Sermon: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost 25th October 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping  7am, 8am and 10am

Readings:  Job 42.1-6, 10-17, Ps 34.1-8 (19-22), Heb 7.21-28, Mark 10.46-52

The Reverend  Catherine Eaton

It’s good to be with you again. Thank you Fr Ross for the invitation. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities and support this parish offered me at a critical time in my own journey.

As some of you know, I’ve recently returned to NSW from Melbourne. After a long process of discernment, taking me in various directions, I eventually felt clear that Newcastle was the place to go – a friendly Bishop, close to Sydney, and where I could have some small ministry as an ordained priest – female. It was the obvious and logical place. So I set out for Newcastle to look for a place to live. I knew my plans… and so did God. After months of uncertainty, I now felt I could do something definite.

Unfortunately, I arrived on the outskirts of Newcastle at peak hour on a dark, wintry Friday night. Not only was I caught up in a rushing stream of cars and trucks, there was also a torrential storm. Blinded by the lights and rain – you know the kind where windscreen wipers are redundant – I got hopelessly lost. Every time I turned off, I became more disoriented. Motels were all full, and most of the time I was just being carried along with the traffic, simply trying to stay safe. Road signs emerged out of the wet and disappeared. I seemed to be going round the outside of Newcastle, but it wasn’t going to let me in.

As I drove, my prayers became more desperate. But suddenly in that moment when I was most confused and anxious, most unclear about where I was or what I was doing, I heard that small voice in my head – ‘Where do you really want to be?’ Immediately I thought – ‘the Southern Highlands’. It was a split second when it seemed scales fell from my eyes, and I felt a deep peace and sense of knowing I hadn’t felt before. Not long after, a sign to Gosford emerged out of the haze of lights and water. I turned off, headed south, and eventually found my house in Bowral, but that’s a story for another day.

I realised I had to become blind before I could be open to a different reality. In that brief moment, my restricted vision was broken open and exposed to a new light. I had to go down the paths of dark unknowing before I could actually see what God was preparing before me.

There seems to be a theme in today’s readings, reminding us of our limited vision, and calling us to a greater seeing, a fuller beholding of God and the reality in which we’re held.

While the book of Job leaves us as perplexed as ever about the questions of suffering and God and the universe, today’s reading tells us of Job’s awakening to his own small view of reality. Suddenly, Job is confronted with the limits of his understanding and the shadows across his seeing. He says ‘I have uttered what I did not understand….. I had heard of you…but now my eye sees you’. In that moment, Job is both humbled before God and given new perspective, a new seeing. Only then was he ready for the new blessing.

Too often we judge the moments of our lives, the situations and events, as good or bad, hopeful or difficult, according to our own limited framework. We forget there’s a bigger reality in which each moment is held, a reality of love which is also before and after this moment.

The psalmist, however, reminds us how our focus can become clearer and our vision enlarged. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’, ‘bless the Lord at all times’, ‘seek the Lord’, ‘look to him and be radiant’. Seeing the goodness of the Lord here and now – in every moment, even in the uncertainty of our lives, the times of unknowing and of darkness – that is what shapes our perspective.

‘Look to God and be radiant’……imagine – when your new priest comes, he (for it will be a he) will come in and find a sea of shining faces, turned not to him but to God, open to God’s greater reality, ready to receive the light you need for your journey.

The 2nd reading reminds us that Christ is our true priest, already here amongst you, the steady presence over the years of change, and it is on him your focus must remain.

Yes, you do need a new rector to lead this parish on the next stage of its journey. You do need a priest who is strong and wise, energetic and healthy, emotionally integrated, spiritually enlightened, pastorally astute, liturgically creative, politically savvy and an economic genius, able to deliver a stunning sermon on demand, glowing in holiness, and with a great sense of humour! What you will get is a human being, hopefully with some of these qualities, but a mere reflection of our true Priest, a glimpse though, as we all are, of the Christ-life into which we are all being drawn, in spite of our blindness.

And so Bartimaeus in today’s gospel reminds us who we are. We all take our place on the roadside of life. We know the contours of our world, the sounds and smells and the feel of it. And like Bartimaeus, our seeing is limited.

But as Jesus approached, Bartimaeus was alert, fully present to that moment. He wasn’t stuck in the past, remembering all the people who had ignored him before. Why would Jesus be any different?

He didn’t limit the future – ‘What’s the point? Jesus won’t be able to heal me anyway.’

And he didn’t miss the moment, fumbling to find that coin someone had just thrown on his coat.

In that moment of possibility he was awake, open and ready, perhaps more aware of his blindness than ever before. That was the moment of potential, a moment which would not come again, fully charged with the makings of a new seeing, a clearer vision, a possibility he’d never imagined.

How open are we to the bigger vision, full of unseen potential, which God offers us in every moment?

How often does the moment pass because we’re blinded by our preoccupations with little things and petty disturbances? How often is the brightness of its hidden potential clouded by our fears, our misplaced wants, our plans, or the concrete structures in which we encase our views of the world and life and others? Like Bartimaeus, our first task is to recognise our blindness, the narrowness of our vision, the shadows on our seeing, and, then, to cry out to God for a new seeing.

Bartimaeus says ‘Let me see again.’ He wants restoration of a sight he once had. This too is about us. We need to keep growing into a larger, more expansive vision of life. But we also lose sight, as our eyes and minds and hearts close with the familiar lines of our worlds. Our blindness creeps back in on us and shrouds our reality and the potential within it.

We need to discover our blindness again and again, so God’s light can keep breaking in on us. Little by little God seeks to awaken us to the bigger reality of God’s own vision, God’s desires and plans. God longs for us to enter into that new beholding, that greater reality, and to call out with Bartimaeus – ‘Teacher, let me see again’.

You, as a parish, are in a particular time of limited sight, as you wonder about the future of the parish and wait for your new priest. This is a time to encourage each other as those with Bartimaeus did – ‘Take heart, get up, he is calling you’.

Take heart, even when you cannot see what is happening.

Get up and out of your small visions and limited views, your desires and plans and wants.

God is calling each and every one of you into a greater reality, into a new seeing of life in all its brightness and wonder. Your new priest will come into that reality. This is not the time for you to be waiting for him, no matter how gifted he is, to come and create that reality and lead you into it. You need to be leaning into it now, opening yourselves to it with a new seeing.

Jesus says to you, as he said to Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Don’t limit your prayer. Don’t just say ‘Give us a new rector.’ Say with Bartimaeus, ‘Let us see again… Give us sight beyond what we can now see, enlarge our vision, inspire our wondering, remove the scales from our eyes, and enable us to behold what you behold for this time in our parish’s life.’

We can only ever see a fragment of the reality in which God holds us. But live into this time as fully as you can, with all its uncertainties and opportunities, its challenges, its fears and its joys. For Christ himself is in it, whatever you may think of it.

And it will be into this enlarged vision, into this greater beholding, that your new priest will come, and even now is being prepared for it.

So as the psalmist reminds us, ‘look to God and be radiant’, so your new priest will come and find you all with faces shining, beholding the wonder of God, and ready to live into a future already prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: 20th Sunday after Pentecost 11th October 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping  8am and 10am

Readings:  Job 23:1-9,16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

“WHY ME, GOD?” – The Message of Job – The Reverend  Paul Weaver

Over the past four or five years I have got to know Daniel and George pretty well. Daniel is a diabetic with kidney failure, and a few years ago we worked together through the issues involved when it became clear that Daniel would have to go into dialysis, spending three long half days each week at the hospital, having his blood treated so that he could stay alive. The treatment kept this man in his 60’s going, but it didn’t prevent his condition worsening. Daniel had to have one leg amputated, and then this year he lost the other leg, which made it necessary to live in a Nursing Home. Following that operation, the new stump gave him continual severe pain, and the medical staff had great difficulty getting it under control. Daniel’s pain had got to the point where he was thinking of giving up dialysis, knowing that by doing that he would soon die.

Thankfully, some new medication has been found which seems to be controlling the pain, much to the relief of George as well as Daniel. George has been his partner for the past 41 years. Daniel feels more hopeful about life now, but he wonders what is around the next corner.

A couple of days ago George asked me to sit down and talk with him. We had an hour or so together, exploring where God fits in to all this. Daniel and George are people of Christian faith, although as gay people, their relationship with the church over the years has had its ups and downs. George wanted to explore a question which so many people ask: Why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is all-powerful and God is wise and God is loving, why does he allow people to suffer such things as Daniel has been going through? Of course, people ask this question out of a wide range of painful and difficult situations.

I did a lot of listening. We did some exploring of the issues. We saw that maintaining your faith could be a struggle in tough times. I could not take away the pain, or solve the problem, as I would love to be able to do. We finished up acknowledging that there was no neat answer to the question, and we prayed for God’s help. And I think George felt that our time together had been helpful and encouraging.

No doubt many of us in pain or difficult circumstances have cried out “Why God? Why me God?” If God is really there, why is the world the way it is? Why is there pain as well as pleasure, tears as well as smiles? Why is there darkness as well as light, death as well as life?

The scriptures give us insights into these questions, without providing neat and tidy answers. These issues provide the setting for the Book of Job, a small part of which we are reading this month as our Old Testament readings.

The book begins with Job, a good and godly man, who is assailed with one misfortune after another: his children are killed, his wealth is destroyed, and he is hit with a dreadful disease which leaves him cast out of society, sitting on the rubbish dump in terrible physical and emotional pain. In fact, we are told that God has given Satan permission to afflict Job in this terrible way, because God is convinced that even in such dreadful circumstances, Job will remain faithful to him. And Job does maintain his faith, even when his wife tells him that he would be better off cursing God, and dying.

Now this doesn’t provide an answer to the problem of suffering, but it points us to some important ideas. It tells us that there is a spiritual dimension to suffering, as indeed the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 also indicates. It insists that even when bad things happen, God is still there, and is even then forwarding his own purposes. But the explanation in these opening chapters raises many questions, as well as providing some insights.

Three friends come to comfort Job. They sit with him in silence, acknowledging his pain and suffering, sitting in solidarity with him. Job finally opens his mouth to bewail the terrible suffering he is going through, and then his friends make their dreadful mistake. They open their big mouths. Their silence had been golden: their words were ignorant and hurtful.

Why? They knew God’s promises to his people that he would bless them if they obeyed him. They knew the warnings that God would punish those who arrogantly disobeyed him. And they jumped to the conclusion that God must be punishing Job for some hidden but grievous sin.

It was actually not logical: but it was the conventional wisdom of the time. If you are suffering, it must be because God is punishing you. I suspect that there would be church people today who might want to use that explanation against Daniel and George for their homosexuality!

Job’s friends, three of them and then a fourth who comes in towards the end of the book, warn him and instruct him and plead with him and harangue him, trying to get him to confess the grievous sins he has clearly committed and to repent and turn back to God. If he does that, God will forgive him, and all will be well.

The problem is that Job does not believe that he is guilty in the way his friends insist, and he believes that he has no need to repent. And for 35 chapters the debate goes on with no yielding of ground. The friends become more and more frustrated with Job’s obstinacy, which only convinces them how hard-hearted Job is in his sinfulness.

Job becomes more and more frustrated with his friends. He turns from them to God, seeking and begging and demanding and arguing with the Creator about what he is going through. We heard something of that in this morning’s reading. For Job will also have assumed that bad things should happen to bad people, and good things should happen to good people. His experience is not only terrible: it makes no sense at all. Job pleads that God explain himself, and that God declare him not guilty.

And in Chapter 38 God finally appears. As we will hear in next week’s reading, God takes Job on a Cook’s Tour of creation – the elements, and a variety of creatures: wondrous, strange, terrifying. God challenges Job about whether he could do a better job than God of running the world. But he never answers Job’s questions about why all this has happened to him. Perhaps it is better that Job doesn’t know!

At the end of the book, Job acknowledges his ignorance, and even his arrogance before God: but he does not confess his non-existent sins. God tells the three friends that they are wrong, and Job is in the right. And the story ends happily, with Job restored to full health and wealth, and a new family to boot!

The Book of Job is a long book, and many of the ideas it includes are wrong and misguided: that is a deliberate aspect of the book. It has people holding on to misguided ideas, and thrashing about searching for the truth. It doesn’t really give a direct answer to the big question about suffering, but it is rewarding in its own way, for as we battle with the question, we see from this book that we are not alone. Others – even in the scriptures – struggle with the question: it is a real question. But Job makes clear that there may not be an answer when we ask our question. The question is a significant one, as we try to make sense of life and its pains: but a direct answer may not be accessible to us.

What we often need in our pain is the assurance that God is still there; that even when life is really tough, God is there is the dark place; that he has not given up on us or abandoned us. And when there is someone we know who is in pain, we need the wisdom to see that it is better for us just to be there with them, listening, understanding, accepting, rather than trying to give too many answers and too much advice.

When life is painful, it is natural to ask “Why God? Why this, God? Why me, God?” But we will probably not get a neat answer to the question. And there is a more important question: “How do I handle this? How do I respond? What do I need to do?”

Psalm 22 tells of a person going through dreadful suffering. But when we hear its words, we are reminded on the words of Jesus on the cross: “My God, why have you abandoned me?” In Jesus, we find God himself sharing personally in the sufferings of this world, and in the worst that people can do. God does not abandon us in our suffering: he shares with us in the world’s pain. As Hebrews reminds us, we have in Jesus a great High Priest who knows what suffering and testing is all about.

No, we do not have all the answers. And we don’t have to provide people with the answers: we need to show them and assure them of God’s love and his presence through our compassion and understanding.

And when it comes to us, we too can pour out our pains to God who hears and understands, even when he doesn’t give us the immediate answers we long for. But in our prayers we can be real and honest and open as Job, and remember the assurance that God is there, even in the dark places. As the writer to the Hebrews encourages us: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace in prayer with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Sermon: 19th Sunday after Pentecost 4th October 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping  7am, 8am and 10am

Readings:  Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

This is going to be difficult. Our subject today is divorce. Even raising the subject will no doubt cause some pain to someone here today and for that I apologise. However, I don’t think we should never talk about it. I think that would be unfair. Today in Australia, divorce touches everybody. Almost half of marriages in Australia end in divorce. There is hardly a family anywhere that has not been affected by it. And it doesn’t matter whether we are inside the church or out of it, whether we are lay or ordained, the rate of divorce is just the same.

If we are going through marital difficulty we might want to turn to the Bible for comfort and direction. But if you do that you will find it hard to find either. Divorce is a big topic, and often when it is raised in the Bible it concerns a particular issue, a particular context, which will probably not be relevant to our situation.

Actually, this gives us the opportunity to think about how to read the Bible.

When I was in a Youth Group we used to tell a joke about a man who employed the “Open Plonk” method of reading his Bible. Each morning he would turn to his Bible for guidance for that day. He would open his Bible to any place at random and with his eyes closed, plonk his finger down on a verse and read. Then he would try to live according to the teaching that verse for the rest of that day. Unfortunately, one day he opened his Bible and found the verse from Matthew 27, verse 5 “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” When he thought about it he realised he couldn’t meditate on that verse so he tried again. This time he got Luke 10:37, “And Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise!’” That was no help so he tried one more time and came up with John 13 verse 27. “And Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.” At that point the man gave up.

The point is you can’t read Mark 10 and automatically apply it to your life and circumstances. That will only cause pain and frustration. We need to dig a little further. First, we should note where Jesus was. He was in Judea just near the Jordan, just near where John the Baptist had exercised his ministry. Second, we should note verse 2. Jesus was not about to talk about divorce until the Pharisees raised the subject. And notice what verse 2 says, “the Pharisees raised the subject in order to test Jesus.” This was a trick by the Pharisees. At that time divorce was not a major social issue in the Jewish community. Its rules and regulations were not a subject of debate except in one particular circumstance. This was the Jordan. This was where John the Baptist preached. One of his major criticisms was of King Herod who had married the woman who had divorced his own brother. The King had married his sister-in-law. How much pressure he had placed on her to do this thing we don’t know but it looked shady and John the Baptist had preached against it and he was jailed and executed because of it.

And so now it was Jesus’ turn. Would Jesus also criticise the King? The Pharisees wanted to find out. So Jesus gave the Pharisees two answers and both of them are very general in nature. First he is pointing out that like everywhere else in life people don’t always behave at their best. So it is also true in marriage. Nothing can destroy a marriage faster than a hard heart. Therefore, Moses provided a certificate so people wouldn’t be locked into the arrangement forever. But in Moses day the danger of divorce was the social impact of it upon the woman. Usually, a divorced woman became an outcast. She could not return to her family home. She could not get married again. Divorce meant disaster for almost any woman and was best avoided.

Second Jesus takes the Pharisees to Genesis. The Pharisees and Jesus both treated Genesis as a book written by Moses and so both regarded it as authoritative. Here Jesus makes a positive statement about what marriage should be. Marriage is very good, marriage is a great blessing and so as our wedding service says “it should not be entered into lightly or selfishly, but responsibly and joyfully.” And so once joined they should not be separated. And of course, very few people ever enter into marriage with the attitude of, “Well, if it doesn’t work there is always divorce.” Though there are always exceptions.

So Jesus balances out here the ideal with the sad realities of life. But with the Pharisees he only speaks in general terms. He would not refer to King Herod. He would not put his life at risk. But the shadow of Herod hangs over the entire dialog.

But when we think about marriage today it is a very different thing to what it was two thousand years ago. For us, marriage is in the context of the nuclear family. I don’t know how many weddings I have attended which quoted Genesis 2 verse 24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” We use that verse today in a way it was never intended. We take it to mean the husband and wife both pack their bags, leave the homes they grew up in and move to a new physical location far away from the in-laws and begin their marriage in a household of two – until the kids come along. It was never meant that way. In the ancient world when a couple married the wife would pack her bags and move into the family home of her husband. Their marriage was a new relationship but in the context of the husband’s extended family. There were no pressures to set up a new household with new accommodation. Ideally, neither of them were required to work for the first year of their marriage, they were supported by his family, so they could spend time together, helping the relationship to develop, with the whole family available for support.

We also should consider that people did not live as long as they do now. At the turn of the nineteenth century in Australia, men who could afford to marry usually married about three times because their wives died either in child birth or because of the many other incurable diseases around at the time. Marriage lasted until death us do part, which often meant about ten years. How many people in our congregation have celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary? It is quite common these days. But one hundred years ago it was almost unheard of. So the demands upon marriage these days are very different to Bible times.

So what do we do? Surely, we need to be careful how we read the Bible and remember the culture it was speaking to. Just because we read something in the Bible doesn’t necessary mean it should apply directly to us. Of course, we should never forget the ideal for marriage and we should enter a marriage with the intention of working as hard as possible to make it work. Along the way we should take advantage of any assistance that might be available to enrich our marriages. As well, in the middle of our busy lives we must give our marriages the time they need. So many of us today are time poor. But failing to give our marriages the time they need is probably one of the greatest threats to our marriages, far more than the cute new secretary in accounts or the erotic nonsense on the television.

And at the end of the day, we all make mistakes, we all need forgiveness and we all need to be forgiving. This is true in all human relations and specially in marriage. No husband, no wife is perfect. Forgiving and forgiveness need to be well practiced activities in any marriage. And we also need to trust the God who gave us this gift of marriage that he will empower and strengthen our commitment to faithfulness, that we will be able to fulfil the promises we made in that wedding ceremony in who knows how many years ago.

The Reverend Ross Weaver

 

Sermon: 19th Sunday after Pentecost 4th October 2015

St Aidan’s Anglican Church, West Epping  8.30am

Readings:  Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

“MARRIAGE MATTERS”

In the past generation, marriage has largely been redefined. Not so long ago, marriage was a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, based on mutual love and sexual faithfulness. It was the appropriate setting for sexual relations. Of course, it did not always happen like that, but that was the agreed understanding in society.

In recent years things have changed speedily and radically. As long as it is by mutual agreement, sex in or out of marriage is normal. In fact, if you are not sexually active, there is a growing sense in many quarters that there is something wrong with you – whether you are married or not, whether you are young or old. And of course, gay marriage will before long be a legal reality. Serial marriage, sexually open marriage, and long-term relationships without marriage are nowadays also seen as pretty normal.

To hold a traditional view of marriage is more and more to find yourself in a minority, and more and more to find that your view is seen as an attack on the homosexual community. Is the traditional view narrow and outdated? The churches are battling to work out how to respond. Do they change what they have always believed was God’s teaching? And if they do not, how do they avoid acting in an unloving way to gay people?

Our Gospel reading doesn’t directly raise the question of gay marriage, but it gives us some helpful teaching from Jesus on the nature of marriage. Some Pharisees had come to Jesus to find out his views on divorce. This was a matter of some controversy. The strict view at the time was that a man could only divorce his wife for sexual unfaithfulness. The more liberal view was that a wife could be divorced for burning the dinner, for losing her good looks, for not being as attractive as a potential new wife. It was virtually unknown for a wife to divorce her husband. Things were quite male dominated. Jesus seemed to have liberal views on what people could do on the Sabbath. Would he take a liberal approach to divorce? That would certainly get him offside with a significant group of people.

But there was another matter which was likely to be in the minds of Jesus’ questioners. King Herod Antipas had divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife, who had divorced her husband. You may remember that John the Baptist had condemned that union, and been arrested, imprisoned and then beheaded. Jesus’ views on divorce also had political dimensions: would he too find himself in trouble with Herod?

We are familiar with the traditional wedding vows: “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part”. Perhaps you have heard of the minister who discovered that one of his flock was preparing to divorce his wife. “You can’t do that!” he said. “You took her for better for worse.” “I know that”, said the husband. “But she’s worse than I took her for.”

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” After all, Moses in the book of Deuteronomy had included a regulation about divorce: it mentioned a bill of divorce to be given to the wife, so that it was clear that she was free from her marriage obligations. The Law also prevented the man from remarrying the woman if his next marriage ended: this was a way of preventing men from shopping around, and thinking that they could easily come back to their first wife if they found they couldn’t do better.

Jesus is certainly happy to come back to the Torah, the five books of Moses, the first books of the Jewish scriptures. But he doesn’t just go back to Deuteronomy, or even to Exodus with its prohibition of adultery. He goes to Genesis, indeed Genesis 1 and 2, with their accounts of creation. The real issue for Jesus is not the conditions for divorce, but the nature of marriage.

Jesus quotes from Genesis 1: “God made them male and female”. Then he quotes from Genesis 2: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In God’s purposes, marriage brings a man and a woman together in a new unity: two people into one flesh.

His conclusion: marriage is not just a civil ceremony or arrangement, but a very special part of God’s plan and purposes for men and women. “Therefore what God has joined together, let no human separate.” Jesus insists that divorce is a denial of God’s purpose.

Why then did Moses provide rules permitting divorce? Once again Jesus explains: “Because of your hardness of heart.” Divorce is never God’s desire, but humans are sinful people. They do not always keep their promises. They do not always act in love. They are not always wise. They make mistakes. And so marriages do not always work out the way they are meant to. Rather than lock people into a terrible relationship, Moses made provision for a marriage to be publicly ended. Divorce is never God’s purpose: but it can be better than a clearly unsatisfactory marriage, or a marriage that has been undermined by unfaithfulness or cruelty.

It takes two people to make a good marriage: one party can make a marriage fail. But if a marriage goes wrong, it takes two people to heal the relationship.

Every marriage faces challenges. Even if we were perfect, things happen in this world that bring stress to marriage relationships: struggles with parenthood, family, finances, sickness, and the many other difficulties that life throws up. I always urge couples to plan to deal together with problems, and to deal with them before they become too big to handle. It can be challenging: but with the right attitude, working together in love when problems come up is something that can actually strengthen the relationship.

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, but there are many good marriages. I imagine that many of you have had good marriages, but not perfect ones. And that is something to be thankful for, and to value. And it is good for us all to encourage the younger generations to deal with their relationship problems early rather than late, and to get competent help – including counseling – when that may be needed. It may be embarrassing and perhaps involve expense, but this special relationship is worth the effort and the cost. People once stayed together “for the sake of the children”, but it is better to work together on the problems for the sake of the children as well as each other.

Of course, there are relationships which are intolerable: where there is impossible behaviour because of addiction to drink or drugs or gambling, or where there is violence or abuse, or continuing unfaithfulness. As I said, divorce or separation is not part of God’s plan, but there are times when it is necessary. And there are times when it happens for a whole variety of reasons.

If that is part of our story, we may feel that we were the wronged person, or we may feel guilty for whatever part we played in the breakup. Of course, we can’t change history. However, when we feel we have wronged God we seek his forgiveness, and if there is something we can do which will help express our contrition or help make things at least better than they were, by all means let us do it. But often, our story just reminds us that we are less than perfect, and reminds us that all of us need God’s forgiveness and mercy, which is there for us all.

Yes, traditional marriage at its best is actually God’s plan, according to Jesus. But it is no longer the norm in our society. It is not for us to condemn those who see things differently. It is for us to encourage couples – perhaps our children or grandchildren – to make the most of their relationships.

And it is for the church to work out how to honour the God of truth, and to show his love, as we respond to changing and challenging attitudes in today’s society.

Meanwhile it is for us who are married to continue to love our imperfect spouse, knowing that we too are imperfect. And it is also for us who are married to be aware of those who do not have a partner – whether through singleness or bereavement or divorce or whatever – and to look for opportunities to show them a love and welcome which reflects the love of Christ. And if we have no partner in life, or our partner is no longer with us, may we find blessing in our good memories, or in family or friends or neighbours or church members for whom we care, and who care about us.

People matter. There are people in our lives who are special neighbours: life partner, family, close friends, colleagues, fellow church members. Christ calls us in all these circumstances to love our neighbour as ourselves. Love does no harm to a neighbour, but reaches out in compassion. Marriage provides a unique way to do that, but throughout our lives, God’s call is always there: to love our neighbour as ourselves. Amen.

The Reverend Paul Weaver