Today we are starting out with a little theological housecleaning. You may know that over the years, in the Christian tradition—any tradition, really—dust bunnies accumulate. Ideas, interpretations and assumptions glom together in a spiritually unhealthy goo, and every once in a while, you have to clean them out.
So, two items of theological housecleaning. First, in the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are busted for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They are busted for deciding for themselves which people are important, and which people are expendable, worthless, for deciding for themselves which parts of creation should be used wisely, be thanked for, cared for with appropriate stewardship, and which we can waste as if it was garbage and not the gift of God. Deciding for themselves who and what is good and bad, when God saw that it was all exceedingly good already.
Adam and Eve are busted.
Here is the unhealthy spiritual goo. It has been assumed over the years that since Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil first, that human sin is actually her fault. That since she tempted poor innocent Adam, women are therefore more sinful than men. The evil of the world exists because Eve ate.
I wonder what effect that idea has had on women who have eating disorders today. Eve ate; therefore, she is bad. I have anorexia. What if I eat? I have bulimia. What if I eat?
This idea that Eve is worse than Adam because she eats first is not true. The idea that women are worse than men because of Eve is not true. Here is the truth. We all eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We all treat people badly even though God has seen them as good since the dawn of time. We are all busted equally, whether we are male or female, something in between or another gender altogether, we all need God’s grace, all of us. That’s the truth.
Second glob of theological goo: In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says that there is an eternal sin that cannot be forgiven. Immediately everyone turns away from the point of this passage and asks, “Quick, what’s the unforgiveable sin?” Over the years, some in the Christian tradition have said that the unforgivable sin is suicide.
Now, suicide hurts the people around you, deeply and for their whole lives. So, if you are thinking about suicide, please talk with a doctor or come to me, I have a sheet of healthcare professionals that have been recommended by folks in this congregation. Don’t try to go it alone if ideas of suicide keep floatin in your mind. Get help, because we hurt others when we kill ourselves.
At the same time, do we see any mention of suicide in the Gospel lesson for today? No, we don’t because Jesus does not mention it. He never mentions it in any of the Gospels.
Suicide is hurtful, but it is not the unforgivable sin. Our response to suicide should be care and listening, and a commitment to building up a stronger mental healthcare system. There are many committed and capable people who know how to help people deal with these things, and we need to respond to suicide with support for them, not condemnation.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is not talking about suicide or whether women or more sinful than men. At the center of the Gospel, Jesus tells this strange story about how no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property. You have to tie up the strong man first.
I’m going “What’s all this about tying up people and robbing their houses?”
But Jesus is responding to the accusation from the scribes that he is casting out demons with the power of the devil. Jesus says that a house divided cannot stand. So, Satan is not going to use Satan’s power to free people from Satan’s demons. No, if you want to free people, you have to bind Satan first, not cooperate with him.
Here is a bit of Bible Geekdom. Often in Gospel of Mark, the part of the story in the middle sheds light on the part on the edges. So here at the edges of the Gospel lesson for today, we see, first, the crowds. The crowds run after Jesus because he heals them and casts out demons. Yes, Jesus uses his magical and miraculous powers to make life better for them. But notice, as soon as the cross comes up, as soon as they are asked to sacrifice something, to take risks for the sake of someone else, as soon as they run into a situation where they are called to stand up for what is right and just even if it might bring harm to them, they turn on Jesus and yell “Crucify him.”
Satan holds the mind of the crowd in bondage.
Then Jesus’ family comes. They think he’s gone crazy because look at him, he’s touching lepers Eeew! and healing on the Sabbath and eating with tax collectors and sinners. What will the neighbors think? So, they come and take him away because they think he’s crazy. Their minds are bound too.
Then the scribes appear from Jerusalem. They don’t think Jesus is crazy. They think he’s in league with the devil.
After the parable of the strong man, Jesus responds to the scribes by saying that the unforgivable sin is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. That is, they see all this healing and life and love and power of God happening, and they get it wrong. Which is not a problem. We get it wrong all the time. Jesus disciples get it wrong throughout the whole Gospel of Mark. Wrong, wrong, from wrongville. Being wrong is not the problem. It’s when we say that the power of God is wrong, AND that it is from the devil. When we say that healing and hope and people are wrong, AND that it’s evil, demonic, Satanic, that there is no good at all in them, that they’re not human any more. That’s dangerous.
Then Jesus responds to his family, and then he speaks to the crowd.
So, you’ve got the crowd, family, scribes, then, scribes, family, crowd. And in the middle, this parable about binding the strong man.
So, who is this strong man that must be bound? And who is the robber who must bind him. And what does the robber steal?
The strong man is Satan, who enslaves the minds of crowd, family, scribes and everyone else. Jesus is the robber who binds Satan. And Jesus steals us back from Satan’s house. Jesus sets us free to love.
Last week we got some pictures from Sara and Karl Meierding, who are currently in Uganda. Sara is the person who is setting up connections by Skype between kids in JCPS here in Louisville and kids at the Nkosi School in Uganda. St. John is participating in a project to renovate the boy’s dorm at Nkosi school. We could be bound by the great distance between us and Uganda, or the huge problems they face over there, or the huge problems some kids face here in Louisville. But we don’t have to be bound. Jesus frees us to love.
Last week, many, many people worked together to make a blessed time of grief and hope for Carol Goodin’s funeral. We could have been bound by our grief. But Jesus frees us to love.
We are looking for people to help with Vacation Bible School. We could be bound by our busyness or feeling like we’ve never done anything like that before and so on. But Jesus frees us to love.
Give a hug to someone close to you. Speak out politically for someone who is downtrodden. Celebrate someone’s joy. Take a quiet time of peace for yourself. Jesus frees us to love.
I think, in the end, we all eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I think we all commit the unforgivable sin. But here is the good news. Jesus binds the devil who so enslaves us. Jesus plunders the devil’s house and brings us out of it. Jesus sets us free to love. Free to love.