Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, July 10, 2014


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

The nurse thought I should “look in on” Gladys. To be sure I did, she took me by the nose and led me to her room. Her body was still okay, the nurse said, but her mind was troubled. Worse, her soul was in anguish.

It was really my arm, not my nose, but it felt like my nose, and leading me was a wise move. I did not want to stay in that nursing home a minute longer than required, and Gladys was not part of my congregation, so I was not required. At least I didn’t think so. The nurse thought otherwise. I’m sure Jesus did, too, something about “If you’ve visited even the least of the sick and imprisoned, you’ve done it unto me.” [Mt 25:31-46]

Because I did not like to call in nursing homes, I was very faithful about it. I knew that if I waited until I felt like doing it, it would never get done. Because I really wanted to rush in and make quick visits so I could mark them off the list, I made sure I walked slowly down the halls, took my coat off when I got to a patient room, sat down, crossed my legs, and listened carefully as long as my parishioner wanted to talk. But once I reached the end of the hall, I was out the door. Except that Nurse Ratched had hold of my arm.

Gladys was embarrassed in the company of the strange pastor. The nurse, however, assured her that I could help her. Apparently she wanted to know something about the Cincinnati Reds or IU basketball, those being my two main areas of expertise. But no, it was “the unforgivable sin” that troubled her. She was sure she had committed it and thus would go to hell. It had something to do with sex, although she didn’t spell it out.

Gladys was about thirty years older than I. She had committed said sin some fifteen years before I was even born, so she had carried the burden of the unforgiven for almost seventy years. Now she was approaching “the door at the end of the hall,” and she knew it would lead down the stairs to the flames of hell, forever.

She felt like a fraud. All those seventy years she had masqueraded as a faithful wife and mother and church member, a Baptist, for heaven’s sake, a responsible member of the community, all the time knowing she could not be forgiven.

Jesus talked about money more than anything else. Unlike the proponents of the “prosperity Gospel,” one mega-church of which actually proclaims above its open doors to hell, “The Word of God is the Way to Wealth,” Jesus was not an investment counselor. Indeed, he warned against money, reminding us in many ways that you cannot serve both God and money. [Mt 6:24, Lk 16:13]

Next to money, though, he talked about forgiveness the most. According to Jesus, any sin can be forgiven, even the sin of wealth. Except one, and it has nothing to do with sex, drugs, or rock & roll. The unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God in the world and in your own life. [Mt 12:31-32]

Sin is brokenness, separation--from God, from neighbor, from world, from our own true selves. To heal that brokenness, God sends Jesus into the world. Jesus is no longer here, however, in the flesh. The point of the resurrection is not that a body got out of a grave, but that Jesus is still here, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, the spirit of God, the same spirit that indwelt the incarnate [in the flesh] Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

The sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable because it is through the Spirit that we are forgiven. If we refuse the spirit, we refuse forgiveness, and so we cannot be restored to wholeness. [1]

Gladys, though, did finally accept forgiveness, on a dreary nursing home afternoon. She had not sinned against the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit had been with her all her life, guiding her into ways of righteousness. She just didn’t know it yet.

John Robert McFarland

1] That is why politicians and political pundits [and a lot of other folks] can never admit they are wrong, regardless of how often the facts prove otherwise—they cannot accept forgiveness.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2014 or early 2015.

I tweet as yooper1721.

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