Not Forbidding the Spirit – Pentecost 6-4-17
“Not Forbidding the Spirit” Pentecost 6/2/17 Matthew 12
The greatest leaders in the world are not the ones who always say, “Yes.” Martin Luther King said no to racism and also no to those who wanted to violently oppose racism. Ghandi said no to violence too, but also no to British imperialism, and no to the caste system. King and Ghandi had harsh words for some. The greatest presidents said no too. George Washington said no to those who wanted him to be a king, and no to the British. To live a good life means to be able to say “No” to what is not good.
Yet for some reason there are people who think that Jesus should not say “No” ever. It is a trend in post-modern cultural theology to believe that eventually God will say “Yes” to everyone and transform all of our “Nos” into “yeses.” But this is wishful thinking and goes squarely against what Jesus said. Jesus recognized we need to stand up against evil, injustice, and sin. While the cross offers redemption to all- surely not all take it. Jesus does not force us to convert either quickly or by eventually wearing us down. Jesus was not upset that people might reject his teachings. But he was upset that people would reject the Spirit of God.
The context of this is that Jesus was helping people and people were criticizing the help he was offering. He was healing people and people said he was healing them by demonic, evil power not God’s Spirit. In other words, they were calling the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit evil.
Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” We are called to be able to distinguish and discern. I have some friends whose favorite phrase is, “It’s all good.” But it ain’t. The beheading of others isn’t good. The attacks on London- women, children, innocent civilians is not good. Evil is not limited to Muslim extremists. The rape of females on college campus isn’t good. The waste, squalor and destruction of drug abuse isn’t good. Christians too may do wrong- and we point to wrong with humility and sadness.
For about forty years in mainline Protestant theology people would talk about the need to “name the demon.” They were referring to that Jesus would often call out a demon of leprosy or lameness before he exorcised it by the power of the Holy Spirit- who took the evil spirit out and replaced it with the Holy Spirit. They meant that we need to be able to point evil out before we can do anything about it. This is really true. We need to be able to point out opioid abuse and the deaths it causes before something is done about it. There are 2.5 million people addicted to opiods in the USA (ASAM 2015). We need to be able to point out that human trafficking is a problem in SC before we do something about it. Twenty percent of the kidnappings, and about 6,000 people were kidnapped to be human slaves in the USA. We need to be able to point out that there is a severe famine going on in Sudan caused by war and drought before we do something about it. There are 5.5 million facing famine now and 100,000 facing death now (UN figures). We need to point out that there are children who suffer because their parents make dumb decisions before we help the children. Part of our job as Christians is to point out where there is evil, and then to work, pray, give to try to fix it.
Jesus was pointing out to what may be called the “greatest evil” or the only “unforgivable sin.” It is not the blasphemy of the church- the church as followers of Christ have gotten things wrong. It is not the blasphemy of the ministers or the elders or the people. It is not getting your view on the millennial wrong or who can serve as an elder or deacon. It is the blasphemy of the Spirit of God.
What is this blasphemy of the Spirit? I have talked to people who are afraid they have committed the unpardonable sin, and they are under heavy conviction of the Spirit. Billy Graham once said his father felt that way. But when you are struggling and under conviction you have not blasphemed Him. It is when there is no spark, no fire, only deadness in your soul to God- that you have hardened your heart and more than that you call the work of God’s Spirit evil. The blasphemy of the Spirit is rejecting the goodness of God, resisting and hardening your heart. The one way to know you have not blasphemed is to accept Christ. Everyone of us sins. Some of us have sinned greatly. But the blasphemy of the Spirit is when we not only resist Him, but we actively oppose Him.
There have always been people who have opposed the work of the church. It is not that the work cannot be done better that bothers them but that the work is done at all. Helping the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the immigrant, the drug addict, those who have been abused or neglected. I am amazed sometimes at what excuses we can find to absolutely stop the good work that the church does. I have seen a church fix a roof and someone complain that one of the sons did nothing while we did all the work. The next year, because of that person’s complaint, the church fixed no one’s roof. I have seen people complain about giving food because the parents don’t spend money the way they should. So then for years that church gave no food away. I have seen governments pass ordinances not allowing churches to give away food or clothing from their church because neighbors didn’t like to see the poor in their neighborhood. Whatever good you do- do not be shocked or surprised that people oppose you. When the church tried to stop cannibalism- it came at the cost of many missionaries. When the church tried to stop the gladiatorial killing in Rome- many opposed the work of the church. Opposition is not the same as blasphemy of the Spirit, but it is a step toward it and should give us pause. We need to be very, very careful about opposing the work of God.
Years ago the ministers of Darlington County were invited to the Darlington speedway- and I got to go. We saw two exact race cars side by side. A minister friend of mine was invited to get in one of the cars, and a race car driver got in the other. Both were given keys. They were told to start their engines when the light turned yellow. My minister friend was right on it- he tried to start the engine when the light turned yellow- but nothing happened. Then the race car driver started his- and the sound was deafening. Both cars looked alike. But the ministers car was a dummy back up- it had no engine in it! The Holy Spirit is the engine that makes us go- that energizes us to do His work. We should welcome the Spirit not resist the Spirit. We should seek to bear the fruit of the Spirit, not be afraid of the work of the Spirit. Instead of quenching, grieving, or blaspheming the Spirit- we should get in step with and be filled with the Spirit in our lives.