Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Shame On You”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10 June 2018, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Dr. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 138; I Cor. 1: 18-31; Mark 3:20-35.


Today’s Gospel reading from Mark is not for the faint of heart. These are two difficult stories about people opposing Jesus.  The stories are told also in Matthew and Luke, but in separate chapters. Mark, however, puts the story of Jesus’ family together with the story of the scribes in a method we can call a literary sandwich. That means Mark tells a story with a beginning and an end, but inserts a 2nd story in between. So, the story about Jesus’ family are the two slices of bread, and the story with the scribes is the meat in-between. Mark uses this sandwich technique several times in his Gospel. The purpose is not to make a baloney sandwich! The purpose of putting two stories together is to forcefully make a single point – and the point here is God honors those the world would shame; God shames those the world would honor.

In Jesus’ time, honor and shame were essential ways of keeping people in their place. Our modern idea of the self-made man or woman didn’t exist. You were born in a specific town, to a certain family, to a particular social class. And you likely stayed there all your life. If you got lucky, you might move up a notch or two in honor through a favorable marriage or patron. But heaven help you if you did anything shameful that moved you down the social ladder. So, by and large, you knew your place in the community, and so did everyone else. And woe to anyone who would try to change it!

That’s why today’s Gospel reading is so radical. Jesus is challenging everything about this system of honor and shame. Not because he wants to move up or bring other people down. No, he challenges the status quo because he knows the way things are, are not the will of God.

If you read the first few chapters of Mark, you find that Jesus was breaking rules from day one. He chooses disciples from the lowest classes. He teaches in the synagogue with more authority than the rabbis. He heals the sickest patients without calling a doctor. He casts out unclean spirits without incantations. He ignores restrictions on the Sabbath. He even forgives sins. No wonder that Jesus’ ministry was a dream for some and a nightmare for others.

Among those who thought Jesus was a nightmare are the very two groups in today’s Bible lesson: his family and his faith. No two groups in that culture carried more influence, no two groups had so much at stake in the game of honor and shame.

Let’s start with his family, the first slice of bread. Jesus is in Capernaum, his family lives in Nazareth. His fame has spread throughout Galilee, to the point he can’t get away from the crowds. He’s retreated to a house in Capernaum, but so many people are trying to get to him, he can’t even eat. One of those groups is his family standing outside. They’ve heard enough alarming stories to conclude the gossip is right. Jesus is out his mind. He’s got delusions of grandeur, claims he’s saving people from the Devil. He’s gone crazy.

Today, we’d probably say the person’s maybe mentally ill. But in those times, being ‘out of your mind’ meant you were possessed by a demon. That’s the only explanation people had. So, Jesus’ family had no choice but to come to Capernaum and get him. They need to take him away before things get out of control, before Jesus completely ruins their family’s reputation.

Well, it might be too late. Because here come the scribes from Jerusalem, the meat of the sandwich. Scribes were the Jewish experts on Scripture and religious law. Jesus might be wildly popular among the Galileans, even in the synagogues. But Jerusalem was the undisputed center of the Jewish universe. No one was more respected than the Temple authorities. You messed with them at your own peril.

For the scribes, it wasn’t enough that Jesus’ family just takes him home. They want to get rid of him once and for all. Turning to the crowds they declare, This man’s not just crazy, he’s positively evil. He’s not just possessed by a demon. He works for the Prince of Demons - Beelzebub! That’s where he gets his supernatural power, not from God, but from Satan himself. Don’t be fooled, people!  Jesus is diabolical and he’s dangerous. Run for your lives!

Now, against anyone else, this strategy might have worked. But Jesus isn’t just anyone, and he wasn’t about to let the accusations go unchallenged. So he confronts the scribes head-on. When I cast out evil spirits, you say that’s Satan casting out Satan? How stupid is that?  Why would Satan cast out his own soldiers? Why would Satan be working against himself? No way! Obviously then, the one doing this isn’t under the power of Satan, for evil can only produce evil. Obviously then someone stronger than Satan is here to take back, one by one, all those things he’s stolen. Obviously then, the man who stands before you isn’t crazy or evil. He is doing the works of God under the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, Mr Scribes, listen up. Here’s the Gospel truth. Whatever sins you commit, however bad, even blasphemy, can be forgiven, if you repent. But if you willfully continue to call evil that which is indisputably good, if you insist to identify the works of God as the works of Satan, that’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It’s the unforgivable sin that condemns you forever. And there’s nothing else God can do about it.

Wow . . . if Jesus’ words to the scribes seem harsh, they are. So harsh that Christians ever since then have lived in fear that they might have unknowingly committed the unforgiveable sin. Let me put your hearts at ease this morning. If you are so concerned that you might have blasphemed the Holy Spirit, you probably haven’t. You can’t blaspheme the Holy Spirit by accident. According to Scripture, blasphemy requires that you intentionally and persistently attribute the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. And I don’t think any of you sitting here have ever done that or ever will. Do you agree? That’s not to say though, that doesn’t stop some people from trying.

In 2006, an atheist website presented what they called “The Blasphemy Challenge.” They challenged people to upload YouTube videos of themselves saying “I deny the Holy Spirit” or “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” Thousands of people participated. Were they struck by lightning? Will they go to hell? Well, not based on this publicity stunt.

One pastor said it was sad to see and meant to be shocking. But he asks, “How can these people be blaspheming the Holy Spirit when they don’t even believe in the Holy Spirit, Satan, or God?” As ridiculous, dangerous, and unwise as the blasphemy challenge is – this isn’t a case of an unforgivable sin. God can and will forgive the blasphemy challenge, just as God will forgive any other sin. But you have to humble yourself and ask to be forgiven. The only sin for which there is no forgiveness is the sin for which no forgiveness was asked. God never rejects those who earnestly seek him. That’s the promise of God in Jesus Christ, that’s the promise of Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s wrap up this sandwich the way Mark does. Back with the family, the last slice of bread. After Jesus dismisses the scribes, he still has his family waiting outside. Does Jesus have a word for them too? Yes, but not directly. When someone tells him that his mother and brothers and sisters want to see him, he replies instead to those sitting around him. “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

What does Jesus mean? Is he dishonoring his own flesh and blood? No. I don’t think Jesus means to disown his birth family. But he absolutely refuses to accept that anyone is left out of the family of God. And that’s just what the religious leaders and social customs of Jesus’ time did. They shamed and shunned people based on social class, occupation, gender, age, religion, disability and disease. They dictated who was inside and who was outside based on ‘sacred' traditions that were nothing more than man-made categories. And Jesus refused to play the honor and shame game by those rules any more.

As Rev. Andrea Ayvazian asks, who are the ones Jesus calls his true family?
“Gentiles as well as Jews, peasants, people possessed by demons, sick people who were untouchable, women who should not be present, tax collectors who were despised, shepherds who slept outside with sheep and smelled, tanners with weathered, stained hands. Who is Jesus claiming as family? The misfits . . .  the outcasts, the powerless.”[1]

Now you might wonder, what qualifies this odd group of people to be inside the house with Jesus rather than outside where everyone thought they belonged?  Nothing actually. And that’s the point. They’ve done nothing to deserve the honor of becoming a relative to a King. The only thing they did was to trust in Jesus and follow him. Trust in Jesus and follow him. It seems so simple, yet Jesus’ family and the religious leaders of his day just couldn’t get it. That doesn’t mean they never would. The other Gospels tell us later that Jesus’ mother and brothers believed in him and became leading lights in the early Church. Praise the Lord.

We get a glimpse of the early Church in our epistle reading for today. Here St Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth just how they got chosen by God and why:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Or as the Message Bible says, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

Let me end with a story about someone who did exactly that. His name was Dwight L. Moody, better known as D.L. Moody. He lived in the 1800s in America. His father died when he was four years old, and his mother struggled to care for nine children. It’s said Moody didn't attend school beyond the fifth grade; that he was coarse, simple, and had awful grammar. He never became an ordained minister, but he did become one of the greatest evangelists of the 19th century.

Once, D.L. Moody and his friend singer Ira B. Sankey got an invitation to sing and preach at Cambridge University in England. The whole University, however, was outraged that this backwoods American preacher would dare to appear and speak in the center of culture of the English world. They well knew that he "murdered" the King's English.  So, some of the students who weren’t Christians decided that when Moody spoke in the chapel at Cambridge they would hoot him off the platform.

Well, Moody began by asking Sankey to sing. As soon as he finished, Moody stepped to the edge of the platform and looked directly at the students who were gathered there. Then he said these remarkable words, "Young gentlemen, don't ever think God don't love you, for he do!" The students were dumbfounded by that beginning. Moody went on, and in a few minutes, he again said, "Don't ever think God don't love you, for he do!" Something about the very ungrammatical structure of these words captured them. The intense earnestness of this man spoke right to their hearts, beyond all the superficial, external things. The ringleader of the student group sought out Moody that day for a private interview, and D.L. Moody led him to Christ. A great awakening came to Cambridge University at the hands of one humble servant of God.[2]

God honors those the world would shame, God shames those the world would honor. That’s how salvation came into the world. That’s how the church came into existence. That’s how you and I become related to the King of Kings. Trust in Jesus and follow him.




[1] Andrea Ayvazian, “Honor, Rank and Shame,” Sermon, June 10, 2012, file:///F:/120610_Sermon-HCC_HonorRankandShame.pdf
[2]  Ray Stedman, “God’s Tools,” https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/1-corinthians/gods-tools

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, June 10, 2018

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