Sermon-Reverend Carolyn Chadwick-3rd October 2021
Ps.8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
I was 11 when my parents moved us from the outskirts of Birmingham to the Isle of Wight. I totally fell in love with the little valley we lived in.
At night, before I went to bed, it became a habit of mine to walk halfway up the valley from our house where there was a cattle grid across the unmade road, with a stile to one side of it.
No street lights for three miles in any direction, and well before the days of home security lights – I remember the feeling of being so much more alive to all my senses there under the night sky. – I knew by feel every bump and pothole in the lane, I knew the presence of the gentle cows by their warmth on the air, their smell of old mown grass, their shadows in the night air, the sound of them chewing the cud, shifting their weight, sighing contentedly. Somehow, in the dark, their presence was more real, more intimate.
I felt I was in their world, not they in mine.
Gazing into the distance I could see across the Solent to Chichester, its lights twinkling. The lights of large ocean liners moving slowly across the horizon, guided by the rhythmic flashing of lights marking the shipping channels.
Other worlds on a distant shore, other worlds floating on the water….Who was in there? Where had they come from? Where were they going? …Mystery…
Looking up – ah! – the night sky. Other worlds. Sometimes the Milky Way was so vivid, so bright, it seemed that I could reach out a hand and touch it. And always the deep silence, like music singing in your soul…
One night in particular stands out in my memory: it was just such a brilliantly clear, windless night. I gazed and gazed. How vast it all was. How unimaginably vast. And how small and insignificant I was. A speck of dust, living on another slightly larger speck of dust. And with that awareness came something else – a warm, loving presence that seemed to be holding all of it together. But it wasn’t just ‘out there’ – it was in me – this intimate loving presence, flooding my inner being. I knew I was loved, and part of something bigger and more glorious than I could ever imagine.
After that night I knew, simply KNEW, that God is real.
A few years later, when I had made a more conscious decision to follow Jesus, and reading the Bible was a joy, its words leaping off the page and singing in my soul, I discovered Psalm 8. Oh wow!
Here was someone else – maybe even David himself, the young, forgotten shepherd boy, sitting on a hillside at night … how long ago? 3000 years ago? Experiencing that same sense of wonder, That sense of Presence. I knew I was not alone.
It was, I recognised, a common human experience.
Why? Because we are spiritual beings. We are created in the image of God to be in relationship with God. And God has chosen to live in us, in human flesh. And if we but take the time to listen, we will discover he is always at work somewhere deep within us, to draw us closer to himself.
Jesus has strong words to say to us about children.
WE are to welcome them in his name, and in so doing find that we are welcoming Jesus and the Father in Heaven. More than that, he says, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we receive it as a little child.
What is it about children that moved Jesus to say this? It seems important to know.
Many books have been written, in recent years, about the spirituality of small children, and there are many things that can be said. But today I want to focus one natural spiritual gift that children possess. Because of course, THEY are spiritual beings! Even within the womb!
Small children, in every sense, live closer to the ground than we do, experiencing in vivid close-up everything that is right under their noses. To the small child there is no false separation of body and spirit: they experience everything through their senses: smell, taste, touch, sound, sight. Their first experience of their mother is smell and taste and touch. And in their fresh discoveries they have an endless capacity for WONDER. Children find wonder in the things that, to us, who have maybe lost the child’s eye view, have become commonplace and unremarkable.
The source of this wonder is the child’s capacity to be fully present to this moment.
There is a New Testament Greek word which is used only once: THAUMASIA. It means WONDERFUL THINGS.: It is used by Matthew to describe the wonders Jesus does in the Temple: driving out the traders and the money lenders, healing the blind and the lame. The temple authorities were furiously angry; the children were cheering! Children instinctively recognise the presence of compassion, and its absence! Jesus recognises that it is only the children who see the significance of the wonderful things he is doing.
As adults , no matter where we are and what we are doing, our thought life seems to exist almost entirely in the past or in the future, and we can fail to notice, fail to see, what is right under our noses. We can be so caught up in our own plans, our own diary keeping, our own agendas, being seen to be doing the right thing, that we lose the readiness to see things as they really are : signs of God’s presence can be perceived as a nuisances, obstacles, hindrances. Oh, how many burning bushes have we missed as we hurtle through life?
I wonder if that is what Jesus is getting at when he responds to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, asked deliberately to test him. It saddens me that this text is often used to condemn people when they are at their most wounded and vulnerable. I am quite sure that nothing could be further from Jesus’ mind. His argument is directly aimed at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ position. They are the interpreters and teachers of the law, and therefore have an overweaning need to be seen to be doing the right thing. Sticklers for detail …. They can’t see the truth right under their noses: that a woman had no legal status of her own – she passed from being the property of her father to being the property of her husband. At marriage the cultural norm was that the bridegroom would take her from her home, and thence to his home, where she would be expected to look after his extended family. If she failed to please –rotten cook? childless? disappointing in bed? a note of divorce was all that was necessary to dismiss her. Catastrophe for her… unable to live independently, whatever life she lived afterwards would make her a woman of ill repute; the blame for the divorce laid completely on her shoulders, she would be held responsible for bringing dishonour on her family, and most probably ostracised.
Marriages fail for any number of reasons, all of them painful, heart-breaking and often traumatic. The last thing anyone needs when going through such a time is judgment and condemnation. What is needed is compassionate understanding and loving support.
What does Jesus do? I think he is exposing their hardness of heart, their lack of compassion, their double standards. She is a daughter of Abraham. Shouldn’t the rules that apply to the husband also apply to her? Note this: a woman had no right to divorce her husband. Jesus seems to be calling their bluff: if the husband is permitted to divorce his wife, then so should she be! And they are both equally accountable for their actions. In saying these things, I believe Jesus is restoring woman to her full stature – beloved and equal in the sight of God.
And Jesus reminds them of God’s creation vision for marriage, as a union of such loving intimacy that they become one flesh, one spirit, one heartbeat.
How is it that the Pharisees can’t see that? How is it that they have reduced the worth of the wife to that of a commodity easily disposed of, leaving the husband free to choose a younger, more enjoyable model??! Without any consequences for him? They seem to have lost sight of any moral accountability. Nobody has the right to make another’s life unviable…
What happened? How did they get from the open-hearted, receptive wonder of the little child (for they were children once) who ran with the ecstasy of running, who played with utter focus and joy, who found delight and wonder in every new discovery,
to this hard-hearted, legalistic, impoverished, mindset? Somehow, through life, they must have forgotten about that connected life with God, and imagined then that they had to appease him to make him pleased with them; they forgot how to be fully present to the Wonderful Things of God right in front of their noses. They forgot WONDER, and along with that went any trace of compassion.
This is so easily done and it can impoverish us. ….we become careworn, burdened with cares, anxieties, and that endless to-do list; we can unwittingly drive ourselves to conform, to be seen to be good enough not to be cast out. When all the while, God longs for us to feel his pleasure, to know his joy, to know his love, freely given…. And he comes to us in Jesus, to make it possible.
That little child, with its great capacity for presence and wonder, still exists within us.
How would it be to become reacquainted? To allow the child within us to walk hand in hand with the adult? To rediscover the gift of presence, and rekindle our sense of wonder, finding then that God is truly present with us in all things? Let’s learn to receive the kingdom of God like a little child, and enter in.