sermon video part 1. For part 2, click here.
My phone camera did not do this scene justice. When I was running past this field last week, my eyes took in the long, neon green threads fairly glowing from the morning sun against the rich, worked soil, drawing the eye toward the light-source, the land inked with the promise of bountiful, nourishing corn.
Yeah, the picture does not do the scene justice.
It’s still always beautiful, every iteration of the farmland’s process. I’ve noticed that each plot of land is marked by the type – the brand of corn seed used by that farm. I have theories about why that practice exists, but I won’t share them here and expose my profound ignorance of farming. But perhaps one of you can enlighten me after the service!
Still, the sign exists to alert any passersby to what kind of product one might expect from the producer. Is one better for one use over and against another variety? Is the quality of one higher than another – and discernable? What does it say about the family who chooses that particular source of seed? How do farmers judge other farmers’ choices? Or do they?
These are things I wonder about on my runs or those longish drives to Freeport or Winnebago or anywhere!
The Israelites were recognizable by, among other things, what they ate and did not eat. It was a deeply held practice to abstain from certain foods and prepare them in particular ways and prevent cross contamination of some foods with others. One is considered to be more holy if seen as holding close to culinary regulations.
So when Peter saw the vision of all the foods Jews were prohibited from eating setting down in front of him and God telling him to eat, what horror he had to have felt!
It’s from Deuteronomy 6:3-9 –
3 . . . observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
I’ve mentioned this tattoo on my wrist – Shema – it is from this passage: “Hear” listen, love God with everything and love others with the same. I had it tattooed on my wrist to symbolize “bind them as a sign on your hand . . .” and as an act of solidarity with the people associated with our church at the time who felt alienated, judged, condemned by the church community because they didn’t follow all the rules – would drink beer together while watching the Lions play, they were tattooed, inked to signify their experiences or loves or identities . . .
The sheet coming down for Peter – did so, three times. The sheet comes down with all these forbidden foods in the same way Jesus describes the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven in Revelation – Jesus making all things right. All things are made right when everything is now called “holy,” “clean.” “Do not call something ‘profane’ that I now deem ‘pure.’
And God does this three times – much like when Jesus asks Peter, do you love me? Peter, do you love me? Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. All of them.
So then the story continues:
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”Acts 11:15-18
What God has made clean you must not call profane.” (Acts 11:9) Who am I that I could hinder God?
In the two places that speak to the so-called ‘unforgiveable sin,’ its meaning becomes clear in light of the scene in Acts.
First, in Matthew 12:22-37
“people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”Matthew 12:31-37
The unforgivable sin, according to Matthew’s account, is to not recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ performing God’s work.
Verse 36: “on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” – by them you are justified or condemned. (Matt 12:36)
You are condemned if you speak out against someone who is doing the work of God, following in the steps of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And then in Mark
“whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”Mark 3:28-30
The manner in which we judge a thing, what we say about a person’s actions, matters. We cannot have perfect perception. We cannot fully know the mind of God – certainly not on our own. When we pray together and discern together there is greater opportunity for a fuller picture.
Crucially, we can be forgiven for judging something as good when it is not. But it is unforgivable to judge something as evil when it is actually good – that is, from God.
When I look at a person and draw a conclusion about the character of that person based solely on that person’s appearance, I risk God’s withholding of forgiveness. Now, of course, it means a consistent, persistent judgment that does not recognize the humanity, the divine aspect of a person of that appearance. Still . . . isn’t it far better to assume goodness?
When I notice a person living in a certain way and judge that lifestyle as contrary to God – whereby ignoring the goodness and Jesus-inspired activity the individual is engaged in, blind to the fruit of God’s love and peace and provision extended through them . . . Who am I that I could hinder God?!
It is far better for me to expand my perspective of what God calls clean and holy, than to dismiss the work and power of the Holy Spirit in and through this brother or sister of mine.
Who. Am. I? to hinder God.
We cannot discern, understand the movement of the Spirit of God, the work of Jesus in others and ourselves, unless we are still. Because, We are stressed. We are overworked. We are compelled to be at everything, do everything, be everything to everyone. Or the other extreme – completely closed off to others.
But how can we be a people with Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors if we aren’t still long enough to allow the Spirit of God to speak to our hearts and minds about who or what is or isn’t coming through our doors? Quiet long enough to discern how we might be perceived by those who no longer cross the threshold of this building – or the reasons that prevent them from the same.
Many of us are worn out and tired. But that doesn’t mean we stop doing ministry. It only means that perhaps we need to do it differently – because we’re still running ourselves ragged doing the same things in the same way. Now, these are amazing ministries – many vital to the community. Still, it is getting more difficult to pull many of them off.
Tuesday is the Clergy Day for the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC. Two weeks later is our Annual Conference. During these times we will be discussing, listening, discerning together the way that the Spirit is working in our churches and church leaders in light of the recent rulings by the Judicial Counsel for the Special Session of the General Conference with regard to the LGBTQ+ community and the intersection of life and ministry with respect to the larger community of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ.
We all need to discern. We all need to be in prayer. This may be uncomfortable to talk about. It is necessary that we do. The Word of God is tattooed on our hearts, inked like the neon green threads that promise nourishing corn. Our names are tattooed on God’s hand, inked by the very blood of Jesus.
We are tired, we are overworked, we are compelled to do so much, or nothing at all. So we must listen – Shema – HEAR O people, God IS God!
Sylvia Boorstein talks about cultivating this awareness of our tension as being “a sign of wisdom.” A sign of which brand of corn seed you use? We will be known by our love – marked by love, inked by love. Boorstein finds help in Pablo Neruda
“Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda:
“Now we will count to twelvePablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet”
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment,
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness …”
Let us slow down together as a sign of wisdom, be known as God’s by how we love one another, marked by, inked by Love.