Pentecost + 2 Proper 5: Year B. Mark 3:20-35
My Dad would say grace at various family occasions: “Bless this food to our use and us to thy service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.” My step-dad’s parents were Lithuanian immigrants. Boston’s West End at the turn of the last century was the crowded tenements for an established African American Community and immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe and Russian Jews. Both Dad’s parents died from TB by the time he was 13 and he entered the Angel Guardian Orphanage that would lead him to the neighborhood where after 20 years and a war, he met my mother. He knew poverty and had seen its pain and suffering. He didn’t just say the words, “Make us mindful of the needs of others,” he had lived them and experienced the world’s blindness to the plight of the poor. I’d sit by him and ask him to tell me stories of growing up in the West End. To the young boy who listened it was a grand adventure: Eking out a living from scraps of coal in the train yards, singing for change in the North Station. Lighting the Sabbath candles for his Jewish neighbors. He didn’t talk too much of watching his mother return exhausted and sick from cleaning the latrines in hotels and train stations and watching her struggle and die from consumption. But I always knew it was there, a grief so deep he had almost closed the door to its pain. I suspect it was from his experience and example, I found my way into the neighborhoods of Boston and spent twenty years there as a community organizer and parish priest. And another ten years working with urban congregations in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
I was also a wise ass as a teen. I thought it funny when I suggested during an argument with him, that he should change the words of the grace to: “make us needful of the minds of others.” That remark didn’t sit well. And even though I see it now as mean and adolescent, there was some truth in it: To be mindful of the needs of others, to see through the eyes of the poor and oppressed and to act on their behalf is primary. To seek and act for the well- being of all is the first step. The second is to put on the mind of Christ.
I’m not sure about what the sin against the Holy Spirit for me is. God is love and God is mercy has reached so deep into the depths of my life that like an old Spanish love poem says: “I can find not way so worn and bare that love will not keep coming there to have speech with me and I with love.” And yet I also know that the only one who can shut the door to love is myself. I suspect that the great sin against the Holy Spirit is such a closure. It is a refusal of the mind and heart to those on the margins; the poor, children, women, what we called the powerless poor in my organizing days and the oppressed.
Bonhoeffer said in his Ethics: “
“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Still, I really don’t know if any sin is unforgivable. Even the most resistant parts of us, may be transformed in an instant by a word or an idea or an act of grace or courage. It seems that they only ones who are placing us in ultimate danger is ourselves. Our refusal to live courageously out of love and with open hearts and minds toward our neighbor is the primary way the divine appears to us. If we turn our backs to them, isn’t that a brokenness we can’t repair?
We do it to ourselves mostly, don’t we? When we are at death’s door it is said our organs “shut down” one by one. It is the same with the life of the spirit. Our spiritual heart and mind locks and barricades the door into the heart of God. Could it be that rigidity to the inclusion of those who seek the blessings and legal protections of marriage equality is a recent example of our shutting down to a whole community of God’s beloved. Pogo said to us long ago from his cartoon strip in the sixties and seventies, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That was during the Vietnam War, which to some of us at that time was a profound truth.
It’s when we lock the doors to our neighbor we close off another possibility for sanctity, for a life with meaning, and from the loving arms of the divine.
So my flippant remark to my Dad so long ago now was really a reminder to not only get out there and do something about inequity and oppression. It was my feeble attempt to alert myself to keep mindful of the heart of God and the image of the Christ as I look into the face of all beings.