Saturday, November 24, 2018

"Let God Be God"

            This is the fourth and final sermon in our series, “Them.”  In this four-week series, we have focused on the importance of social justice for God.  Again and again and again, God calls his people to be instruments for social justice for the powerless and marginalized.  Over the course of these four weeks, we have examined “them’s” – groups of people who are marginalized in our society and how God calls upon his people to work for justice for these marginalized people.

            This Sunday, November 25th, we complete this series by examining one further marginalized group and what it would mean for them to receive justice.  This group is LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered/Transsexual, plus others, such as asexual or questioning, who feel they should be included in the LGBT group).  Although the LGBT+ group has made significant strides towards achieving justice, they continue to be marginalized in some significant ways—especially within the Church.

            Christians are deeply divided over these questions of human sexuality.  There are a few, scatted Biblical passages which appear to prohibit same sex relationships.[1]  Much of the division between Christians centers on how we interpret these passages of scripture.  On the one hand, based primarily upon these scriptures, some Christians believe that LGBT+ practices are sinful and inconsistent with Biblical teachings. 

Yet, there are divisions even among Christians who agree that LGBT+ practices are sinful.  At the extreme is a group who believe that LGBT+ persons should be excluded from the sacraments and life of the church.  Even further to the extreme are persons and congregations claiming to be Christians who believe that LGBT+ persons are sub-human and that “God hates fags.”[2]   

A second group is less extreme.  Although this group of Christians believes that LGBT+ lifestyles are sinful, they also note that everyone is sinful in some way, and they suggest that LGBT+ persons are no more sinful than everyone else.  Representative of this perspective are David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  In their book, unChristian, they take a position that homosexuality is sinful, based upon the condemnation of homosexuality in those scattered passages from scripture.  Yet, they hasten to draw a distinction between a “sin” which they hate and the “sinner” which they continue to love.  The two authors quote Shayne Wheeler, a pastor, who says, “The Bible is clear:  homosexual practice is inconsistent with Christian discipleship.  But there is not special judgment for homosexuals, and there is not special righteousness for heterosexuals.  For all of us, the only hope for the fracture of our soul is the cross of Christ.”[3]

            On the other hand, many other Christians, do not view homosexuality as “inconsistent with Christian discipleship,” at all.  For Christians in this group, the authority of scripture is just as important as it is for Christians who condemn homosexuality as sinful.  However, this perspective interprets the scriptures differently.  While these scriptures condemn homosexuality, it is clear that these scriptural passages are not focused on a mutually affirming, loving relationship between gay men or women.  For instance, two of the passages in Genesis 19: 1-11 and Judges 19: 22-26 are about gang rape as acts of violence towards strangers.  Certainly, Christians would condemn these acts as evil, regardless of whether it was homosexual or heterosexual rape.  Similarly, in two of the passages from Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1Timothy 1:10) there is debate among Biblical scholars concerning whether the specific terms used by Paul should be translated in a way that implies homosexual behavior.

            My own personal opinion is that the Bible does not condemn mutually loving and affirming relationships between LGBT+ persons.  First, as noted above, it is clear that the scriptural passages are not even talking about a mutually affirming, loving relationship between persons.  Secondly, there is no “red thread” running throughout the scriptures which consistently condemns LGBT+ people.  Instead, the vibrant “red thread” running throughout the scriptures is the call to love one another, as exemplified in 1 John 4: 19-20,  “We love because God first loved us.  Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

            These issues are certainly confusing, and Christians may disagree on the proper interpretation of scripture.  My denomination, the United Methodist Church, will try to resolve these questions once and for all at a General Conference to be held February 23-26, 2019.  As we reflect in advance of the General Conference, my proclamation this Sunday will be grounded in a passage of scripture from the Gospel of Matthew:

He [Jesus] put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So, when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”    
Matthew 13:24-30

            Since these issues are so confusing, then perhaps we would do well to remember that only God is in a position to judge.  In this parable, Jesus argues against building up boundaries, in order to have a “pure” community of faith.  Rather, we should leave judgment of who is good and who is evil to God.  In other words, we should let God be God.  We should see the Church as open to all people—both sinners as well as saints.  So, without pre-judging where or not LGBT+ people are sinners or saints, Jesus says that the Church should welcome and love everyone.

            During my meditation on Sunday, I intend to distinguish between three important terms concerning the Church’s stance towards the LGBT+ community:

1.      Welcoming/Accepting.  In this position, the church welcomes and loves LGBT+ people, but at the same time it judges their lifestyles as sinful.  So, the attitude is one of welcoming and loving LGBT+ persons because “we want you to get better.”  This position is exemplified by Christians, such as Kinnaman and Lyons, who claim that homosexuality is sinful, but then insist that it is no more egregious than other sins which “straight” Christians commit.

2.      Affirming.  In this position, the church not only welcomes the LGBT+ community, but it also celebrates those persons and who those persons are, even if they are different from the rest of the congregation.  This perspective could be grounded in Matthew 13:24-30 and 1 John 4: 19-20, which to repeat, says:  “We love because God first loved us.  Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 

3.      Reconciling.  The reconciling position accepts everything held by the Affirming position.  But, in addition, it recognizes that historically the Church has done much harm to LGBT+ persons and to itself.  In recognition of this history, a Reconciling community of faith seeks healing and transformation of animosity into a loving relationship among all God’s children. Authentic reconciliation requires working for justice and full inclusion of LGBT+ communities, both within the Church and within society.  I believe that this perspective is also grounded in Matthew 13:24-30 and 1 John 4: 19-20.

In my assessment, my congregation, Christ United Methodist Church, has moved well beyond Accepting and is now somewhere between Affirming and Reconciling.  In my proclamation, I will challenge our community of faith to become a Reconciling congregation.

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, November 25th, as we reflect on justice for the LGBT+ community, both within the Church and secular society.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

         Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[1] These passages are Genesis 19:1-11, Judges 19:22-26, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10.
[2] Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas best epitomizes this extreme view.  See their website:  (Here, a caveat is order:  Many other Christians—including myself—do not think that Westboro Baptist and others who share their beliefs are actually Christian because they fundamentally oppose so much of Christ’s teachings.)
[3] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 2007), 97.

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