In Good Spirits – March 4, 2018, the Third Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 36:22-28, Mark 3:20-30

March 4, 2018

A Sermon by Harold Pugh

My first thoughts on this passage was to focus on the question “Why couldn’t the religious leaders of Jesus time get on board with the Messiah in their presence?” Their claim that Jesus was empowered by a daemon to drive out daemons seems to be grasping for an excuse for not appreciating Jesus for who He was.

As a younger man, I was warned about not separating the person into mind body and spirit, but to consider the person as a whole. But as I have continued to search for a deeper spiritual understanding, I realize the need to be aware of the three aspects which form the whole, because:

  • We are comfortable with the body, the physical- how we look, how we feel, what we have
  • We are comfortable with the mind, the intellectual self – science, law, thinking things through
  • We tend to be uncomfortable with the spirit, our own spiritual nature – the very place where we live out our relationship with God

In John 3 the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus, and is told he must be “born again”, reborn of the spirit, and Nicodemus is uncomfortable. This discomfort with the Spirit and Jesus power in the Spirit shows up throughout the Gospel, as people ask Jesus to leave after he cast out daemons, and the crowd seeks to throw him off a cliff after he reveals himself in the synagogue.

I was tempted to skip over the part of this scripture where it notes that Jesus family comes to reel him in, and was uncomfortable, as the Spirit kept drawing me back. Then I realized that it was their discomfort with the power of the Spirit showing through Jesus that made them feel the need to get him under control.

My question of “Why couldn’t the religious leaders of Jesus time get on board?” expanded to include all of us, as we all tend to be uncomfortable dealing with spiritual things. And while we are uncomfortable with the spiritual, which should be an integral part of who we are, we seem to be very comfortable with laws and ritual. Perhaps this is because it seems law and ritual allow us to deal with the world on our own terms, bypassing God, and that ‘uncomfortable spiritual thing’.

Thus we see the Scribes and Pharisees intellectually concerned about the physical well being of the nation of Israel, while Jesus was forcing them to deal with the Spiritual realm, making them uncomfortable. In fact, they were so uncomfortable that they had to come up with an excuse for why they were not celebrating Jesus miracles with the rest of the people. In doing so, they express being more comfortable acknowledging the presence of evil spirits than acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Our discomfort with things spiritual is what requires the “leap of faith” to accept not only the presence of God’s Spirit, but the importance of our own spiritual lives. And the struggle is to accept and learn to live with the unseen things, while we are constantly distracted and fascinated by things of the body and mind which we can see and touch.

Jesus concludes that we can be forgiven for many things, including “speaking against the Son of Man” according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But he says we must not speak against the Holy Spirit – perhaps because to do so is to deny our own spiritual nature, which we cannot do if we are to be “born again” of the spirit. To deny the Spirit of God is to deny God and our own relationship to God.

As Mark 3:22-27 reads in “The Message” translation:

The religion scholars from Jerusalem came down spreading rumors that he was working black magic, using devil tricks to impress them with spiritual power. Jesus confronted their slander with a story: “Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan? A constantly squabbling family disintegrates. If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn’t be any Satan left. Do you think it’s possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man, and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.

It continues in verses 28-30:

“Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.” He gave this warning because they were accusing him of being in league with Evil.

Whenever I see someone ‘get it wrong’ in the Bible, I always wind up asking myself “could I do that?” So, what about us? Could we see someone worshiping the God of Abraham, motivated to do good because of their faith, and call it evil, because they do not worship God exactly the way we do, and thus speak against the Spirit of God within them? As Jesus gives this warning, “is it I, Lord?” echoes in my head.

Certainly, it is difficult to be comfortable recognizing the Spirit of God in others, if we are not comfortable with God’s Spirit within ourselves. It’s like the question about “love your neighbor as yourself” – “What happens if you don’t love yourself?”; your neighbor may be in trouble. The same is true of the spirit – how can you be comfortable with seeing God’s Spirit in others, if you are not even comfortable seeing God’s Spirit within yourself? So it is important that we work to recognize and appreciate God’s Spirit within ourselves.

I understand the discomfort of the Scribes and Pharisees, of the townspeople, of Nicodemus. I am not always comfortable with dealing with things spiritual, especially the overwhelming power of God’s Holy Spirit. It is much more comfortable to deal with laws, rules, ritual, tradition. In too many ways, dealing with the spiritual part of our being pushes us out of our comfort zone.

So I understand that I must grow spiritually, and deepen my relationship with God. I’ve taken the leap of faith to accept my spirit as being at least as important as my body and mind. That means doing the things which I do for body and mind for my spirit also. I regularly feed, exercise, and apply my body and mind. I even get my body examined somewhat regularly. My spirit needs at least as much attention, so I recognize the need for worship, study and prayer.

For me, the season of Lent often offers a special opportunity to deepen my spiritual awareness, as I study Jesus’ life and teachings. This passage for me emphasizes the need to recognize and encourage the Spirit of God in myself and others. As our fullest lives are found when the Spirit of God becomes a prominent, conscious part of our lives, I pray that we may all become more comfortable with the Spirit of God in us and among us, during Lent, and throughout our lives.