Become one unit with God.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chinese congregation. 8th October 2006.
Genesis 2.18-24. Mark 10.2-16.
Become one unit with God. The Revd Canon Stephen Sidebotham
Today’s bible readings have some things to say about marriage and divorce and the relationship of two people within marriage. But I want to widen this to include other relationships. The theme of our service is ‘become one unit with God’ and how to be a bridge for this to happen. Of course, there are difficulties within marriage. Tragically, these can lead to a breakdown of the relationship and the tragedy of divorce, but Jesus is quite clear that there is only one reason for this: Mark 10 verse 5: ‘It is because of the hardness of your heart.’ In other words, the failure to love as God intends us to love. As Christians, we call this sin, and it leads to all the problems, not only in our own relationships, but in our world. All the awful things we see on the news and read about in the papers every day.
As we read the pages of the New Testament, we realise that there is a different way of living from the way of the world. Two important words ‘one another’, keep recurring in the epistles. Love one another, be generous to one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, bear one another’s burdens. In fact, this is exactly what some non-believers said of the early Christians: ‘see how they love one another!’
What is it that makes the difference? The simple answer is: our relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He it is who has overcome the problem of ‘hardness of heart’, the sin that is in the heart and life of every single human being. If sin is a failure to love, then it means that we are not in a right relationship with God who is the source of love, God who IS love. Jesus, as a human being like us, lived a life in complete obedience to God. He demonstrated God’s love in all the wonderful things he did for people; healing them, making them whole, forgiving them, accepting them. When he died on the cross because of man’s sin, he broke through the barrier of sin that separates us from God. He broke its power and released a new spirit, a new heart. When we recognise our own need and our failure to love, and turn to him, we receive forgiveness, we receive the strength to change, we receive and inflowing of the love of God for us, making it possible to reach out to others in a new way. We build a new community that can be a force for goodness in our world.
There are all sorts of great and good things in our world, but there is also so much pain. Many people wear masks, concealing the pain in their lives. They give the appearance that everything is alright, but inwardly they are hurting. Some people struggle with great temptations and don’t know how to control them. Others are hurting, often for a lifetime, by things done to them by other people when they were children. As you get to know them, if you are a good listener, they begin to open up and have the confidence to tell you the truth. One good lady put on a brave face for years, even being the only one in her family to look after her mother, who had hated and rejected her from childhood. She was the second child in a family of four children. When her mother was pregnant with her, she went to see a fortune teller who said: ‘this child will cause you nothing but trouble’ The mother tried to get rid of her, but didn’t succeed, but from the day of her birth she rejected her. Where the other children were treated well, she wasn’t; when the other children got presents, she got none. She was basically made a slave, made to do all the housework, to clear up after her brother and sisters. Not a word of thanks, of encouragement, of love. You know, fortune telling is an evil thing. This woman, because she was told this child would cause nothing but trouble, made it come true. She herself turned into a person rejecting her daughter, making herself an unloving mother. The daughter herself is a lovely person; she has never had a good opinion of herself, and has carried the pain for more than 50 years.
Jesus said: (Matthew 11, verse 28), ‘come to me all who are weary and whose load is heavy, and I will give you rest.’ But where are they to meet him? How are they to come to him? We, you and I, those of us who believe in him, are his body here on earth. In the words of a great Christian prayer: ‘Christ has no hands but our hands, no other feet to do his will; ours are the hands by which he must bless people now, ours are the feet to take his gospel to the world.’
The church can be a healing community. Already, when we come together, we are a group of very different people, yet we meet round a common centre, drawn by our response to the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we individually grow in our relationship with him, we find ourselves growing in relationship with one another. We are able to become a group of people who are learning to love one another, to forgive one another, a group of people where there is warmth, a welcome and acceptance. One young woman, whose life was falling apart, drugs, alcohol, several broken relationships, was in despair, contemplating suicide. Passing a church one Sunday, she heard joyful singing coming from inside, and saw a notice outside saying ‘Welcome, whoever you are.’ Something made her go in. She saw and felt such warmth in the joyful faces of the worshippers; some turned round to smile at her, she was invited to join them for tea after the service; she found herself included, genuinely welcomed. She kept going back. When an Alpha course was advertised, she joined it and discovered the truth that Jesus really loved her; that he had actually died on the cross for her. She confessed all the sin in her life, she was filled with his Spirit, she was delivered from her past and truly released into new life. And all because a group of Christians had learnt to love the Lord and so to love one another, including a stranger coming into their midst.
How do we help those who are in pain, carrying heavy burdens? How do we reach out to one another with the love of Christ? Some of you have taken part in Christian Listening course. Listening, learning to listen, is the start of the process. When people know that we care and arte willing to give our time to them and really listen to them, they feel free to share their concerns and their burdens. So they begin a process of finding relief. The next step is to learn how to pray with one another, so that we can assist each other to come into the presence of the Lord our healer who promises to refresh us and give us his peace.
Let me conclude with a simple picture. Imagine a bicycle wheel. In the centre is the hub, on the outside is the rim. The rim is connected to the hub by the spokes. It is the hub that holds it all together and gives the driving force to the wheel. Take away the hub and the spokes flap around uselessly. Our life together as Christians is like a wheel. In the centre is the hub, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are the spokes, connected to him and to the rim, which is our life in the world. But we are only effective as we remain firmly connected to the hub. It is Jesus Christ who holds us together. It is his love that motivates us. As we remain united to him, so his power flows through us, out into the world of daily life. Notice also that, like the spokes in a wheel, the closer we get to the hub, the centre, the closer we become to each other. This is the secret of true church fellowship, and how we can be effective as a Christian community.
May God bless each and every one of you in Jesus Christ’s name.