The Spirit Says ‘YES’. So Should We!
Mark 3:20-35

by | Jun 11, 2024

PRAYER: God of encouragement, sometimes the easiest thing in the world is to convince ourselves of our own inability. But you tell us a different story. You inject life into us; you provide us with a hope that we sometimes struggle to see. Strengthen us today that we may reach out and take hold of your outstretched hand, that we may hear your words to us telling us that we are your beloved children. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

By this point in Jesus’ ministry, he has already established himself. He’s chosen his twelve. He’s performed miracles. He’s challenged the Pharisees. The crowds are starting to follow him… And his family shows up to “take control of him”. Look at some of the things that are being said about Jesus: “He has gone out of his mind.” “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” “He has an unclean spirit.”
There are not a lot of places in the gospels that we hear about Jesus’ family. Certainly, we get a few samples in Luke. We see Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross. But, this story in Mark is peculiar because, in this moment, the family and Jesus seem to be at odds with one another. They’re there trying to stop Jesus from getting into trouble. And the way they try to do this is through their language. “He has gone out of his mind.” “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” “He has an unclean spirit.”
Often times, language can be the sharpest, most effective weapons in our proverbial box of tricks. The language we use to describe others can be downright dehumanizing. There’s an old expression that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Well, I don’t know if that’s true. Words can hurt. Words can hurt very much, especially if the person using them is someone that you trust, someone that you love.
Growing up, I remember telling my mom about some kids who were picking on me. She gave me great advice that helped me learn to ignore those bullies; she reminded me that those kids can say whatever they say, but they don’t know the truth. That was helpful because it taught me that people with whom I do not have a relationship, they’re saying more about themselves than they are me.
But there’s more to the story. You see, in spite of that excellent advice she gave me, my mother also had a particular habit of using her language to be very discouraging. She often would use negative language that would do far more harm to me than those kids in my school. If my grades weren’t high enough (which they almost never were high enough), or if I didn’t do some chore she wanted me to do in that moment, or any number of other things, she would use her language to belittle me, to destroy my sense of self. Her words would whittle away my self-esteem and it wasn’t until many years later that I came to terms with that.
There’s a term in today’s language called “gaslighting”, which is all about using language to make people question themselves; it’s all about manipulation. Our language today is often used to manipulate or to demean. We hear it all the time, certainly from our political leaders, but we hear it thrown around so often that it has become part of our own language. Bullying and gaslighting has become so normalized today that we barely notice it.
One of the ways we bring Jesus’ love into the world is through our language. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 17 where he says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” The words we use, the language we choose have both the power to bless others and to damn others. Jesus’ own family was using their language in a way that was harmful, and Jesus pushed back.
This is one of the primary reasons why we recognize and celebrate PRIDE month every June. There are so many your people – beloved children of God – who have been told by their own families that they are worthless, that they are abominations, that they are hated by God. This language leads people to homelessness, to drugs, and worst of all, to suicide. Pride month helps these young people who have been hurt by the language of their loved ones that they are NOT worthless, that they are beloved, and that the world is better off with them in it.
He clearly understood the power that language could have; he understood how to be a blessing to others. So keep that in mind as we read his words in Mark 3, “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.”
If you’re like me, you’ve probably struggled with this passage as Jesus talks about an ‘unforgivable sin’. This story in both Mark and Matthew is the only instance in which Jesus says these words – that there is something you can do that is actually “unforgivable”, so it seems important that we tread carefully through this language because we certainly don’t want to commit the one and only unforgivable sin!
Jesus was responding to that harmful language… to the gaslighting being thrown at him from the Pharisees and by his own family. He was taking control of the narrative after he was told that his spirit is the work of Satan. Notice that their claim is not questioning the results of Jesus’ work, only the motivation, the source of his authority. And that’s a key factor, I think. For me, one of the most frustrating things is not when someone disagrees with me. I think disagreement can be a great invitation for conversation. No, to me what is most frustrating is when someone who disagrees with me has decided WHY I believe the way I do, has decided what my motivations are rather than actually have a conversation. In those situations, they’ve already shut down any hope of forming a conversation in which we can get to know one another better. It doesn’t mean we’ll ultimately agree, but we’ll be able to see the humanity in one another. Under most circumstances, if someone in authority, or someone in your family… if someone you either respect or love were to tell you that your words or your actions are under the authority of Satan, those are hurtful words that are going to be painful to live with. Thankfully, Jesus knew better. And so do we.
Because, you see, the blaspheme against the Spirit, that so-called unforgivable sin involves ripping the humanity, destroying the Spirit from someone whom God loves. The sense of discouragement, the language of gaslighting that only serves to lift one person up while breaking the spirit of another, or of making one person FEEL superior to another… that’s the sin that Jesus was addressing. Jesus was mindful of how our words, how our language can indeed be harmful to others.
One of the commentaries I follow suggested that Jesus’ words about blaspheming against the Spirit may have been a bit of hyperbole on Jesus’ part. And while I hold the possibility that it may be true, I lean towards that it isn’t because when you are denying the spirit in someone, when you are using language and even hyperbole to belittle and mock, to break someone’s spirit, you are denying the very lifeforce that would enable someone to live their best life, enabled by the Spirit. Destroying the spirit of someone is akin to breaking the commandment that thou shalt not kill.
I’ve listened to a lot of people who use this kind of language that kills the spirit. I’ve had bosses who belittle others that they could maintain a level of control and superiority. I’ve seen spouses who abuse their significant others, not necessarily physically, but with spiritual abuse, using belittling language, keeping track of every single mistake or misstep they’ve ever made, shattering their self-esteem and breaking their spirit. I’ve seen parents who break the spirits of their own children, mocking them, telling them that they’re no good. It is a blaspheme against the Spirit that lives within those people.
One of the words my mother often used against me was “lazy”. I was in the Cub Scouts when I was first eligible to join, but my mother – without telling me – called up the cub scout leader and withdrew me from the pack. Then she told me that she did it because I was too lazy to be in the cub scouts with all those other kids; that I would be dragging them down.
In high school, I expressed an interest in learning more about photography as a hobby. My school had a photography class that I took, and I loved it. And remember that this was in the days of using actual film in your cameras, but my mom talked me out of it telling me that it’s too expensive a hobby, and since I’m so lazy, I would lose interest in it after investing in all the equipment.
That word has haunted me. It’s lived with me for decades. In spite of the fact that I spent years, often working two jobs, that I built a pretty nice career without a college degree, that I became respected and sought after for my knowledge in my technology field… In spite of the fact that I never once missed a mortgage payment, raised three amazing kids, have had a 36 – almost 37-year marriage, the word ‘lazy’ has haunted me. Starting at the age of 45, I earned my Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees while working full-time. I earned my Master’s while working as a pastor… That word was with me the whole time. It wasn’t until years later – just a few years ago – that I came to terms with that word and became, in my opinion, free of it. I now own that word; it does not own me.
Our words have the power to bless someone as much as they have the power to damn someone. Our words can break the spirit of others – a blaspheme against the spirit, to be sure. But we must not lose sight of the fact that our words also have the power to break the spirit in OURSELVES. We can become enslaved to all the negative words, opinions, viewpoints that others have directed at us if we allow it. We become our own worst enemies when we start to believe the negative spirit-breaking garbage that others would have us believe.
What are the words, what is the poison that is killing your Spirit? What is it that you have convinced yourself that you cannot achieve because of what someone else said? I am reminded of the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford that says, “whether you believe you can do a thing or not, either way, you’re right.” We are a small church. We are not the smallest in our conference, but we’re close to it.
I have seen good decent church people convinced of their own inability, and therefore becoming a dying church. We must now allow the Spirit within this place to be denied. We must not allow the Spirit within this church to die.
I have seen firsthand what this church can do. I have seen with my own eyes the ability that exists when the Spirit is present, when the Spirit is fed. When we put aside those words that convince us that we cannot do something, the Spirit enables us to step up and to be the church that we are capable of being, lifting ourselves and lifting others up, being filled with joy, being overflowing with hope.
This is our chance to bring a spirit of resurrection to this place. The Holy Spirit is present in this place, and the sooner we become convinced of that, the sooner we will see the new life that is possible in Jesus Christ our savior. We need not surrender to the death that comes from negativity. This is our time to say YES to the Holy Spirit, to say YES to God’s grace; to say YES to new life, new hope, new love.
There is nothing this church cannot do, for the Spirit is alive and well in this place.
To God be the glory.