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Playing With Fire

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 6, 2021

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Mark 3:20–35 (ESV)

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost. That day is often regarded as the beginning or the birth of the church. And for two thousand years , we have celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit of God on that day. I think when we celebrate Pentecost and regard it as the day the Spirit came we fail to see the fullness of the Spirit. The Spirit has always existed just as Jesus has always existed with the Father. There has not been a moment where God has not been in God’s fullness. With that being said our interaction with God has changed.

If we go to the beginning of our interaction with God, scripture tells us that God created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit hovered over the void or the waters. The Spirit of God has always existed. The Spirit is the power of creation. We also see the Spirit in the plagues of Egypt. It was the Spirit that passed through that nation removing life’s breath from the first born not protected by the blood of the lamb. The Spirit has the power to create life, to bring something out of nothing and can take that life away. We are also show in the Book of Acts that the Spirit took the life of two disciples that lied. This aspect of God is a wild power. We cannot control or even approach it without caution. Yet on Pentecost the Spirit that created the universe, the Spirit that took the live of the first of Egypt and the life of the lying disciples, the Spirit that restored life to Christ was give to the disciples. It descended upon them like tongues of fire.

I want us to reflect on the creative and destructive power of the Spirit of God. There is a reason Old Testament regarded the Spirit with fear. This creative force could cause death. But there were case where the Spirit dwelled with individuals, king David is said to have had the Spirit with him, the Spirit gave Solomon great wisdom, and inspired the prophets. The Spirit gave these men great power and influence over those around them, but they did not control the Spirit.

The Spirit is a wild chaotic force from the human perspective. We cannot control it. A few months ago I listened to a lecture on particle physics. It described the quest within science to find the singular particles that are used to make all matter. The way they search for these particles is to break down larger particles, in a particle collider. Science is a tool we use to explore, but when exploring these particles some people are afraid of what we will find. When an atom is split, a massive amount of energy is released. This release of energy has been used to prove military might over nations, so as we explore these particles some fear we will release something even worse than the atomic bomb that will destroy the world. This is just a glimpse into the chaotic creative power of the Spirit, if the discovery of the Spirit’s blocks can release that amount of energy. I do not claim that I understand anything about particle physics, but I can understand why there is a draw of the researchers and the fear.

The Spirit is a wild power and we must approach the Spirit with caution. C.S. Lewis, in his children’s classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, illustrates Jesus as being the lion Aslan. When the children ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if it is a tame lion they laugh and say no but he is good. I have always loved that series and have read or listened to it often. But I do struggle with the image of Jesus as an untamed wild lion. I understand the reason behind it, but children did not fear Jesus. Lewis fans might consider me a heretic but I think the lion image portrays the Spirit more accurately than Jesus.

The Spirit is this creative and deadly force, wild and untamed, and yet it dwells with us. The theology of the Spirit is that through Christ the Spirit is tamed. Through Jesus the power of the Spirit is harnessed and directed. Jesus tames the Spirit and on Pentecost those with Christ have access to this amazing power that rose Jesus from the grave.

I say all of this in introduction because I want us to be aware of who we are interacting with. We can get the idea that we can control God. No we do not control God. We think we understand God, but we do not even understand or even know the smallest particle God used to create all matter. This is how I want us to approach today’s passage.

Jesus goes home, and the crowd is so great that they cannot even eat. Imagine that scene for a moment. I have been to some pretty big gatherings, and in those gatherings eating has never been a struggle. What this means is that the room was so full of people that they could not eat in their traditional manner. It was standing room only and so busy Jesus and the disciples were too distracted to eat.

Jesus’s family was also in attendance at this gathering. The family looked at the crowd and decided to seize Jesus, saying, “He is out of his mind.” I want us to stop for a moment here. Jesus’s family questioned his sanity. Maybe they were meaning that it was unwise to attend a gathering of that size, or maybe they questioned his mental state. We are not fully told what is meant by this statement, but the one thing we can glean from the passage they were concerned about his well being.

What Jesus was doing was beyond the capacity or understanding of his family. They were simple people from the hills of Nazareth. They were not accustomed to large crowds, and they were not accustomed to one of their own members being at the center of attention within such a crowd. We have all been in this sort of situation. When I first announced to my mother that I sensed a call to the ministry, she told me I could not do it. She feared for my safety and well being because she knew who I was and who I am. Her statement was, “you can’t preach because you can’t talk.” She knew me. She knew my personality. She knew that in my own power I could not stand before people, because it was not in my nature. She thought I was out of my mind. She was right…and wrong. Jesus’s actions were not the norm, so his family worried.

We can have concern for those around us, but we should be careful with that concern. We may know them well but even those we are closest to are not fully known to us. We only know what they reveal to us. If we act without seeking clarity, we run the risk of making assumptions that may not be true. Jesus’s family thought he was out of his mind, when the reality of the situation was that he was right where he needed to be. They knew him but they did not know everything. They did not fully understand the deepness of his call.

Then we have the religious leaders. They knew God, at least that is what they thought. When Jesus came onto the scene, he did not do things the expected way. He was not educated in their systems of education, and they did not understand how he was able to do the things that he was doing. Because they did not understand they fell back onto what they thought they knew and made assumptions as well. The God of their understanding would not or could not do the things he was doing in that manner, so he must be getting his power from somewhere else.

Jesus’s family said he was out of his mind, the religious leaders said he was possessed by Beelzebul, and the house is so crowded Jesus cannot even eat. This is not exactly the best day in Jesus’s life, but Jesus does not throw the people out of the house. Even while facing absurd accusations, Jesus continues to offer grace and truth.

“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 against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

This has been deep in my mind over this past week. At first glance we see this as being a statement about the absurdity of the accusation, and it is about that, but there is more to the parable than what is on the surface. Jesus is speaking about division, unity, and grace. He is speaking about the wild Spirt of God and our assumption that we can tame, understand, and control God.

The past few years there have been great turmoil among churches across our nation. We are not immune from these struggles. There are people within and outside the church that want to make claims and these claims are dividing the church. These divisions come in many forms, and we could probably make a list of where these divisions and factures are being made. We each have our own opinions as to which statement is right and which is wrong, and we will debate and argue our position. Where is God amid those discussions? Where is God when we divide over political issues that do not even belong in the church? Where is God when we allow human understanding to guide us?

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

This is a haunting passage, because what is an eternal sin and are we in danger of committing it? This is a humbling thought. And I hope that it sobers our minds a bit. We do not tame the Holy Spirit because the Spirit comes from God through Jesus to us, and we can either follow or not. We cannot and do not control God. And every time we fail to follow the Spirit’s urgings we sin. There is forgiveness for that. There is even forgiveness for blasphemies we utter, and we probably utter a few of those daily. But there is a point God draws a line.

The Holy Spirit, this fire that descended on the disciples on Pentecost, this Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation to bring forth life, this Spirit that gives us strength and direction can be offended to such a degree that forgiveness is no longer available. Jesus does not speak of this sin with the woman that was caught in the very act of adultery. He does not mention it to the woman at the well, who had multiple husbands and was not married to the man she was with at that time. This sin is not alluded to when Jesus speaks to the tax collector, or even when Jesus speaks to Pilate during his trial. This sin is discussed when Jesus converses with the religious leaders. Like I said, haunting.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of the vision Peter while he was on the tanner’s roof in Joppa. In this vision a sheet descends from heaven and on this sheet is every type of animal imagined and God speaks to Peter and tells him to rise, kill, and eat. Peter in his righteousness tells God that he has never eaten anything unclean and does not plan to start now. This happens two more times and after each rejection God scolds Peter and says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This vision was given to Peter to teach him that even the Gentiles were accepted into the Church because God through Christ had made them clean and has adopted them into the promise of Abraham.

Peter was perplexed by this vision and rightfully so. Everything he thought he knew was overturned, and he did not understand why. The God that gave them the law and commanded them to avoid eating these unclean substances was seemingly changing his mind. This is like what was happening to the scribes. They did not understand, and in their lack of understanding they were speaking for God. They were assuming they knew more than God. They were attempting to control the untamed Spirit.

This is a danger we all face. The whole meme WWJD, what would Jesus do, is almost in this place. It encourages us to speak for God, and do we really know what Jesus would do. Scripture gives us a wide scope of possible reactions that Jesus might give in any given situation, from spitting on the ground to make mud to spread on someone’s face to throwing tables across the temple courts. We must be careful, because the Spirit of God is a wild force that we cannot control. We cannot put words in the mouth of God, but we can think of something else, how can I honor God in this.

How can I honor God through the situation that I face? How can I glorify God even through my lack of understanding? How can I encourage those around me to consider God even though they may reject my understanding how God wants us to live?

God’s Spirit will do what God wants to do, with or without our input. The Spirit of God will do things that will purposefully do things that will cause us to pause and consider. This is not because God wants to trick us or even test us, but it is draw us deeper into the mystery of who he is. The spirit of God may bless us, heal our afflictions, give us worldly success, or the Spirit may lead us into a place that seems dark and shadowed. What do we do in that situation? How can we continue to glorify God? This is what Jesus explained to Nicodemus in last week’s passage. The wind blows and you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. If we are walking through the land of shadows, remember where the wild wind of the spirit has been in your life. Hold tight to that as you continue to walk in faith. And when the spirit leads us to seasons of plenty praise him. And when we are in the clouds of unknowing let us not put words into the mouth of God, but instead let us seek Him more fully. Asking what God could be showing us in this place among these people. How is God revealing himself through this, and how can I embrace him more fully?

We live among many distractions and divisions. We live in a time of history where people long for something to believe. We see it all around us and we are tempted to speak. Let us be careful with our words as we live our lives of faith. Sin can be forgiven, and even blasphemes will not be held against us, but when we speak for God and reject what the Spirit doing, we are playing with fire. As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy, let us embrace the Spirit in all its amazing raw wild power. And let us chase after that wild wind and live the love of Christ with others.

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