A Sermon from Sherborne
A sermon for the Parish Eucharist, preached in Sherborne Abbey on Sunday 7 October 2018 by The Reverend Jane Craw
In the same way that our Gospel passage takes us to the beginning of creation where God created male and female, I should, for a moment, like us to indulge in a little time-travel and step back in time to the Garden of Eden at the dawn of God’s creation. Picture, if you will, God and Adam in conversation. God said to Adam, ‘I am going to make you a helper, a companion. What would you like your companion to be like?’
Adam replied, ‘Well I want someone that is humorous, witty, intelligent, compassionate, caring, loving, trusting, polite, generous and beautiful.’
God paused a moment after Adam’s wish-list and told Adam that a companion like that would cost him ‘an arm and a leg’. Adam seemed a little dejected and then brightly replied: ‘What can I get for a rib?’ Joking apart, Adam’s Eve was the very best that God could offer; she was no certainly no poor substitute. Eve was Adam’s companion and each was created for the other.
This is the ideal, the model situation but as we know, relationships are precious but precarious things and we know that they can be easily broken.
We must now turn to today’s reading from Mark. It is not a straightforward text to preach on and the easiest thing would have been to duck the challenge and simply to focus on the reading from Hebrews. The subject of divorce is complex and I am sure that all of us have encountered the difficulties it creates for the couple, the children and the extended family. The whole community is affected. It is a place where people are wounded and the scars which need healing are often present for many years to come. Each one of us is probably carrying our own stories and those memories attached to them. Divorce brings sadness and is in many ways like bereavement. So hopefully I shall proceed with care, compassion and understanding.
Perhaps if we dig deep into this Scripture we can do two things. We can see the context in which it was written and also look at Jesus’ emphasis on this difficult passage.
The Pharisees are again out to trap Jesus. They have misunderstood Scripture and God’s design for the world and they try to justify their errors. As so often was the case, the Pharisees want a confrontation with Jesus. They also neglect to mention a key piece of direction from Scripture in Deuteronomy 24, which requires a husband to give the certificate of divorce to his ex-wife. For a majority of women in that culture, survival depended upon being a member of a household. Indeed a woman could be exposed to great risk. The law’s provision about the certificate seeks to mitigate that risk, but apparently the Pharisees find that detail not worth noting. Jesus’ concern for the woman is quite different. It raises her profile and her need of protection.
But here Jesus turns the conversation away from the legal foundation for divorce and instead shifts the conversation to God’s design for marriage. He sees marriage as a unifying bond between two people.
Jesus portrays marriage as something to be undertaken with great seriousness and as something which transcends contractual obligations and economic ends. It is not to be casually formed or casually destroyed. Indeed, it rather encourages the church to help promote and foster healthy relationships and in the case of divorce and remarriage to extend compassion and facilitate healing.
Here Jesus is underscoring the importance of marriage and its lasting bond. He is outlining the ideal. But, we live in a broken world where the ties of marriage are not and sometimes cannot be maintained. May we too look to protect the vulnerable and supporting the weak as this passage also suggests.
Our Epistle today is also most helpful. The theme of how things were designed to be by God and how they turn out to be because of our wilful disobedience are explored in Hebrews. The passage we heard read from Hebrews relies on Psalm 8 and recalls God’s original plan for man. This plan was underscored with dignity. First he was created to be a creature of supreme favour. He was to be in a place of special privilege for he was made a little lower than the angels. He was meant to be a creature of integrity for he was crowned with glory and honour, with all the created order under his control. We hear the echoes of the Genesis passage. But this ideal image of man has slipped. We now see him disregarding God’s ways, abusing his privileges and ignoring his dignity.
But, part way through this passage, there is a huge and encouraging ‘but’ . . . but we see Jesus. It is almost as though the writer to the Hebrews sighs an enormous sigh of relief. In the midst of all the failure there stands one who can redeem the situation.
Not only can Jesus redeem the situation but he stands there with us. He is the ‘pioneer’, the one who goes before. When Christ assumed our humanity he was not protected from all the adversities of life. How then does he enter our world, our situations today? Let us for a moment return to the destabilising influence of divorce. We have said that divorce is like a bereavement. Jesus knew all about that when his friend Lazarus died. Divorce can turn you inside out. Jesus experienced that in the Garden of Gethsemane. Divorce is a separation. Jesus knew about that as he suffered the agonies on the cross. He is no stranger to our suffering; he knows exactly how we feel. But Christ not only came to share our humanity but to transform it. Under his sovereign control, things can be different. God has a brighter prospect for his people. Perhaps today we need to see Jesus standing by our side to lead us on, to lead us out.
We can spend much time trying to interpret this text from Hebrews and from Mark and probably struggle with it. But one of the messages from both the Gospel and the Epistle is that wherever we find ourselves on the course of our Christian journey, God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, is in the thick of it. Indeed God really is here right in the midst of our messy world and will stand fast with us. He understands our brokenness and longs to bring healing and wholeness into our world and for that I give him grateful thanks. Amen.