The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s122g12   Sunday 10  10/6/2012

'He has an unclean spirit'  Mark 3.30

It is clear that there is a clash of perceptions here over just what is an 'unclean spirit'.   Mark tells us that the first person Jesus cured was 'a man with an unclean spirit' in the synagogue in Capernaum (1.23).   This man cried out 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?   Have you come to destroy us?   I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’   The man with an unclean spirit was found in the synagogue, a person who saw uncleanness in others - the poor, the less than devout, the worldly, those who got their hands dirty.   The accusations that Jesus was 'out of his mind' and that 'he has an unclean spirit' were made when he was surrounded by the crowd, no doubt all of whom the orthodox and the devout would have considered ‘unclean’.   The sheer number of people meant that he was unable even to eat.

Now in my experience of people who suffer from a mental illness, they are rarely surrounded by crowds.  The delusional make grandiose claims thinking that these will draw people to them, but it is usually the opposite.   Ordinary folk find the delusional easy to spot and to avoid.  

Again, in my experience of the wicked, the charismatic leaders attribute the ills of the world to an opposition, an other.   There is an inherently selfishness involved.   In Hitler's case it was the Jews, the less than physically and mentally perfect, and homosexuals.  In the conservative evangelical’s case it is unbelievers, homosexuals and liberals.

Jesus, on the other hand accepted others, all others, he was not against anyone.   And he accepted others, not to garner followers, but simply because he considered all people sacred.   His acceptance was recognized by the ordinary folk with gratitude, as well as by the orthodox and the devout, with derision.  The orthodox and the devout considered his acceptance of the 'unclean' meant that he had an unclean spirit, whereas Jesus demonstrated that it was those who considered others unclean who were the ones who had the unclean spirit.

And so it is not surprising to me that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit in this context.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit which sees all others as holy.   The Holy Spirit is that which leads to the acceptance of the other, even those we would consider ritually unclean.   Surely this includes the less than orthodox, the less than devout, and those who ‘conservative evangelicals’ would consider ‘unclean’ because they share intimacy with someone of the same gender.  The Holy Spirit leads us to an acceptance of these others, and the unforgivable sin is to deny this.

At the end of our reading for today Jesus says: 'Here are my mother and my brothers!   Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'   This is not the statement of someone with a mental illness, nor is it a statement made by a charismatic leader, whose position of prominence over others is paramount.    And the will of God is bound up in Jesus' own example, to consider all those around us as our brother and sister and mother.

The unforgivable sin is unforgivable, not because God cannot forgive this attitude, but that such a person considers he or she has no sin to forgive!   Such persons distance themselves from the God of acceptance and from the very people God accepts.   It is an 'eternal' sin simply because the opposite is eternal life.  

It is interesting that I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the confession and absolution in services of worship.   Usually it is ordinary folk who live lives necessarily getting their hands dirty, consider themselves in need of forgiveness precisely because they need to get their hands dirty to provide for themselves and those they love.   It is they who most fervently pray 'we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table', not like the professional orthodox and devout.    Yet in fact it is those who are religious, the orthodox and devout, who may be in most need of forgiveness - if they have separated themselves from those who they consider unclean, those whose life and living requires them to get their hands dirty.

It is these who don't see their sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia and need to be forgiven and reborn.

The will of God is done when we consider all those around us our brothers, sisters and mothers; not just those who we are naturally related to, and not just those of our own personal ‘holy huddle’.   I think that we need to hear Jesus’ words: ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter’.   According to, blasphemy is ‘impious utterance or action concerning God’ - so God is not concerned about the name we call the divine or our belief or lack thereof of God’s existence.   What God does consider unforgivable is to suggest that the divine exists to perpetuate some form (or other) of sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia.   I suggest that the words of St Paul are appropriate here: ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’  (Romans 2.24)   Indeed if this is true, then the opposite, ‘praise from God’ (Rom 2.29) is when through our selflessness, humility, awareness and movement, people outside the Church are inspired.  And I think that we also need to make the opposite conclusion, that it is Satan who inspires sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia, even that done in the name of God, for Satan also doesn’t care what he, or she, is called, only on the effect on others.  And Satan has no scruples masquerading as the divine to stunt people’s lives, to stop people ‘living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that God intends us to be’ in the words of Bishop Spong.

Jesus words: 'Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets' (Luke 6.28) leads me to ask who these 'all' are.   One of my most treasured achievements doesn't appear in my curriculum vitae, but was conferred by a good friend who appointed me 'an honorary lesbian'.   Jesus' woe is when we are praised by the selfish, arrogant,  and blind because we do not call them to move.   It is when the poor, marginalize and alienated speak well of us that we are likely to be following Jesus who was surrounded by these sorts of people.

I am not sure that I 'believe in' Satan as a personage separate from God, but I certainly know in my own life the force within me, stopping me ‘living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that God intends me to be’.   Much of it comes from my upbringing, my parents whose lives were blighted by World War 2 and their struggle to make ends meet in the post-war years.   Some comes from being the youngest child too, though first and in-between children inherently have their own issues.   Some also comes from attending church each Sunday morning as a choirboy and saying, along with everyone else, 'We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs ..'   I guess I can rationalize the family issues, yet wonder how the church has such a negative emphasis.   As I think about it, just as rampant feminism is but an understandable reaction to centuries of patriarchy, and modern loud music an entirely understandable reaction to ‘children are to be seen and not heard’, so the present attitude where people are happy to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious is an entirely understandable reaction to the repression of the church both towards science and personality.

And to finish, Jesus implies that there is an inevitability about eternal life when he says: 'if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come'.   Eternal life, where 'living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that God intends us to be' is what is intended for all, is happening - despite the best efforts of the orthodox and the devout.

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