Monday, July 06, 2015
Sermon on the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S., for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today I am going to speak in response to a monumental change that has happened in our country, that is of great concern to most of us. That change is the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Many of you have already begun asking questions of how the church will respond, and what this means for us as Christians. This is without a doubt, an issue on which the church cannot remain silent. And the authority with which the church speaks is the authority of God’s Word alone. If we are to remain faithful Christians to follow our Lord Jesus, then we must be faithful to His Word. May God grant me to speak to you today with faithfulness to Him, that all who are willing may hear and receive God’s Word. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus sends out His disciples to various villages, to teach the Good News of His kingdom. He warned them ahead of time that some would gladly received His Word, while others would refuse and resist it. He gives clear instructions to His disciples to leave those towns and homes where they are not received, shake the dust off their feet as a warning, and to go on to places and homes where they are received and welcomed. These instructions also inform us about how we as Christians proceed into a world that is increasingly unwelcoming to the Good News. Jesus did not send His disciples with swords or clubs to force anyone into the kingdom of God, but sent them equipped with virtually nothing but His own Word. If the message itself did not win the hearts of those who heard, they were to move on. In other words, His own Word would change hearts and create the reception and hospitality and support they needed to continue. Those who did not receive it were not harassed or threatened, but left alone with a reminder that they had been told, but resisted God’s Word.
As we address this issue of same-sex marriage in our society, it’s vital that we first have some of the basics firmly in our minds. God’s Law is higher than any laws of men that change, laws that come and go, laws that serve a society for some period of time, or even laws that run against the greater good of a society. God’s Law is the final authority, no matter what 5 or even 9 judges may say, or even if a whole country should have voted in favor of some law (which in this case, they definitely did not). God’s Word endures forever. So in a certain sense, for the Christian who believes in God and His Word, nothing at all has changed. God is still on His throne, His 10 Commandments are still as true as they were yesterday and 3,000 years ago and 1,000 years from now. From the standpoint of God’s authority, nothing has changed. His kingdom and power remains forever and ever. This is why Psalm 146:3–4 states, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Long before it ever appeared on our money, the Bible reminds us to trust in God, not government. Men and their laws cannot save us, and their plans are short-lived. God’s plans, on the other hand are eternal, and He alone saves.
At the same time, we have to live in the midst of changing laws and fickle governments. In some times and places they are more protective of the church; at others they are more unfriendly or even hostile to the church. Laws about marriage affect our families, the definition of parenting and the relationship to children, the programs of public education, and a host of other issues. Even aside from any laws, we know family or friends who identify as homosexuals, or wrestle with those desires. It may affect us on a deeply personal or emotional issue. If it sometimes seems like a political issue, it is every bit as much a family issue, a faith issue, a how-do-we-live-together-in-society issue. Simply, it is a life issue, on which God’s Word speaks, and on which society is speaking also, loud and clear—yet a very different message from God’s Word.
God’s Word is our authority for faith and life, and tells us who we are. Being a Christian means that you are a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ. You have heard His Good News, you have believed it, and have answered His calling to follow Him. As Christian disciples, we answer to the higher calling and authority of God’s Word. We commit to live by Jesus’ teaching. This includes Jesus very clear teaching that (Mark 10:6–8) “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” Jesus’ teaching on marriage is that it is meant to be a permanent, life-long union between one man and one woman.
As we disciples commit to this and the rest of Jesus’ teachings, we recognize many others do not know Jesus’ teaching or desire to live by it. In 1 Corinthians 5, St. Paul explains that this means we are to hold Christians inside the church accountable to God’s higher standard—to call them to live by God’s plan for sexual purity—abstinence before marriage, and faithfulness to a spouse of the opposite sex in marriage. Paul says that we’re not to permit Christians among us to practice “sexual immorality or greed,” or be “an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler” (1 Cor. 5:11). As a disciple or follower of Jesus, we commit ourselves to humbly listen to the rebuke and correction of fellow Christians, to call us to repentance when we sin, and that they gently urge us away from sin and temptation. Heterosexual sins of adultery, cohabitation, pre-marital sex, divorce, and others are just as much forbidden for the follower of Jesus, as are homosexual sins.
On the other hand, Paul says that we have nothing to say about judging outsiders—those who do not profess to be Christian—God alone is judge (1 Cor. 5:12). We do not expect our friends and neighbors in the world who are not Christian, to hold to Jesus’ teaching, and therefore we do not judge them for it. Nor do we have to avoid associating with them, as Paul says this would mean we’d have to leave the world! We do, however, lovingly tell our unbelieving friends about Jesus, and the Good News, if they are willing to listen. Though they may not be part of the church, they may be open to hearing about a better way, if they have experienced the consequences and guilt of sin in this world of brokenness.
Those who reject and refuse the authority of God’s Word, and who refuse to be ruled by God’s 10 Commandments will live as they please, and experience themselves the natural consequences of sin. Whenever we ignore God’s commandments, it’s not as though we are just ignoring suggestions or advice, but actual commandments. And there are consequences for it. If we don’t learn by listening and obedience, then we sometimes have to learn through the heartache and pain of bad choices, or negative consequences to our health, or relationships, or finances. All of our sins and wrongdoing bear consequences. However, it’s not as though we can or should try to trace back and figure out how things go wrong in our life and find a particular sin to blame. As though God made your car break down because you ran a stop sign, or that God made your body break down because you stole something from a store. But some choices do have obvious and direct consequences. It’s not earth-shattering that some choices are healthier than others, and that certain lifestyles lead to better or worse health. This applies to bad choices regarding our sexuality as well. When we deny or ignore those realities in order to keep doing what we want, it only hurts ourselves. We should not be surprised that our relationships break down if we are cruel or unfaithful, or that our reputation breaks down if we cheat or steal, or our health breaks down if we make destructive choices.
We never know where and when God is preparing and opening a person’s heart to receive His message. Learning things the hard way may open a person’s heart as it never was before. The Church’s message is not for us only, but we are to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all people. As the church continues to point all people to Jesus, it will most certainly continue to call people to Jesus who have committed heterosexual as well as homosexual sins, and sins that have nothing to do with sexuality at all. And each new believer who becomes a disciple or follower of Jesus is called by Jesus to part from old sinful ways, no matter what the sin. Things that may be deeply ingrained or habitual, like pride, or selfishness, may be very hard to change, but we are reborn in Christ Jesus. All who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and are born again by water and the Word of God in Holy Baptism, receive a new life. We are washed and cleansed of former sins, and God pours down His continual grace on our lives as we are regenerated in His image. We come with our sins, repent and leave them behind, and Jesus forgives us and strengthens us to walk anew after Him.
So we are made a new person, and it’s only by His grace and help that we can change anything, whether it be the urge to lie or some other more powerful urge. The church remains a hospital for sinners, a place where we all come with our brokenness and sin, and God brings us the healing balm of His forgiveness, and grace to walk anew with Him. We treat all people with dignity and respect as human beings made in God’s image—regardless of their beliefs or personal choices. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to come and hear God’s Word. To take that next step of becoming a believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. To have faith, or trust in Jesus, is when God opens our hearts for His treatment, for us to move from the “lobby” of the hospital into the “operating room”, where Jesus begins to help and heal us by His gifts. By His gift of faith, we begin to receive the benefit of His help.
Each of our own lives are examples of the grace of God has made us a new person in Christ Jesus. We are like the Corinthians, to whom Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Like the Corinthians, some of these things may describe our former life—but they are not who we are now. God redeems sinners from all walks of life. Jesus has broken and continues to break the hold that sin has on our life, and that old sinful nature is not who we are now in Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus we are washed and made new. We are justified—God declares us forgiven—righteous—an heir to the kingdom of heaven. There is no sin that is greater than Christ’s power or His cross. He has died for them all. Whatever your sins are, hand them over to Jesus by repentance, and call upon Him to forgive you and help you to overcome. For He has already overcome sin, death, and the grave for us.
There is certainly much, much more to be said about how we as Christians live in the midst of a changing world. But it all begins with knowing who we are in Christ Jesus and what His grace has done for our lives, and freely extending that same grace to others. Everything else is built on that foundation of discipleship, that we have been made disciples of Jesus, and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching everything that Jesus has taught us. Though many may not welcome Jesus’ message, we cannot be afraid to speak it. We must continue to boldly bring His eternal, unchanging Word to all who will hear it and believe, and to move on when necessary. Trust that Jesus’ Word will bring in its own harvest. In His Name, and by His grace, Amen.