Sermon for Trinity + 18, Year B – 2018
‘More things in Heaven and Earth’
Of Metaphysics and Marriage’
Having listened to the gospel, it may be that our thoughts are on Jesus’ teaching on Divorce and Remarriage – just at the outset, let us remind ourselves that Jesus’ words about not entering the kingdom, are addressed to those who do not receive it like a child . . . We ignore the words about children at our peril thinking that it is the ‘Adult’ words which are Obviously more significant . . . and thinking of children directs us towards those words in Hebrews, about angels . . .
Listening to the reading from Hebrews I wonder how many of us pondered the place of Angels in the great scheme of things?
You may remember Jesus dramatic warning regarding the little ones from last week – words, I should add addressed to us all – regarding ‘causing these little ones to stumble’? If we followed these words in Matthew’s gospel we would read this ‘And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’
The role of guardian angels is a mysterious one. I know of three experiences of encounters with these creatures, one my own, but perhaps the most striking was a conversation with an elderly parishioner when I was a curate. As a young mum, perhaps suffering from post-natal depression, she had gone to take her own life, and had placed her head in her gas oven when she saw ‘two enormous feet in front of me, stood in the kitchen’ She had caught a fleeting glimpse of that which lies beyond our usual sight.
Yet Jesus speaks of what we call ‘guardian’ angels in particular with respect to children, or at least ‘little ones’. ‘their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’
Angels belong to a branch of science, largely forgotten called metaphysics. We have all heard one ‘Metaphysical question’, concerning angels, namely ‘how many angels might dance on the head of a pin’. A question which perhaps sounds ludicrous to us, but to those who asked it wasn’t unimportant – the question was essentially, do angels take up space in the world in the way we do, or could you place thousands of them in the same space, the head of a pin? What is the nature of this unseen reality which surrounds us?
Such questions are questions of metaphysics, or put another way, if we remember the famous quote from Hamlet – questions of the ‘more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio’. Questions of the very nature of our existence. Even ‘ordinary’ physics speaks of aspects of our existence which make no sense at all – are impossible to our way of understanding things.
When I trained as a physics teacher, half those training with me were Christians – perhaps as Christians we had more time for the weird world of quantum mechanics and special relativity, for the holographic nature of the universe, or the notion that every solid object is full of light . . . perhaps we were more open to the mysteries of physics, because we were comfortable with its older brother, metaphysics
Yet, as I said, Jesus speaks of guardian angels in particular with respect to children. And he speaks of children here in the context of speaking of marriage.
As I have said once or twice these past weeks, our habit of chopping the scriptures up into segments according to topic, destroy the fabric of the picture where themes are woven together throughout the gospels. They are a narrative, not a ‘collection of sayings’. So we might think that our gospel today we have ‘a saying of Jesus about marriage’, followed by ‘an incident with children’, as if, perhaps conveniently they were unrelated, but inconveniently perhaps, they are not. We may well sing that ‘love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage’, but perhaps at least as significant if not more so, do children and marriage.
We have noted these past weeks how there is a too and fro between the disciples and their assumptions about power, and greatness, and Jesus repudiation of such power, and over and again Jesus brings a child into their midst . . .
There is a discussion about marriage and divorce, we might say a conversation between adults as all these conversations seem to be, as if children don’t have a stake, yet ‘their angels continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.’
There is an ‘adult conversation’ going on – and then the disciples try to block the children from coming to Jesus, from getting in on this adult conversation . . . it is hard not to feel the significance of this. Adults arguing – children kept out of the picture, Those with power deciding their own lives, but not only there own lives – the powerful deciding for the powerless, and the powerless the innocent victims of it all . . .
Of course our society is full of such conversations. Recently as you will be aware there have been conversations about Euthanasia going on in our country. What sticks most powerfully in my mind when this topic is raised is the look in the eyes of elderly people . . . for this is a discussion happening amongst the powerful. Those who have control of their lives as they see it, and who want to keep it, and listening in, those who sense that the determination of some to have power of their lives over their lives will have consequences for them . . . after all, in a world dominated by money and economics, by usefulness, by ‘the working life’, what we mean by a meaningful life takes on a very different hue . . . so it is the vulnerable elderly who have good cause to fear . . . despite the ‘adults’ the powerful ones saying – ‘there there it will all be fine.’ Being powerless helps one to see much more clearly what is going on . . .
Well so too, the children. But let us first look at Jesus teaching on marriage and divorce – and again we shall turn to metaphysics. Here Jesus is confronted by the pharisees – although we have skipped a verse. The context is that Jesus is teaching the crowds – so here we have a teaching session and the pharisees use it as an opportunity to place a distance between Jesus and the teaching of the elders.
‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ Of course in the culture of Jesus, that a woman might divorce her husband was simply not a possibility . . . but where in either case are the children?
Jesus answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ . . . and Jesus replies ‘Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you.’ Because you were determined to have it your own way . . .
‘But,’ says Jesus, ‘but from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.”
Perhaps the two most powerful words in Scripture, But God . . . and then Jesus quotes from Genesis. Not only have they lost sight of the children, they have lost sight of God. Perhaps when it is issues of power we lose sight of all that seems to us powerless . . .
‘but from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
And here we come to metaphysics of marriage. This is no mere human contract between two autonomous individuals – In the joining together of the man and the woman something which is at once New, and as old as Creation itself comes into being – or something Old is revealed once more – in that the two are made one flesh as of old the one became two. Where the unseeing eye might look only at two individuals who have chosen a way of life together – what is seen to the eye of God is something He has made, a marriage.
A New thing is made - there is still the man and the woman, but now they are husband and wife - a new thing has been made, has come into existence - the one flesh, the marriage - and it is God’s Creation! Thus the metaphysical significance of the declaration at a marriage which are the very words of God himself in Jesus ‘That which God has joined together, let no man separate.’
Through the self giving of one to the other, the man to the woman and the woman to the man, God creates a marriage, God does
The couple gives their consent to the marriage – marriage must always be freely entered into – but it is God who makes the two, one
As he makes the water, the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the baptism of Jesus, as he makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, as in Christ he joins together things heavenly and things on Earth, so in the same way he makes of the man and the woman a Sacramental Union, a one flesh . . . a new creation – can a human undo what God has done?? Can one separate a child into two parts?
. . . and the blessing of that union? The one flesh fruit of it? The child. Here we might say is the visible manifestation of a marriage – Called forth from God.
As I said last week, Jesus constant reference to children lead us to sentimentalise his saying. Jesus blesses the little children, declares them blessed. The fruit of the marriage, is its blessing. But ‘in the real world’ . . . in the real world we come up against the harsh realities of life for children, of life for those whose ‘angels continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.’ The disciples, the adults, want a ‘real world conversation’ – Jesus in speaking about marriage, in speaking of divorce, in blessing the children shows them The Real World, of things which we do not see, but are so very real.
In this light we must be so grateful for the words of Jesus from the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .’ yet we need also to remember, that the words of Jesus are the very words by which worlds are created – when he declares ‘the two shall become one’, then he speaks that which is so . . .
We who are adults are so full of our stories of ‘the real world’, once more Jesus takes a little child, those whose angels continually see the face of [their] Father in heaven, and reveals the true nature of things – for Christ is Himself the fullest manifestation of the true nature of things
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen