Toorak Uniting Church

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We are community

Mark 10: 2 – 16
Rev. Pr Wolfgang Stahlberg
Pentecost 19
4 October 2015

Grace and peace

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. It reminds us that we have a lot in common with our sisters and brothers around the world. Toorak Uniting Church, for example, is in ecumenical partnership with the Catholic St. Peter, the Anglican St. John, and with the Lutheran Swedish church. We all try to answer the call of Jesus the Christ to build God’s kingdom in this world. Looking around in the whole world, we are not all alike by any means, we live in different cultures, denominations, and countries. We speak different languages, we have different names for God, and we have theological differences. But we are all one in God’s love.

As Christians, we often have a superiority complex, where we think that we are the only ones who have the one existing truth, and where our hospitality often gets the meaning to invite others to join us and become like us. We forget that there is not only one truth in existence, because truth is contextual. We forget that hospitality is grace, is an outstretched hand without a hidden stabbing, hospitality is an open invitation to join the kingdom of God! On World Communion Sunday, we have another opportunity to celebrate our diversity among all of God’s children.

In our text, Jesus talks about family, first about marriage and then about children. The context of Jesus is clearly a patriarchal society. We can easily recognize that when Jesus speaks about divorce in the first century, it was not at all the same social phenomenon that it is in the twenty-first century. For most of history, marriage was not about romance or fulfilment; rather, it was viewed primarily as a legal contract, as the lawful exchange of property. And the property were the women!

Most marriages were arranged, and the legal arrangements were made by the bride's father and the groom and his father, without any involvement of the bride herself. In case of divorce, the husband simply wrote a document that he had divorced his wife, and sent her away. When a woman was divorced she lost pretty much everything – status, reputation, and economic security.

Jesus' teachings were – and still are today – very radical, because he considered men and women as partners. Jesus’ message is that our relationships are more than legal matters, they are intended to help us to have and share more abundant life. Jesus is saying that the sexual and social union between two people involves the deep commitment of both partners. In rural areas, like Galilee, husband and wife were at the centre of the family, the basic unit of society for production and consumption as well as reproduction. Husband and wife were often working side-by-side in the fields and on the threshing floors. Divorce did not happen very often among these poor peasant families.

What Jesus condemned were the permissive policies of the elite in Jerusalem that allowed wealthy and powerful families to consolidate their economic power through marriage and remarriage. And Jesus clearly pointed to Herod Antipas, the ruler of the Galilee, who had just killed John the Baptizer – among other reasons because John criticized Herod’s political divorce and re-marriage! When Jesus spoke against divorce, he actually was protecting the welfare of women!

The second episode Mark tells us here, picks up the theme of 'children' from Jesus' criticism of the disciples' concern with their own greatness (9:33-41). In ancient Palestine, children were the human beings with the lowest status. So Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God belongs to children.

Jesus is inviting his contemporaries and us to imagine and to build communities centred in honest and equal relationships, founded on love and mutual dependence, fostered by respect and dignity, and pursued for the sake of the health of the community and the protection of the vulnerable. In our time, 2000 years later, children and women are still abused and exploited, or even held as slaves. Women still do not get the same wages for the same work, and are not promoted for their achievements in the same way as men. We have a lot of work to do building the community of God’s kingdom in our real world! We are called to transformation on a personal level, but also on a social and political level! Living in the kingdom of God means not only to love God, but to love that which God loves – indeed all of God’s children and the whole creation! We are called to a life of practical compassion and everyday justice! We are called to be advocates of marriage equality, of women’s rights, and of children’s safety and education.

Desmond Tutu wrote: "Human happiness comes from positive, nurturing and loving relationships, from helping others, and ultimately from a sense of inner peace. This inner peace can only come about when we let go of our fears and anger. Fear of others who are different to us, fear of not being good enough, fear in all situations separates. But love unites, so let us give freely the gift of understanding, the gift of love and compassion.

Where there is love and compassion, there is simply nothing to fear – and peace follows. While we are opposing injustices, let us also embrace those that speak hatred, because it is almost always their fear speaking, and fear is always best countered by love. That is the deepest and simplest form of our humanness."


© Rev. Pr Wolfgang Stahlberg, 2015

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