While we gather here, this morning, delegates representing every Presbytery of our denomination are gathering in Detroit for worship. Our own Eric Muller Girard is one of our Presbytery’s delegates. Tricia Dykers Koenig, our Parish Associate, is there too.
The General Assembly will vote on many issues. One of the most divisive is allowing clergy to marry same-sex couples. Marriage Equality is sweeping across the country. I believe at this count 19 states and DC allow same-sex marriages.
This morning it is important to pray for our church and to speak about these things. For people of good will and good faith disagree – and we should not demean, or call the other side as being unfaithful or stupid or being seduced by culture, or being shallow, narrow or both – although I feel that way sometimes.
It is important for us to speak with humility about that which we believe is true in a positive way trusting the God is working all things out – in order to reconcile the whole creation to the divine self.
St. Paul writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And the interpretation rages: am I, who support same sex marriage; am I who have preformed a blessing of an already married same gender couple and baptized their child; am I who have performed a marriage of two women in Washington D.C. in March of this year – conforming to culture, or witnessing to the transformative path of Jesus Christ?
Am I being played by the world or being prophetic? I don’t know.
Is the church losing the gospel to liberal culture – where anything goes? OR – is the church finally waking up to what GOD is doing – just like Peter had to wake up from his dream that “all things are clean” ?
That is a fascinating passage in Acts. Peter is kosher, he knows what the scriptures says about what is clean and unclean. But in a dream God shows Peter all the un-kosher animals and tells Peter to “kill and eat.” Of course Peter is a bible believer. It is his culture, his world – the scriptures are very clear on this matter. But God says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
The scriptures challenge conformity of all sorts of cultures and institution – on almost every page.
Jesus turns over the tables of conformity in the Temple.
Jesus invites the unclean to the table.
In Acts 8 the Ethiopian Eunuch wants to be baptized. A eunuch didn’t have any testicles – so he could be trusted guarding a harem of women. According to scripture; a eunuch was not allowed inside the temple; he was an aberration and unclean. But Philip baptizes the eunuch.
St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28; “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Paul just broke down the conformity of the social barriers of his day – I interpret that to mean that all confirming barriers that place individuals in categories must come down in the name of Jesus.
The specific verses in scripture that say homosexuality is wrong, an abomination. I know them. And the few, very few, verses on marriage: I have read them all too.
But when you study the Bible you have to make a choice: Do you interpret the narrow passages in light of the broader inclusive passages, or the broad passages in light of the narrow ones?
I choose the former, because God is broad, big, and awesome, beyond our ken. I choose the former, because I believe in a God of reconciliation and love. I choose the former because I am not scared that God will punish me if I am wrong because I have been saved through Jesus Christ – and what then do I fear?
Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar, was one of several commentators asked by the Roman Catholic periodical “Commonweal” to comment upon same-sex unions. He responded to the claim of another writer that “irregular unions” (as he calls them) “ are an indicator of the way the values of society shape the lives and perceptions of Christians…and that the institution of marriage itself is in decline.”
I want you to listen carefully to the words of Professor Johnson because I think he is spot on:
In every circumstance, the first question the theologian in the church must ask is: ‘What is God doing in the world? Discerning precisely what God is up to – and what God is calling the church to obey – is however, not easy.
But perhaps the story told by those in “irregular unions” is one of deep loyalty toward God and a response to grace, even in difficult circumstances. Then it may be that God is showing the church the need to recognize and respond to God’s own work in such lives by enabling members of such unions to share in the sacrament…. change is the expression of obedient faith by the church.
The one thing the church cannot afford to do is to refuse to pay attention to what is actually happening in people’s lives. What is at stake, after all, is NOT the preservation of institutions, or the survival of the community…. What is at stake is obedience to the living God, without which the church does not have much reason to exist.
Let me share with you part of my homily that I preached at Maggie and Natalya’s wedding:
“You two come from different families, and different places; and let me tell you Winchester, Virginia and Long Island, New York are about as different as you get! Presbyterian and Catholic, old southern family and immigrant Pilipino family – that used to be the stuff of holy wars and race battles…
“And in those days people said: “God doesn’t approve of mixed marriages.” But how foolish to ever think that we can box God in to our categories of what is proper and right. God is always breaking boundaries and delighting in new things – like an artist who sees the world differently, knowing that those colors WILL go together, or the composer who knows that THOSE notes HAVE to be played.
“Some in today’s culture find marriage old-fashioned, an institution that has run its course – a patronizing structure of hierarchy and power that should be done away with – but you Maggie and Natalya are showing us a more profound way….. In your marriage you are to show the world what life can be – when we love each other, and forgive each other, and serve one another – and commit to one another. Your marriage is restoring and healing creation.”
Not many times in our lives do we get to stand up and say “This is true,” “This is good!” and I don’t care what some people will say. And I don’t care what some institutions will declare, because sometimes God declares, “I make all things new!”
Pray for the General Assembly that they may discern God’s will about that which is holy.
Pray for humility and forgiveness; for the unity of the church – for space to be together and disagree.
Pray that we might not follow culture but lean towards God’s reconciling grace that is ours in Christ Jesus transforming mind and heart, witnessing to the Kingdom of God.