Sermon by Martin James 03.10.2021

Sermon by Martin James 3.10.2021

Mark 10:2-16

As part of my training for ordination I was asked to attend a marriage preparation course in our then parish. After the first session, because I felt a bit out of place on my own with several couples, Jean offered to come with me. We joined in all the exercises and the results were interesting! However as we are coming up to 60 years of married life together we don’t feel we have done too badly!

There are two different events in this morning’s Gospel. But we shall see that they both relate to family.

The first is in vvs 2-10. And v2 gives the context of it - Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” It was because of the unlawful divorce and re-marriage that John the Baptist denounced Herod when he took his brother’s wife Herodias. You will remember that because of the way it ended for John. Salome’s dance and his beheading at the request of her mother. Maybe the Pharisees hoped that Jesus would answer their trick question in the  same way as John. And so enable Herod to imprison him.

Jesus of course knew the law about divorce that had been handed down from Moses. There were circumstances where it was allowed. But not in cases like Herod and Herodias.

I have to say at this point that of course marriage is not for everyone. But where it is, it should be a lifelong commitment. And in that respect look at what Jesus had to say to those who do. In talking about divorce - v5 - “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you”. In some instances divorce could be seen as giving in to human weakness. But that was not the standard that God had originally intended for marriage. Jesus deals with that in vvs6-9.

First - v6 - …..from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” Jesus goes back to the time before Adam and Eve’s disobedience to show God’s original intention in creation. Lifelong commitment, as I said just now. And he stresses this permanence in what we

read in v8 - “and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” So, v9 - “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Those words always used in the marriage service of course. And it stamps the authority of God on the ceremony.

So that puts it all into perspective. However, so much of society today has a completely different attitude. “Easy come/easy go.” Divorce has become all too easy. And look at the effect it has on family life, especially children.

There are exceptions with what’s been called irretrievable breakdown, when sometimes it can be the best thing. We experienced it with one of our daughters. Through no fault of either of them her first marriage broke down. She went on to have a happy second marriage, and children. Although it was sad for her first husband. But both she and her new husband kept in contact with him.

Through it all, though, God must surely wish that society, culture in general, would hold on to and follow his original plan.

Listen to what the wonderful christian writer and speaker, William Barclay once wrote:- “The real essence of the passage is that Jesus insisted that the loose sexual morality of his day must be mended. Those who sought marriage only for pleasure must be reminded that marriage is also for responsibility. Those who regarded marriage simply as a means of gratifying their physical passions must be reminded that it is also a spiritual unity. Jesus was building a rampart around the home.”

So, marriage and divorce and its effect on families and others.

In the second part of today’s Gospel Jesus now goes on with the familiar story about the little children. That lovely verse 14 - “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs .I always use that when I am baptising children.

But in the beginning of that section we read how the disciples rebuked those who brought children to Jesus. I suggest that they were simply wanting to protect Jesus from interruptions. They didn’t want him to be bothered. It seems that they couldn’t understand that he would want children around him.

But he had a lesson he wanted to give. v14b again - ...for it is to such of these that the kingdom of God belongs. His point is the innocence of children and how everyone can learn from that/them. In other words the Kingdom belongs to those who, like children, are prepared to receive it as a gift from God. It, our salvation, cannot be achieved by our own human efforts.

Of course, as we receive that and come to him, we want to respond to God’s love in worship and service. But the bottom line is “Only by grace”:-

Only by grace can we enter,

Only by grace can we stand.

Not by our human endeavour

But by the blood of the Lamb.

In the last verse of today’s Gospel we read - v16 - And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. That’s a visual demonstration by Jesus of the blessings of the Kingdom being freely given.

We’ve seen Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce and also the innocence of children.

For marriage and divorce God’s desire too often conflicts with human nature and also culture.

For children it’s the Kingdom and how we are called to accept the love of God like children.

I had a friend some time ago who I was trying to persuade to join the PCC. He said that it didn’t feel right for him because he said his faith was too simple. My response was that was exactly what was needed.

I said at the start it all relates to family. And that applies whether we are married or not, parents or not, grandparents, great grandparents or not. Because we are all the family of God.

I’m going to finish with a verse from a modern song “No longer mine”. It was actually originally a John Wesley prayer:-

“No longer mine, Lord, but yours

The sovereign lord who we adore.

We bow before you, our glorious King.

Our very lives, Lord, we freely bring.

A covenant human and divine,

No longer mine, but yours.”

 

Martin James 03.10.21