…and the crowd came together again, so that they [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “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. But 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. “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”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer and guide.
In a week when we have mental health so much in the news, with two celebrity suicides as well as the usual hundreds of others who don’t make the news, AND we have in our our gospel reading Jesus is being accused of being mentally ill, how can I not talk about this topic. I said it during the week in my daily devotions, but I have to say it again, and let me tell you plainly: The unforgivable sin is NOT suicide. God’s mercy is not limited by our actions, first of all. And second of all, even though it is true that God is the one who gives life and it is not ours to take, even if it is our own, we cannot say that a person who has taken the action to end his or her life doesn’t regret it in the moments between when they have taken that action and when they meet the Lord in the beginning of the life to come. We have absolutely no business saying they cannot be forgiven. I can only believe God’s mercy for them is great.
The unforgivable sin is teaching that what holy is unholy. The scribes in today’s gospel story do just that. They say that Jesus is possessed by the chief of demons… demonic. They insist on Jesus’s “un-holiness” to protect their own positions and power. Put him down so they can be up. They lie to themselves and their people. That is not OK. Self delusion is the mental illness! They are guilty of what they are accusing Jesus of!
It is so very human of them.
It is a universal human trait to pick out and be critical of that in others what we hate in ourselves…or what we are afraid of in ourselves. We see our neighbor as OTHER. We see the stranger as threat.
But Jesus is saying they are all family. Or at least they can be. All who believe in the love of God and live out their beliefs by doing God’s will—being agents of love and mercy in the world—for EVERYONE, not just people like us, then we are God’s family. Doing God’s will makes us the body of God, like the eucharist makes us the body of Christ.
And that is what gets me back to suicide. It is wrong to kill the body God made. But knowing it is wrong rarely keeps someone from killing themselves. Most everyone knows killing yourself is wrong. Killing ANYONE is wrong. Yourself included. A person who is ready to give up on life, who is in so much pain, whether physical or psychological or spiritual, who just cannot and will not endure it any longer is someone who has suffered too long. Maybe they have never gotten help and don’t believe there is any help to be had. Shame on us for not making help more widely known. But that is the rare person. Most people who kill themselves have been getting help and have limped along for a long time. Sometimes their treatment went really well and they were doing OK for a time, but as the ebbs and flows of life and disease do, that passes and they move into a more difficult place. Maybe they think they have had all the help available, or maybe they are afraid they will get worse. There are as many possibilities as there are people who give up on life. Every single time someone gives up on life, it is a tragedy. A tragedy on the average of 123 times every day. ONE HUNDRED TWENTY THREE times a DAY someone kills themselves in the United States of America. That is about 45,000 people every year. You are more likely to know someone who killed themselves than someone who was murdered.
The person is responsible for their own actions, yes. But we are responsible for making an environment where everyone belongs and we haven’t. We are responsible for looking out for our neighbor, and we have not in this country. There are 53,000 people living in Santee. If there was a plague rampaging through the city that would ultimately leave only 8,000 of us alive, The nation would stand up and take notice. We call ourselves a Christian nation but we haven’t acted very Christ-like in this regard. We, as a nation, can do better.
We as a church, have a part to play. One of the most important core values identified in this congregation is that we are a family church. Our family life is important and we want to support health and connection in each and every one of our families. We, as a church family though, need to work at making everyone who comes in these doors feel equally welcomed and important. We, as a church family, need to work on conveying that everyone has work to do in God’s family, and everyone is needed. There is a place for everyone and this family won’t be complete until each and every one of you is able to be fully yourself and be joyful and free and whole. And yet we recognize that NONE OF US are joyful and free and whole. We are all on the journey. We all have a ways to go yet. We are to be accepted here, in the house of God, wherever we are on that journey. And whether yesterday you took a step forward or a step backward in that journey, you are still welcome here.
This has to be a place where we can come and be real. This has to be a place where our sins can be confessed and forgiven. This has to be a place where each is safe, no matter what. When we are doing the will of God, that is the place we will create. May God’s will be done in this place.
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.