As I promised in my “Pastor’s Ponderings” email a week or so ago, I will be dealing with a submitted question that we received through our new website. Anyone is welcome to ask questions you would like me to cover in a sermon at any time, so if you have a topic you would like me to cover, don’t hesitate to ask.
The email we received stated, “Need help/understanding in the part we as a family play when members are involved in a same sex marriage. We have a relative who married in June. Can't and don't want to turn them away, but with Holidays and family gatherings approaching next...help.”
Now, obviously, this email is from someone who views such marriages as sinful and out of the norm. There are some in our society, and even in our congregation who do not view such things as sinful. For these folks, there is no problem in what has been done, and it would cause no strife at all. Usually, their response to someone who has such concerns would be, “You just need to get over it and change your mind. They really aren’t doing anything wrong. God made them that way, and you should just accept them as they are.” Essentially, they would tell you, you are the one with the problem, not your relatives. You are the one who needs to change, not them.
On the other hand, there are those who believe just as strongly that homosexual marriage is sinful and the problem resides with those who engage in it. They are the ones who need to change or keep their relationships completely and utterly private so that it doesn’t cause any discomfort to anyone else. Keep such matters to yourself and do not flaunt it in my face. I don’t want to see it; or hear it; or think about it. It’s your problem, not mine.
This tends to be the extremes that we get pushed toward in dealing with such matters, and the real issue is never tackled by either side. The real issue is not who has to change. Let me say that again. The real issue is not who has to change. The real issue is how do we live and interact with others who do not share our views about life and morality. Again, I will repeat: the real issue is: how do we live and interact with others who do not share our views about life and morality.
In the extremes of this issue, one side says, “I can’t interact with you unless you fully accept me. You have to change.” The other side says, “I can’t interact with you unless you change your lifestyle or bury it deep.” Both expect the other to change to accommodate because, “by God, I am right. You are wrong. I don’t need to change, and you do.” This leaves little room for maintaining a relationship when lines get drawn so firmly. In fact, when lines are drawn in this manner, it makes for some very, very uncomfortable situations, to say the least.
But what if there was a way forward in which acceptance is not a requirement for relationship? What if there is a way forward in which we could love someone and interact with someone even if we consider them unlovable? What if we can indeed accept that another’s position is wrong, yet love that person anyway? Is such a thing possible?
I think it is. Full disclosure at this point. I believe very strongly that Scripture condemns homosexual marriage. I believe that any sexual relations outside the bounds of a marriage relationship between a man and a woman is sinful. God intended this gift to be used between a man and a woman within those boundaries. I think Scripture is absolutely clear on this despite those who want to offer up all sorts of other interpretations. I know what you have to do to get those interpretations, and if you applied those methods to the whole of Scripture, you basically can make the Bible say any darn thing you want it to say and excuse any and every behavior known to humankind. That being said. I also have relatives who are homosexual. My wife’s uncle came out of the closet quite a few years ago and was in a very steady relationship until just a couple of years ago. My wife and I regularly met and stayed with her uncle and his partner. I also have an aunt who I am pretty sure is homosexual, but she hasn’t exactly made public profession because it would cause quite the ripple in the family. Yet, she and her partner have been together decades, and I love them both dearly. Therefore, I come at this issue from the particular standpoint of one who believes that homosexual marriage is sinful, but loving family members who are and who quite possibly are homosexual and have had long term relationships with exclusive partners. How can I hold such things in tension?
There are a couple of things that guide me along the path. The first is St. Paul’s admonition to the church in Corinth. This particular passage does not get a lot of playtime in churches as it takes a back seat to Jesus’ comment in Matthew 7, “Thou shalt not judge because with the judgement you give, you will receive.” I have argued all along that Jesus’ admonition here does not mean we aren’t supposed to judge things as right and wrong–that would be absurd. I mean, honestly, does anyone believe we should say, "I cannot judge a child abuser because Jesus said I shouldn't judge?" That is the consequences of extending this teaching all the way down. No one believes or practices this. Even Jesus didn't--especially if you read through the Gospels. We can and should judge right and wrong, but we shouldn't take it to eternal consequences. We shouldn't judge whether or not a person is or is not loved by God. I personally have argued this is exactly what Jesus meant, and I think Paul fleshes that out perfectly in 1 Corinthians 5. He says, “11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13God will judge those outside.” “Outside” refers to those who are outside the church. They are non-believers. We do not offer judgment here. We only judge those who are within the church–those on the inside.
At this point, you may be ready to pounce on me and say, “Well, okay, but aren’t we supposed to get everyone in the church? Isn’t the goal to get people to become Christian? Aren’t we supposed to point out to others that they are sinful and they need to avoid hell–therefore, they need to stop sinning? And what do we do about all those folks who have joined the church who still practice gay marriage and homosexual behavior? Don’t we have to confront them as well?” And I’m going to play the devil’s advocate for just a moment, because remember, this issue cuts both ways. Because there is another side which is ready to pounce and say, “So what do we do about all those people who are rendering judgement on gays and lesbians? What do we do about those who are judgmental and self-righteous; who look down their noses at anyone who believes differently than they do; who won’t love and accept people who are different than they are?” You see, we still haven’t really resolved anything even with guidance from St. Paul here. So, where do we go next?
I think we go to the Gospel. I think we’ve got to get to Jesus. We’ve got to look at what He did and what He has done. And to do just that I want to look at John chapter 8–our Gospel lesson. Believe it or not, I have seen this lesson used both to condemn homosexuals and to bolster a case for acceptance. But I want to get away from rendering such judgment for the moment, and I want to deal with this passage as it stands, and then to take us through the implications.
The story progresses straightforwardly enough: a woman is caught in the act of adultery, and she is brought before Jesus by the scribes and the Pharisees. Now, whether or not they were peeking in the windows or what to discover she was committing adultery, I don’t know. What I do know is that her life hangs by a thread. She knows that her life hangs by a thread. The scribes and Pharisees know that her life is forfeit according to the laws of Moses. Both Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 22 have passages demanding that the adulterer and adulteress be stoned. (Which raises an interesting question of where the guy is in all of this!!!) This woman is all but dead; she knows it, and the scribes and Pharisees know it.
But they also know it is an opportunity to trap Jesus. If Jesus allows this woman to be stoned, He will be seen as callous and uncaring. If Jesus allows the woman to go free, He can be accused of telling people to break the laws of Moses–and of God. “Teacher, this woman was found caught in the act of adultery. According to the laws of Moses, we are supposed to stone her. What do you say?”
Jesus wrote in the dirt. Apparently, He didn’t want to answer. Apparently, He wanted folks to figure it out for themselves, but the scribes and the Pharisees kept pushing Him. They kept asking. They kept demanding an answer.
Jesus finally replies, “Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
We are told that one by one, all drop their stones and leave. And here is where things get interesting, in my estimation.
The only one left with the woman is Jesus. Think about this for a minute. Everyone else has dropped their stones and walked away, except Jesus. Jesus is still there. Why is this so important?
Let me ask you this: is Jesus without sin? Yep. Think about that again for a minute. If Jesus is without sin, could He have cast the first stone? Could He have brought the punishment of death upon this woman who was caught in adultery? Yep. Absolutely.
But does He? “Is no one left to condemn you?” He asks.
“No one, sir,” she replies. Yes, they have all gone, but Jesus is still there. Jesus still holds her life in the balance. Her life is completely and utterly in His hands. Whether she gets that or not, I don’t know. So I do not know how she receives these next words–they may have come with a shock as she realizes He could have cast the first stone; or they could have come with relief as she discovers He will not cast a stone Himself.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus says. “Now go and do not sin again.”
Think hard about those statements and in the order they appear. Think really, really hard about them and the actions leading up to them. Think about what Jesus has done for this woman. Think about how He just saved her life. Think about how close to death she had come and how now she has another chance. How do you think she will respond to hearing what Jesus said? How do you think she will walk away from this encounter with the man who saved her life and then said, “Go and do not sin again.”? Will she follow His instructions?
Would you follow His instructions if He just saved you from a painful, horrible death? I’d imagine you would. If someone saves you and shows you great love in their saving acts, you generally take their advice and teaching.
And the question I have for each and every one of us here this morning is this: if you want another person to change what they are doing, are you willing to save their life and show them great love before you ask them to change? Are you willing to endure the ridicule of modern day scribes and Pharisees–whether they be on one side or the other–to show such love in hopes that another person will change? You see too often, we in the church are very willing to tell people, “Go and sin no more. Change your life or you will go to hell.” or what have you without a single note of compassion, love, or mercy. We expect the other person to change without any cost to ourselves. And then we get angry when they get angry with us. We end up in a vicious cycle of blaming and finger pointing because we ourselves have not been transformed by the Gospel.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.”
You see, Jesus didn’t just save that woman caught in adultery. He also saved you and me. We were and are living in sin. We have been caught in our brokenness. We have not followed the laws of Moses. We deserve death.
But Jesus took our place. Jesus died the death we deserved. He saved us because He loved us. And he still loves us. He still has great mercy and compassion on us. And when we realize this, it changes us. It leads us to repentance. It leads us to fight against the sin in our own lives. And it leads us to proclaim what Jesus has done–to tell others what He has done for them as well. Because when the Gospel takes root in our lives, we know that we don’t change other people. We know we can’t make their hearts move in another direction. Only Christ can.
Which finally brings us to the answer to the original question. How do you deal with someone who you disagree with? Who you believe is living in sin? Who you would like to see change? First, be changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let it transform you so that you show great love to others. Second, share what Christ has done for you. Third, let Him bring about the change, for He will do the same to others as He has done in you. Amen.