The way of love

Mary Copping, 7 October 2018

Jesus came to earth to show us God’s love, and in whatever he did, while here, his was the way of love for all. The ultimate act of love was his death on the cross to bring us back to God’s love.

In our gospel reading, his love is shown when the disciples were pushing children away. People were bringing their children to Jesus because they felt that if he touched them it would be a special blessing and good for their souls. Children, along with women in that age, had no importance or status. Yet Jesus showed his love for them by welcoming them, and he said very firmly, ‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’. His love is for all – especially those on the margins, those deemed not important.

In our reading from Genesis we heard about God making a partner for Adam. However one sees this account – as literally true or as myth to describe something indescribable – this is a wonderful message. God is a caring God; he knew that it was not good for Adam to be alone and wanted him to have a partner, someone to be his companion.

For all those who are in a happy marriage, who know companionship and love (or have known it), this is a lovely message. But we all know that it is not easy either being alone or, for that matter, being married, or in any relationship. It is often so much about us, our ego, wanting our own way; and not about the other person, not following the way of love. This can lead us all to great challenges.

We all know that it is not easy either being alone or, for that matter, being married, or in any relationship.

This is where Jesus’ teaching is so important: that first of all we must follow the way of love. But in our gospel reading we see the Pharisees putting the law first. As guardians of God’s law for his chosen people, they felt that the keeping of his commandments in the Torah was essential. With this in mind, they added many bylaws.

When Jesus said that he was the Messiah, this was blasphemy to them, and he broke some of their laws, especially those about working on the Sabbath. One can understand their concern; if someone like him came into a church today, or wandered the streets saying he was God’s Son, then leaders of churches would be concerned. Thus, the Pharisees felt threatened by him – felt perhaps that they had to protect their people from a figure who was possibly setting up a cult. So they were often out to trap Jesus, to prove him wrong, to prove that he was an imposter – not the way of love, but the way of the law.

In our reading, they were intent on trying to corner Jesus by questioning him on marriage and divorce. But his reply was simple – he referred to Genesis and said that two shall become one flesh.

Often this is so hard for us: we cannot love first, we cannot follow the way of love because of wanting to put self first. Or we have inner emotional wounds that prevent us from being able to come into what God had in mind for us when he made a companion for Adam.

This is when relationships go wrong and marriages crumble. It is happening more and more, amongst Christians as well as others. We are in a culture where there is much divorce. Life can be complex.

In his words Jesus states the ideal, God’s perfection: that marriage is for life and that man was made for woman. But he does say to the Pharisees that Moses allowed divorce ‘because of your hardness of heart’. God is a God of love and compassion.

Divorce is not something that anyone aims for. When things go wrong in a marriage, when people have tried to keep things together but failed, there is much difficulty and pain for everyone involved. God does not judge and condemn those in these difficult situations, but wants to help and bring his love to where it is most needed, in the middle of the pain. He it is who weeps for us and with us as we struggle.

The church recognises that some marriages sadly do fail and, when this happens, it seeks to help all involved. It accepts that, in some circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church. We take the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as an example of this.

And for those not married, God wants for each of us special relationships with friends and family – none of us is meant to be alone. Of course there are lonely people, but here in this church community we find friendships and love. I was married for many years, and in that there were challenges. I am now alone, which also has its challenges. But I find the love and friendship that I need, both in this church and further afield.

Being alone is difficult and relationships are also difficult. In our gospel reading we hear of the disciples asking Jesus in private more about his teaching on marriage and divorce. They were the ones privileged to get to know Jesus and to know his love intimately as they travelled with him. Later, when he talked to them about leaving them, he spoke much about the Holy Spirit who would help them, strengthen them, lead and guide them. So for us, we also have God’s Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness, to help us through our difficulties and pain, to be our companion if we are alone, to help us if we are in difficult relationships, to help us to love one another as God loves us.

When I was preparing this sermon and saw what the readings were, it seemed a challenging one to tackle. How was I going to preach on marriage and divorce in such a time as this? But as I thought, prayed and received advice from others, I realised that the important thing is God’s love.

Through the difficulties we all encounter in our relationships – whether in marriage or with friends and family – we have the knowledge of God’s love for us, his grace, his unmerited favour for us which we don’t deserve. This is the good news for us, not just when our relationships are going well and we know the love of God and the love of each other, but also when relationships go badly and fail. We have God’s love and his forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross for us, which no-one can take from us and which help and bless us throughout our lives. Amen.