Luthermatrix

The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

From the Pastor’s Pen: A Summer Catechism (A summary of the 10 questions in 20 weeks sermon series)



From the Pastor’s Pen: A Summer Catechism
(A summary of the 10 questions in 20 weeks sermon series)

            The Lutheran understanding of what happens in Communion threads the needle between a Medieval Catholic understanding focused on Aristotelian Logic and a Calvinist understanding focused on a chunkily literal reading of scripture.
            Our understanding focuses instead on Christ’s promise to be present in the meal. Rejoice, he will be there! Rejoice, because his words point us to the reality of his forgiveness—in the meal Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation. And Jesus doesn’t lie.
What is the significance and meaning of the procession and recession of the cross?
            We process the cross to remind ourselves we are a cross shaped baptized community, a people redeemed by Christ’s actions for us. Having been fed with the bread and the word of life, we recess with the cross to go find God on the cross, following Christ wherever he may lead.

            Reflecting upon the nature of angels helps us to think about redemption as a passive reflection of the good light of Christ, and reminds us that redemption can involve the spirit of whole systems.
            We don’t become angels when we die, but we can trust that all the Saints of God—both living and dead—are one in Christ Jesus.
Is there a particular significance to Jesus casting the “Legion” of Evil Spirits from the Gerasene Demoniac into a herd of swine?
            Jesus found an unclean place for an unclean thing.

            It is unclear, but the arguments people make to link a Winter celebration of Christ’s birth directly with Paganism is not as air tight as it might appear. They ignore weather, historical facts about emperors, and the testimony of Irenaeus, an early Church Father.
Why do people go to church on the Sabbath? What is the Sabbath for?
            Sabbath is about rest, liberation, and holiness.
            It’s about rest, a time that is “good… for nothing.” It is also about liberation, acts of kindness and justice are part of living into the holiness of God’s time. It, finally, is holy in and of itself, dragging us into the reality of God through our worship together in which we receive and cherish the promises of God.

            There is a wide variety of ways to understand marriage and be a faithful member of the ELCA.
            Any pointing to purity laws to justify discrimination or worse against gay folk, if followed through logically, would have such severe consequences for everyone in our society, that it could make the Salem witch trials or the reign of the Taliban, ISIS, and Boko Haram, look tame.
            We are truly at a different place than people in the 1st century were—Romantic love, especially between same gendered individuals, just wasn’t a thing, but it is now.
            Pastor Chris is wholeheartedly convinced marrying gay folk is not baptizing gay sex, but instead creating a healthy and holy space for legitimate yearnings for companionship, the protection of gay parents, and the strengthening of the institution of marriage.

            Between Paul and Luke’s interpretations of the 1st council of Jerusalem, we end up with rules that try to bridge relationships between Christians who are different from one another.
            The basic rules for us Christians are rules that bind us one to another. They bind us economically to one another, but they also bind us to a modicum of decency and consideration for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

            When we read about rewards in heaven we are not talking about our salvation, or if we are, we’re talking about God rewarding us because of the promise found in Jesus Christ, and finally, the reason reward makes us feel squirmy, is that at face value it could make us trust in our own goodness, which often is lacking.
What does “greatest” and “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven mean? How does that square with “neither Greek nor Jew” etc,? Aren’t we all equal?
            It is part of Jesus’ inversion of values, Jesus taking the God’s eye view instead of the human view.
            Proclaiming that when God rules, the last are first and the first are last.
            In Baptism we are entering into that God’s eye view, we’re struggling—just as the Galatians and Paul himself struggled—to live into who we are together—live into our calling to be part of the Body of Christ—live into the vision of humanity set out by God through Jesus Christ—a vision that breaks down barriers between believers and allows for nothing to get in the way of life together resting in God’s grace.

            The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all.
Explain, “Death has died.”
            The whole creation will find redemption. All of us will find ourselves in the fullness of the Body of Christ. Even that last enemy, death, will be destroyed. Through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, we can truly say Death has died.

Are mistakes “sins”? Are there degrees of sins? Is the sin in the intent or in the action or in the consequences? Ie. If you intend to do something good for someone and it turns out to hurt them?
            They are all Sin and the effects of Sin. Sin being a much more all encompassing thing that “sins.”
Explain, “Keys to the Kingdom.” “Which you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” etc.
            For Lutherans the key to “the Keys of the Kingdom” is the Word of God comforting our consciences.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sermon: Suffering and Death



          In this, our 2nd to the last sermon in the series “20 Questions in 10 Weeks” today’s questions are about a Pauline view of suffering and death.
          More specifically the two questions are,
1.    “Colossians 1:24 states, “Completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” question mark.
2.    Explain, “Death has died.”
     While that second phrase is not explicitly found in scripture, I assume it to be a riff on Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 15 and in Romans 6.
Both questions are about the meaning of scripture associated with the Apostle Paul. Therefore, today I’m going to try and do a little Paul to you all, in the hopes that it will answer these two questions.
Let us pray.

     “I am celebrating my suffering, which is for your benefit. I am filling my flesh with the afflictions of Christ that currently overflow from him. This is done for the sake of his body, which is all of us, the Church.” (HSV Colossians 1:24)

     So, what does it mean to complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? What does it mean that Death has died?
     My short answer is this:
The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all.
(Repeat)
Let me break that down for you.

The Church Universal:         A community that transcends all borders both of space and time, which is created in Baptism and is a part of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In this in-between time:                We live in the already/not yet. Christ has already completed the redemption of the world, but it is not yet so.        
We have been buried with Christ and we are suffering with him and we will be raised with him.
     The world itself is in labor, the new creation will be born, yet we are in the labor pains.
     We were wounded, and we will be healed, but right now that wound itches so very much.
     Normandy was stormed on D-Day, but it isn’t VE-Day yet.
     We are at an in-between time.

Suffers:                   This is the crux of it, I guess.
     The Colossians are a Gentile group of Christians—that is non-Jews, presumably formerly Pagan. They were led astray, they decided to add on to their Christian faith. They added worship of angels and astrological adoration. Additionally, and more to the point, they likely practiced a severe form of asceticism—ritual suffering in order to have visions.
     To this Paul responds, “You don’t need to whip yourself or starve yourself to be a good Christian, if you try to consistently live in faith, hope, and love, you will surely have struggle enough without adding to it.”
     As for Paul, he knew plenty about suffering.
     He experienced the suffering that comes with conversion, losing his former life and religious certainties that day when he fell from his horse on the Road to Damascus.
     Suffering imprisonment, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, that famous and unnamed “thorn in his side” and all the dangers of the constant travel that accompanied his proclamation of the Gospel.
     Suffering the experience of planting community after community, but never staying there long enough to see through his vision—only able to hear of the controversies in his young communities and respond in letter form, suffering as well the sadness that comes with not completing his most cherished wish, to form a Christian community in Spain.

While fulfilling the Great Commission:      
     This suffering is suffering for a purpose, it is completing Christ’s body, by spreading the Gospel, or borrowing Paul’s language—“Making the word of God fully known” and making new Christians, through the act of Baptism.
     It is also completing Christ’s body, by sustaining and building up the Christian Community—“presenting everyone mature in Christ,” making sure we are following after Jesus, making sure we’re disciples.
     Or to put all that another way, when we follow the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” it will take effort and time and treasure and yes suffering, but it is a suffering for the sake of the Body of Christ, completing that body of Christ.

So that Christ may be all in all:            
     That the whole creation will find redemption.
     That all of us will find ourselves in the fullness of the Body of Christ.
     That even that last enemy, death, will be destroyed.
     That through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, we can truly say Death has died.
The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all. A+A

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race, Ethnicity and Culture: Pub Theology (or Table Talk, or whatever) Resource



Below is the outline from the Pub Theology St. Stephen did, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, on the ELCA's Social Statement on Race, Ethnicity and Culture.
As we experience the events in #Ferguson surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown it is our duty as a church who considers moral deliberation to be part of our faith, to struggle with racism, white privilege, black oppression, and the "post-racial" dystopia we find ourselves in.

"Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?"—The President

One God, One Humanity
Babel/Pentecost
Simul Justus et Peccetor
Already/Not Yet
Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-20 (words that strike you?)

Lutheran experiences of Racism:
Benjamin Franklin
WW1

ELCA’s goal by 2003—Grow non-white membership of ELCA to 10%
Demographics (% don’t fit in So.Plf. because Latino is double categorized… also I’m bad a math)

St. Stephen
National Church
South Plainfield
White
90%
94%
67%
African American
7%
1%
10%
Asian
0
1%
14%
Other
0
1%
5%
Multiracial
1%
1%
3%
Latino
2%
1%
13%
Does our congregation make up reflect the neighborhood or wider community in which we are located? Why or why not? (Same question—national church)
In what ways are the doors of St. Stephen closed to people who are racially or culturally different than the majority of our members?

Did you know the ELCA has cultural associations for African American, American Indian, Arab, Asian, European, and Latino Lutherans?

 “We expect our leadership to name the sin of racism and lead us in our repentance of it.”—pg 5
What is Racism?
Racism is a mixture of power, privilege, and prejudice. It is more than a matter of personal attitudes…it spreads like an infection through the whole social system.

Voices—ELCA (Are you struck by any of these? Why)

The Invisible Backpack—White Privilege (Are you stuck in particular by any of these?)

Have you thought of anything new tonight?

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sermon: Reward, Equality, Baptism

         As we near the end of our summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, today’s questions are about Reward, Equality, and Baptism.
            Todays question is: “Reward” in heaven is mentioned many times in scripture. Yet, it is not what we do, but what Christ does, that saves us. What does “greatest” and “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven mean? How does that square with “neither Greek nor Jew” etc,? Aren’t we all equal?”
            Yipes.
Let us pray.

            I must begin by stating that I set up this sermon series with the easier questions, one’s I’d already reflected upon in one way or another and felt confident in answering at the start, which was great… until… we’re no longer at the start.
            This particular question might have to be thrown in again next summer if we do another sermon series like this. That said here’s what I know.

            Reward—a word that causes Lutherans everywhere to sneer, or at least one that only crosses our lips with great trepidation
—after all, reward suggests there is something to reward
—specifically a work, an action, that we can just do something.
Reward has the danger of nullifying grace, making God’s works into a mock movement of man.
            Yet, as the question says, reward language pops up frequently, it flows freely from Jesus’ lips—proof that Jesus wasn’t a Lutheran I guess.
            And it’s not like Lutherans don’t know this, that we don’t read our Bible or something, we’ve struggled with reward language since Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the wall.
            According to Article 4 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, one of the documents we as Lutherans affirm to be a right interpretation of scripture, there are several things that can be said about reward.
1.         At our most bold “we concede that works are truly meritorious” and can receive a reward, but not “the forgiveness of sins or justification.” As a rule, when we hear reward language we recognize that such rewards only come in light of being made right by Jesus, that faith is implied whenever there is any talk of fruits of good works.
            Essentially, the indignities suffered because of living our Christian faith, led by the Spirit, will find a parallel reward. If the Islamic State chops off your head like John the Baptist, your head will be held high in Heaven—that kind of thing.
Honestly as North American Christians I fear very few of us will have to worry about such rewards.
2.         Additionally, when we read of rewards, we ought to remember Augustine’s maxim, “God crowns his own gifts in us.” That is, eternal life can be called a reward because it is owed to the Justified on account of a promise, that promise being the unconditional one made to us in Jesus Christ.
3.         When talking of heavenly reward the question you ought to ask yourself is “does such talk assuage your conscience?”
We know the promise that God is merciful and passes over, and frees us from, our trespasses, faults, sins, and mistakes, brings us peace. We don’t know if talk of reward does the same, in fact, from experience, we know it does not. At our death bed we want to hear about the loving actions of God for us, not about our own actions.

            So, when we read about rewards in heaven we are not talking about our salvation, or if we are, we’re talking about God rewarding us because of the promise found in Jesus Christ, and finally, the reason reward makes us feel squirmy, is that at face value it could make us trust in our own goodness, which often is lacking.

            As for Jesus’ talk about the least and the greatest in heaven, it is preached in the same breath as the beatitudes “blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the weeping.”
It is part of Jesus’ inversion of values, Jesus taking the God’s eye view instead of the human view.
Proclaiming that when God rules, the last are first and the first are last.
That as people of God it is important to look at the world through the cross, to look at our world and remember where we find Jesus—outside the city walls, among oppressed, suffering with them, killed with them.
            This is very similar to that first way of talking about rewards in heaven—on earth you are tear gassed, depressed, and besieged, but in heaven you are enthroned, joyous, and protected. The God’s eye view of the world is so very different. Those who appear least are greatest and greatest least.

            Finally, how does this square with Paul’s baptismal affirmation that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female?
            In Baptism we are entering into that God’s eye view, we’re struggling—just as the Galatians and Paul himself struggled—to live into who we are together
—live into our calling to be part of the Body of Christ
—live into the vision of humanity set out by God through Jesus Christ.
            A vision that breaks down barriers between believers and allows for nothing to get in the way of life together resting in God’s grace.

            And Taylor, today,
Today you will enter into this vision.
Today you will become a part of the body of Christ.
Today that promise of God will be made concretely to you in the waters of Baptism.
Today you will be baptized with Christ Jesus. Baptized into his death and raised to a brand new life—united with Christ.
A+A

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sermon "Which Old Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?"



          As we continue on our summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, today’s question is a pretty big one that I think will help us think about some of the previous questions we’ve tackled that are directly linked to laws found in the Old Testament, specifically the questions about Same Gender Marriage and Sabbath.
          Today’s question is, “Which Old Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?”

          Before I get into the thick of things I think it is worth recommending everyone go home and read Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments as found in his Small Catechism, because that’s not the direction I’m going today.
         
          This question about Old Testament laws is one that was first dealt with by the early church at the Jerusalem Council, the record of which we find in both the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, as well as in the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Let us pray

          Both Acts and Galatians agree on why the first council of Jerusalem was called. It was about the question of circumcision.
          Paul and Barnabas were serving a Gentile church in Antioch, Syria and came into conflict with Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who insisted they were preaching a false gospel, because these Jewish Christians believed to become Christian you need to become Jewish first. More specifically, they needed to accept the most physical of community boundary markers—circumcision.
          If you’ve ever read anything by Paul, you’ll know very clearly his response to such requirements. Not only no, but hell no.

          So Paul goes before the Apostles and they discuss his Christian mission to reach the gentile world, and come up with simple guidelines for Gentile Christians to follow—essentially they ask “Which Old Testament Laws do Gentile Christians have to follow?”
          And that’s where Paul and the author of Acts, we’ll call him Luke, disagree.

          Luke says the decision made at the Jerusalem Council was that Gentiles needed to follow four Old Testament Laws:
They must refrain from eating food offered to idols, as it is written in Exodus 34,
Meat that has been strangled or containing blood, as in Leviticus 17 and 3.
And they must be sexually chaste, as in Leviticus 18.
          These are all laws found in the Torah said to apply not only to Jews, but also to gentiles living with Jews.
          So, as Luke understands the Council’s decision, Gentile Christians are only to follow the Old Testament Laws which were put in place for Gentiles, and specifically put in place to make sure non-Jews don’t do offensive things in the presence of Jews.
          In other words, if Jewish and Gentile Christians are in community together the Gentile Christians need to make sure they don’t do things which would break fellowship with their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters.

          So that’s Luke’s account of what Paul and the Apostles decided. It is not however, Paul’s account of that decision.
          Paul’s answer to the question, “Which Old Testament Laws do Gentile Christians have to follow?” is much simpler. It is “Remember the poor.” That’s it…
          Okay, maybe that’s not it. The phrase “Remember the poor,” is actually rather complex once you start looking at the other places where Paul speaks in similar terms.
          At face value of course this is an admonition to take care of the least of these,
 to not turn away from the poisonous effects of poverty,
or forget that we are all beggars.
All themes we can find throughout the Old Testament and especially in the Prophets.

          But, for Paul, the Poor doesn’t just mean the actual poor, but also the Church in Jerusalem, the saintly apostles.
          In addition, to a basic economic understanding of “The Poor,”
he is also speaking of his ongoing “collection for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem,” as he calls it in his letter to the Romans.
          He understands full fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians as involving money,
that the ethnic divisions of his time were most plainly bridged by economic interdependence,
a sharing of funds for the sake of the ministry.

          Few things connect you to another person, like co-signing their lease/
 Few things get your skin in the game, like green-backs riding on that game.
         
          Yet, even that doesn’t fully get to where Paul is going with this collection. He sees the collection as a fulfillment of prophecy.
          Remember, the reason the three gentile wise men show up bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus in Matthew, was to fulfill prophecies about the wealth of the gentiles flooding into Jerusalem…
so too, Paul believed the collection from the gentile churches was cut from the same clothe—it was an end-times act, it was a fulfillment of the scriptures.
         
          So, again, to the question, “Which Old Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?” It would seem between Paul and Luke’s interpretations of the 1st council of Jerusalem,
we end up with rules that try to bridge relationships between Christians who are different from one another.
          The basic rules for us, are rules that bind us one to another. They bind us economically to one another, but they also bind us to a modicum of decency and consideration for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

          But, there is a bigger point to be made here. Faith is not about rules, but about trust in the one who meets us in Baptism.
          Andrew James Forys (4eeees), there are many laws that bind you, many rules by which you will be judged.
There are rules about sex and Sabbath, money and mold, religious scruples and regard for parents, and you will probably be judged as wanting in at least some of those areas, but that doesn’t separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
          The amazing thing about our Lord is that he acts for us, even before we know how to act.
          Our Lord promises life,
even when we are in death,
Promises salvation,
even as we are oppressed by Sin.
          Jesus, through the water and the word, make us his siblings, binds us to the family of God our Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A+A

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is like...



          Greeting to you all on behalf of the South Plainfield/Edison Lutheran Parish,
greetings on behalf of St. Stephen Lutheran,
and much more importantly, greetings in the name of Jesus. Amen.

          Today we will be looking briefly at a string of parables that Jesus speaks, first to a crowd, and then away from the crowd to his disciples alone.
          Now a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.
          For example, in order to express that God’s command to love our neighbor transcends race, ethnicity, and religion, Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan man going out of his way to help a Jewish man
—That story is often entitled the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
          As I said, a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.

          And when it comes to Parables I have certain convictions about them. I believe parables are to be read in a particular way.
          Parables express something that is abstract and out there in a concrete way right here. Parables, also, speak truths into being.
          And when a deep truth blossoms forth from our Savior’s lips the raw images he uses cling to our ears, our minds, and our hearts for a very long time.
          We chew on parables until they start to chew on us.
Jesus’ Parables are not to be read—instead they eventually begin to read us.
          Let us pray

          The first two parables today are told outside, to the crowd, to everyone.
It is answering the unasked question “How can one rabbi from the sticks and his rag tag followers flip the world on its head.”

          A shallow answer to this question found in these parables, is that we find something small becoming something very large.
          But when we look more carefully we see we’re dealing with mustard seed in a field—mustard seed is a weed, like Pachysandra or Kudzu or crab grass—an invasive species, a vegetative pest.
          It’s a tree smack dab in the middle of a field, obsticles aren’t helpful when farming
—a tree filled with birds
—hospitable to birds
—birds which eat and peck at the wheat and other plants of the field…
It’s disruptive!
          Or think about yeast
—yeast isn’t a positive image in scripture
—remember in another place Jesus describes the teaching of the Pharisees as Yeast to be avoided.
          And then there are the three measures of flour—that’s like 50 pounds of flour, all changed by a small sprinkling of yeast.
          The thrust of these two parables isn’t simply that small things become large, but instead that the Kingdom of Heaven is a tiny offensive thing, which disrupts and changes everything, and it leads to hospitality.

          Last week’s reading, in which Jesus leaves the crowd and privately explains his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares to his disciples, is what’s missing in today’s reading, between the first set of parables and the final three.
So, these next parables of the Kingdom, unlike the first, are directed at his disciples.
          And he begins by telling them two tales of the Kingdom, that the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden, it is of great worth
—such great worth that duplicity, hiding a treasure in order to acquire the treasure, is logical
—such great worth that selling everything for its sake, is not a burden, but a joy—our duty and our delight.

          Then finally, Jesus tells the disciples a parable like the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. He tells of a net filled with both good and bad fish, and that those good and bad fish are not separated until they’ve all been brought to the shore.
          From this, and last week’s, parable, St. Augustine finds a great truth about the Church
—that we’re a mixed body, filled with both saints and sinners, and any attempt to purify the church, remove the sinners from it, ends up destroying it whole clothe
—such judgments are for God alone.

          Then Jesus concludes these Parables of the Kingdom by asking “You understand this all right?” To which the disciples respond, “Amen.”
          So Jesus says his disciples ought to bring forward treasures both old and new.

          And taking Jesus’ command seriously, here are a few treasures for you, the old and the new together.
--
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like the lawn in front of a church, well manicured and respectable, but a wind blew dandelion fuzz everywhere, and it quickly grew up and vexed the Property Committee. The neighborhood kids, those ne’er-do-wells, thought it looked so lovely that they lay down amongst them and lazed in the summer sun.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grody old unused parsonage of a tiny church with a part-time pastor. It was fixed up, and in its time housed many a family down on their luck.
Thanks be to God.

          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a stock trader who received insider information, told no one, sold his whole portfolio, and bought the sure thing.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a coach who saw a great player, and gave up all his draft picks for that player, and rejoiced much.
Thanks be to God.

          The Kingdom of Heaven is like 4 churches with many and varied members. They joined together as a Parish and soldiered on for the sake of the Gospel in central Jersey.
          Some of their collective efforts failed, others succeeded, it was never clear which would be which beforehand.
Thanks be to God.

          Have you understood all this?
          Good, after service, get on out of here, you followers of Jesus you, and tell folk in every way about the ways of Kingdom of Heaven and the Joy of the Gospel.
A+A

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Gay Marriage Sermon




Today, we continue the summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, with two questions about Gay Marriage.
They are, “Should we be sponsoring same sex marriage?”
And “Does the Bible profess marriage as between a man and a woman?”

         I’m kinda glad this question came up, as one of the decisions at Synod Assembly was that, in light of New Jersey allowing marriages between people of the same gender, every congregation should re-examine our 2009 statement on Sexuality “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.”

         Now, by way of beginning it’s important to point out that part of the ELCA’s statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” involved the concept of Respect for the Bound Conscience of the Neighbor
—the idea that brothers and sisters in Christ can deeply disagree with one another and still recognize the other person comes to their position from a place of faith.

         Within our tradition it is acceptable to fall anywhere between the two following positions:

1.   It’s acceptable, to believe that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching, and natural law. That same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin,
and therefore it is safe to conclude that the neighbor, and the community, are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.

2.   It’s also acceptable, to believe that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. That the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status, as hetero-sexual marriage
And Therefore, it is imperative to surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer, that they might live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, in order to serve others. Same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children, and other dependents and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships in their respective state”… in New Jersey that means Marriage.

         So, to reiterate, both those extremes, and everything in the middle, are acceptable and faithful ways for members of the ELCA to understand Homosexuality and relate to gay-folk.

         For the sake of full disclosure I fall decidedly in the 2nd camp. I am convinced by scripture, and witnessing the spiritual fruits of such relationships,
that same-gendered couples should be afforded every protection under the law,
and bear every responsibility of the faith,
with regards to their publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous, relationship.
They should get married and do so amongst God’s people.
For me to profess anything other than that, would go against conscious.
Let us pray

         To answer the question: “Does the Bible Profess marriage as between a man and a woman?” the best place to start is in the beginning, or at least within spitting distance of it.
         The starting place for thinking about marriage, and in a lot of ways the starting point for natural law arguments against gay marriage too, is this beautiful and tragic account of man being without a partner.
         The man experienced the fullness of creation and says, “(Sigh) I need a partner, a help-mate, a wife.”
         And God said, “It isn’t good for Man to be alone.”
         And God trots out companion after companion before him
—does a barn cat fill that hole in your heart? A dog, they’re man’s best friend, right? A hippo? Birds and bees?
         No, “for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.”
         And so God took drastic measures, instead of digging deep again into the hummus to form a human partner, God digs into the man himself, and fashions from the very flesh of man a companion. God forms an Ishah from an Ish—a Wo-Man from a Man.
         And the man looks upon this companion and says:
‘This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh.’

         This second chapter of Genesis asks the question “Why is it, couples leave their flesh and blood, their family, and become a new family? Why does marriage and sex make you feel so very connected to the other person? Why is there such a tight bond between husband and wife?”
         And the answer is because they too become flesh and blood. /In marriage, they become one flesh.
         Why do most people yearn for “their other half?” Why do they so strongly seek a mate? Because it’s natural! That yearning is innate within us!

         So that’s where marriage being between a man and a woman comes from
—from this explanation of the creation of new families,
this explanation of the fullness found in finding your other half,
your flesh and blood,
your rib so long removed from you,
finally returned.

         There are also found in scripture five verses which prohibit sex between people of the same gender.
         Several are found amongst the purity laws, for example in Leviticus 20 “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
         Of course, as we read last week, if we go down this road, we’ll need to round up everyone who worked on the Sabbath and kill them.
         If we follow the admonition to kill all children who have ever talked back to their parents, we’re not going to have much of a youth group left.
         For that matter, (Bob, Randy, Eric)—following Leviticus 14, I’ve inspected the education wing on more than one occasion, and have reason to believe there is at least some mold there, therefore we need to go out to the Mighty Fortress and get all our gasoline and pour it on the education wing, light it on fire, raze it to the ground, and take whatever is left to the local place of impurity.
         In short, straight people applying purity laws only when they don’t apply to us, is unfaithful.

         The best place to go for prohibitions against same gender sex would be Paul, he’s at least consistent. He’s against all marriage, advising all Christians to stay celibate like he is, but if they’re too weak for that, to get married—though he warns getting married leads to much distress.
         Paul advises this, on one hand because he thinks the world is ending sooner rather than later,
but also because he believes marriage and sex can not be divorced from a Roman understanding of Power, which insists on separating people out into categories like Slave and Free, Citizen and Barbarian, Gentile and Jew, Male and Female
—in order to ensure one of those two categories is in charge and powerful, and the other is disempowered, disenfranchised, and victimized.

         In fact, one of the main places people turn to, in order to dismiss gay marriage, Romans chapter 1, which we just read, is one of those places where Paul is kicking these lines of division in the teeth in the name of Jesus Christ.
         Paul is writing to a divided community in Rome. A community filled with both Jewish and Gentile Christians, in which the Jews had been expelled from Rome for 5 years and then returned.

         Imagine half of St. Stephen, let’s say all but one council member and everyone who sits on the pulpit side, being removed from New Jersey by the government, and then coming back in five years time. Things would be different, you might even resent those who replaced you on council or who are sitting in “your” pew.
         Well, Paul writes to this community, and is insisting that everyone, both Jew and Gentile, is a sinner in need of Christ’s love.

         So Paul sets a Rhetorical trap,
he ensnares his reader with his words.
He makes his argument by paraphrasing a Jewish book which talks about how sinful gentiles are, The Wisdom of Solomon.

Imagine this being read aloud to the whole community:
         “Hey, fellow Jews” the letter begins “remember what you’ve read in The Wisdom of Solomon about those sinful Gentiles who’ve taken over your church?
They’re so horrible that they worship the creature instead of the Creator, and therefore the Creator allows them to fall into degraded and impure lust—instead of loving the Creator they lust for the creation.
--At this point those Jewish Christians begin to nod in agreement. (They’ve read Wisdom of Solomon before, they know where this is going)
         Once those gentiles head down the slippery slope of Idolatry
—and we know they do because they’re Gentiles after all—
they’ll continue falling further from God and the natural order of things, they’ll be disordered, and will have unnatural sex with members of the same sex because Lust is the only thing left in their hearts—those Gentile Sinners.
-- The Gentile Christians start to grumble, the Jewish Christians smile ear to ear.
         And from there it just gets worse, doesn’t it? All wickedness will pour out—Evil, coveting, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, disrespect, arrogance, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness.
         Those Gentiles are so bad they deserve to die!
-- One of the Jewish Christians might even shout out an Amen at this point.
         “And therefore,” the reader continues, “my fellow Jewish Christians you have no excuse, by judging others, you are guilty. You Do The Same Thing!

         It’s just like when Nathan tells David the story about the horrible man who stole a sheep, and David says “That man should die.” And then Nathan responds, “You are that man.”

         Or, it’s like a friend of mine who looked at the ELCA’s statement on Human Sexuality to read about the sins of gay people, only to find that in its 44 pages there were only 2 pages about gay-folk, the rest was about straight folk and our sexual inclinations.
         The point of this verse is that all, both Jew and Gentile, are in need of Christ.
         Now I’m not saying Jesus or Paul were high fiving homosexuals in the 1st century
—instead I’m saying there was no such thing as homosexuality in the 1st century…
there was only homoeroticismonly same-sex-acts.
         Roman Males had sex with Slaves and Women,
Greek Males had sex with Boys and Woman.
Sex was used to affirm power and create those categories that Paul is so insistent are inconsistent with the Christian faith.
Marriage and sexuality both gay and straight, expressing love, commitment, and trust, just wasn’t the norm back then, but it is now.

         So that answers the first question, what’s the Bible have to say about marriage being between a man and a woman, as well as the implied question of what does it have to say about same-sex-marriage.

         As for the 2nd question, “Should we be sponsoring same sex marriage?”
Lutherans have a different relationship to the state than most denominations—it goes all the way back to Luther being protected by the princes while thinking through his faith—
         The logic, I think, goes “Wow, the fanatical religious folk want to assassinate me, the secular state is keeping them from doing so… maybe there is a place in my faith for a division between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Government!”
         Marriage isn’t a sacrament.
         The church blesses what the state has done, that why a traditional European Lutheran wedding often involve the long parade from the court house to the church.

         Additionally, marriage isn’t just about sex.
         To quote the ELCA’s sexuality statement, “Christians believe that marriage is not solely to legitimate physical sexual intimacy, but to support long-term and durable communion for the good of others.”

         I think of two gay seminary class mates, married in Massachusetts—a more traditional Lutheran couple you will not find, an organist and a Pastor—when they look at one another you know it’s not just about sex, it’s about love and commitment.

         I think of one of my professors, raising her son along with her wife. Their marriage supports their parenting, it’s a safe place from which to raise him.

         I also think of when my good friend and colleague Pastor Fred and I get to grumbling:
         Like Adam I say, “(Sigh) Being a Pastor is so hard and emotionally draining, I can’t do it alone, I need a partner, a help-mate, a wife.”
         And Pastor Fred responds, like Adam, “(Sigh) Being a Pastor is so taxing, I can’t do it alone, I need a partner, a help-mate, a husband.”
         Having sex doesn’t lighten the load of being a Pastor, having someone to come home to, who you trust and love, who is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, that does.
        
In summary:
         There is a wide variety of ways to understand marriage and be a faithful member of the ELCA.
         Any pointing to purity laws to justify discrimination or worse against gay folk, if followed through logically, would have such severe consequences for everyone in our society, it could make the Salem witch trials, reign of the Taliban, or ISIS, or Boko Haram look tame.
         We are truly at a different place than people in the 1st century were—Romantic love, especially between same gendered individuals, just wasn’t a thing, but it is now.

         I’m wholeheartedly convinced marrying gay folk is not baptizing gay sex, but instead creating a healthy and holy space for legitimate yearnings for companionship, the protection of gay parents, and the strengthening of the institution of marriage. A+A

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