Hebr 1:1-4, 2:5-12
by Mandy Marshall, Director for Gender Justice, Anglican Communion
NOTES ON THE READINGS
The glorious nature of creation
These passages in Genesis about creation are very familiar to many of us, so much so that we can often miss the wonder, majesty, and glory of what is happening. God is creating life – animals, birds and people – and then establishes the relationship between woman and man, something that is often misunderstood.
Psalm 8 focusses on worshipping and honouring God for the created world in which we live. It states marvellous appreciation for what is all around us and how that leads to wonder and worship.
Hebrews shows us how honoured we are in relationship with God, the maker and creator of heaven and earth and the privileged access we all have to God.
The passage is Matthew is often seen as a contentious one as it discusses divorce. We need to be mindful of the context in which the story is written and how the Pharisees were testing Jesus and trying to trick him. In response Jesus rebukes the Pharisees. The Pharisees say, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her” (Matt 10:4). Jesus responds by saying, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you” (Matt 10:5).
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
In the previous chapter of Genesis, we see God speaking and it being so. For example, God said ‘let there be light’, and there was light. In this chapter we see a change in approach, as if God gets her/his hands dirty. ‘Out of the ground the LORD formed every animal’ and ‘…the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh’ (Genesis 2:21). It is a reminder for us that we need to worship God with our head, our hearts and our hands. We cannot simply pray and ask God to sort out climate change without ourselves taking the action needed to make that happen. God got his/her hands stuck in, in making creation. So must we in saving it.
Think about the wonder of the variety and diversity of animals, birds and people. Look at the trees outside (if you have them): the variety, the colours, the shapes of the leaves, the berries, flowers, the bark, and blossom that come at the different seasons. There are so many varieties of trees! We only need to take time to stop and reflect to see the wonderous magnificence that is creation. Mary Oliver succinctly reflected this when she said ‘Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.’
How often do we stop to be astonished at all that God has created?
Psalm 8 is a fabulous psalm of sheer praise and worship by David to God when he stands still and sees, feels, and hears all that God has made. We often read this psalm in a quiet, reflective tone but it’s not difficult to imagine King David, arms wide open, shouting his praise to God at how wonderful God and God’s creation are. After all, David danced before the ark of the covenant as it was brought into Jerusalem. Maybe we need to read this psalm again in a tone of praise and wonder, as it was probably originally written.
Have you ever burst forth with praise at the wonder of creation? Do cultural barriers stop you?
The other aspect of these passages focuses on the relationship between women and men. This is often seen from a patriarchal perspective of domination and power, men ruling over women or having power over women. And yet that is not what we see in the scriptures. Rather, what we see portrayed is companionship, relationship and equality. Adam says ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, which emphasises the oneness of the relationship and the closeness given by God. Sometimes the passage is used to justify the subservience of women by saying that God needed Adam to create Eve. This is idolatry and heresy. It is placing Adam above God. God could have created Eve out of dust as God did with Adam. The fact that God chose to create woman out of Adam demonstrates the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the relationship between woman and man and the unity that is presented in that communion with one another.
The positive side of the passage in Mark is that it celebrates and emphasises the unique relationship between women and men and becoming one in marriage. It is a beautiful picture of the wonder of the relationship. Jesus brings the Pharisees back to the wonder of the original intention of that relationship and marriage and how beautiful it was meant to be, and indeed can be.
The Pharisees are testing Jesus in this passage in an attempt to catch him out. Are they really interested in the wondrous nature of the relationship between women and men? No, they are not. We need to remember that women could not divorce their husbands. It was only the men that could divorce their wives. Women were powerless. Jesus is challenging the men in this passage and is very direct. Jesus is clear that Moses said what he did about divorce because the men were so hard of heart. A woman who was divorced in the time of Jesus would be desolate, shunned, shamed, and could be left begging in order to survive if her family didn’t take her back. So Jesus is protecting women when he is challenged by the Pharisees by pointing out their sin in treating women as though they can be discarded. He brings the Pharisees back to God’s original intention for relationship and unity.
People have misused this passage in Mark to say no-one can get divorced and reference other passages that say God hates divorce. Well of course God hates divorce as it is so destructive to the people involved, family and friends. That doesn’t mean that we keep people together if it is a destructive and abusive marriage. Our priority is safety for all concerned. If one person (often it will be the woman) is being abused, we cannot say that they must stay together because God hates divorce, and it isn’t allowed. The safety of woman is the priority, not the institution of marriage. After all, Jesus didn’t die for the institution of marriage but to bring us back to God. There is also a need to be wise and to bring perpetrators of abuse to account. Some churches struggle with this, but it is an important part of justice, just as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees.
Domestic Abuse and COVID-19: How Churches Can Respond available in seven languages here
by Mandy Marshall, Anglican Communion