Archive for the ‘Unpardonable Sin’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 17, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Blind and Mute Man Possessed by Devils, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Good and Bad Fruit

SEPTEMBER 1, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 39:1-21 or Isaiah 43:16-25

Psalm 20

1 Corinthians 8

Matthew 12:22-37

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The timeless principle behind St. Paul the Apostle’s advice regarding food sacrificed to false gods in 1 Corinthians 8 is that Christian believers must conduct themselves so as to glorify God and distinguish themselves from unbelievers.  This need not devolve into Puritanical-Pietistic serial contrariness, such as that regarding “worldly amusements,” but does entail drawing people to God, who ended the Babylonian Exile.

Our Lord and Savior’s critics in Matthew 12:22-37 could not deny his miracles, some of which they had witnessed.  They sought to discredit Jesus, though.  They accused him of performing miracles via the power of Satan, prompting Christ to announce the one unpardonable sin:  blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is actually quite simple to grasp.  When one cannot distinguish between good and evil, one has placed oneself outside the grasp of forgiveness.  One has rejected God.  One bears bad fruit.

There can be a fine line between telling the truth and committing the sin of judging others falsely.  One must be aware of one’s sinful nature, and therefore proceed cautiously and humbly.  Nevertheless, one has a duty to issue moral statements at times.  One simply must not pretend to know everything or more than one does, at least.

Ego and social conditioning can warp one’s perspective.  I know this from harrowing historical-theological reading, such as theological defenses of chattel slavery then Jim Crow laws.  (I refer to primary sources.)  The desire to preserve one’s self-image has long led to perfidy, active and passive.

I am not immune from the negative influences of ego and social conditioning, the latter of which is not inherently all bad.  I too must pray for forgiveness for my moral blind spots.  I do so while seeking to recognize the image of God in others, especially those quite different from me.  I do so while acknowledging the obvious:  the Bible orders us hundreds of times to care for strangers.  I do so while seeking to define my ethics according to the standard of the Golden Rule.  In doing so I find that I must call violations of the Golden Rule what they are.  Therefore, people who support those violations of the Golden Rule are on the wrong side of it.  Yet they need not be.

May we bear good fruit for the glory of God.  May we, like Joseph in Genesis 39, do what is correct, especially when that is difficult and has negative consequences–in the case, incarceration.  May we bear good fruit for the glory of God, in all circumstances, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS GALLAUDET AND HENRY WINTER SYLE, EPISCOPAL PRIESTS AND EDUCATORS OF THE DEAF

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMADEUS OF CLERMONT, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND HIS SON, SAINT AMADEUS OF LAUSANNE, FRENCH-SWISS ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC BARBERI, ROMAN CATHOLIC APOSTLE TO ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VAN HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/good-and-bad-fruit-part-iii/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 17, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Appalachian Trail

Above:  The Appalachian Trail

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-13022

Devious Hearts and the Unpardonable Sin

SEPTEMBER 2, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 17:5-18

Psalm 17

Matthew 12:22-32

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my enemies who surround me to take away my life….

Arise, Lord; confront them and cast them down;

deliver me from the wicked by your sword.

–Psalm 17:8-9, 13, Common Worship (2000)

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That Psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah shared the sentiment.

Let my persecutors be shamed,

And let not me be shamed;

Let them be dismayed,

And let not me be dismayed.

Bring on them the day of disaster,

And shatter them with double destruction.

–Jeremiah 17:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That reminds me of some of my prayers at severe periods of my life.  I am glad to report truthfully that I never arrived at the spiritual place of Psalm 137:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Verses 8 and 9, Common Worship (2000)

To be fair, some people were trying to kill Jeremiah.  And, regarding Psalm 137, vengeance is an emotion common to oppressed people.  Revenge is a seductive spiritual toxin.

Today we have readings about enemies and rejection.  YHWH, speaking in Jeremiah 17:11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures), says:

Most devious is the heart;

It is perverse–who can fathom it?

I the LORD probe the heat,

Search the mind–

To repay every man according to his ways,

With the proper fruit of his deeds.

This brings me to the lesson from Matthew.  In the Hellenistic world the widespread assumption regarding the causation of a variety of disorders and diseases was demonic possession.  Thus, most (if not all) of the demoniacs in the New Testament actually had conditions with down-to-earth causes–biological or just too much stress.  Brain science, which tells us much in 2014, did not exist two thousand years ago.  In fact, modern science is only about five hundred years old.  Nobody should, therefore, expect the Bible to function as a scientific text or a psychological or medical diagnostic manual.  Anyone who does is pursuing a fool’s errand.

Jesus, in his cultural context, conducted what people called exorcisms of “evil spirits” which had caused everything from epilepsy to multiple personalities.  In his cultural context this demonstrated power over evil itself.  Jesus, in his cultural context, faced opposition from people as being of divine origin.  Therefore they preferred to say (if not believe wholeheartedly) that he cast out demons by the power of Satan–a statement ridiculous inside its cultural context.  Their sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–was being unable to tell the difference between good and evil when good stood in front of them and performed great and mighty acts.  Theirs was a voluntary spiritual blindness.

Why did they do it?  Perhaps they were so attached to their social status and religious traditions that admitting that which was manifest in their presence was the genuine article proved threatening.  At stake were matters of identity and livelihood, after all, and Jesus, by his mere presence, called those into question.  His words and deeds constituted even more of a threat.  So these Pharisaic opponents in the reading from Matthew decided to pursue an illogical and spiritually dangerous course.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–a sin which requires much effort to commit–is the unpardonable sin because it is deliberate spiritual blindness.  For most of us all our sins flow from either ignorance or weakness.  We either do not know that what we do or do not do is wrong (perhaps due to cultural programming) or, like St. Paul the Apostle, we know what is right yet discover that we are too weak to do it.  In these cases we are either blind spiritually because of what others have taught us or we have clear vision of the moral variety.  But to see clearly in the moral sense, recognize intellectually that good is present, and choose to call it evil because that is the convenient course of action is worse.  One might even lie to oneself and persuade oneself that good is evil.  And how is one supposed to follow God then?

Following God can prove difficult under the best of circumstances.  It is possible by grace, however.  May each of us be willing to cooperate with God in the path God has established.  When God points to an area of spiritual blindness, may we accept the correction.  Such a walk with God will entail times of discomfort, but that is part of the growth process.  Our identity ought to be in God.  Our chief end, the Westminster Catechisms tell us correctly, is to enjoy and glorify God forever.  The specifics of pursuing that goal properly will vary from person to person.  May we support each other in our journeys.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devious-hearts-and-the-unpardonable-sin/

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Devotion for October 27 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Domenico_Fetti_001

Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servant, by Domenico Fetti

Image in the Public Domain

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XVIII:  Forgiveness, Divine and Human

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 29:1-29

Psalm 110 (Morning)

Psalms 66 and 23 (Evening)

Matthew 18:21-35

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God demanded complete fidelity in Deuteronomy 29.  Hence there was no forgiveness for the sin of idolatry, turning away from the covenant.  If I understand the Hebrew Scriptures correctly, idolatry led to destruction, which mercy usually followed.  The consequences of actions played out; that constituted judgment.  Then God granted the surviving remnant another chance.  And, if I understand the New Testament correctly, the only unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  In textual context the unpardonable sin is the inability to distinguish good from evil.  Perhaps blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and the abandonment of the covenant are the same thing.

I, as a student of the Scriptures, detect recurring themes.  One of them is that God’s forgiveness of our sins depends partially on our forgiveness of those who have wronged us.  As God forgives us, we ought to forgive others.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will you be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible

In the parable from Matthew 18 the forgiven servant had no way of repaying the enormous debt.  Yet he refused to forgive smaller debts owed to him.  So his former creditor, the king, did to him (the servant) what the servant had done to others.

Forgive us the wrong we have done,

as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.

–Matthew 6:12, The Revised English Bible

then

For, if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

–Matthew 6:14-15, The Revised English Bible

The paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989) contains the following line:

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.—page 181

I like the verb “absorb” in context.  We ought not to carry those hurts around like luggage.  Yes, they will inform us.  We might remember them for a long time, but they need not transform into grudges.

I have struggled with forgiving others.  I still do.  Yes, I have the free will (sometimes) to forgive those who have sinned against me, but letting go is oddly more difficult than hanging on to those grievances.  Yet letting go leads to a lighter spiritual load.

Fortunately, grace is present and abundant.  I feel like St. Paul the Apostle:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible

At least one who has that struggle is not committing the unpardonable sin.  Having a spiritual struggle is not necessarily negative; it might even be mostly positive, for it can lead to a stronger state.

I recall confessing a particular sin–inability to forgive despite my knowledge of the imperative of doing so—to my priest, Beth Long, once.  People—some perfidious—have wronged me.  Beth counseled me to forgive myself.  The trauma would wash out of my spiritual system in time and I would, by grace, find the ability to forgive.  Those men’s deeds were perfidious; forgiving them did not change what they did.  But it did change me.

We human beings are weak, but at least we do not need to rely on our strength to do what God has called us to do and to become what God has called us to become.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 8, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF DAME JULIAN OF NORWICH, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY AND THE SONS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER OF TARENTAISE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/deuteronomy-and-matthew-part-xviii-forgiveness-divine-and-human/

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