Mark 3 and Unforgiveable Sin

The following sermon was preached by Andrew Kuhl at Wine Before Breakfast on March 14, 2023

Unforgiveable Sin…

I want you to imagine for a moment, a list of things that you think God will not forgive. Maybe the list that you had in mind before hearing today’s reading.

There are many things that we might think are unforgiveable. Violence, Neglect, Destruction of the planet, or maybe leaving the milk bag empty in the milk jug and leaving it in the fridge. Or forgetting to put your dishes back in the dishwasher. You know the Big things that grieve us deeply.

I don’t know what you imagined, but I want you to hold onto that list for a bit and we will re-examine it, in the perspective from our reading today.

Today in our Gospel Reading, Jesus makes it abundantly clear,

“I speak from my heart, humankind will be released from all their wrongdoing and evil speaking, but whoever speaks evil of the Holy Spirit will not be released. This wrongdoing will follow them into the world to come and to the end of all days.” Mark 3:28-29 (First Nations Version)

“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.” Mark 3:28-29 NRSV

That is the extensive list of unforgiveable sins.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

How many of you had that on your list?

And maybe it isn’t one that comes across our minds very often, because we approach it with the sense of as long as I don’t bad mouth the Spirit, or if I keep a reasonable amount of skepticism about the revival in Asbury, and hedge my bets about the Super Bowl advertisements and who is sponsoring them, and as long as I don’t curse her in my mind. Then, I am not really blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Or it perhaps feels a bit absurd. An accusation of a thought crime, one that can provoke a significant amount of anxiety if we don’t understand it properly, because Who doesn’t have doubts and who wouldn’t speak against the Spirit before they know God.

But I think it is more than that.

This saying is important enough to be here in our Gospel passage, and it appears in both Luke and Matthew. And in other early church writings (like the Didake and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas). Which suggests it is likely something that Jesus actually said. (If you get the Historical Jesus society to vote with their coloured beads on the veracity and it would probably be fairly high chances of an original Jesus saying).

So unfortunately this morning we need to think about what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit because it is listed as the thing that is unforgiveable.

And to be honest, I can unpack the words: Blasphemy is to profane or speak sacrilegiously, to treat as not set apart or to treat the Holy Spirit as a force of evil.

And the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The one who Sanctifies us, She who empowers us with gifts to live out our faith, to draw us into relationship with the Creator and the Son.

And in the context of the passage it should make some sense, Satan doesn’t stand against Satan, and nor does the Trinity work in contrary ways to themselves.

But that only gets us so far. And then I am left with the mystery of the text. Because it isn’t super clear what it means for us: as followers of Jesus, as people pursuing the reign of God.

So when I get stuck in scripture, I turn to two places: 1) To related pieces of scripture (To see what connects and if it clarifies) and 2) to the documents of tradition, to hear alongside of what they are hearing in Scripture.

So my mind, Went to looking at the 10 Commandments, and I noticed something in the Exodus account that I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe you know the 10 commandments: No other Gods, No Idols, Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, Keep the Sabbath, Honour your parents, Don’t Murder, Don’t commit Adultery, Don’t Steal, Don’t bear false testimony, Don’t Covet.

Maybe your list had one or two of these as unforgiveable?

But in our simplification, we miss some of the detail that is there in the Exodus passage where God gives this Covenant to the people they rescued from Egypt, and Loves and is longing to bind themself to this people through this agreement.

And It’s the third one on that list that jumped off the page when I was reading through it. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. The passage reads like this:

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses [their] name.” (Exodus 20:7)

God will not acquit them, God will not find them guiltless. The person who makes a wrong use, or takes the name of God in vain, will be found unforgiven.

That is one Parallel that we will hold onto for a moment…

But let’s seek some wisdom from another voice.

A North African, Theologian, Bishop, and pastor, has an exceptionally helpful sermon on a parallel passage to this gospel in Matthew. (Augustine writes out his sermon, and I will admit that I took some inspiration from him in case you thought this was a bit of mental gymnastics, he says that “[God’s] will indeed was to exercise us by the difficulty of the question.” (paragraph 10 Sermon XXI). )

Where Augustine lands on the idea of unforgiveable sin is that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that is being talked about is an impenitent heart. A heart that is turned away from its need for repentance, turned away from the need for grace. That is the state that is outside of forgiveness because it does not truly accept it.

So these three snippets:

  • A heart that doesn’t see the need for repentance.
  • Taking God’s Name in Vain.
  • And Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

These three things together bring the question and us into a better focus of what is unforgiveable.

Let’s come back to those lists of unforgiveable things for a moment because we all possibly had the cruellest forms of violence and misuse of power as unforgiveable: And yet our Gospel seems to say that even those are forgiveable. (Of course this is the scandalous nature of Grace!) But those things might actually have elements of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. (Though we should not be quick to judge those things as outside of the realm of repentance!).

But what is not forgivable is blaspheming the Holy Spirit and it is better for us to read it closer to home to read that for ourselves first:

Perhaps it is like the Philip Yancy story that Brenda sent around. It is when we persist in doing that which is wrong, “trusting in God’s grace” but never working to change our lives because God will just forgive us.

And eventually we stop looking for grace?

It is the story of how we move to an unrepentant heart.

To live claiming that Covenant, that God has bound themself to us, in the giving of the law, in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and God has acted to save us and will act again, And yet we continue living in a way that dishonours that law or that covenant. Continue to dishonour that relationship.

That’s taking the Lord’s name in vain. Living as God’s people without honouring the covenant given to us. Living as though that relationship is not important.

Because it is a life that cheapens the grace that we are offered. And actually, as long as we persist in treating that grace as not significant we just continue in that path.

And maybe that is what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

To live in such a way that we treat that grace,

Salvation too lightly,

Sanctification too ordinary, too profane.

That if we are honest about what it is saying, it is actually blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

And here is the good news. If it is abiding in that way of life, that attitude of our heart, that act of living blasphemy, that we continue to refuse the grace offered to us, and the opportunity to be sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. Then we are living unforgiven. We are living without that reality of God’s grace being real and present in our lives.

And in turning, in returning, we find that God is still patient, and gracious, and merciful because God longs for us to be in relationship with them—for our own good, and for the good of the world around us. That grace that we receive in forgiveness, actually frees us to be transformed by the Holy Spirit to live in a way that seeks the reign of God, marked by justice, and goodness, and life in its fullness.

And it is good news, because God’s Grace is capable of transforming even our hardness of heart, if we are willing to return to our God and be open to being changed.

Amen.

Source: Augustine of Hippo: Sermon XXI https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160321.htm

Brian Walsh’s (much-delayed) Retirement Party and 70th Birthday Bash!

You can watch the event via youtube: Brian Walsh’s Retirement and 70th Birthday Party – YouTube

The following is the liturgy for the service:

The Christian Reformed campus ministry past and present is delighted to co-host Brian Walsh’s long-awaited and much-delayed Retirement Party. And we’re throwing in a birthday bash to make the event more fun!

When and Where 
7 p.m. on Friday, April 21 at Church of The Redeemer (162 Bloor St. W) 

What to Expect
A Wine Before Breakfast – style service of Thanksgiving followed by a Light Potluck and speeches.
You are invited to BYOB and an appetizer to share after the service. 
There will be an offering taken with proceeds going to the campus ministry.

Who is Invited
All current and former participants of Wine Before Breakfast and Graduate Christian Fellowship, along with supporters and friends of Brian Walsh and the campus ministry. 
 
Books!

We’ll have copies of A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh, as well as Habakkuk Before Breakfast and St. John Before Breakfast available for you to purchase, with proceeds going to the ministry.  

We hope you can make it! 

Living with hope,
Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink, CRC Campus Minister,
on behalf of the campus ministry committee and staff

Sin: A sermon (or why many Protestants need a better theology of sin)

The following sermon was preached by Michael Buttrey at Wine Before Breakfast on March 28, 2023, as part of our series on sin. He looks at James 1:12-15 and 1 John 5:14-17

Three years ago, I started to think there’s something weird with how Protestants talk about sin. I was at a pub west of here, and we were discussing what we do with theologians like John Howard Yoder, who abused his power to assault and harass dozens of women. The conversation was a struggle, in part because a professor insisted that “we’re all sinners.”

I’ve been thinking about that comment ever since. It’s true: all human beings are sinners. But in the context of that pub conversation, it was unhelpful. To see why, imagine a friend was telling you their child was sick and you replied that everyone dies eventually. True, yes, but in context you’re saying they shouldn’t care so much about their child. It’s cruelty disguised as insight.

Since then I’ve been looking for sources that understand sin differently. I don’t have a comprehensive theology of sin or anything like it; just a couple of ideas I’d like to share with you.

First, consider First John. I wasn’t very familiar with this letter, and I don’t think people preach on it as much as Paul’s letters. Reading it, you can understand why: it’s kind of a mess, and there’s some harsh and apocalyptic imagery in it.

There’s also a lot about sin, or broken ways as our translation puts it. In chapter 1 the author affirms that everyone has broken ways, saying that we call our Creator a liar if we claim not to have sinned. But in chapter 2 he says that he is writing so that we will not walk a path of broken ways – in other words, that we “may not sin.” Interesting, that.

Later in chapter 5 sin comes up again. In the passage read for us, the author says “you might see a sacred family member walking in a broken way that does not end in death. You should pray and that person will be given life.” Ok, great. Pray for other people when they’ve gone astray, got it. But then: “There is a broken way that ends with death. If that is so, prayer will not help.” What? Prayer doesn’t always help? And finally: “All who do wrong walk in broken ways, but not all broken ways end in death.”

If you’re a Protestant, your alarm bells may be going off. If not, here’s another translation of the last verse: “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” Ding ding ding! Non-Protestant doctrine detected. This text seems to be suggesting that some sins are deadly, and some aren’t. Eugh!

Actually many Christians through the ages, even notable Protestant Martin Luther, made distinctions between what they called mortal or deadly and venial or non-deadly sins. However, the distinction has fallen out of fashion since 16th century theologian and influencer John Calvin attacked it, calling it “absurd” and “an insult to God.”

Now to be fair to Calvin, I think his purpose in attacking distinctions between sins was to emphasize how God’s mercy is great enough to pardon any sin. Thomas Aquinas makes a similar point about this passage: we can’t reliably tell how deadly people’s sins are, so we shouldn’t deny anyone the help of prayer. I agree!

We can also rightly worry that making distinctions can risk self-righteousness. Remember Jesus’ parable where a Pharisee thanks God that he’s not like that tax collector? Distinguishing between mortal and venial sins can easily turn into the classic game of “my sins are venial, your sins are mortal.”

At the same time, I think there are practical contexts where we need to make judgements. For example, I know of a couple churches that consider the offence of “publicly criticizing church leader” to be worse than “sexual harassment.” Personally, I think that’s completely backwards. But the solution, I’d suggest, isn’t to abolish all distinctions, but to make better ones.

Even in the most progressive community, there will come a time when someone may need to be excluded for everyone’s safety. If so, that decision had better be based on careful distinctions, not just what the leaders personally find annoying.

Another role for distinctions may be in our own spiritual development. For example, in my own life, should I be more concerned about laziness and sloth? Or wishing ill on people I don’t like? Are those exactly, equally bad for the health of my soul? This passage doesn’t answer this question, but it does suggest there are reasons for different levels of concern.

Turning now to our other passage. James is a famously rigorous letter, and the comments on sin are no exception. However, notice the progression here. In the passage read, James discusses temptation, and argues against the idea that the Great Spirit is responsible for tempting us. Rather, James says we tempt ourselves when we are lured and enticed by our desires. Then, when an evil desire takes root in our hearts, it gives birth to broken ways, or sin. Finally, when these broken ways have taken over, they drag us down a path that leads to… death.

Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? But notice how the word “when” is repeated 3 times. This happens in stages. Sin doesn’t arise out of nowhere, take over our hearts, and immediately doom us to death for breaking God’s law. It’s a process, which means it can be interrupted.

If you haven’t already removed the battery from it, I bet your Protestant alarm is going off again. Am I suggesting sin can just be avoided?

Well no – and yes. The problem is that discussions about sin happen on at least two different levels, or contexts. On one level, capital S sin can’t be avoided. Everyone sins. On another level, there’s evidence certain lowercase sins can be avoided. After all, the murder rate varies enormously between individuals: most people commit 0 murders, some commit 1, and a few, many.

The confusion between these levels arises in part because theologians are generally concerned with big picture questions, like why do human beings sin? Why does humanity need redemption? The answer is usually doctrines like the Fall, and maybe also free will, depending on the theologian.

But for me, my most urgent questions are more personal. Why are some people impatient with their spouses, and others are serial sexual predators? Can I avoid certain serious sins? Why am I tempted in this particular way? Is it even possible to become a better person?

The doctrine of the fall doesn’t answer these personal questions. Neither does the idea of free will, except to say “try harder.” Trusting in Jesus is certainly helpful, definitely a good idea, but also kind of mysterious.

Nowadays people are more likely to ask their therapist such personal questions than their priest. And that’s fine, I’m not sure I’d want to tell my priest all my problems, and they definitely don’t have enough time to listen to mine and everyone else’s. But even though the authors of the New Testament weren’t psychologists, they had insights into the human person, and they were interested in these questions. Thus, any good theology of sin should reflect these very scriptural nuances.

So let’s return to the text. One thing I really appreciate about the First Nations Version is how it uses the phrase “broken ways” for sin. In the context of our passages, that phrase suggests to me that sin is like a journey – “walking in broken ways.” But on a journey you can stop, change course, turn around. You don’t have to keep walking brokenly.

James makes the same point with the three stages of sin. Yes, desires can entice us, but they don’t have to take root in our hearts. Or even if they take root, broken ways don’t have to take us over. The progressive process can be interrupted at each point. And not just out of our own willpower – maybe, as 1 John suggests, it’ll be because someone is praying for us.

Now, you may find the idea of making distinctions between sins and examining your desires exhausting. If so, I get it. Life is already full of demands, and I don’t want to add any more burdens to your journey. The good news – and it is good news – is that you don’t need to understand sin in order to be redeemed from it.

But if you want to better understand the broken ways in our world, I think there’s some real resources out there – in psychology, ethics, theology and even the Bible. All we need to explore them is to turn off that Protestant alarm for a bit.

Amen.

Prayers for Mark 3

The following prayers were written by Matthijs for the March 14 service at Wine Before Breakfast that focused on the end of Mark 3.

Dear God, we turn to you, as we come to this shore.
You brought us here.
Your boat is ready.
A sea of people stands around us.
Yet we are alone, and afraid.
To you we pray, dear God:
Send your Spirit and save us.
[Silent and spoken prayers for the church, as we know it]

Dear God, for a while we may bask in your light
and hear your voice.
Nourish the growing seed in our hearts.
But soon, we fear, the storm will break.
Its clouds fill our horizon.
The punishment for our sins
and the failings of our generation
bear down on us like a flood.
And we are still alone.
To you we pray, dear God,
Send your Spirit and make us one.
[Prayers for the world in which we live.]

Dear God, 
Demons have entered our sanctuaries,
despoiled our houses, divided our families.
Guilt, despair, and corruption infest our nations,
our screens, and our minds.
There is no health in us.
Dear God, you who gave Jesus the power
to bind the strong man,
you forgive our sins and prepare for us a table.
To you we pray: send your Spirit and set us free.
[Prayers for schools and universities.]

Dear God, you who are truth and word and spirit,
you know the tasks we are given to accomplish;
our efforts at sowing and our hope of a harvest.
You observe our exhaustion and our tiredness.
To you we pray, dear God:
Refresh our minds
with your love and wisdom and grace.
Make us your true scroll keepers, 
bringing words and questions that engage and support.
[Prayers for our own intentions and our loved ones.]

Dear God, dear Spirit of Consolation, 
you who fill this house with your presence,
To you we pray, in the name of Jesus your Son
who brings us together:
give us strength this day for our journey.
Carry us forward by your mercy
into your promised kingdom. Amen.

Prayers for Wisdom

The following prayer was written by Alicia for the February 28 WBB service focusing on Proverbs 10 and sin.

Living God, we come to you in this season of Lent.
Thank you for this period of time,
when we hear your invitation to be honest 
about the sin in our lives, and to turn to you.
Lord, teach us to number our days,
and give us hearts of wisdom.

Through your Son’s life,
You gave us an example of how to live wisely.
Through his death,
you reconciled us to you and to one another,
making it possible for us to grow in mature wisdom.

In a world with many distractions,
we need your help to speak rightly,
act honestly, and live our lives in wholeness.
Lord, teach us to number our days,
and give us hearts of wisdom

We confess:
we are often very quick to speak,
and slow to listen,
going the opposite way
from what your Word teaches us.

We face the temptation to act
without honesty and integrity,
protecting ourselves at the expense of others 
in our relationships and our responsibilities.

We often find it too hard to persevere
in discipline and justice,
failing to live out habits of real flourishing 
for ourselves and the communities around us.
Lord, give us your heart of wisdom.

[Silence for confession and self-examination]

We pray during this season for those who speak 
in the city and the university: 
politicians, journalists, writers, and many others.
Help them to consider their speech carefully,
to stop and listen often, 
and to choose words that build others up 
and open new pathways.

[Prayers silent and spoken for God’s influence on speech 
in the public square]

We pray for those in positions of leadership,
especially where there is money involved.
We ask for leaders in all areas of public life 
who will embody integrity and transparency.
Help them and us to place a high value 
on honest dealing and justice in all we do.

[Prayers silent and spoken for leaders in UofT and Toronto]

We pray for the students on this campus and around the city,
that you would give them the desire 
and ability to pursue disciplined, life-giving habits,
in their studies and in all of life.
Shape them and us into people of freedom 
and hope in how we live day to day.

[Prayers silent and spoken for students 
and others seeking the right way of life]

Holy God,
we know that your ways are the path of life.
We need your help to grow in wisdom,
and your grace when we lack it.

We look to the example of your Son Jesus,
and the holy, wholly human life he lived.
Make us more like Jesus in our speech,
our thoughts, and our actions.

Lord, walk with us on the path of life.
Amen.

The Messiness of Wisdom and Sin

The following sermon was preached by Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink at Wine Before Breakfast on February 28.

I find this text from Proverbs both intriguing and confusing. And even though I’ll look with you at some of the text in the sermon, I’m not sure this will clear up all the confusion. Nor do I think it should. I think that the confusion is a fitting part of the book of Proverbs and wisdom in literature in general. We live in a world that is complicated and confusing, and even though we might crave simple answers, we can find comfort in how this text relates well to the messiness of real life.

Proverbs often give practical wisdom, providing examples of how “if you do a certain thing, then this is usually what will happen.” In this particular text, the focus is on how we speak and the gaining of riches. The text says multiple times that hard work and righteousness will lead to riches. For example, verse 4 says that “the hand of the diligent makes rich,” and verse 3 says that “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry.” And verse 22 says that “The blessing of the Lord makes rich.”

Yet, I doubt any of us here would have difficulty finding counterexamples to these words. The poor are often hard working: stuck with long hours and unreasonable shifts in order simply to make ends meet. And there are many who exploit the poor, through renovictions, price-gouging, and questionable labour practices. The riches they have gained from these practices are surely not because of the Lord’s blessing.

There are ways to explain away the difficulties of the text. If you look at the translation by Cal Seerveld (see end of this), you’ll notice that he’s put certain verses in quotation marks. Verses 4 and 5 are seen to be quotes of what people usually say: how diligence brings wealth. Such words can be a helpful lesson to a child but they can easily become false, too quickly reinforcing the lie of the American dream: that our effort alone gets us anywhere, forgetting that our privilege, whether from race, education, class, able-bodiedness, or something else is at least as much a reason for our success as any of our own effort.

Another quotation in the translation in the back is verse 16, where we are reminded of how “possessions are not a citadel of strength to a person of wealth!” Only righteousness brings life. Ultimately, as verse 22 says, only the Lord’s blessings make the righteous rich, and from our own experience, we know that those riches are not necessarily worldly wealth.

While I believe all that I have said so far in interpreting these texts is true, I also find these explanations a bit too simple. And I think the text itself warns against explanations that are too simple. There is something disconcerting but also challenging in how a text that focuses so much on riches and righteousness also focuses significantly on deceit and lying lips. And in that juxtaposition I am struck by how easy it can be to lie to ourselves: to think we have a right understanding so that we don’t make space for the further instruction that might lead to life, as verse 11 and 17 suggest.

As someone who is personally not that tempted by riches and who has spent time thinking about and coming to terms with my own privilege, there’s not that much enticing to me to believe the lie that my own efforts have brought about my own happy middle-class existence.

However, as someone who deeply wants to be affirmed by others, I can easily be tempted by the lie that hard effort and productivity is the same as goodness and righteousness. This is a variation of what verses 4 and 5 in the text seem to say – that diligence brings rewards. And that effort and hard work are in themselves completely good. Such an idea also corresponds to how society around us often sees procrastination as the worst sin today [cf. David Zahl, Seculosity]

I think that those of us in academia and ministry – jobs where our work hours are unusual and where our efforts are for the greater good – to help others – can be especially tempted by this lie of how my worth is tied up in my work and what I produce. After all, doesn’t the Lord bless the work of the righteous?

Yes, and. As the last part of verse 22 says “all your troubled struggle doesn’t add a bit to it.” Our efforts bring nothing.

I find these words deeply humbling. All this work that I invest so much time and energy into – and then this verse says the Lord blesses the righteousness despite all the work we do.

Such words humble me and help me recognize how easy it can be to deceive ourselves, to convince ourselves that we know how to interpret the texts and thus know what wisdom is. There are certainly better ways of living that lead to flourishing and doing well. But there is no perfect formula to succeed or even avoid sin: it is not a simple “do this and all will be good.” Sin is slippery, like the lips that bring about deceit.

When it comes to sin and wisdom, we can easily fall into thinking that if I only do this, then all will be good. If only I would try harder, or if my situation changed and it was an easier season, or if only those other people would act better, or whatever words you use to convince yourself that all be well. And the worse part about sin is that, just like wisdom, it acts a bit like Heisenbergers uncertainty principle: if we try too hard to define exactly what wisdom looks like, we are likely to have lost sight of what wisdom really is, reducing it to something simple that doesn’t reflect the messy reality of life around us.

Yet, despite knowing how ineffective it is to simplify what it looks to live wisely and avoid sin, we will always be tempted to do it. Perhaps it’s a desire for control over our lives. Perhaps it’s because we’re so often right, and we forget about how easy it is also to be wrong. Perhaps it’s to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. There are so many reasons that it’s not possible to name them all.

A couple of years ago, I spent a season studying sin. Because you know, I’m a pastor for university folks, and I like talking about hard things. We looked at Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s book, Glittering Vices, on the 7 deadly sins. I deeply appreciated how she talked about the complexity of sin and even how situational it is, just like wisdom. Each of us has different things that tempt us. It can be easy to look down on those who are tempted to things that are not attractive to us, and it is easy to dismiss the sins we have in ourselves. Studying the enneagram is another way of understanding the complexity of sin. You discover your type often by identifying how you’ve tried to address your deepest longings in unhealthy ways.

As I came to understand how complex sin is, it gave me hope.

It became more obvious that I was never going to live the life of wisdom that I could deceive myself into pretending that I was one step away from.

I did not need to compare myself to others because I wasn’t the same as them – and God wasn’t interested in my holiness comparison.

Instead, I could dump my messy failed self in front of God. Because even if sin is deeply complex, God’s response to our sins is not. God’s response is grace and love. A response of love that we see through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. A response of love that we remember each time we do the Eucharist, each time we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit.

These wisdom texts and any conversation on sin ought to invite us to know ourselves well, to look and see sin for the ugliness it is. And God encourages us to live wisely, as a way not to harm ourselves or others.

But ultimately such study isn’t so that we can try to become better but to look to God – and recognize the truth of verse 12 of the text – that love covers a multiple of sins. Or as the translation from Cal Seerveld says, “love dresses all kinds of misdeeds with clothes.”

And as we talked about earlier this semester, it is God who clothes us. The love of God doesn’t simply cover up and hide the shame or guilt that we might have from our sins and how we continue to do things that we wish we didn’t. Instead God’s love heals our wounds and washes us clean. And then God clothes us, the same way God clothed Adam and Eve as they left the garden. Because of God’s love, we are clothed with Christ, and so as Colossians 3:10-11 says, “we have stripped off the old self with its practices, and are now clothed with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of our Creator.” God’s love covers the whole multitude of all of our sins, and we can trust that God’s love will continue to work in and through us now and forever.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 10:1-22 – Cal Seerveld’s Translation

1 A wise son or daughter makes a father or mother’s heart merry,
and an insolent, godless child breaks its parent’s heart to pieces.

2 Treasures gotten by underhanded dealings are of no use at all:
doing what is rightly just, however, saves you from death!

3 The Lord God Yahweh never lets a man or a woman who is actually righteous stay hungry,
but God rams the greedy desire of those who like to cut corners right back [down their throats]!

4 “A negligent empty hand brings on poverty:
the grip of the diligent makes one rich.”
5 “A fellow ho gathers in at harvest time knows what he is doing:
a fellow who oversleeps at harvest time is simply disgraceful!”

6 Genuine blessings halo the head of whoever come through with just deeds,
while the mouth of people who don’t act straight casts up a smokescreen over deeds that violate others.
7 The person who has persevered in doing what is just will be remembered as a gift of shalom,
while the good name of those who have been guilty of crookedness shall decompose.

8 A person who is at heart wise simply carries out [his or her] tasks:
it’s the pair of slipper lips that will be smashed to bits.
9 “Who walks in wholesome ways will walk securely unafraid:
who chooses his paths to be twisty will be discovered [tied in knots],”
10 An eye that blinks the double-crossing wink makes bitter trouble;
[I repeat:] it’s the pair of slippery lips that will be smashed to bits!
11 The mouth of folk kept truly just is a bubbling source of life;
while the mouth of people who don’t act straight [I repeat] casts up a smoke-screen over deeds that violate others.

12 Hate rouses bickering, blistering discontent,
while love dresses all kinds of rebellious misdeeds with clothes.

13 You will find wisdom on the lips of an experienced, discerning person,
but “You need a stick for the backside of anybody who at heart lacks sense.”
14 Judicious men and wisdom women are thrifty with hard-won knowledge,
but blockhead babblings are pregnant with disaster:
15 “Possessions are a citadel of strength to a man of wealth.
It’s poverty that ruins the poor –
16 [No!] the handiwork and wages of a tried-and-true man or woman is full of life,
but the income of a crooked fellow only increases his or her sin.
17 When one faithfully follows a nurturing discipline, you are on a pathway of life;
but to pay no attention to corrective judgments will leave you wandering around lost!

18 Lips of deceit conceal hate,
and whoever spreads gossip is a godless, insolent fool;
19 Wherever there is too much talk, the upstart misdeed will not fail to materialize –
whoever is more chary of his or her lip movements has more sense.
20 The tongue of a tried-and-true woman or man is as valuable as the choicest silver,
while the heart of connivers is worth next to nothing.
21 The lips of the tried-and-true woman or man will nourish many [to new life!]
Stupidly closed fools, however, because they lack sense at heart, drop dead!
22 It is only the Lord God Yahweh’s blessing that makes one rich:
all your troubled struggle doesn’t add a bit to it.
Pages 194-5 in Reading and Hearing the Word (1998)

Learning to live with limitations

This year we have spent some time thinking about disability justice at both Graduate Christian Fellowship and Wine Before Breakfast. In doing so, we have focused on learning from those with disabilities. One lesson we have learning is about how good and holy it is to live within our limitations as human beings.

One source of learning has come from Amy Kenny’s book, My Body is not a Prayer Request. We have joined a number of Christian Reformed churches in doing a book club on the book. You can also watch a video of her presentation at the Calvin University January Series.

We have also been listening to the voices of people who have a disability. One example of that is Hannah’s preaching at Wine Before Breakfast on God as disabled.

One final possible source of learning is a talk by Jane Grizzle, “The Grief and Gift of Bodily Limitations.” While the focus is more on injury and illness, it highlights our relationship with our bodies and the goodness of learning to acknowledge our limitations. The talk can be listened to here or read here. The following are a few quotes from the talk to give you a sense of the presentation:

Her friend who is a counselor told her that ” without fail, if her clients talk about their bodies, they cry every time. It is a place of great vulnerability.”

“Illness and injury require us to slow down, to take a different path, to rest. In some ways, these limitations are a spotlight on our priorities. And when we are forced to slow down and take a look at our lives, what we see may not be pretty. Limits are another word for interruptions or dead ends. When I think about times in my life when I have hit one of these limits, I dislike them for one of three reasons: they are humbling, they are isolating, and they are disorienting.”

“In his book, Being Human, Rowan Williams writes that if we believe we are in charge of our selves and our bodies:

[We] drift towards a steady expectation that the best relationship you can be in to the world is control. The best place to be is a place where you can never be surprised. We want to control what’s strange and we want to control what doesn’t fall under our immediate power. We’re uneasy with limits that we can’t get beyond because limits, of whatever kind, remind us that there are some things that are just going to be strange and difficult wherever we are and however hard we work at them.

[But acknowledging our limits exposes something very true about us]: “we depend on what is not ours, what is not us, our will, our hope, our achievements…Christians are adopted into a dependent relationship to that which Jesus calls, Abba, Father.”

Prayers for Michigan State

Please pray for the students, faculty, staff, and all others affected by Monday evening’s shooting at Michigan State University. We ask that you specifically pray for the campus ministers, including Dara, who works with a Christian Reformed campus ministry similar to what we have here in Toronto.

To help give you words to pray, the following are prayers provided by the CRC’s Do Justice website:

“On February 13, 2023, a mass shooter at Michigan State University in East Lansing killed three students, and injured five more. The gunman later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when he was confronted by police off campus.

Jesus you are with the wounded, the anguished, the broken-hearted. That is where you’ve said you’ll be and that is where we find you. Where the wages of sin, of indifference, of violence and despair are truly brought to bear on your creation is where you are. Be present and tangible to those grieving loss of love, and the loss of their safety and help the community heal and support one another. 

Lord, in a country where going to the theatre, the grocery store, a dance club, to work, to a prayer meeting or to school as a kindergartener or a university student could be a death sentence, may the fear and terror of living not rule us.  But make us able to see clearly.  

How Long is a question we ask knowing that there are things we could do but haven’t. How long till those words do not ring hollow?

God as disabled

The following are excerpts from a sermon given at WBB on January 31 by Hannah, a writer, MFA student, and regular participant at GCF.

“In John 20, Jesus has to prove himself wounded. Despite being raised from the dead, he still bears the wounds of crucifixion – the ones Thomas could see and maybe some of the he couldn’t.”

“What does it mean that Jesus was still injured after being resurrected? After ascending into heaven? It means he was human. His body was fallible. He was like me and you. Able-bodiedness is only temporary. If you’re not disabled now, you will either become disabled or die first. Jesus did both.”

“What I take from this passage [John 20], from Jesus as a Disabled God, is that I don’t need to be healed to be forgiven. I do not need to be healed to be liberated. I am not a symbol of salvation. I am someone that needs to be liberated by removing barriers.”

“I would challenge you to consider how disabled people around you are invited into leadership and participation… How are we enabled to lead, speak, and offer our gifts, whatever they may be. One way would be to have information available online that details the physical and verbal specifics of worship, and the specificities of accessibility, so we can ‘stroll’ in just as confident to be there as anyone else, knowing that we are in a community that affirms that we do not need to be cured or fixed to be accepted.”

As quoted by Hannah: “In presenting his impaired hands and feet to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God. Jesus, the resurrected Savior, calls for his frightened companions to recognize in the marks of impairment their own connection with God, their own salvation. In so doing, this disabled God is also the revealer of a new humanity. The disabled God is not only the One from heaven but the revelation of true personhood, underscoring the reality that full personhood is fully compatible with the experience of disability.” Nancy L Eisland, The Disabled God (100)

Cross-posted on our Instagram account.

Prayers of the People – Unity and kingship

The following prayers were used at the Wine Before Breakfast service on January 24. They are adapted from the Prayers of Intercession in the resources from Ecumenical week of prayer. The opening section is adapted from The Abingdon Worship Annual 2012 (by Mary Scifres) and the closing section from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers.

O God, our King and Creator,
forgive us when we try to make you in our image;
forgive us when we turn to earthly rulers
for the wisdom and strength
you have already shown us.
Fulfill your purpose in us,
that we may be your people,
your temples upon this earth,
your partners in love and mercy.

Creator God,
today we live with the consequences of actions
that have made life unsustainable for some
and overabundant for others.
Teach us how to responsibly use
the resources you have given to us,
that they would be used for the benefit of all
and with respect for your creation.
Creation cries out to you.
Teach us and show us the way.
[Silent and spoken prayers for creation and those affected by climate change and food insecurity]

Compassionate God, help us repair the harm
that we have inflicted upon each other
and the divisions we have created among your people.
Just as Christ Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto the disciples
to birth the community of the new creation,
send your grace to heal our divisions
and gift us with the unity for which Jesus prayed.
Teach us and show us the way.
[Silent and spoken prayers for the church and the university]

Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life,
you embodied justice in your ministry on earth
by the good that you did,
breaking down the walls that divide
and the prejudices that imprison.
Open our hearts and minds to recognize
that though we are many, we are one in you.
Teach us and show us the way.
[Prayers for justice and reconciliation]

Holy Spirit, you create anew the face of the earth.
The summit of the mountains,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the lakes speak to us –
Because we are connected.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dewdrops on the flower speak to us –
Because we are connected.

The voices of the poor,
the oppressed and the marginalized speak to us –
Because we are connected.

Unlike earthly kings,
you, O Lord, are ever steadfast and faithful.
You sent us your Son, Jesus the Christ,
to rule over us, not as a tyrant,
but as a gentle shepherd.
Keep us united and strong in faith,
May we know your presence in our lives
and see you in the lives of those around us.
Amen.