Jesus and Boundaries - Good or Bad?
A Sermon for Rogation Sunday and the Beating of the Bounds
by The Reverend Charles Royden
Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe."
'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.'
Beautiful words from the passage from John’s Gospel this morning. These are words which often have at funeral services, to comfort families.
They remind me of the woman who had a gravestone engraved for her husband when he died
‘Rest in peace’
and underneath she had inscribed
‘Until we meet again’
The reading of the will is often a time of conflict in families, often people appear who nobody realised were family. The reading can be fraught with tension and greed. Accusations might follow, "How come he got...?" "Why didn't I get more?" "She didn't love mum and dad as much as I did!"
Jesus and his disciples are in a unique situation. The end is coming for Jesus and he knows it and his disciples sense it. So, while he is still alive, Jesus "reads" his last will and testament. What will he leave to keep the nascent community from splintering apart from fear or bickering after he is gone? What can he give them to make their lives as his disciples possible once he is gone?
Our reading today is about all these things and the words of Jesus at this time are seen as Jesus speaking important truths about what he wants the disciples to remember when he is gone.
So it is that a last gift of Jesus to his people is to be not just any old gift but a gift of peace.
Rogation Sunday and ‘Beating the Bounds’
It is on this Sunday when Jesus peaks of peace that the church has a festival called 'Rogation Sunday'. From the outset of Christianity in our country Christians have asked for God's blessing to protect their crops.
In urban areas such as ours we are not as involved in the seasonal festivals as much as we used to be and Rogation Sunday has lapsed from our attention in many ways. But today it is a time of year when Christians are asked to remember those involved in agriculture and the special hardships which many of our rural communities face. Perhaps Rogation Sunday should be taken more seriously as we remember many farming families and people closely associated with the land, who feel that their way of life and livelihood is not appreciated and threatened. Our attention has been drawn to the suicide rate among farmers, and this is a serious side to Rogation Sunday.
Rogation Sunday also marks that time of year when traditionally the priest, in his robes, accompanied by all the villagers, went around the boundaries of the parish. If the boundary ran along the middle of a river, then the vicar would be put in a boat and would row along it. Then, at various points, boys would be beaten, ‘so that they would well remember the bounds of the parish within which they dwell.’ So it became known as 'beating the bounds'. There was a security of knowing the “waymarks” or boundary posts and trees which defined the local community to which people were expected to show loyalty and responsibility.
In the parish of All Hallows by the Tower and St. Dunstan in the East of London there was a picture of a vicar holding a boy upside down out of a boat because the parish boundary extends over the river Thames. The boy is hung over the boat to beat the bounds. This is a good way of remembering where the boundary is.
You will probably all be aware now that from June, Brickhill will have a new Parish boundary for electoral purposes and there are three members of St Mark’s Church who will be standing at the election for the new Brickhill Parish Council.
If you visit Marks and Spencer in Oxford, then you will find on the ground floor a marker defining parish boundaries and I remember when I was at college there would be a visit to the store during the tour to beat the bounds, and the vicar would pray and invoke God’s blessing.
Parish boundaries are important. You will remember that last week in the Beds on Sunday the front page told how Cranbourne Gardens was going to be booted out of the parish of Renhold. I cannot understand why the nice people of Renhold would not want to have that nice modern estate in their parish?
But boundaries are important. We all need to have the safety of boundaries and the reassurance that they give. This happens in a physical sense. Imagine you are on a bus and someone sits next to you. That’s OK, providing that there are not lots of empty seats elsewhere and they have chosen to sit with you. But what happens if they lean over and start encroaching on your seat? What happens if they have physical contact. I’d be off. That person has transgressed the boundaries.
We all need boundaries, and it can have a useful purpose when lines of
responsibility are drawn. Some boundaries are good and help us to order our
I must say that I am in a state of some bewilderment this week because a boundary which I thought existed has been crossed. I was shocked to discover that somebody from outside my family would have the right to advise my 14 year old daughter and make decisions about her having an abortion in secret, without me even being consulted. That was the case involving the 14 year old Melissa Smith, who had an abortion arranged without her parents even being told that she was pregnant.
If somebody could possibly help me understand how this fits with encouraging parental responsibility I would love to hear it. But I don't think anybody will be able to explain to parents why if the child has so much independence, their parents are still expected to pay for them to go through college when they are post 18.
The point I want to make, is that some boundaries both physical and spiritual and moral are important and we need to be reminded of areas of responsibility and we need to fight for them if we think they should be retained. There should be safe boundaries placed around young children boys and girls, and we should be more prepared to defend their right to a childhood in a society which seems intent on exploiting them and encouraging promiscuous behaviour.
There should also be safe boundaries placed around marriages with an
encouragement of the importance of faithfulness to the sacredness of the vows which
are taken in marriage. It is the Spirit who should remind us of the
inappropriateness of certain behaviour by those who married with others outside
the special relationship.
But of course some boundaries are bad. Some boundaries can help make us think that we are better than other people and they enable us to mistreat them and deny them what we want for ourselves. Whilst there should be national borders between countries, there should be no nationalism which denies the rights of others. People who are proud of their own social class or race are so often denigrating and racist towards people who do not enjoy the same privileges of birth.
It is to these and many other boundaries and divisions which the Spirit speaks. It is to these divisions that Jesus calls for peace in his closing words to the disciples.
Jesus promises his disciples the Spirit, and he says that he is leaving them peace. The church is to be a Spirit-animated community and the result of that is that they should work to heal divisions and settle disagreements and to continue Jesus' work of peace making in the world.
If the very community members that profess faith in the Prince of Peace are not reconciled to one another, what good would it do to go out to the world with Christ's message of peace?
The work of the Spirit is transformation and healing of division. There was much to unsettle and divide the early church from within its own membership. From the Acts reading today we are reminded that the believers were diverse and certainly had differences of opinion. But under the Spirit's impulse and their faithful response, different people's came together. Differences and divisions were healed.
There are many differences in both our worldwide and local church at this time. But such diversity should not rupture our community and create division. The peace we have been given, we are sent to bring to the world and this peacemaking begins among those closest to us.
The Spirit remains with us today, working with us to keep Christ alive in our midst and urges us to bring his gifts to the world. The Spirits is with us now, as Jesus was with his disciples in his lifetime.
So on this Sunday in which we remember how Christians have traditionally beaten the bounds and marked areas of responsibility. Let us thank God for showing us our responsibilities. May he by his Spirit direct us to acknowledge where our duties lie.
And may the Spirit also show us where boundaries need to be demolished. Divisions which are based upon human fear and ignorance. May the Spirit illumine our hearts and minds so that as God’s people we are able to live in peace with God and with one another. Amen.