Loving God, you have built your Church on the foundations 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; Amen
This past Thursday we held the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. The establishment of such a day was one of the 94 Calls for Action as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which produced its report in 2015.
It seemed to me that although it was a federal holiday, the intention of the day was for all Canadians to educate themselves better about the legacy of Residential Schools and how they have affected generations of First Nations peoples.
As we normally have Mattins (Morning Prayer) on Thursdays it seemed appropriate to keep this service which we started with a prayer for First Nations people and the intent of the day itself.
Later we went to the site of a residential school in North Vancouver where people, most wearing orange shirts, gathered after walking from the Tsleil-Waututh Administrative Offices to St Paul’s, in a pilgrimage walk of 8.5 kms. It was good to see indigenous and non-indigenous peoples walking together and gathering together. There is much for us to learn and this day is another step forward towards reconciliation.
I must admit when I looked at the readings for this Sunday I did not dance for joy. First we get Job in despair and later some direction on divorce, which perhaps has more to say to the time of Jesus than it does today. Suffice it to say, I know some wonderful people who have been divorced, many of them are members of our congregation.
I was also very grateful to the insights of the Bible Study group when we met on-line and in-person on Wednesday. In fact I suggested that perhaps one of them might like to preach this week, but it seems that responsibility has been left with yours truly.
If we think that society is patriarchal today we have to remember that in the time of Jesus things were very different. First of only a man could divorce a woman and not the other way round. So as one commentator (Vitalis Hoffman) suggests, we have to be careful how we hear this, for when Jesus speaks against divorce he is actually seeking to strength a woman’s role by suggesting men should not divorce their wives. Women were regarded as the property of their husbands, hence the husband’s ability to divorce their wives. Interestingly in Roman society either party could divorce the other. We should also note that marriage in Jesus’ time wasn’t about love but property, status and honour between two families. This of course made divorce very complicated.
So Jesus was concerned for woman, who after divorce could not remarry and often would therefore be destitute. Jesus was also concerned for those who remained faithful in marriage but were divorced because the husband wanted another partner. This is why Jesus suggests that no one should divide those whom God have joined together.
Of course these words remain a part of the present day marriage rite. They speak to a desire and determination on the part of the couple to remain married for the rest of their lives. And that should always be the intention when a couple are married.
I know that within our congregation there are people who have been married and have been divorced. Sometimes the circumstances are known, other times they are not. It is my role to only listen to what people share with me, not to pry into the sometimes difficult and dark places of their lives.
One woman I know where she was seriously concerned for the well-being of her children and for that reason she left the marriage, not because she didn’t love her husband, but because she feared for the lives of her children and herself. In fact a priest advised to leave her marriage at a time when divorce was not the common practice it is today.
In other words in my understanding of how we practice our faith, as Christians, there will be times when a marriage breaks down, because of desertion, because of abuse, because of unreasonable behaviour. Such circumstances mean it is entirely right for people to leave a marriage. Some people having been divorced do not marry again; the same is truth for those who are widowed. And how good it is when some people do marry again and why not, if they have been though hardship they surely deserve a second chance at happiness.
The disciples at times acted as sort of minders to Jesus, keeping the crowds at bay, making sure he wasn’t pestered too much. So when children were brought to Jesus for him to offer them a blessing, the well-meaning disciples tried to send them away. Jesus wasn’t pleased at this, saying ‘it is to such as these (meaning the children) that the kingdom of God belongs.’ And Jesus further adds: ‘who does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
In this part of the passage there is a good chance of more misunderstanding. Jesus didn’t mean we need to retain a childish but a child-like faith to enter the kingdom; in other words we are to trust God in the way a small child trusts their parents. Too often as we grow older we trust in God conditionally, sometimes making pacts with God by saying we will trust God if so and so happens or does not happen. This will never work. Our call as Christians is to trust God with all our being. That though doesn’t mean there aren’t questions and discussions we want to have with God. For when life is not going to plan there is every reason to ask God why such things are happening to us.
We also should remember that in the time of Jesus, children as well as women had a much lower social status. The fact was men ruled the day, and status was all important. Such that if one could associate with people of high status this was the way to go because it would by definition improve your status too! Of course that type of think has not wholly changed.
This last week fall arrived in no uncertain terms with winds and rain. It is unusual for the cedars to begin to drop their orange carpet on our garden as early as late September, but by Thursday the carpet was well established. Somehow it seemed very fitting as we marked the first Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as the cedar boughs were a poignant reminder of those traumatised by residential schools and the legacy they have brought to countless First Nations families in Canada.