Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 6, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is often said that “blood is thicker than water.” This saying goes back to medieval times. It is an aphorism that has been used for centuries to suggest that family ties and/or shared ethnicity are more powerful and bonding than any other affiliation one has. It suggests that blood relations are powerful and bonding even when separated by the vastness of the sea. “Blood is thicker than water.” Sometimes, for better or for worse, this may well be true. But this aphorism does not hold up well in our gospel reading for today!
First of all, as Jesus was passionately carrying out his ministry, healing people and casting out demons, not even stopping to eat, his own family sought to restrain him. They were even saying he had gone out of his mind! Jesus’ own family tried to hinder his ministry. Jesus’ own blood relatives thought he had a screw loose, that he wasn’t playing with a full deck. And so at least some of them turned on him. Blood is thicker than water? Not so much!
Next we have scribes who had come from the capital city of Jerusalem. These were part of Jesus’ ethnic family, part of his national family. They had heard Jesus was healing people and casting out demons, and their response to him was to call him “Beelzebul,” one of the worst names in the Hebrew lexicon. You see, there was a Canaanite god called “Ba’al,” which was also called “Ba’al-zebub,” which means “Lord of the exalted,” or “Lord of the flies.” Well, the Jewish people made fun of this false god by changing one letter in the name, calling this god, “Ba’al-zebul,” which means, “Lord of manure.” Now that’s a super funny joke when it is made at the expense of a false god, but here it is being applied to Jesus! The scribes said Jesus was the Lord of manure! If that wasn’t bad enough, they went on to accuse Jesus of working for Satan himself. They said it was by the ruler of demons that he cast out demons. So, they weren’t too impressed with Jesus, their fellow Jew. Blood is thicker than water? Nope, not here either.
Well, Jesus came out swinging (verbally) against this slander from the scribes. Jesus pointed out the logical fallacy of Satan casting out Satan. Why in the world would the ruler of demons cast out demons? Isn’t that counterproductive? “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and Satan knows this. The devil is evil, but he isn’t stupid!
Jesus then explained that he had come to tie up the ruler of demons, he had come to bind up this strong man, in order to plunder his house. Jesus had come to steal back what Satan had stolen. He had come to rescue those held in captivity to these demons. He had come to ransom them, to redeem them, to restore them.
And then Jesus said something that makes many people squirm. He said, “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.” Jesus has our attention now, doesn’t he? What could he possibly mean by this?
Well, imagine you are badly injured in a car accident and you are bleeding out and when the EMT comes to save your life, you call the EMT a demon and refuse treatment. What is going to happen? You are going to die! This is similar to what the scribes were doing to Jesus. He had come to rescue. He had come to save. And they called him a demon and refused his help. Not only that, they tried to stop him from saving others! Jesus is simply being very matter of fact about what was going on. If they refused treatment and instead slandered the Holy Spirit driving his saving work, he couldn’t help them.
(If you are ever worried that you have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and committed the unforgivable sin, you haven’t. The fact that you are worried about it shows that you are repentant, which is itself the work of the Spirit driving you to Christ, where there is always that life-saving treatment of forgiveness.)
Blood was not thicker than water in these encounters Jesus had with his family and with these scribes from Jerusalem. His family tried to stop him, thinking he was off his rocker. His countrymen only insulted him and accused him of being in league with the devil.
And so Jesus went on to speak of a different family. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” What is the will of God? It is many things, of course, but later Jesus specifically says, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees and believes in the Son will have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” As we heard on Pentecost Sunday, Jesus also said that the Holy Spirit’s job would be to point to Christ, to speak of Christ, to declare Christ’s words and work, so that we would indeed see the Son and believe in him. This new family, then, is made up of those who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, do the will of God by seeing the Son and believing in him. Those who see and believe him, who receive his help, who trust him with their lives, are his brother and sister and mother.
We are made part of this family through the waters of Holy Baptism. It is in the waters of Holy Baptism that the Holy Spirit administers life-saving care by joining us to Jesus and calling us to faith in him. It is in the waters of Holy Baptism that the Holy Spirit casts out demons, delivering us out of our captivity to sin and into a new life with Christ. It is in the waters of Holy Baptism that the Holy Spirit bathes us in a forgiveness that we can return to again and again. It is in the waters of Holy Baptism that we are rescued, ransomed, redeemed, and restored. It is in the waters of Holy Baptism that we are born into a new family.
Our earthly families are indeed important. I hope you have a good one. It is really hard when you don’t. There is a powerful connection human beings have to our blood relatives that can either be a source of great strength, or a source of great pain. Children desperately need the two halves that created them, and there is a deep ache when one isn’t there. When we lose blood relatives to death, we’ve lost something irreplaceable. There is an absence there, and it hurts. When blood relatives turn toxic or are in conflict with one another, it is a pain like no other. Loving adoptive families are a notable exception to all of this, but there is a reason those DNA analysis kits are so popular. The call of connection to your own blood is powerful!
No matter what your family situation might be like with your blood relatives, know that you are part of a new family. As you see and believe in Jesus, he calls you his brother, his sister. You are part of his family. He will never leave you nor forsake you nor hurt you. You have been born into his family by water and the Holy Spirit, and in this case, water is thicker than blood.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church