I had planned to preach today on the gospel text—and I supposed, to a degree, I still am. I had wanted to delve more deeply into the relationship between how Jesus is rejected for what he’s doing by both his biological family and his religious family, remembering that the Jewish people believed themselves to comprise one large family as descendants of Jacob. Jesus radically redefines what that belonging looks like when he declares that those who do the will of his Father are his true family, drawing a clear line about where he stands on the matter. But that sermon, while interesting, no doubt, didn’t seem appropriate. I continually was drawn back to the first lesson, and to the cryptic “eternal sin” of “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is tricky. But suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit is the sustainer of life and the agent of God’s renewal of life. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to say that God somehow isn’t busy sustaining and renewing life, even now, so many ages after the dawn of creation. That is the eternal sin, the sin that cannot be forgiven—precisely because it denies the very point of forgiveness, to restore life. And so what does all this have to do with anything? Well, everything. From the moment creation, to Adam and Eve, to Jesus, to the time of apostles, the medieval church, the Reformation, and even now. This is about the fundamental relationship God has with his creation—with everything, including you and me. And so, it really is a big deal. What is God doing? What has God been doing? And what will God do? We’re going to tackle that head on today. So buckle up and hold on for a ride from before the beginning of time to the present day!
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
During my junior year of college, some of you may already know, I studied abroad in Germany. While I was in Europe, I took advantage of the opportunity to travel about and see as many different sites as I could, not only in Germany but all over, from Italy all the way up to Scotland. One of the things that Europe has that we don’t here in the United States is an abundance of old buildings—really old buildings. Some buildings over a millennium old that are even still in use. Many of these buildings bear historical significance, and live on in our present day as museums now.
And so, while I was in Europe, I visited many of those historical buildings-turned-museum, and one of the things that I saw in those buildings were a lot of tapestries. Tapestry is a kind of art, textile art, traditionally woven by hand on a loom. Tapestries can vary in style greatly. Some are geometric designs, while others depict scenes like in a painting.
Whatever the case, tapestries are known for their intricacy and complexity. Tapestries are pieces of craftsmanship, pieces of true artwork. And they’ve been around for a long time. The Greeks and Romans speak of them in their literature. Even Egyptian pharaohs were buried with tapestries. Tapestries have been found all over the globe from China, to Arabia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. In Europe, in the medieval ages, tapestries continued in popularity among the nobility—even over against the rise of painting in the Renaissance. Tapestries were markers of the grandest and most expensive form of artwork, and so of course the grand people of needed to demonstrate they could afford such finery.
The widespread success of tapestries, at least to some degree, can be credited to their portability, even going so far as to be called “nomadic murals” by some art historians. Kings could fold tapestries up and take them from one residence to another. Many kings had “wardrobe” departments with their own buildings devoted to the care, repair, and transport of tapestries. Tapestries were functional too. They could be hung on the walls of palaces and castles for insulation during cold Northern European winters, while at the same time serving as decoration. Churches, too, employed tapestries, both to keep out the winter cold and to lend gravitas to celebratory occasions such as high feast days, coronations, visits from royalty, and weddings or funerals for the nobility. Tapestries were extraordinary pieces of artwork and required dedicated weavers who were skilled craftsmen to make them and maintain them—not only as weavers, but as artists.
When we look at nature, we can’t help but be enraptured by its intricacy and its complexity. The whole creation is a marvel. The more I learn about the natural world, the more awestruck I am at the greatness of God. God is an artist.
And the whole of creation is his artwork. From the moment God first spoke creation into existence, he’s been creating art. Scientists, folks who dedicate their lives to understanding more and more how our world works, describe how the universe is held together in a relationship between time, matter, and light. Together, these three elements form the fabric of spacetime—and it’s truly remarkable. I don’t for a minute consider myself any kind of expert in physics, but the creation of the universe, its interdependence on so many parts—from the tiniest photons to the greatest galaxies—all woven together in harmony creating something so intricate, so complex…That’s a work of art. God is an artist. And God’s artwork is the fabric of creation, a wonderfully intricate and complex tapestry made up countless threads. God is an artist, a textile artist. God is a weaver, the weaver of the tapestry of life.
Tapestries, like any other kind of fabric, aren’t indestructible. In fact, many tapestries throughout history have been quite fragile. The delicate artwork—what with all its intricacy and complexity, heightened by the materials used in a tapestry like gold or silver thread, silk, or jewels sewn into the fabric—all that together, coupled with the simple reality of actually being used, means that like anything else, tapestries suffer damage.
And so it is also with the tapestry of life. Our first lesson today is an account of what happens when the perfection of God’s tapestry of life gets frayed, has a tear, or is ripped. When God’s tapestry of life is somehow marred, we call that sin.
Now “sin” is a little, little word with big, big implications. As soon as I say “sin,” I’m betting that for many of you, your minds immediately raced to all sorts of evil things—things like lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
And make no bones about it. These sorts of things are most definitely sins, but when we speak of sin, or sinfulness, we need to broaden how we understand it. Those of you who’ve been at Holy Grounds know that I can wax ad nauseam and ad absurdum about what it means to speak of sinfulness. That’s because sinfulness is as complex as what it means to be human. At the very end of the day, the recognition that we are limited creatures, finite and in search of something to fulfill us, and that we seek to satiate that longing with relationships outside of the good order that God first designed, that God first wove into the tapestry of life—that recognition is the recognition of our sinfulness, of our brokenness, of our weakness, of our need. It’s a recognition that we’re human beings—threads within the tapestry of life that need mending, and we cannot mend ourselves. Whether it’s something we do, or something done to us, we all suffer in many and various ways from a deficiency in the fullness of life God first envisioned. We need a skilled craftsman, a creative artist, a weaver to embroider us back into the tapestry of life.
And that’s precisely what God does. God is a weaver, after all—and a darn good one at that. (“Darn”—get it? Never mind…) God is a different kind of weaver, though. He doesn’t sit at the loom and look down at it from above at what he’s making. No—God chooses to become part of the tapestry of life. He loves his work so much that he literally becomes part of it. For our sake, God becomes part of the fabric of our lives in Jesus. He weaves himself into the intricacies and complexities of our ordinary lives and makes them extraordinary. He tells us we are loved, despite our frays, our tears, and our rips.
He not only tells us we’re loved, but he shows us it too. Jesus mends our relationship with God, with one another, and with all creation by weaving us back into the tapestry of life on the loom of the cross. On that loom, on that cross Jesus descends to depths of our sinfulness, to the fullness of humanity—to complete separation from life, to death itself—and lifts us up to the glory of God, to newness of life, to the perfection that God first envisioned for us…perfection so grand it’s priceless.
This is what it means to be forgiven. It means what is torn is mended, what is ripped is sewn up, what is broken is restored. God, the weaver of the tapestry of life—God has forgiven us. God has restored us to relationship with him. God in Christ Jesus has done it because we can’t do it ourselves. And because God has so loved us, has so restored us, has so forgiven us, we likewise are called to forgive as we have been forgiven.
But before we can do that kind of forgiving, we must first believe, truly believe, we are forgiven. Before we can restore as we have been restored, we must first believe we are indeed restored to good relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. Before we can bring healing as we have been healed, we must first believe we are indeed healed. Before we can forgive those who have sinned against as we have been forgiven, we must first believe we are indeed forgiven—and nothing we do or don’t do will take that away from us. Even when we falter in forgiving, God doesn’t stop forgiving us.
Each of us is a single thread in the intricate, complex, grand tapestry of life—a tapestry that God first started weaving at the moment of creation. Even when we get caught on the snags of life and tears or frays happen in the fabric of our lives, God reaches out to us in love and mercy and weaves us back into the pattern of the grand design on the loom of Jesus’ cross—showing us once and for all that perfection can and does arise even from imperfection.
We though limited in our humanity, share with God in the infinite, in the beautiful tapestry of full and abundant life as God first so artfully designed it. We though imperfect, we though broken, we though torn, frayed, or ripped—we though sinful…We are loved for who we are, each of God’s beautiful, beloved creature. And we must never forget, no matter how broken we think we are, no matter how unforgiveable we feel ourselves to be, God loves us. God forgives us. God binds up our ripped and torn threads and weaves us back into the tapestry of life. We don’t do this, but God does—through Jesus, our artful weaver and Lord.
And for his sake, we can forgive as we have been forgiven.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.