The service this Thursday (7th Oct) will start at the earlier time of 9.30am to allow time for the Lights for Christ Workshop which will immediately follow the Service. Sunday Service will be at the usual time of 9.30am.
The coffee morning will be held as usual from 10.00am on Tuesday.
Well, this is the last of a four-week sermon series on the theme of following a rule of life. Previously we have looked at:
how we live as disciples; how we live with generosity; our prayer life and personal priorities; and today, our care for one another and for God’s creation. This goes to the very heart of our relationship with God, with one another and with the world in which we live.
Marriage is recognised by the Church as a highly significant relationship. It is always a special moment for me when, after proclaiming a couple “husband and wife”, I get to wrap my white stole around their joined hands and say the words: “Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” Those are the words of Jesus himself, as we can see in Mark’s gospel today. This gospel passage is sometimes unfortunately termed the “divorce gospel”. I don’t believe that this does any kind of justice to what is really a passage about how we treat one another.
There are really two parts to the gospel passage today. The first is a response to a challenge from some Pharisees. The second is an answer to the objections of Jesus’s own disciples to the children who had approached him. Jesus acknowledges the reality of divorce, but instead of getting caught up in legal arguments, he reminds us of God’s intention. We are called into relationship and this should be one of mutual respect and love. Divorce had been made easy for men who wanted to discard their wives, often without proper support. This is not a teaching that compels people to remain in abusive and loveless relationships. It is more a challenge to those who treat their own wives as commodities to be picked up and then discarded at will.
If women were on a lesser footing than men, then children were less important still. This is perhaps why the disciples were so dismissive of the children who came to Jesus. By welcoming the children, Jesus makes an important statement. Even more so, he tells us that unless we welcome the kingdom of God like a little child, we shall never enter it.
It is not by taking the critical and judgemental attitude of the Pharisees that we enter into God’s kingdom. Jesus instead shows us that simplicity and openness are key. Tomorrow is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, a saint who was noted for simplicity of life. He was originally a person of substantial means, but he gave all that away. This was so that he could embrace the fulness of a relationship with God. We can’t all follow that way of life, but the childlike simplicity with which Francis was able to relate to God, to his fellow people and to creation itself, can be an inspiration to all of us. We live in a complicated world, full of unequal relationships and divisions. Jesus shows us a simpler and better way of living and we see this reflected in the lives of the saints, such as Francis. Something of this way of following Jesus is accessible to us all.
The passage from Genesis today is not a literal account of how women came into being. It’s really a passage about how human beings belong together in complementary relationships. As we were reminded by Associate Archdeacon Julie Upton a couple of weeks ago, we all have particular gifts that we are called to use for the good of all. Christians belong together through Jesus, as we hear in the letter to the Hebrews. The Eucharist is the sacrament of that union in Christ and as we receive it, we should be mindful of our relationship to God, with one another and with God’s creation. Our lives are set in a wider context and our worship is not just for our own good but for the building up of others, especially those who most need our care.
Next week we give thanks for the Harvest. This is more than just a quaint old tradition in which churches are decorated with sheaves of corn. It is a reminder that all that we have comes from God. The more we are mindful of this, the more we shall want to enrich the lives of others. Whether we support a Foodbank, a refuge, Christian Aid or any other resource for the support of our brothers and sisters, we play our part in God’s kingdom.
Our relationship with creation is also something to be nurtured and developed. Again, the Harvest reminds us of this. Last week I should have been on retreat at St Beuno’s Jesuit retreat centre in north Wales. I have a favourite chapel there, called Capel y Coed (in English: Chapel in the Wood). The Blessed Sacrament is reserved there against a backdrop of creation imagery and of the trees outside. It reminds us of our relationship with the world and our stewardship of creation. In a world threatened by the effects of global heating, this is something we should never forget.
When we develop a rule of life, we grow as disciples of Christ. We deepen our relationship with God through prayer. We learn how to live generously, giving thanks to God for what we have freely received. We also practise putting our faith into action through practical love towards our brothers and sisters and care for our world. This generosity of spirit is something that is not only good for others, but we reap the rewards for ourselves too. Prayer is good for our own wellbeing and so too is generosity towards others. We are not made to live for ourselves but we flourish in relationship with one another.
I hope and pray that we may all give serious thought to developing a rule of life. We may be doing some of these things already, but as we become more aware of how we live as Christians, we come to find our true selves in Christ and in our relationships with our brothers and sisters. So what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.