Sunday, 4 October 2015

On Adam & Steve

This sermon was preached on Sunday 4th October. It was a very difficult sermon to write. I knew, from the readings, that it must be about marriage, and I certainly did not want to be disengenuous in my preaching. It's the sermon I've done that's generated the most conversation at the door afterwards, as well as, I'm very pleased to say, generated the most compliments. There was, of course, some disagreement, and sadly, one lady seemed particularly put out, but at least stayed until the end of the service to tell me so.

A few weeks ago, Vaughan challenged me to refer to God as Mother during a future sermon, for God, as we know, is above, and beyond, and before gender. In this sermon, then, for reasons I hope will become clear, I refer to God the Father, as our Mother, using the feminine form.

One of the great things about the Church of England is its lectionary. The readings are set, and themed to ensure the full spectrum of the Bible is covered and to prevent preachers constantly talking about their pet topics, and to ensure those preachers deal with the difficult readings too.

Today’s readings, for me, are difficult. Individually, of course, there is no major difficulty in any of them, but taken as a whole there is a clear theme coming through that is asking and begging to be talked about this morning.

In another church, at another time, this would be a simple sermon. The preacher would stand up, possibly wave his bible in the air, and talk about how today’s readings presented clearly God’s plan for marriage – being a traditional marriage between a man and a woman. 'We’ve heard', the preacher would say, 'how the first marriage came about, and heard Christ reinforce the model through his teachings on divorce.'

He (and the preacher in that church would of course be a ‘he’) might even make a joke about God creating Adam and Eve, and not Adam and Steve (and yes, I have, in fact sat through a sermon where that very joke was made).

We’re not in that other church, or that other time, however. And that sermon, I hope you will be glad to know, is not my sermon this morning. In the week where the Catholic Church meets to discuss issues of contraception, divorce and homosexuality, and the whole idea of marriage, these are my thoughts, presented to the small corner of the Anglican communion in which I live and worship.

Adam & Steve, by Michael Madden - Link

I find the readings this morning difficult because of how they have been used in the past. These readings have, unfortunately, been used all too often to chastise, to silence and to oppress. They go hand-in-hand with barbed phrases such as ‘family values’ and fear about the church being forced by law to marry couples of the same sex. There has been, of course, renewed vigour around what the church considered marriage to be within the past two years with the passing of the same-sex-marriage act. There is, I am very, very sorry to say, a current of homophobia within the church as a whole that masquerades as ‘scriptural faithfulness’. There are also many more people who are trying their hardest to be faithful to what they believe to be God’s will on this topic, but who, were they God and had the choice, would not class homosexuality as a sin. It feels odd to have more compassion on this issue that the God whom we worship, who created compassion; who created us all.

There’s a piece in this sermon about the importance of context – of viewing all these passages within the realms of the rest of scripture, tradition and our reason. Miss out any one of these, and there are always going to be problems – an appeal to (for example) tradition at the expense of reason and scripture leads to stagnantation, and worse, to no improvements to our lives, and nor the lives of others – emancipation of women, the abolition of slavery, the ability to read the bible in our own language – these things never happened in a church or country where tradition is the only law.

We can all be guilty of cherry-picking – of having favourite verses of scripture that back up the arguments we like to make. It’s normal to have favourite verses – I myself have a fondness for the lines in Amos that say “let justice roll like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. Favourite verses are good; the issue comes if we emphasise some verses above others – our approach to any passage must be to view it within the whole realm of scripture (as well as interpreting it using our reason, and having a view to its traditional interpretation). Today’s readings, with their theme of marriage are no different – they must be seen within the context of ‘marriage in the bible’, of which, the greatest theme is the marriage between God and the people of Israel, between Christ and his Church.

When we look at these passages in that respect – with marriage being a symbol for our relationship with God, they give us insights into the kind of relationship God wants with us – God saw that the first human needed a partner to help him; that it wasn’t good for the first person to be alone.

From the very beginning, God sets down the fact that relationship is crucial. Straight away, Genesis tells us that God created people, and from the start, they were in a relationship with God. We were created for relationship. Genesis tells us that people should not be alone – that we need someone to help us – and yes, Genesis has that ‘someone’ as the man for the woman and the woman for the man, but we must remember that this is a creation story – it explains how humanity was created – there is one man, one woman, one garden, one snake – in a creation story, you only need one of each thing – the important thing here is two people;  we are built to be in community. We are built to love. Within that theme of marriage between God and Her people; that relationship – a loving partnership, and not the sexuality or gender of the partners – is central.

That idea of partnership with God comes through in our other readings this morning – such honour and elevation that God has bestowed upon humanity - “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God; you have crowned them with glory and honour, subjecting all things under their feet.”  In our partnership with God, we have been given dominium over the earth, and the rest of God’s creation. This is not a one-sided marriage. 

Partnership with God, then, is the theme of our readings today. That we were created by God to love Her, and be loved by Her.

I’d like to throw in a couple of thoughts to end with; one is a passage that has been instrumental in forming the people of God ever since it was written. It has influenced those great reforms I spoke of previously; the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, and – at the beginning of God’s church, the opening of the faith to the non-Jewish people. “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We are all one, all equal, in Christ.

The second passage is one we read this morning – it’s at the end of our reading from Mark, and it’s a timely warning against the very discrimination all of us are tempted to fall into. We place blockers and boundaries around who can come to God – we say to people, ‘you are not worthy’, ‘you will not understand’, ‘you will be a bother’, ‘you are an unrepentant sinner’. Christ sees our objections and is, as Mark states, indignant. ‘Let the little children come to me’, he says. How dare we discriminate against God’s children? For, are we not all God’s children? And Christ takes up those who we prevent from approaching him in his arms, and blesses them.

Sometimes, I think of replying back to that sermon I heard all those years ago. Yes, I would say, God created Adam and Eve. But She did, without a doubt, also create Adam and Steve, and Edna and Eve, and Elton and David, and you and me, and She crowned us all with glory and honour, subjecting all things under our feet.


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