Join us together in unity of spirit

Book of Alternative Service Proper 27: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Homily for Parish of St. Timothy’s and St. Paul’s, Hatchet Lake and Terence Bay, Nova Scotia

7 October 2018

Collect of the Day: Almighty God, you have built your Church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Join us together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may become a holy temple, acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Job 1.1; 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1.1-4; 2.5-12; Mark 10.2-16

Let us pray:

Come, O Holy Spirit, come. Come as the wind and cleanse; come as the fire and burn; convict, convert and consecrate our lives; to our great good and to your great glory. Amen. (Prayer over the Catechumenate, ECUSA BOS 2003, p 127)

And he took them into his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark creates a beautiful image of Jesus in today’s Gospel, doesn’t he? Jesus openly receives the little children that were brought to him. He says that the kingdom of God belongs to them. He lays hands on them. He blesses them.

It doesn’t get better than this. The sent one from God, Jesus the Christ, saying, “Let them come. Do not stop them. God’s kingdom belongs to children.” It’s not hard to picture this scene playing out in front of us. Beautiful.

[If you are a child today, and hearing this, know that it is true. The kingdom of God belongs to you. Hold on to this fact as you go through your life – don’t let anyone ever tell you any different.]

If you know a child or two in your life, be sure to let them know that the kingdom of God belongs to them. Jesus loves them, reaches out to them and blesses them just like he did in Mark’s gospel.

Perhaps you’re someone who heard this as a child, and it made all of the difference to you during a tough spell. Maybe it’s something that you carried with you, that when difficulty came up for you, your knowledge that God loves you and that you are blessed helped to get you through.

Not to diminish all of what I have just said…we’re not talking about a mere philosophy or theory. After all, we’re talking about the deepest truths of the reality that God desires a relationship with each of us. This is what is revealed to us through Jesus.

But, there’s an elephant in the room today. Have you noticed?

When we hear challenging portions of scripture proclaimed like we have today, I wonder if there’s a bit of hope that the preacher will just skip the uncomfortable bits and jump ahead to the good part. It’s sort of like going home for Thanksgiving will be for some, you know? Talk about the weather. Share the best techniques for that perfectly, roasted turkey. Share favorite stuffing or pumpkin pie recipes. Avoid any talk of political disagreements. Don’t talk about your faith. Avoid the family landmines.

Back to the elephants…or, at least the Pharisees. They are back at it again. Their favorite past time isn’t watching Calgary play Montreal on Thanksgiving Day. It’s, “hey, let’s try to stump Jesus one more time.”

This scene takes place by the Jordan in the Judean wilderness. This is the location where John the Baptist ministered. John was critical of Herod Antipas who divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife. To be able to do so, she needed to divorce Herod’s brother. According to Jewish law, a woman could not divorce. This is complicated. Are you with me so far?

John preached against Herod, saying that this ruler could not possibly be the longed-for King of Israel because of his wife’s divorce. The coming Messiah will be the King of Israel. Prepare the way for him.  For this, John was imprisoned and killed. Now, the Pharisees are hoping to catch Jesus in the same trap that John was caught in.

But, Jesus is on to them. He responds to the Pharisee with what they already know. Moses permits divorce under certain circumstances. Jesus doesn’t say that Moses was wrong. He explains that Moses had to do this in response to hard hearts.  Further, Jesus says that we need to go back to the source, and so he quotes from Genesis. Jesus goes on to say that God created us to come together as one. In the joining together, both are changed. (Hardened hearts are the source of abuse and exploitation of others.)

Notice here that no one is saying that marriage is threatened or under attack from the outside, as if it could be. “What God joins, no one can separate,” after all.

The success of marriage, rather, relies on the ability of the two to accept the change that occurs within each to become one without abuse or exploitation. Jesus is saying that this is the Creator’s intent for all of creation – restoration and wholeness.

We know that this passage frequently gets interpreted as a referendum on sexual orientation, marriage or divorce. The problem with this interpretation is this. If we interpret scripture this way, we risk interpreting it through the lens of our limited human understanding. If we find ourselves doing this, we need to stop and change lenses. Look instead at what this passage is saying about God. Because scripture is always about God’s revelation to us. It shapes us, you see?

The Pharisees’ game of trying to trap Jesus in his words, becomes an opportunity for Jesus to reveal something of the nature of God’s kingdom. God promises a kingdom of restoration and wholeness – healing from this time of broken woundedness and the restoration of creation as it was intended.  One way or the other, it will happen. When God’s kingdom is fulfilled, there is no differentiation. All will come together as one in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

You don’t need me to tell that we are not there yet. It can feel pretty discouraging. Stories of abuse, exploitation and injustice are all around us these days — the “haves” and the “have nots.” Who’s in? Who’s out?  It’s easy to feel that there is no hope, or that our work toward God’s justice, healing and compassion fall on a world that couldn’t be bothered. It’s tempting to allow our own hearts to harden. When we allow our heart to harden, we are interpreting life through our limited perspective.

On the other hand, if we hold firm to God’s revelation through Jesus, we can live the kingdom-of-God message that defies the gatekeepers of the world. Side by side with Christ, we can do the work of opening the gates to the kingdom of God that admits all people just as Jesus received all of the children.

This is what it looks like for us to become the holy temple.  This is what we prayed for in today’s collect prayer:

Almighty God, you have built your Church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Join us together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may become a holy temple, acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Amen.