Friday, 7 June 2013

On Being Very Much Mistaken

A Homily for Holy Communion on Monday , 27th of May, 2013, 9 a.m. for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford Mark 12:18-27 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are very much mistaken.’ (NRSV with a slight JB adjustment from the Daily Missal) On Being Very Much Mistaken + May I speak in the name of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, Amen. You can perhaps imagine the frisson of pleasure it was for someone committed to uncertainty and scepticism, and not plagued, but blessed, with doubt, to read out loud and in public just now “You are very much mistaken. Thanks be to God.” And how intriguing for the times, too. I feel sorry for those free church types who have to choose the readings for themselves – I would never in a month of Sundays have dared to choose this reading about the definition and nature of marriage at a time of such heated discussion of the subject in both church and state. But here it is, courtesy of our Lectionary, and so we must seek the Good News for today within it. About the latest debate in the House of Lords there is nothing new to say, no line that hasn’t been endlessly rehearsed to the point at which it becomes unedifying. However, there were two contributions which caught my eye – or rather, ear, as I usually attend to the news on the radio. The first was a noble baroness who commented that whilst she was herself single, so long as George Clooney remained unmarried, there was still hope. This was not the sort of thing we would have heard in years past, not because there were no jokes in the House of Lords, but because until fifty years ago, women were not allowed in to make them. And it also struck me that if a male peer had made a similar comment about a dashingly attractive actress, the reaction would have been rather different. Times have changed. The other contribution was from Lord Harries of Pentregarth, no stranger here in his former incarnation as that humbler personage, the Bishop of Oxford. During his time as bishop here he was one of the editors of the 1991 report “Issues in Human Sexuality”, which would not then have been at all in favour of the motion before the House of Lords yesterday. But Lord Harries did vote in favour. One of the things I find most admirable in a person – whether I agree with them or not – is the ability to change their mind, and admit it. When interviewers take that “but you said …” tone, as if changing your mind is a sign of mental or moral weakness, intelligent discussion crumbles. To change your mind because you understand the arguments better, or in a new light, or because new facts have come to light, is moral and intellectual maturity, which might reasonably be called wisdom. But maybe we have strayed from our Gospel – what does Jesus have to say to the learned Sadducees, who are experts on everything? “You are very much mistaken.” You’d have to admit they’ve thought of a corker of a question about the resurrection – how can the resurrection make sense when two people marry and become one flesh? And then one re-marries and becomes another flesh with someone else? It’s quite brilliant. But Jesus slices through it and says, “You’ve missed the point entirely. You have tried to put God in an earthly box of your own making, and he simply will not go. You are very much mistaken.” What fun it would be to draw a cartoon of the great and the good coming to Holy Communion with us the morning after their debating, and hearing those words. Would they be challenged by them? Would we? “You are very much mistaken”. Thanks be to God! Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford June 2013

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