they hear them.  Most of them don’t make any sense given the context.  In trying to understand these statements, one needs to consider the background of today’s Gospel.

In his ministry, Jesus reached out to outcasts and sinners.  He forgave their sins, overcame their unbelief, healed their hearts and minds and bodies, and called on them to open their lives to the Kingdom of God.  These were people that no one believed God would have any love for; yet Jesus claimed them as his own.  He made it clear that nothing they had done… nothing that had happened to them… could stand between them and their creator.

However, Jesus’ warning against “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” reminds us that there are some things that simply cannot be done.  Even though the scribes, foolishly, give it a try.  One simply cannot stand against the power that created the universe.  It can’t be done.  One simply cannot oppose the power that set atoms into motion… that opened the spaces between the stars and galaxies… whose creative hand is at work in places our most powerful telescopes cannot even detect, and our most creative minds cannot even imagine.  It can’t be done.

One simply cannot prevail against the power that brings the dead back to life. 

But that’s what the scribes attempted to do.  They raised their puny selves up to oppose the power that formed the vast cosmos.  They were so preoccupied with their petty power games that they were blind to the amazing wonder of the Spirit of God in their midst.  And they arrayed themselves against it as an enemy.  This is a course of action that can only end in total defeat.

The gift Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel is this…  He shows us that the power of God is among us.  He tells us that God’s place is with his people.  The One who brought everything into existence is with us… always… to deal decisively with sin and death, to free us from their grip, and to give us life… now and forever.  Nothing can stop the redeeming and creative power of God… not small-mindedness, not pigheadedness, not well-meaning ignorance… not evil.

If you have trouble believing that, go out tonight and look at the night sky.  See all the stars and imagine the vast spaces between them.  Then imagine a whole bubble bath of universes like the one we can see just a small part of.  I assure you, the power that brought all that into being can deliver on his promises.