December 3, 2021

Becoming as Children 03-10-2021

Becoming as children. – Homily by Geoff Serpell
19th Sunday after Pentecost
[Scripture Reading: Mark 10: 2-16]
I am really pleased to have been invited to lead today’s service, having been out to grass as a lay preacher for such a long time due to this pandemic.
I had to scratch my head when I studied the set topic for today, but although challenging, I hope we all get something beneficial from my presentation.
Today’s passage from the gospel of Mark is about the ethics of divorce. Many of our relatives, friends, including at least one Uniting Church Minster and indeed two of our sons have been through this painful experience. My father was married four times and went through one divorce. With one of our sons the divorce came after thirty years of marriage.
What I hope to present to you is a fuller understanding of what Jesus said about the law down through the centuries and wrap up with the status of children and same gender relationships in the view of our church.
From the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, reveals that in 2019, 113,815 marriages were registered, and 49,116 divorces were granted in Australia. The number of same sex marriages was 5,507 which represents about 5% of all marriages in Australia mostly performed by civil celebrants. Almost one half of all marriages end in divorce.
Let me go back to the Gospel of Mark where several passages are duplicated in Matthew. Jesus is replying to a trick question posed by the Pharisees, the largest Jewish sect regarded as hard-hearted legalists and noted for self-conceit and long prayers. They were in Judea, the Kingdom of Herod. The question of the Pharisees was hostile. It was for unlawful divorce and remarriage that John the Baptist denounced Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother but left him for Antipas. This rebuke cost John first imprisonment and then his life. Jesus was now in Herod’s jurisdiction, and the pharisees hoped that Jesus’ reply would cause those in authority to seize him as they had John.
The Uniting Church Minister, Rev. David Beswick, believes that Moses, reflecting the loving kindness and compassion of God, allowed women a right of remarriage. Without this, a wife could be a slave to her husband or, without him, an outcast from society.
I n his response to the Pharisees, Jesus gave a higher meaning to the loving kindness of God. We humans were made male and female for each other and in fulfilling our potential to become God’s children, we should recognize and honour that gift by living faithfully and reflecting God’s love in the way we relate to one another.
Jesus’ reply is saying that if you treat something like marriage as just a set of laws to be complied with, then you have missed the whole point of what God is on about. Jesus is not making a blanket condemnation of all divorced people at all. Rather, he is criticizing religious teachers who exploit the law to maintain their own veneer of righteousness while behaving abusively towards their wives and children.
Jesus was not so much the opponent of divorce as the champion of women. At that time a Jewish man could divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons when the discarded woman and their children could be left without means of support.
Our Bible passage now passes on to the disciples trying to stop people bothering Jesus with requests for him to bless the children, so Jesus rebukes them and welcomes the children, telling the disciples that unless they receive the kingdom of God like a little child, they will never enter it.
We should realize that it is God who calls the shots, who reigns on high, so we can relax and put our trust in God’s gracious leadership. We should not try to exalt male over female, or white over black, or rich over poor, or citizen over refugee by victimizing those we designate as lower. We need to find our common sisterhood and brotherhood with one another and with Christ, finding our place as fellow children of the one God. May we choose to honour the leadership of those who are clearly from a position of submission to Christ and stand against those who would usurp Christ’s lordship and attempt to lead us on an opposing path.
In a world where there are always arrogant fools getting themselves elected or seizing power by force, do not despair for the fate of the world lies not in their hands but in the hands of the one who rules overall, and who humbly offers his life for all. To him be all majesty and authority, dominion, and power, both now and always.
Uniting Church National Assembly resolutions: Marriage and Divorce: July 1997
In the case of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, the Church acknowledges that divorce may be the only creative and life-giving direction to take.
The Church has a responsibility to:
[a] care for people, including children, through the trauma of the ending of a marriage;
[b] help people to grieve, repent, grow in self-understanding, receive affirmation, grace and forgiveness;
[c] support them as they hear God’s call for a new life.
The grace and healing of God are available to people who are divorced, which may free them to marry again.

Uniting church Victorian Synod in 1999 resolved: –
To call upon each member of the Church, when engaged in conversation regarding sexual orientation, to recognize the following: –
[a] All people, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual are loved children of a loving God;
[b] Christians are called to reflect this love in their dealings with one another.
[c] Christians should not vilify others, either individually or collectively, because of their sexual orientation and
[d] Similarly, Christians should not vilify people of differing theologies.
16th Assembly: B11 National Safe church Unit
This was established in 2019 as a response by Uca to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
This is to ensure that all parts of the UCA are places where all people can feel safe. In 2020, the Unit provided a suite of resources to strengthen our culture of safety.
Geoff Serpell
3 October 2021