The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2021
O God, from whom all good doth come: Grant that by thy inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Genesis 3:(1-7) 8-21
2 Corinthians 4:13-18
As many of you know, Friday was the sixteenth anniversary of my ordination. Whenever I think about that day, a number of disparate images and memories come into view. On the one hand I am reminded how that day was the last time I ever saw my old college chaplain, who had come to Boston from his retirement job in Utah specially to stand up as one of my presenters. On a lighter note, I remember the Bishop’s canon telling us that we needed to arrive at the Cathedral that morning in clericals, and how uncomfortable I felt putting on that black shirt and starched collar for the first time, several hours before the Bishop actually laid his hands upon us. Most vividly, I shall always recall the feeling of the Bishop’s hands upon my head, his fingers pressing in so hard that I still felt them later that day. I really felt ordained.
My bishop was an extraordinary man. Marvel Thomas Shaw, SSJE was a monk and an ascetic, yet when called to the public ministry of the episcopacy, he became a vocal and visible advocate for social justice in the name of Christ. I was fortunate during the course of my formation to have spent a great deal of time with him. I would, every few weeks, accompany him on his visitations around the diocese as his chaplain. We would get into his Saab 900 (the same car I used to drive) and leave the monastery gates in Cambridge and head down to Cape Cod or up the North Shore or down into Roxbury or Dorchester. Sometimes the drive would be only an half hour, other times we would be in that car for well over two hours. I remember a lengthy discussion about Mel Gibson’s The Last Temptation of Christ, and countless conversations about art, literature, and theology.
One of the things I remember him telling me – telling me just because it had struck him and he wanted to share the story with someone he thought would appreciate it – was about how recently a woman had come up to him, terrified, really frightened, and said to him, “Bishop, I am worried that I have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and that I will never be forgiven.” I asked him, “what did you tell her?” And he said, “I told her that if she is worried about it, he was certain she had not blasphemed against the Holy Spirit.” I will never forget that. Sure, it’s a clever story, and an excellent quip. I have dined out on it for almost twenty years (in circles in which it would be appreciated). I may even have told this story to some of you before – sorry, I can’t remember. Nevertheless, it says something profound about the nature of sin and forgiveness.
Yesterday, in my homily at Alison Howard-Levy’s funeral mass, I spoke about Paul’s assertion in his letter to the Romans that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I said this was a promise that God would never desert us and that our relationship forged with God in Christ in baptism and lived out in the Christian life is indelible. Even sin, and its partner in crime, death, will never break our bond with Christ.
Does this mean our sins don’t matter? Does this mean that the death of our physical bodies won’t catch up with us? No, both sin and death are realities that we can not escape. These realities are, in fact, essential to the truth of the Genesis story we heard this morning. Now, of course, that story isn’t true because it describes exactly what happened to a couple called Adam and Eve when they met a serpent in their garden. It is true because it speaks directly to our human nature as fallible, that as humans we are specifically not God, and, therefore, will fall into sin and our bodies eventually die.
God told Adam and Eve they could do anything they liked, except eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And what happened? The same thing that will happen when I tell you, right now, not to think of a pink polka dotted elephant. Right. You are now wondering if those spots are pink, or whether the elephant is pink and the spots are another colour. You can’t help but ponder that one image. Even though the Genesis story blames both the trickster, the snake for praying on their curiosity, and Eve (quite frankly just because she is a woman – but that’s another sermon), nevertheless Adam and Eve’s very real, human curiosity and thirst for knowledge drives them. It makes perfect sense that they would want to do the one thing they were told not to do and eat the fruit. Any of us might.
So God threw them out of the garden. There were consequences for their actions, especially their desire to transcend their humanity and “become like Gods.” They had to learn that being human, being not God was full of trade offs, the bad and the good, with the good, the love and relationship making it all worth while. Yet, despite having been cast out and berated, their expulsion from the garden was the beginning of an extraordinary adventure that human beings and God have taken together. Despite their rule breaking, God never truly forsakes them and, perhaps more significantly, never forsakes their descendants, whom God keeps bringing into deeper and deeper relationship with him. Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and so many more all deeply flawed, each in his own special way, are nevertheless essential and integral parts of God’s purposeful work. Each gathers and leads Israel on its bumpy journey through the ages.
Being human and being in relationship with God is the life to which we are all called. Despite our inevitable failures, despite our bodies letting us down, we are bound in interconnected relationship with God, and God will never let us go. Jesus puts it this way when he beholds his followers in this morning’s gospel: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Being God’s family, Jesus says, involves doing the will of God, living within Christ’s Body, loving our neighbour, working at contributing to the works of justice, as best we can. And if we are worried that what we are doing is not enough, if, perhaps, we fear that we have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit or some other such sin, then, as Bishop Shaw said, our self-consciousness, our awareness of our flaws and willingness to admit them, our desire and effort to do better, demonstrates that we are on the right path, that we clearly haven’t blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, whatever that precisely means. That inner voice, that sense of concern, the desire and effort to be better neighbours, better friends, better children of God, to know when we have done something we shouldn’t have: that self-awareness helps us understand that we aren’t lost after all.
Bishop Shaw knew that our desire to be in relationship with God, be a member of the Body, be a brother or sister to other people and with Christ, to do our best and try, even when we get it wrong, means that we shall never be cast out or “be guilty of eternal sin.” Look at Adam and Eve. They had it all, and they really messed up. They lost their garden home, yet they were not really cast out into utter darkness. Their descendants grew in faith, entered into covenant with God, followed Jesus to the Cross and walked with him in the Resurrection. We are those descendants, and we should be filled with hope that while we will sin, and our bodies shall one day die, that we are loved, never alone, never forgotten, and that it is never too late, never really over as long as we choose love and align our will and action with that of the Body of Christ.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Boniface, Archbishop and Martyr, 5 June 2021
© 2021 Andrew Charles Blume