The Unforgivable Sin

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Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015; Year B

Gen. 3.8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Cor. 4.13-5.1; Mark 3.20-35

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson


Grace and peace to you from the One who loves you, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

…”whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin…”

I will never forget the feeling I had in my gut when this verse finally registered in my brain when I was a teenager.  The feeling I had was one of confusion, worry, and terror. Confusion because I didn’t know what the unforgivable sin was, especially with all of the other bewildering parables around that verse.

Worry, because I was convinced that I surely must have committed the unforgivable sin at some point in my young life.

And terror because I started to imagine what life would be like in having no hope of forgiveness, and I found there to be hardly a worse feeling on earth than feeling that I might not or would not be forgiven.

This verse bothered and scared me for years and I still feel unsettled when I read it today and I wish Jesus would have never said it.  I really want to believe and preach that no matter what, all will be forgiven, but that is not where Scripture leaves us today.

So what is the unforgivable sin?  What does it mean?  Essentially, it attributes the good and healing work of the Holy Spirit to the work of evil, or Satan.  For example, Jesus spends a lot of his ministry going around and encountering all kinds of people.

Some of these people are ill or have diseases, some of them have ripped people off on their taxes, others have committed adultery or prostituted themselves, and others who smelled because they were homeless and were too busy finding their next meal to tend to their personal hygiene.  These people were considered to be “sinners…” worthless people.

When Jesus encountered these people he did not shame them or say to them, “You will never amount to anything.”  He didn’t say to them, “You have done too many terrible things in your life to be loved and forgiven by God.”

No!  Jesus unbound them from their lives that only caused themselves and others harm.  He did the unthinkable…He said, “Your sins are forgiven.  You are healed.  You are loved by God and are a part of my family.  Be well.”

The unforgivable sin is to see this healing work of Jesus in people’s lives and mislabel and call it the work of evil, the work of the devil.  That is what the people in our Gospel reading do.  They see the good work of God in Jesus and they refuse to see it as good.  They say that Jesus is evil and basically say that he is possessed by a demon.

As a result of this horrendous way of seeing, they place themselves outside of the possibility of forgiveness because they refuse not only to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus as good and from God, but they refuse to even open themselves up to the forgiveness that God offers all people.

It is an outright determination to be against the will of God to bring healing and reconciliation to all people, thereby aligning one’s self with evil.

Many people over the years thought the unforgivable sin to be suicide.  This is simply unbiblical and is not the unforgivable sin.

I think I can safely say that if you are worried whether or not you have committed the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you needn’t worry that you have done such a thing.  Rest easy.

The image that I love in our Gospel reading is the one of Jesus plundering the house of Satan.  Jesus is the Robin Hood that takes back what belongs to God.  He is the one who ties up Satan, the strong man, and then robs him of all the people he has control over through evil and sin.

How does Jesus rob Satan?  He forgives people their sin; he frees them of their guilt and shame and gives them a new chance at life.  He lets people know that they do not need to be controlled by evil through the anger they feel, by the things they have done to hurt others and themselves, and by the lives they have lived.

He invites all, including you and me here today, to openly live into the life forgiveness and the gracious love of God no matter what we have done or left undone.

So many people are convinced that God does not have more power than evil because there are many things we see in the world that could say otherwise.  But I know so many people who have been transformed and set free by the forgiveness they find in the crucified and risen Lord.

Just this weekend I heard a woman say, “I know who I am in Christ…I am a beloved child of God.”

Our Scripture readings today boldly proclaim that God is stronger.  God is stronger than evil, stronger than the sin that binds you, stronger than your past, stronger than addiction, stronger than our hardened hearts, stronger than our unbelief.

Jesus doesn’t stop there with forgiveness and sends people on their merry way.  He invites each beloved, forgiven person into the wider family of God, making them brothers and sisters.

This is a really big deal because people who have been labeled: sinner, outcast, drug addict, prostitute, thief, lifer…juvenile delinquent….are no longer these labels.  Their lives are given a new definition: beloved child of God.  Brother or sister in Christ.

This may seem trivial, but let me tell you, it has a power greater than any evil in the world because it is about identity.  It is about who you are, not how you are labeled.  It is about the love of a Creator for each and every one of you, a love that is embodied and brought to this earth in Jesus in the form of the forgiveness.

Jesus knows what it is for people to belong, to be a part of something greater than themselves; to be a part of something that is healthy and good, something that goes beyond biological family (because let’s face it, there is a lot of brokenness in families).

Jesus makes a new family and you are invited into it.  To be in this family of God is to be about the will of God in the world, which is the will that all people become unbound by the forces of evil that defy God, the forces that make people feel unloved, unworthy, and unaccepted.  This happens through accepting forgiveness yourself, and then dishing it out.

We have a beautiful example today of this wider family of God.  Yesterday at Synod assembly there was a pastor of a congregation in Wishek who came up to Shera and me and asked us if she could give us handmade prayer squares from the people of their church.  She said, “We just want the people at Heart River to know that we pray for them and care about them, that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

So, each of you get one this day to remind you of God’s forgiveness in your life and also the wider body of Christ, to which you belong and are invited in to by Jesus himself.

Yes, Jesus does talk about an unforgivable sin, but he also says to us this day in verse 28: “…people will be forgiven for their sins…”

Let us be as confident as the psalmist who prays and proclaims: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord…there is forgiveness with you…wait for the Lord…my soul waits and in his word I hope …more than those who watch for the morning…for with the Lord there is steadfast love and with God is great power to redeem.”