O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God of all mercy,
your Son proclaimed good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
and freedom to the oppressed:
anoint us with your Holy Spirit
and set all your people free to praise you
in Christ our Lord. Amen.
You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people:
‘l have set a youth above the mighty;
I have raised a young man over the people.
‘l have found David my servant;
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
‘My hand shall hold him fast
and my arm shall strengthen him.
‘No enemy shall deceive him,
nor any wicked person afflict him.
‘l will strike down his foes before his face
and beat down those that hate him.
‘My truth also and my steadfast love shall be with him,
and in my name shall his head be exalted.
‘l will set his dominion upon the sea
and his right hand upon the rivers.
‘He shall call to me, “You are my Father, my God,
and the rock of my salvation;”
‘And I will make him my firstborn,
the most high above the kings of the earth.’
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
‘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’ – for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Christianity is generally considered to be a loving and forgiving faith. Should we, then, be surprised when we encounter Jesus’ words in today’s reading: whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness?
Before Jesus utters these portentous words we read the weasel words of the scribes: by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons. The religious ‘experts’ of the day were trying to portray Jesus’ teaching and miraculous deeds of exorcism and healing as some sort of dark art. They were attempting to convince people that Jesus’ power came from Satan, and not from God. Surely this is the sort of blasphemy Jesus speaks of when he says: whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.
As we go about our daily lives we are being constantly challenged in our faith. As we listen to or watch the national and international news we hear and see many things that cause us to wonder about God’s perpetual presence in this world. As we hear the local gossip and politics being played out we find ourselves impugning others simply because their opinions do not coincide with ours. As we find ourselves being led along strange and challenging paths through life we question and criticize the motives of those who are seeking to improve the conditions in which we live. Every day we align ourselves with the scribes, and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who denied the divinity of Jesus by challenging the veracity of his words and works.
Christians are called to live in unity and peace. In honour of that calling, we have been living through the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Since 18 January all who profess the Christian faith have been called to live in unity of spirit and in the peace which comes from Christ alone. But have we? Or, have we been as a house that is divided against itself?
Jesus makes it clear that the petty differences that give rise to so much conflict, distrust and even hatred within Christian communities stand in direct opposition to our divine calling. Just as he makes it clear that if we persist in such attitudes and behaviours we will find ourselves always blaspheming against the Holy Spirit of God and, therefore, placing an unbridgeable gap between ourselves and our loving heavenly Father.
Let us pray that we might turn our backs on the false teachings which distance us from God, and focus on Christ’s call to love … even those we might describe as our enemies. Let us, through prayer and the study of his word, pray that we might never waver as we journey in the unity and peace which is the calling of each and every one of us. Let us pray that, when the moment comes, we might be judged as having honoured the power of the Holy Spirit and be welcomed into God’s loving embrace for the whole of eternity.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, the source of healing and grace.
Give to your Church grace to be constant in all the duties laid upon her, while looking always to the greater calling beyond this world. Heal her divisions and make her one in love, so that no evil can enter.
Bring unity among the nations, for an end of conflict and distrust. Grant that the power which casts out evil may cause justice to prevail in all places of authority and that they whole world may know the only source of peace.
Bless us in our families with love for one another that does not fail in times of trouble or disagreement. Bless our community with desire for the good of all and the relief of distress.
Have mercy on those who have lost their power to resist the attacks of evil. Bless and enable those who work to relieve their suffering. Have mercy on families that are divided and bring them back to the love they have lost.
As Jesus was raised from the dead, so grant resurrection and new life to those who have died trusting in him. Though their outward bodies have perished, clothe them in the new garments of salvation.
We pray through Christ, by whom we are healed and empowered to be his people.
Prayer for the week
By the prayers of Jesus,
Lord, teach us how to pray.
By the gifts of Jesus,
Lord, teach us how to give.
By the labours of Jesus,
Lord, teach us how to work.
By the love of Jesus,
Lord, teach us how to love.
By the cross of Jesus, Lord,
teach us how to live, Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
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