Sunday 7th October 2012 – From the beginning he made them male and female… 

The Word This Week:

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 and Psalm 26  OR
Genesis 2:18-24 and Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Mark 10:2-16

Thoughts on the Word:

Mark 10:2-16 (NRSV)

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

This week’s Gospel reading can be confronting in for people in a world where almost half of all marriages end in divorce, however it is important that we not shy away from what Jesus is telling us here.  What Jesus is telling us about marriage is extremely important, especially in a climate where the institution is coming under increasing attack around the world, and even in some quarters within the Church.

Marriage in the eyes of Jesus is a sacred union, which inseparably joins a man and a woman in a bond that is established by God.  It is not something that can just be idly dismissed, and in fact Jesus warns that those who do divorce and remarry commit adultery.  Now, in the corresponding passage in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 19) we see that there is one exception – sexual immorality (ESV) or unchastity (NRSV) is suitable grounds for divorce.  Thus we see the importance placed by Jesus on the role and place of sex as a gift within a marriage, it is a special part of the bond that God establishes in marriage,  and so integral to its foundation that it is the only reason provided for the permanent dissolution of a marriage.  In today’s society however the number one reason given for divorce is not the unchastity of their spouse – it is ‘irreconcilable differences’.  Put simply things get tough, and people decide its easier to divorce than to fight for their marriage, after all it is all about ‘me’ in the modern world – why should ‘I’ compromise, why should ‘I’ sacrifice some of ‘my’ happiness for the benefit of my husband/wife.  Narcissism is the chief cause of marriage failure in today’s society (in my humble opinion).

So how do we reconcile world where the divorce rate is so high, and where a good proportion of those sitting in the pews on Sunday are divorced and in many cases re-married to Jesus condemnation of divorce?   Some people claim that divorce and remarriage puts these people in a constant state of sin, for which the only remedy is to reconcile with there original spouse, some churches even refuse the sacraments to people in this position.  This in my view demonstrates both a lack of compassion and a lack of understanding of plain logic.  If someone divorces and remarries it is safe to assume that they will consummate that new marriage (and in today’s world it is sadly likely that the relationship will be consummated before the marriage), once that happens – once either party to the original marriage commits adultery, a valid reason for divorce is raised, and a valid divorce occurs in the eyes of God.  Now this does not make it ok that people get divorced, and it is not a justification for it – it simply shows that the sin of divorce is not an ongoing one, that it is a single event, for which a Christian can repent and move forward from. 

I wanted to establish this aspect about the sin of divorce, that it is an event and not an ongoing state, because divorce and remarriage are often raised as an example of Christian hypocrisy by those who advocate redefining marriage to allow for the union of same sex partners.  It is argued that if divorced and remarried people are accepted in our churches, even in leadership roles, despite their state of ‘ongoing sin’ then we lose all credibility to refuse to allow same sex marriage, as even if we consider these people to be living in a state of sin – it is no different to the remarried heterosexuals.   Of course when subjected to the logic I outlined above this charge fails.

What advocates of same sex marriage (even those within the church) seem to miss is Jesus’ very clear defining of what constitutes a marriage in the eyes of God :  ‘But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” ‘  Jesus gives us a clear definition of marriage here by quoting from Genesis, a marriage is quite simply the joining as one a male and a female.  There is no room for any other interpretation here – Jesus is clear about what a marriage is.

What also seems lost on people is the importance of sex.  As I stated before sex between a married couple is considered to be so sacred, so fundamental to marriage, that abuse of this gift is the only grounds for divorce provided by Jesus.  Now given the importance placed on sex and the consequences of sexual immorality, is it reasonable to conclude that it would be acceptable in God’s eyes to change the definition of marriage to include homosexuals who unrepentantly practice a form of sex which is repeatedly condemned and declared to be immoral throughout scripture?

Now I will no doubt come under some pretty heavy fire for this sermon, I will be labelled homophobic, a bigot and probably worse.  The truth is however I am not a homophobe – I have no irrational fear of homosexuals.  I am not a bigot, and I do not wish any harm on any homosexual.  I simply wish to acknowledge that marriage is a construct of God, designed for a man and a woman, that as the foundation of family it is also the foundation of society, and it should be protected.

It must also however be honoured and given its rightful place by Christians.  We must elevate marriage back to the sacred space it belongs and stop treating it as something that can be discarded when things get tough.  Jesus viewed marriage as a sacred bond established by God, do you? 

God bless you this week.

Sunday 8th July 2012 – Who does he think he is?

The Word This Week

Thoughts on the Word

Mark 6:1-13 (NRSV)

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

This week’s Gospel reading sees Jesus return home to Nazareth, where he is rejected by friends and family.  He suffers the fate of so many of the prophets of God, as the people listen to him, only to turn away from him saying “‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ ” They took offence at him – basically saying who does he think he is?! Does he think he is better than us?!

It is something that we often overlook in Jesus ministry – he was a prophet of God as well as the Son of God – and God incarnate!.  It is important to understand that in the Bible a prophet of God is not necessarily someone who tells the future – though they sometimes did warn of future events and consequences.  The word prophet comes from the Greek –pro + ph-e t -e s—literally, one who speaks “on behalf of.”  A prophet then is not one who looks into the future, but one who has insight and an understanding of the present. The biblical prophets were  who were called by God speak to their communities, to pass on the message of God to those who needed to hear it.   The community would gladly accept them as a great prophet of God when their message was affirming. But when they criticized the community and challenged it to repent and turn back to God, the prophet was often rejected along with the message.

Jesus was the ultimate prophet, he came bearing a message of God so important, so powerful that if we accept it then we are reconciled with our creator.  However there were (and are) a large number of people who ‘take offence at him’ and his message.  The people of Jesus’ home town took offense when they saw this up-start come in preaching repentance and salvation.  Wasn’t this just the carpenter’s son? What makes him think he can come home and start telling us how to live – does he think is better than us?

I wonder how often do we as followers of Jesus get jealous of those who are gifted with God’s grace in areas that we aren’t?  Are you on one of those who rejects or gets annoyed with people because of the way they preach, teach, talk or walk? I know I have been guilty! I am maturing slowly through much prayer and reflection – though I have a long way to go!

In other circumstances, we might be the ones who feel unappreciated, overlooked or rejected.  We have our own gifts, and it can be upsetting for us if we perceive that we have been rejected when we genuinely possess an ability or want to offer our service or advice.  We would do well to remember the words of St Paul in today’s New Testament reading:

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NRSV)
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Truly the Grace of God is sufficient for us in any circumstance.  He will never abandon us, and even though we would ask for redress of our perceived injustice, if we place our faith in Christ, then truly His Grace will prevail in our lives. 

As you move forward this week and you find yourself frustrated, or annoyed at some circumstance, reflect on the life of Jesus, and St Paul – and so many other saints through the ages.  Remember if his grace was sufficent for them – it is certainly sufficent for us also

Sunday 10th June 2012 – It’s the thought that counts…

The Word This Week:

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) and Psalm 138 
Genesis 3:8-15
and Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

Thoughts on the Word:

Genesis 3:8-15

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
   cursed are you among all animals
   and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
   and dust you shall eat
   all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
   and you will strike his heel.’

This week I am going to focus on the alternate Old Testament reading from Genesis.  I want us to focus on this reading because it contains something very very special.  In this reading from Genesis where we see God confront the first humans for their sin, we see the first hints of the Gospel that saves us.  In fact verse 15 is often referred to as the protevangelion, or the ‘first Gospel’. 

So let’s take a journey through the reading…

We begin with Adam and Eve, attempting to hide from God – this is the first sign we see of the effect of sin entering the world, as with it came fear and shame, things that had not existed before. It is the beginning of a very slippery slope, as we see within one generation of the first sin being committed, humanity descends to such a depth that the first murder of occurs.  Think about that – within just one generation we as a species went from a perfect, sinless existence with our creator in a world that didn’t know pain, suffering or death to killing each other out of jealousy. If that isn’t a warning to us about the consequences of turning away from God, then what is?!

Of course their hiding is futile and they are subject to interrogation by God.  God of course knows exactly what has happened, and his questions should be seen in that light.  They were designed to illicit confessions, not information.  Being just, the divine inquisitor sentences all three parties of the incident, however in today’s reading we only see the sentence handed down to the serpent.

Now the serpent of course is symbolic for Satan, and the language used is important.  He is condemned, accursed and put at war with humanity.  He is told that while he will strike the heel of the descendents of Eve, his head will be struck – or crushed.   This language is indicative of the defeat of Satan at the hands of one man – Jesus Christ, who crushed Satan underfoot with his redeeming work on the cross, and resurrection from the dead.  God was telling the snake that while there will be a long battle, in the end it is humanity who will triumph, through the work of Christ. 

So we can see that while it was a sentence of judgement to the snake – it was also a promise to humanity.  It is the first time in the Bible that we see God’s promise of salvation.  While justly condemning the sinfulness of humanity and the deception and evil of the serpent, God at the same time says I will provide a way out.  I will ensure you a way back home.

From the very beginning God knew he would send Jesus, that we might be saved.  Even as his heart was breaking at the sinfulness of Adam and Eve, he had already prepared the answer.  What a comfort that is! We have been in the plans of God since the beginning of time.  Since before he created the world God knew what would happen, and he planned a way for all of us to come back home, and rebuild the broken relationship between humanity and God.  He knew that we were incapable of doing it – we are lost in sin, and no efforts on our own behalf could ever bring us back to God.  Knowing this he prepared the answer, and at the right time He delivered our salvation.

Take comfort my friend, because God loves you! He loves you so much that he planned your salvation before the world was even made.  They say it is the thought that counts… no one has ever put this much planning and effort into offering a gift.  God planned this gift for us from the beginning – have you reached out your arms and accepted it?