Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 6, Matthew 7, Luke 4, Matthew 1
SBCC sexuality suggested reading list:
Want to know more about historic and progressive understandings of sexuality, the Bible, and Christian theology? Check out these reads:
Washed and Waiting, by Wesley Hill
People to Be Loved, by Preston Sprinkle
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
A little bit of review for the last few weeks. We’re returning to the first conversation we ever had as a church about what it means for us to be a church. And if you would have been with me like two years ago in a living room somewhere in South Bend where I wondered if anybody would be a part of this with me and we started talking about what South Bend City Church would be and how we would move toward it together, I would have sat you down and I would have put a little PowerPoint on the TV. And I would have used some symbols to talk about the tensions that a church has to navigate. And I would argue these are both tensions that communities of faith have to navigate and people of faith, like individual persons, are going to have to wrestle with the thing I’m about to describe. So I want to return to that, and then this week we’re going to press into an example of what I’m describing with this framework. But it all goes back to the logo.
Some of you, I think we might have run out of logo coffee cups tonight. But you might have seen our logo. It’s a triangle. I have these buttons, by the way. If you don’t want to get a tattoo yet, you can wear a button. And they’re for free. They’re out there by the coffee. But the reason our logo is a triangle is really quite significant. It’s meaningful for us. And it’s because in those early meetings, I would have put two triangles in front of you. Let me show you what they were. There’s these two right here. On the left, you have what’s called a triquetra. This is an old Celtic symbol that becomes a sign of Trinitarian Christian thinking, which another way of saying that would be to say that this is a reminder of the Christian story that we are being invited into. It’s a reminder that God calls himself Father and that God is creator. and that God wants the world to be here, that God delights in the creation. It’s a reminder that God shows up as sun and flesh and blood, that the maker of the universe, the ground of all being, chose to locate himself in a body on planet Earth in a certain time and place, that he might walk with us and teach us and die for us and be raised to new life for us. And it’s a reminder that God is spirit, which means that God wants to walk in our midst and with us today, that God is actually here to be a part of the project of what we are becoming. as we grow toward more wholeness and holiness and life in the lives that we are living right now. So this is in so many ways a symbol for the roots of our faith. This historic witness of what it means to be Christian and what the Christian story is, a way of sort of understanding the essence of what the scriptures are teaching us and what it means for us to sort of call ourselves Christian as a community. That’s the triquatre.
Now on the right, you have a delta. which among other things is a symbol that gets used in math equations and finance and medical charts for change in a variable. And I want to put that triangle in front of you in the meeting too and I want to just observe that we are living at a time of really immense change and that like if you think that we’re going through more change than normal right now, I don’t think you’re crazy. I think a fair reading of the history of human experience says there are long periods of sort of incremental change in human experience and then there are short bursts at certain points in history. where technology and philosophy and a whole bunch of other things all sort of come together into a perfect storm that leads to more radical change in those periods of time. And I would argue that we’re actually living in one, which is why sometimes you feel really confused. Me too. There is new information and new ideas and new stories being told, and whereas most of humans from most of human existence could have lived their entire life exposed to a fairly narrow batch of ideas and experiences, We’re living in a world today where more of us are being confronted with more new ideas and experiences. And it can create tension and cause problems, be disruptive.
And what I’m arguing is that a person of faith and a community of faith has to ask themselves, what are you going to do with these two realities? With what it means to be historically rooted Orthodox Christian, and what it means to live in a world of radical change. And I’m arguing there’s at least a few different ways that you could navigate this reality of these two things.
One way that you could do it would be to say the stuff on the left, the rooted faith stuff, the triquetra symbolizes, you could say that that’s our business. A church could say that’s our business, and the stuff on the right, the change, the questions, all that stuff, that’s just a distraction from our business. Let’s not get distracted by that stuff. Let’s avoid it, right? I would argue this is like, if you’ve ever been to church and then you’ve gone home and you’ve seriously wondered, has the pastor been living in a vault? Do they just wheel him out on Sundays? Like… Like, because all week long we’re wrestling with things and hearing these stories and grappling with these ideas and these tensions, and then I showed up in church and it’s just like we didn’t even talk about it. Well, I mean, that would be a posture that you could adopt if you’re gonna try to navigate these two things.
I would argue you can go a little further in that direction and say not only is the stuff on the left our business, the rooted faith stuff, that’s our business, and not only is the stuff on the right a distraction, you could say the stuff on the right, the changes, the new questions, the new ideas, the shifting world that we’re living in. that’s more than a distraction, you could say it’s a threat. You could say like we’re gonna proactively protect ourselves from that stuff. I would argue that’s when people like me stand on stages like this and tell people like you, don’t ask those questions, don’t read those books, it’s dangerous out there.
I think there’s a third posture that you could adopt. And this would be to sort of swing the other direction. And this would be to look at the roots of our faith and sort of shake our heads and be like, oh, isn’t that unfortunate? So antiquated, so outdated, not very fashionable anymore. and you just sort of leave that behind and you capitulate to whatever wind is blowing at the moment. This would be essentially to assume that whatever the most recent thinking is on any given question is definitely the best thinking on the given question. That would be another way that you could navigate all this, right?
But what I’m arguing this month and what I would have argued two years ago when we were getting this whole thing going is that none of those three postures lives up to the picture of the church that we see in the scriptures. None of those three postures lives out the fullest version of faith that we see in the scriptures. And I’m arguing that faith actually lives in the tension between these things, and that a faith community, a church, is most alive and most true to what she’s supposed to be when she lives in the tension between these two things. And then the church becomes a community that wrestles together what I would call a discerning community, an interpreting community, a hermeneutical community that’s actually working these things out in real time.
If you wanna hear more about that, go back to the podcast from two weeks ago. we looked especially at the book of Acts chapter 15, at a moment where the followers of Jesus have to wrestle with a very, very clear picture in the roots of their faith about how God would move and who was a part of his people, and then a really kind of a radically different idea of who would be a part of God’s people and how they would indicate that participation in their experience with the Gentiles. So that’s sort of the framing here.
And then later this month, we’ve been pressing into a couple of areas where the church could wrestle with the tension. between rooted historic faith and changing the world. So last week we talked about science and faith. I had a great time. I don’t know how that was for you. But this week we’re gonna talk about sexuality.
Everybody take a breath. Seriously, everybody take a breath.
This week we wanna talk about sexuality. There’s an ethicist named David Gushee, whose work I highly recommend. He’s an evangelical Christian ethicist. He writes a number of important books, including one on kingdom of God ethics. And Gushee makes this observation about the shifting sort of assumptions in our world today about where sex belongs. Like in what context does sex belong? What’s the right place for that act? And he observes this.
He says that where there had been a prevailing view among many, if not most, that sex belongs within a lifelong marriage covenant. He argues that standard or that view has been broadened or he might say compromised to the point of saying that sex belongs in any sort of loving relationship. And then he observes that in some context it seems that standard has gotten lowered or broadened even further to say that any context where there’s mutual consent, as long as you have two people who are capable of saying yes, and as long as they aren’t hurting each other, that that’s all that’s required for sex to belong in a setting. And Gushee would say from his perspective that sort of broadening or lowering the bar is a problem for the conversation that we have around sex today.
Now I raise that, first of all, because when I say in church today that we’re gonna talk about sexuality, my assumption is that most of you assumed that we’re gonna talk about the LGBT thing. As if we don’t all have sexuality that we have to grapple with. And so like to begin with, I just wanna call out the fact that every human being in the room, every person with a body, has a sexuality to grapple with. We have bodies and desires and attractions and this sacred aching for intimate connection and lust and those things work themselves out in our lives in holy and really unholy ways. We have these questions to ask and wrestle with all of us about how our bodies will participate in the life of the kingdom of God, about how our bodies, every part of our bodies, everything we do with our bodies, how they will be part of following Jesus into the fullness. of God’s kingdom, and I don’t wanna just skip that as if the only thing the church has to talk about when it comes to sexuality today is the LGBT thing. So I wanna call that out.
Except now I wanna talk about the LGBT thing for the rest of the night. For roughly 1,960 years in the life of the church, there was a practically perfect consensus on the peculiar nature of sex and marriage, and a consensus on whether a same-sex relationship was sort of a part of that thing that God had designed. And then for roughly 40 or 50 years, there has been some radical shifting in parts of the church and the world about specifically the nature of same-sex relationship. And that’s specifically what I want to press into tonight. The nature of same-sex marriage or same-sex sexual relationship.
This is really personal for everyone in the room, and I know that, because if LGBT doesn’t name you, it probably names someone you know or love. It probably speaks to an area of conviction that you either feel strongly or are wrestling with, but it’s probably not tepid for just about anyone.
I think of a good friend of mine who’s a respected leader here in this church. rightly respected, really good dude. And he asked if we could get together for coffee a while ago, and so we met. We made small talk for a bit. And then he says to me, hey, the thing I wanted to talk to you about, like I love our church. He said, I love that we talk about how everyone is welcome here. He said that, I love that. He said, but honestly, I’ve been kind of wondering if there’s anyone who wouldn’t be welcome at South Bend City Church. So I kinda leaned forward, and I’m like, okay, well, say more. And then the next thing that he said really caught me off guard. He said, Well, for example, I’m a person who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I kind of wonder if I might not be welcome here if people knew that. It’s not what you expected, right? His read on sort of the average person in this community was that would put him on the outside.
I think of another good friend of mine, a woman that I love and respect, a lesbian woman, who I knew before South Bend City Church, but who wanted to be a part of South Bend City Church. And so we met for coffee downtown at the DoubleTree Starbucks one day, early on in this whole adventure. And she told me her story, more of it than I had known before, of the profoundly painful moments in her history that were specifically a part of the intersection between her faith and her sexuality and what the church around her had done, at times just reprehensible and hurtful to her. And I remember she asked me, she said, I just kinda wanna know, like, will I be safe or welcome at South Bend City Church? And I said, look, I… I don’t know how we’re gonna work out all of this as a community in terms of discerning what’s right and discerning what we should be and do as a community. I don’t know all the details of that. That’ll be a discernment conversation. But I said, I can tell you this. If South Bend City Church isn’t a safe place for you, I will do something about that. And I’ll never forget this professional woman, grown woman sitting in Starbucks. and she just started sobbing, just wept openly, just at the prospect that she could call a church safe for her.
And that reminds me, like this is especially personal, especially for the brothers and sisters in this community who identify as L or G or B or T or Q. And as I move forward, I would like to say, if you identify as straight, I would just ask you that for the next hour, as we talk through this, I would ask you, would you do the extra work of trying to have some empathy for the people in the room who identify as L or G or B or T or Q? And can you imagine as uncomfortable as you might feel right now, as I stand up here and tell you we’re gonna talk about sexuality, can you imagine how uncomfortable they might be? And would you just decide that as we move through this, you’ll maintain a sort of place of empathy within you as you think about somebody who might be on your right or your left and how much more treacherous this might be for them?
I understand there are reasons that churches don’t talk about this kind of stuff, but I want to ask us to be great today. I have friends who are pastors both locally and around the country and around the world, and a number of these friends who are pastors, we’ve talked in private, and they’ve shared with me their actual thinking on these questions. And then they’ve told me, man, I wish I could talk to my church about this, but there is not a chance I can talk to my church about this. It just, I’m afraid of what they would do to me if we just had a thoughtful conversation about sexuality. And part of me, I understand that, because I’ve seen how badly it can go when churches try to step into these difficult waters. But part of me, my heart breaks, because I think you must not think that highly of your church if you’re afraid to do a hard thing with them. And frankly, I think really highly of our church, and I’m not afraid to do a hard thing with you.
So tonight, I want to do a hard thing with you, which is to talk about this. I’m gonna preach a long sermon tonight, I’ll warn you of that. If you need to leave, seriously, that’s okay. We’ll just assume you hated my sermon. I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding. It’s not fair. But at the end of the sermon tonight, the way that we’ll kind of conclude all of this is to come together at Jesus’ table for communion. And that’s really intentional today for two reasons.
The first one is that I think this topic has become in the era that we are living in today, like the line in the sand, the issue that divides us. The red line that says we’re either for one another or against one another based on whether we agree here. And I would just argue, and I’ll come back to this later, I don’t think the unity of the church has ever been predicated on agreement on every issue. The unity of the church has always been built upon our shared experience of Jesus and our desire to follow him together. And so first of all, we wanted to come to the table to get us out of our heads at the end of this, back to our hearts and our bodies and our community here, and to remember that.
The second reason I wanted us to come to Jesus’ table for communion at the end of this. is because I will probably mess up several things in this preaching. This is very complicated. There’s a lot at stake in these questions. And I just, I imagine I will whiff on a number of points in this whole thing. So I thought at the end of it, let’s do something I can’t screw up, which is communion. That’s like bringing in a ringer at the end of the game, right? So that’s quite seriously the other reason why I wanted this to end there, as a concession to my own weakness and the possibility that I will get plenty wrong. as we try to move through this. And I would ask for your grace as we talk.
Now I’ve heard a number of people would basically say that where you stand on the question of same-sex relationship is the same as where you stand on the Bible. And they would say it really, really all comes down to the text. And so what I wanna do mostly tonight is work through passages in scripture that speak specifically to same-sex behavior in one way or another. I wanna do this thoughtfully. and carefully, which means it might feel tedious and academic. If this isn’t like your normal mode to do this kind of work, I totally respect that. I would ask you like put your thinking cap on, try to hang with me for a little bit, okay?
What I’m about to do, while it might feel a bit tedious or academic, it will unfortunately and invariably basically scratch the surface of the texts and the interpretive questions that we’re going to ask. There’s no way that I can actually give full justice to all of this tonight, but I did want to show some of our work, and I wanted to take you through it, and I’m going to point you at the end of this to a reading list where you can do much deeper, where everything I’m going to talk about tonight is well represented in any number of books and scholarly sources. So I’ll point you to that if you want to dig in and really understand where some of these ideas are coming from.
Now, as I move through this, essentially I’m going to look at a number of texts that talk about same-sex behavior in one way or another. And my goal… is to represent, first of all, what I understand to be the best interpretive work that anybody who holds a historic view of sexual behavior would use on those texts. And I’m also going to offer what I would hopefully be the best representation of the interpretive work that people that hold a progressive view of same-sex relationship, what they do with these texts. And even as I name historic and progressive, that’s a problem because there aren’t two views on sexuality. There aren’t two views on same-sex marriage in the church. There’s any number of nuanced ways that somebody could think about these things. So even there I’m kind of being sloppy and sort of lumping a lot together, but if I don’t do that we will be here till Thursday. And I don’t have the stamina for that, and you have better things to do with your time between now and then. So I’ll be sort of roughly representing two perspectives on each of these texts. And my hope is that anybody here who’s better read than I, and who holds one of those perspectives on these texts, would at least say that I’ve fairly represented the interpretive moves that each party makes as they read these parts of the Bible.
Also, if you’ve never been in an environment where biblical interpretation is happening, where people are wrestling with historical context and Greek and Hebrew words and all that kind of stuff, if you’ve never been a part of that, it can feel strange to see those tools used with the text. Last year we did a series called Bible Rehab, where we just talked for a few weeks about how do faithful Christians thoughtfully read the Bible and how do we wanna do that as a community. So if you wanna dig further into just questions of how we read the Bible, I would encourage you to go back to the podcast from last summer and listen to Bible Rehab.
I think that’s, oh no, I have one more disclaimer, which is I’m also going to try to be sensitive to the fact that there might be some kids in the room, which is another reason that my work will only go so far tonight, because frankly you can’t go very far into a conversation of sexual behavior without having kinds of conversation that may not be appropriate for a general audience. That’s another reason you might have to read between the lines a little bit. I trust the adults in the room that you can do the work. You guys ready to jump in and do some work with me? Don’t be scared, we’re gonna be okay, guys.
Great, I’m gonna move through some texts with you now. The first place in the scripture that people have often thought of as addressing the nature of same-sex behavior is in Genesis chapter 19. This is the story of two angels that come to visit a man named Lot in the city of Sodom. Now, we’re not gonna do a lot of work on this text because though historically it’s been a text that people use to think about same-sex behavior, there are reasons that I will try to make clear very briefly that it doesn’t seem to be a great text. to work on the nature of same-sex behavior. In the story of Genesis 19, Lot is sitting at the gate of the city and two men who are actually angels show up and Lot, as a good Hebrew man, as a good ancient Near Eastern person, understands that hospitality is of the highest ethical order for them. And so he shows them hospitality and these two men who are angels, who are visitors, are staying in his home.
And then as the story goes, the men of the city of Sodom show up at the door of Lot’s place and they say, bring the guys out if you ever wanna have sex with them. Well, this is the city of Sodom. It’s roughly the year 1180, where the word Sodom gets associated with the male sex act. And that has been sort of a moment where people look at it and say, see, this is really bad. This is same-sex behavior, it’s not good.
Now, a couple of problems with that. First of all, it’s a gang rape scenario being perpetrated against guests who are enjoying the hospitality, which is of the highest moral order. It seems that if there’s a problem there, we should start with the gang rape nature of the act. rather than the same-sex nature of the act.
Furthermore, later in the Bible, Sodom becomes a symbol of wickedness and depravity and evil of the worst kind. And what’s interesting is that the Bible tells us what’s wrong with Sodom later. Like in the book of Ezekiel, we read about the sins of Sodom, and this text never says in those later critiques of Sodom that the same-sex nature of that act was a problem. We read that there was an issue of an injustice in the city of Sodom. We read that people were overfed, that they were proud in the city of Sodom. But if the same-sex nature of that particular incident is the big issue, you’d think that you would see that mentioned in other places where the sin of Sodom is named and it isn’t.
So we just kind of move on from Genesis 19 to texts that seem to be more direct on the nature of same-sex behavior. Let’s look at Leviticus chapter 18 and 20. We have two different places here where we read what seems to be a sort of straight on command about same-sex behavior. So, Leviticus 18, 22. Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman. That is detestable. And Leviticus 20, verse 13. If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death. Their blood will be on their own heads.
Now, I’m gonna reflect on this text as I will with the next several texts. how different interpreters who come to historic or progressive conclusions on sexual behavior interpret this text. Those who would say that these two verses don’t prohibit the kind of modern same-sex monogamy that people might be asking for in the church, they would look and they might first observe the word detestable, which shows up in both of these passages. This is also sometimes translated abominable or abomination. they would observe that word, abomination, abominable, detestable, the Hebrew for that shows up 117 times in the law, 111 of which have nothing to do with same-sex behavior, and those saying that these texts don’t necessarily speak to us today with a moral order, they would ask, for example, are we saying everything else that’s called detestable in the Old Testament, are we still prohibiting all of that?
They would say, are we talking about all the other things that the law is concerned about being abominable or detestable? They would ask, are we cherry picking? Is there a reason that we’re sort of singling out the issue of same-sex behavior when we’re not preaching about the other 111 things that are detestable in the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy? That would be an argument there.
Now, sometimes what happens from that posture is you might actually see people sort of slip beyond that to say, look, the whole Leviticus thing, the whole Deuteronomy thing, I thought we were like New Testament people. I thought Christians didn’t have to grapple with those texts anymore. And those arguing from the historic progressive would make a point that I really would affirm and they would say, are you sure that you can really do that for a number of reasons.
First of all, in Acts chapter 15, which is the beginning of this whole series, where this council of Jewish Christians primarily is wrestling with what to do about Gentile Christians who seem to be Christian and they seem to have the life of the Spirit and they seem to be following Jesus, that’s the moment where they discern that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised to be part of the people of God. Well, in Acts 15, at the end of that whole thing. when they put the order out to the churches for how they should grapple with those issues, they say there, but tell the Gentiles they should refrain from meat sacrifice to idols and sexual immorality and some other things like that because Moses has been preached in all of the synagogues for all of this time. So there in the New Testament, after Jesus in the church, you do see them still affirming the sort of core picture of life that’s being painted in the law. So that’s interesting.
Secondly, you’ve got people like Paul and Peter that write letters in the New Testament. that do affirm things that are being said in Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the law.
Thirdly, Jesus’ core commandment, the thing that a lot of us are really excited about, where Jesus has asked, what’s the most important thing to God? What’s the center of the law? And Jesus says, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. That comes from these same law texts. So the idea that you can just sort of uncritically throw out these texts, that seems problematic, right? Now conversely, people who say, well, okay, so we have to, do something with these texts, and there’s tons of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that we don’t pay attention to anymore.
Like, for example, I am wearing an American Apparel, Tri-Blend shirt, highly recommend them, that’s why I wear them every day of my life. This has three different kinds of fabric within it. That’s not permissible according to this law. So somewhere along the way, we seem to have decided that some of these texts don’t apply, and some people are saying some of these texts do, so how would you meaningfully filter that out, right?
Well, one way that certain interpreters have tried to do that is they’ve argued that in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament law, you have three kinds of laws. They said you have moral laws, that you have ceremonial laws, and that you have civil laws. They would say the civil laws are specific to Israel because Israel was being convened as a theopolitical community, which is a fancy way of saying, this is a people that were being convened on planet Earth in flesh and blood to have God as their king and ruler. And they would say that was a unique. calling for Israel as the people of God that doesn’t apply in the same way. So the civil laws that govern Israel’s political and civil life, they don’t apply to all of us who are not Israel in the year 2018. They would say the ceremonial laws, like sacrifices, that kind of stuff, they would say those are the laws which were dealt with the death of Jesus, that sort of supplanted the need for those practices in the people of God. And they would say what remains is the moral laws. They would say those moral laws reflect what is intrinsic to the character of God, and God’s character doesn’t change, therefore the moral law doesn’t change, right?
Well, and again, I haven’t said this yet, but there’ll be moments throughout this conversation where some of my own discernment will come through. This will be one of those moments. I think the idea of moral and ceremonial and civil is really problematic for a few reasons. First of all, I have yet to find anyone who can show me anywhere in the text where the text tells you that there are moral laws and ceremonial laws and civil laws. That seems to be something that somebody hundreds or thousands of years later came up with when reading the text.
Secondly, I’ve yet to find anyone who can show me anywhere in the law where the law tells you which laws are moral and which laws are civil and which laws are ceremonial. And this begins to smack of what you might call an anachronism, which is to say people from out of that time and place are sort of bringing their filters from their time and place into that text from that time and place, as if what’s obvious to us in the year 2018… would have been obvious in the same way to people thousands of years ago. As if we would look at something and say, well, three kinds of fabric in your shirt, I mean, that’s obviously not moral. But for example, a man having sex with a man, that’s obviously moral. I’m just not sure that we get to do that without the text telling us that that’s what it’s doing. So I think if you’re going to wrestle with what to do with Leviticus, there’s a lot of challenging questions to ask about whether these moral instructions matter for us today. That’s my best work on Leviticus chapter 18 and 20.
One more note though about a sort of progressive interpretation or a question that progressive interpreters will raise. And this will apply to Leviticus and the New Testament text that we will look at. They’ll say it matters whether the writer of this text was thinking of sort of modern same-sex monogamy which is rooted in a modern understanding of sexual orientation or identity, or if the only thing that they knew or about had in mind was same-sex practice that occurred in other kinds of contexts. Like, for example, those arguing for a progressive interpretation would propose, what if the only place that this writer knew of same-sex behavior happening was in something that was problematic for other reasons, too? Like, for example, if it was exploitative, if the only time they ever saw same-sex behavior in society, it was when a powerful man was taking advantage of a vulnerable boy, or when a master was using a slave. Or if it was wrapped up in some kind of pagan idolatrous practice where you would go to the temple of the pagan god and one of your acts of worship as a man who was worshiping that god would be to have a sex act with the temple boy there. They would say it matters if we could try to figure out what context these writers knew of when they thought of same sex behavior. That’ll matter more as we go forward into the next text.
Let’s go to Romans chapter one, 26 and 27. How are we doing so far? Thanks mom. Romans 1, 26 and 27. So now we’re in the New Testament. Here, Paul the apostle is writing from the white hot center of the movement of Jesus as the church is spreading across the Mediterranean world. And here in Romans 1, 26 and 27, in the argument that Paul is laying out, he essentially seems to be speaking of Gentiles before their conversion at this moment, when he writes this. God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. And in the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another, men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Now, first of all, those arguing for historic view of same-sex activity will probably say this seems sort of on the nose, like pretty direct about it, right?
Those arguing for a progressive interpretation that says, this text isn’t… morally binding for the kind of same-sex monogamy that people might be asking for in the church today, they’re gonna point to a few things in the text. First of all, they’re gonna point to the language of exchange. There were an exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. And I’ve heard the argument offered by a number of voices that would say that if you talk to a lesbian person or a gay person, most of them will tell you they never exchanged anything. That they didn’t wake up one day feeling totally heterosexual and say to themselves, I think I’d like to trade that in. because it just seems like my life will be a lot easier if I could be an ostracized person who has no place in the church. That would be one of the arguments here, that whatever this text is describing, that it’s not describing the thing that people today, lesbian and gay, who are asking for same-sex relationship in the church, are naming in their own experience. So that’s one of the moves there.
They’ll also point to the language of shameful lust and inflamed with lust for one another. And I’ve heard a number of gay friends talk to me, they say, Well, yeah, if you see a gay couple inflamed with lust, that’s a problem, talk to them about it. But they would say, but what if that doesn’t characterize the kind of relationship that we’re pointing to today? And frankly, if we’re talking about people inflamed with lust and the need to condemn that activity, we should probably go to every college campus in America and talk to all the young men, right? Amen? Okay.
So that’s another thing I’ll point to here to say, whatever’s being described here, it may not be describing the thing that lesbian and gay people are asking for from the church. Now, they’ll also bring the sort of same context that I referred to with Leviticus here, and they’ll ask the question, was Paul having in mind something that was corrupt for other reasons, like pagan idolatrous worship or exploitative sexual relationship that was more than sort of a mutual relationship? In fact, some people have argued that in the first century, there was no such thing as mutual sort of… equality-driven relationship between two men or two women. Some people have argued that the only sort of knowledge or experience of same-sex behavior in the first century was always exploitative. That claim seems to have been really well-debunked. There are really plain textual examples from the first and second century where we can see that in the ancient world, while it may not have been the normal expression of same-sex behavior, there were known examples of same-sex relationship that were equality-driven and mutual. And again, those arguing for a historic perspective will point here to the language of mutuality. So when you read men committed shameful acts with other men, the language there, and it’s sort of best nuance or in the Greek there, it has a language of mutuality. It sounds like the kind of thing that two men are entering into together. And if what you were describing is exploitative or pedophilic or something like rape, you probably wouldn’t use language of mutuality. to describe that act, you would probably describe it as the act of one person that they are perpetrating against another person. Right? So there’s questions to be kicked around there about whether Paul had in mind the kind of modern same-sex relationship that some people in the church are asking to be embraced, or whether he was thinking of just these other kinds of very cover-up practices. We’re going to keep pointing to that question as we move through this.
Now, those who argue for progressive interpretation who say… that whatever is going on in Romans 1, 26 and 27, it’s not something that’s necessarily binding for what we’re talking about today. They have one argument that I’ll just let you know, I find really hard to quibble with. So you might see natural and unnatural and shameful. Those seem like fairly timeless words. If something’s unnatural, it doesn’t seem that it could be unnatural on the year… 30 or 40 or 70 AD, but it could be natural in the year 2018, because nature seems to describe design, it seems to describe something that God has sort of set forth in the world, and that we would consider doesn’t change over time, right?
Well, to that question, the response that comes from progressive interpreters will be to look at 1 Corinthians, where we see the exact same words in Greek being used. Here, it’s natural, unnatural, and shameful. In 1 Corinthians 11, it’s nature and disgrace, however, it’s the exact same Greek. So Paul, who writes Romans 1, 26 and 27, also writes this text. And Paul says, Judge for yourselves, is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him? That’s the word that’s translated shameful in Romans, disgrace. But that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory, for long hair is given to her as a covering. nature and disgrace or shame, the same words that are in Romans 126 and 27.
Now, I’ll just break it to you. Next week, we are not having a whole sermon about whether men can have long hair. At least for this community, that doesn’t seem to be a question that most of us are wrestling with, but it’s interesting, the text here is using the language of nature and shame and disgrace for those things that none of us are losing sleep over in the year 2018 about whether they represent an enduring and eternal moral command or whether they’re in incredibly bound by context and culture at the time of Paul, that I think is a really compelling point. I’m not suggesting it’s conclusive, but I think it’s really compelling as we wrestle with Romans 1, 26 and 27. One more text, still doing okay?
Okay, let’s go to 1 Corinthians chapter six, verses nine and 10. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Men who have sex with men. This is an interesting phrase to work on in the Greek. Let me take you to the next page here. The phrase men who have sex with men in the Greek is written utte malikoi utte arsenokoitai. Got that? When we do Greek sometimes I have you say it back, I won’t make you say that back. utte malikoi utte arsenokoitai.
What’s interesting, first of all, is that in the English, you have sort of one category of thing out of the Greek. So you have swindlers and adulterers, like all these different categories of person or activity that won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Men who have sex with men is one sort of thing or category in the English. In the Greek, it’s two different things in the list that are notoriously difficult to translate. So ute is like the negation, like nor, N-O-R, right? So… nor malachai nor arsenokoitai. So you have two things in the Greek, one thing in the English, and this Greek here has been challenging for people to wrestle with as they translate it. The Ute is nor. Let’s talk about malachoi and arsenokoitai. Next page. So malachoi literally means soft. In the Gospels, it’s used to describe luxurious clothing that’s soft to the touch. And arsenokoitai is an especially difficult word.
For one reason, A number of commentators have argued fairly convincingly that Paul’s the first person in the history of the world to use that word, that he made it up. Now hang with me, if you know a little bit about this word, that’s not quite fair, but it does seem to be the case that Paul might have been the first person to make this word a word. Arsenokoitai is actually a compound word made up of arson and coitai, or coitus. You might have heard the word coitus. In our world today, the word coitus means something. In the first century, the word coitus literally means bed. The word arson literally means male or men.
So what Paul has done is he’s taken the word for men and bed and put them together and you have arsenokoitai. The text says neither the soft nor the men bed will inherit the kingdom of God. You can probably begin to feel some of the ambiguity of what that might mean. Now maybe you think, well men bed, that seems pretty obvious, I don’t know what else. he would mean by that. Those who are arguing for some ambiguity here would point out that compound words are almost never as simple as taking the two words within them and pulling them out, right? So for example, if I said, tonight I just wish that you would understand me. I just wish that you would understand me. Nobody here is gonna go get a ladder so I can stand on top of it so you can stand underneath me, right? But that’s literally where that word comes from, you put them together. So those who wanna argue that the meaning of arsenokoitai may not be as simple as pulling the two words out of it would make that point.
Now, those who would argue that the meaning of arsenokoitai is a little easier to derive than the progressive camp wants you to think would say there is a place before Paul where the word arsenokoitai show up side by side, not together as a compound word, but side by side in a sentence. And the place where that happens is in a text called the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, which is done before the time of Paul.
It’s fair to argue that Paul would have certainly known the text of the Septuagint. And what’s interesting is the one place in the Septuagint where you find arsenokoitai side by side is that same Leviticus text that we looked at first. So they would argue, you know, Paul is taking the very clear moral statement from Leviticus and he’s carrying it forward into the context of the church and saying that the moral force of that prohibition continues today. He just grabs those two words and puts them together for the sake of efficiency or style or whatever, but that’s the argument that it’s clear what this word means and it comes from that place.
Now, again, those who are saying it’s not so clear are going to say, what matters is back in Leviticus, again, what’s being condemned? Because if Paul’s bringing the condemnation forward from Leviticus… into the New Testament context, but we’re not sure if what’s being condemned in the original context is all same-sex behavior. In fact, that they would only know the kind of same-sex behavior that occurs in more corrupted contexts like pedastry or pedophilia or exploitative relationships. So they would say the fact that he brings it forward from that place doesn’t really answer the question because we still have questions about the original text that it came from. Now, I said that Paul is the first person to use arsenokoitai as one word, or at least that seems to be the case.
He’s not the only person to use it though, and in the first and second centuries, we do have other writers who use the word arsenokoitai in their writings. They almost always use it in vice lists. A vice list is the thing that we just read, where there’s a bunch of bad things, and it says don’t do these things or be these things, and there are other writers that also use arsenokoitai in a vice list. An argument that’s made from people who offer a progressive interpretation that might feel a little bit slippery to you, but hang with me, is that where you find arsenokoitai in vice lists, you usually find it at a point in the vice list where we’ve just heard about one kind of vices and we’re about to hear about another kind of vice. And they would observe that where you find arsenokoitai and vice lists, it straddles the dividing line in those vice lists between sexual sins and economic sins.
Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians and just look at that real quick. This would be an example of that. You have sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, that’s a list that’s predominantly sexual in nature. And then after the arsenokoitai, you have thieves and greedy. That would be a vice list that went from sexual immorality to economic immorality. And those arguing for progressive interpretation will argue that reinforces their idea that arsenokoitai isn’t describing all same-sex behavior, but specifically exploitative same-sex behavior. Prostitution, other kinds of… that would be corrupt and immoral for other reasons beside the purely same-sex nature of the act. That’s a lot. Everybody still hanging in there with me?
Maybe. Um… That’s the reading on a number of the relevant texts that point directly to the question of same-sex behavior. But then, of course, we have a larger question to ask about the nature of marriage. And whether it’s specific same-sex behavior or not… It seems meaningful to grapple with the theological and biblical understanding of marriage and whether that definition has room within it to include same-sex relationships.
Some will point to the text from early in Genesis, chapters one and two, where God made them male and female. And then from that they are called the procreate. Of course, procreation involves sex. I didn’t know if you guys knew that. They’ll point to the moment in Genesis where Adam is given Eve. And the language there is of a woman who will not only help Adam, and by the way, helper there isn’t like an assistant position. God in the scriptures is called the helper of Israel in the same way that Eve is called the helper of Adam. So, men, maybe your wife is supposed to be your king. Queen, just go with it. But there’s also the language of oppositional difference in the relationship between Adam and Eve.
Some people will say that what makes Eve a suitable partner for Adam is the fact that there is oppositional difference, even biologically, in her body and his, and that that’s intrinsic to the very nature of marriage. The point to other places where marriage is described, and it’s always described, is between a man and a woman. Now, I use the word describe there, and that becomes really important for people who want to argue for a progressive definition that makes room for same-sex relationship within marriage. They’ll ask the question, is the text prescribing that all marriage must be man and woman? Or is it simply describing the most known experience of marriage for all of these original audiences, and then placing that experience of marriage in a larger theological context?
They would argue there’s all kinds of things that the Bible describes that it doesn’t necessarily prescribe. There are all kinds of things, they would argue, that the Bible names but doesn’t mean to confine the thing named to the way it’s described there. And they would say that unless we have some clear indication… that it’s not just a description, we should assume that it’s describing the normal experience of virtually every human being, especially in that time and place, and that it’s not concerning itself with the question of whether marriage is a category that also has room for same-sex behavior. Clear as mud? Okay.
So where does that get us? What do you do with all that? Not very far, I think.
I often get asked, like, what does South Bend City Church believe about LGBTQ? The emails come in on an almost weekly basis. What does South Bend City Church believe about LGBTQ? First of all, it’s kind of sloppy. I’m like, LGBTQ actually names a number of diverse experiences and questions, so there’s that, right? But also, like, if you ask me, what does South Bend City Church believe about anything, I would say, well, my name’s Jason. I’m a part of South Bend City Church. I’m not the totality of South Bend City Church. And on any number of questions, I would not presume to represent your belief when I’m asked about the nature of this community. Theologically, to me, South Bend City Church names anyone who is here to follow Jesus together. And there’s a diversity of beliefs and opinions and experiences on any number of questions in a community of people who are following Jesus together. And that’s not unique to South Penn City Church. Any church has that going on. It’s just that in some churches, people are afraid to say it, right? If there are people in the room with brains, There are different perspectives on any number of questions. And so I’ve kind of gristled at the question of what does South Bend City Church believe about this issue?
However, a church is more than just a collection of people. A church is a body or an organization that has leaders and budgets and policies, and that does in fact act in certain ways or another. And I do think it’s fair to ask, what can a person expect from our leadership and from me? on these questions. I think it’s clear to ask, like, what’s the line that I’m suggesting that our community hold together on these issues? I think that’s legitimate.
First of all, I would suggest this. Faithful Christians can disagree on this question of whether same-sex relationship ought to be a part of the thing that Christians call marriage. I think faithful Christians can disagree. And I want to propose that that’s something that we could hold in tension as a church. Now we need some agreements, because the community has to have some agreements, or we don’t really have anything holding us together. Like we agree that we meet on Tuesday nights at roughly 7.04 and 30 seconds, or whenever the band gets started. That’s an agreement that helps this community work. I would argue we need some agreements on these questions. And the agreement that I would propose for this community is that we would assume the best about one another. That we would disagree in good faith and assume the best about one another. The agreement that I would ask for would be, if you’re a person who holds a traditional view of marriage, I would ask you to not assume that people that hold a progressive view of marriage in the church are liberal, sin-loving, Bible-hating, worldly people who just wanna do whatever feels good politically or physically, I would ask you to assume that until you know otherwise, to assume that they have arrived at that perspective through good faith and deep conscience and hard work.
If there are people in this room who hold a progressive view of marriage, I would ask you to assume that people that hold a traditional view of marriage or historic view of marriage do so not because they’re bigots, not because they’re Fox News watching right wingers, what have, like I would ask you to presume that these are people who are thoughtfully trying to resist what is very clearly a slope in the world that is taking all sorts of sexual behavior toward more and more corrupted and depraved sorts of things.
And so you might see these people asking how does the church make sure that she maintains her peculiar witness in the world to the. peculiar nature of life in the kingdom of God, I would ask that we would assume the best about each other and that we would disagree in good faith on these questions.
But at the same time, I also feel like I should be more transparent with you about where I’m at. And I also think that people who identify as L or G or B or T or Q have a right to know what to expect from South Bend City Church. I think that’s fair. So let me take you a little further, we’re gonna do more Bible. You guys good for that?
When I look at those peculiar and particular texts that seem to be speaking specifically to the nature of same-sex behavior or relationship, you get really granular, right? You’re kind of in the weeds, you’re right up against it. But the good news about good theology and good biblical interpretation is that we can also look to broader themes and trends in the text. We can look for what you might call sort of hermeneutical or interpretive guideposts. or other things like when you don’t know what the verdict is on the text, when you don’t know what to do with all the data points that you’ve gotten, we can lean on larger and more central things about what we understand about the nature of Christ and the nature of what God is doing in the world.
And this is the next move that I find myself making as I wrestle with this. For example, I think of Matthew chapter seven. Matthew seven here, Jesus is speaking. He says, do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I think about this with regard to any number of questions in the world. I think about this with regard to discerning other people’s reliable or trustworthiness in the world. And I think about this with my own views and activities and behaviors in the world.
I would argue, first of all, we could all ask ourselves, is our personal theology or perspective on sexuality, what is the fruit that is bearing in our lives? I think that’s a really meaningful thing that we can ask ourselves. I think we could also ask ourselves, as our society sort of goes from a perspective that says sex belongs in lifelong covenantal marriage to a perspective that says maybe sex can belong in any moment of mutual consent, we could ask, what’s the fruit of that evolution? Is it leading to greater wholeness in the world? Is it leading to greater… bodily and spiritual and mental and emotional integrity in the world, or is it leading to other things or other problems? We could ask that about the sort of overall sexual climate that we are living in today. And then we could also ask ourselves about the fruit of certain theologies when it comes to same-sex relationship and LGBTQ people. We could ask ourselves, has the church’s historic posture and position on matters of LGBTQ people and same-sex marriage, has it led to good fruit or bad fruit?
My cards will start showing more here. I’ll consider the dramatically higher rates of every sort of destructive experience in the lives of LGBTQ people over the general population, whether it’s substance abuse or suicide rates. That feels like bad fruit to me. I would look at the fact that while something like three and a half to five percent of the general population is probably LGBTQ, While that’s the case of the general population, the fact that something like 20 to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, 20 to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ because they have literally been kicked out of their homes or beaten and abused so much they had to run away when they told their family what was going on inside them. That seems like an important indicator of a certain kind of fruit.
I could go on and on, but I do take seriously the question of fruit. and what kind of fruit the church’s positions and postures on LGBTQ people and same-sex marriage have produced in the world. I also consider a moment in Luke four, and what I’m gonna share with you next has become really paradigmatic for me in my theology. I’m gonna work through the text with you and then I’ll explain what this text has meant to me.
Luke 4 became important to me long before I was wrestling with the question of same-sex marriage in the church. Luke 4 became important to me when I was wrestling with all sorts of questions of how it is that we follow Jesus into the fullness of the life of the kingdom, and what will it require of us if we are going to follow him into that life. Let’s look at Luke 4. In Luke’s Gospel chapters one through three are like prologue. in the way that he tells the story. Luke’s a good writer, he knows what he’s doing. He’s a theological writer and he’s a narratively intelligent writer, which means he knows how to set scenes to convey meaning, right? So Luke one through three are prologue. And the moment that we’re about to look at in Luke four is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It’s the beginning of Jesus in his own life, in his body with his words and his healings, saying the kingdom of God is here and now. It is a gift that God is giving through his grace and you can be a part of it. You could say it’s the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel on Jesus’ lips. So I would argue Luke is not just giving you a moment from the life of Jesus’ ministry, he’s giving you a paradigmatic moment, just like a president at their inauguration will try to set themes for their administration. This, I would argue, sets themes for anyone who’s trying to understand the nature of God’s kingdom and how we can be a part of it, and what might prevent us from living in the fullness of that kingdom.
Now let’s look at Luke four. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues and everyone praised him. He went up to Nazareth where he’d been brought up and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as was his custom. He stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written. So this is normal custom at the time. He’s a respected rabbi who’s traveling. He shows up in the synagogue, they hand him the scroll, he turns to a text, he’s gonna read the text and then give commentary on the text. That’s the way it rolls. He reads this from the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. What’s going on here?
Well, Jesus has turned to a moment in the prophet Isaiah. where Isaiah is describing a future reality that they are expecting and hoping for. You might call that eschatology, a future reality that they are expecting, a future that they are hoping for. And in that future, through the anointed one, God will bring into the world liberation and freedom and justice and all of the good things that they have been aching for. Through this person that they are waiting for, God will set things right in the world that have been broken, that have been wrong in the world. So he reads that text which describes that future moment that in the first century is loaded with weight and expectation for these people. He reads it, he shuts it, and they’re looking at him like, what is Jesus gonna say about this incredibly important nuclear radioactive, super serious central text for our people, and then this happens. He began by saying to them, today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. Isn’t this Joseph’s son they asked? In other words, Jesus says that moment that you’ve been waiting for and the person through whom it will happen is right now. right here, you are looking at the fulfillment of the promise, you are looking at the person who will bring into the world that kingdom that you have been aching for and longing for. You are looking at the person and living in the moment where freedom will come, liberation will come, and justice will come, the world will finally be set right the way that you have been longing for it to happen, and I’m the location of that activity. And they say amazing. They say Joseph’s boy, in other words, one of our own, we know him, he’s the kid from the neighborhood, right? This is like hometown boy’s gonna be the hero, we are in on the action because you would surely wanna be a part of the tribe that’s going to experience that good news in the world. And Jesus says it’s happening here, and they say good, you’re one of us. Seven verses later this happens.
Then God of drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff. Seven verses, they go from amen preacher to kill the preacher. What is it that took them in seven verses from amen preacher to kill the preacher? I have preached some bad sermons in my life. I have never had a crowd go from amen preacher to kill the preacher. What did Jesus do? What did he say or do to take them from amen preacher to kill the preacher? Let me show you.
Jesus says, you’re gonna ask me for a miracle to authenticate what I am saying. And then he says, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah, the prophet, the man of God, the anointed one, was not sent to any of them but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy at the time of Elisha, the prophet, the anointed one, the man of God, Elisha, yet not one of them was cleansed, only naming the Syrians. So let’s put that together. Jesus is with these people who think of themselves as the people of God, the ones who are inside, the ones who are morally right, religiously right, ethnically right, tribally right. And he says the in-breaking of the kingdom of God that you have been longing for is finally here. The good news is finally here, the gospel is happening. You are looking at it when you look at me. And they get all excited about it because he’s Joseph’s son, because we know this guy, because he’s one of us. And then he says, the problem is, you’re gonna look for signs of power that affirm not only that it’s happening, but that it’s happening here among this tribe, for this people. And I’m gonna tell you two stories about moments in our history where the man of God, the anointed one, transgressed boundaries of religion and morality and tribe and ethnicity to bring people into this experience. who are considered outside of the experience. And this isn’t just one moment in Luke’s gospel, it is the defining moment at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that sets a theme for the whole thing.
I’m arguing that what Jesus is saying is, yes, the good news is here. Yes, the gospel is happening. Yes, the kingdom of God is breaking in and it is good, but be careful because this thing is bigger and broader and more generous than you realize and it will cross boundaries that you are uncomfortable with. In fact, you might miss out on the activity of God in the world if you don’t follow me across some of those lines into uncomfortable places. We can go again and again through the Gospels and through the story of the early church to all of the moments where the people of God realized that their actual understanding of where the lines were drawn and who was in and who was out and how we know that they are in or how we know that they are out, where all of that’s getting sort of tossed around in unpredictable ways.
That’s not enough to answer the question for sure. But it creates a bias within me. When I have to ask myself, I’m gonna err on one side or the other when it comes to inclusion or exclusion. If I’m gonna err on one side or the other in matters of moral discernment or questions of who’s all the way in or not, this sets a bias for me that I think Jesus is asking us to adopt this bias. And the bias is, it is always better to include. It is always better. to include. When in doubt, you don’t want to err on the side of the people who say, Jesus, you crossed a line and I can’t go there with you.
Let’s take it to the brow of the cliff. Right? So, I want to be more transparent with you about where I come out on this. Now, I will not speak for what South Bend City Church believes, because I don’t feel like I’m appointed to describe what’s in your head, in your head, in your head, in your head, in your head, in your head, in your head. I will tell you what I believe, and how I will personally act in accord with that.
First of all, I’ve already said it. I think that faithful Christians can disagree on this. I really mean that. I believe that. Secondly, I think because of that, it’s important that I honor that in staffing and leadership here. So what I’m about to tell you more about what I believe, I’m telling you also I will hire people who disagree with me on this. I’ll put people on the board who disagree with me on this, as long as we agree that it’s okay that we disagree. But when I consider the weight of the church’s mandate to call things holy and unholy, I to bind things and lose things on planet Earth. When I consider the very real possibility that the church would lose her saltiness by compromising on the very peculiar and counter-cultural ethic of God’s kingdom, which swims upstream against all sorts of trends that are beating down on us today. When I consider the very real harms that have been perpetrated against LGBTQ people and the kinds of suffering that they have experienced at the hands of the church throughout history. When I consider the stories of the LGBTQ members of this church, these beloved brothers and sisters who share with me the things that they are carrying as they walk into this body. When I lose sleep, which I have lost more sleep over this than anything in my history as a church leader, When I do all of that sort of wrestling and interpreting work for myself, the place that I come to, that I could spend another 10 hours explaining more of how I get there, the place that I come to is that as long as I’m the pastor of South Bend City Church, this has to be a place for anybody who identifies as L or G or B or T or Q, will not be disqualified from any level of belonging or volunteering or leadership on the sole basis of that identity, and that as long as I’m a pastor at South Bend City Church, there will be at least one pastor who would be honored to do the wedding. And I’m not speaking for anybody else on staff here. You can ask them where they’re at on that. But that’s where I’m at on that.
Now, if you wanna take me to task on that, if you wanna come at me, if you think that you’ve just heard Satan speak from the stage, it’s okay if you fiercely disagree with me. If you think this is really wrong, I’d be up for talking about that. I really mean that. We need more conversations and less. less wars and divisions, right? I’d be up for talking about that, but I will say this. If you really wanna come at me, if you wanna take me to task, if you say we need to meet because you’re wrong, what’s gonna happen tonight is we’re gonna post a reading list. I’m posting… Three or four books that I think argue the best interpretive arguments for the historic view of marriage in Christian theology. And three or four books that I think do the best work to argue for a progressive view that includes same-sex marriage within the church’s definition of marriage. They’re both gonna be out there. I’m not filtering, I’m not trying to stack the deck one way or another. These are good faith arguments on both sides. I’m gonna put them out there. The only filtering I’m doing is I’m not putting any book up there that has shoddy work. And there’s books on both sides that just have shoddy work, just bad theology. I’m not putting that out there. And I won’t put anything out there that has just outright hate or animus toward LGBTQ people. And some of the books out there have that. I won’t do that. That’s the only filtering I did. Otherwise, I’ve got work up there representing both sides. If you want to come at me, if you want to take me to task, that’s okay, but I’m going to ask you, have you read at least one book from cover to cover that disagrees with you? And if you can’t take time to read one book, I probably can’t make time for the meeting. Does that sound fair? Okay.
So that’ll be out there, but we can keep talking. I mean it when I say that we need one another to be an interpretive community that works this out together. We need one another. We need to wrestle together. We need to hear from one another about different perspectives on these very important questions. One more note, pastorally, that I think is important for a number of us who are part of this community, and then we really are coming to communion, I promise. Some of you already get crap for being a part of South Bend City Church, and I know it. Some of you have been told by friends from other churches or by your parents or somebody else that you’re afraid, that they’re afraid that you’re part of this liberal progressive wolf and sheep’s clothing, whatever, because the rumor got out that we like gay people or something like that, I don’t know. I know this is actually a real thing. Some people have left our church, not because they don’t love our church, but because they got so much pressure from people around them that were concerned that this church isn’t faithful or isn’t right. So they left, even though they loved this community.
At least one non-profit partner of ours. a group that we work with and love to work with, a group that we send money and volunteer toward, has had another church in the community question that church’s support of the nonprofit partner because the nonprofit partner also partners with us and they find us suspect. So it wouldn’t surprise me that some of you get some pushback for being a part of this and that what I’m doing today will intensify that for some of you. I know that’s the case. Let me take you to one more text that I find really important and I’ve meditated on it. a lot in the last two weeks.
This is very early in the Gospel of Matthew, and I wonder if you’ve ever noticed this before. This is how the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Now what’s going on there? Faithful to the law is not a… sort of vague description. It’s a very specific description of a kind of man in first century Jewish culture who enjoyed a reputation for always doing what the law required. Joseph was a man who had a reputation for righteousness among the people of God. And if you’re gonna follow the law in Joseph’s instance, you have a problem, because Deuteronomy chapter two requires that if a woman is engaged to be married and she’s found to have been with child or had sex before the marriage, the man is required to give her up to be stoned to death. That’s the requirement of the law.
So Joseph has this peculiar moment in his life where his reputation for righteousness is actually at odds with what the Spirit of God is giving birth to in the world. And he has to decide, does he wanna hold on to his reputation for righteousness or does he wanna keep up with what the Spirit of God is giving birth to in the world? And I think you’d be surprised if you moved through the pages of Scripture just how often people have to actually give up their reputation as being righteous among the people of God if they want to keep up with what the Spirit of God is birthing in the world.
It strikes me that almost all of us come to Jesus hoping that he will help us be more righteous and more moral, but that very few of us ever imagined that our understanding of what is righteous or what is moral would actually have to be revised in light of the kingdom of God. People coming from progressive perspectives and conservative perspectives, we all seem to bring a certain moral framework to Jesus. And then I think we mostly assume that he will help us live up to the moral assumptions that we have already derived, rather than even surrendering those pictures of what is righteous to what the spirit is giving birth to in the world.
And in the moment when Jesus is being born, Joseph has to give up the reputation for righteousness if he wants to stay where the spirit is. Some of you might have to give up your reputation for righteousness if you want to be present to what the Spirit of God is birthing, whether it be this moment in this church or some other time and place.
I’m a person that gets some good gigs, partially because I have a reputation for a certain kind of righteousness. Because I’m the kind of preacher that sounds the right way and talks the right way and has a certain kind of theological alignment which opens doors to speak at certain places. I don’t know what will happen with that because of what we’re doing today. I have friends who are far more conservative than me on any number of issues who I love and whose approval I cherish And I’ve had to ask myself do I cherish that more than I cherish what the Spirit of God might be birthing and Then I sit and I think about the fruit of the Spirit which is defined described in the New Testament. You have love joy patience peace kindness goodness gentleness faithfulness self-control. You have this picture of the fruit of the Spirit This is what the Spirit gives birth to you I want to be wherever that is happening.
And I got to tell you guys If you were looking for the kind of brave and beautiful things that the spirit births in the world, and you haven’t sat with a brother or sister who identifies as L or G or B or T or Q, you are missing out. Because I have seen among some of my friends. Some of the people I know who identify there are some of the bravest, most forgiving, most faithful, most Jesus loving people I know. And one of the reasons I know that is why the hell would they love Jesus with what they faced in the church unless they are braver and more faithful than most of us. And I wanna be wherever the Spirit of God is giving birth to any good thing.
And so I frankly don’t know what kind of heat will come at us because of this, but I really don’t care. And I would rather err on the side of inclusion, even if I get this wrong. So that’s where I’m at. That’s what anybody in this church can expect from me. I want to be clear about that. If you disagree with me on this, I am so glad that you are here. I really mean that. If you disagree with me on this, I am so glad that you are here. Because if South Bend City Church becomes a collection of people who agree on everything, we won’t need Jesus to make us one. We can do that without him. So if you disagree with me on this, if you think you have to leave because of this, I would ask you, would you at least stick around long enough to let me prove it to you when I say that I’m glad that you are here and that we need each other?
Now I have definitely talked long enough, and we want to come together for Jesus’ table before we go. There’s a man named Origen in the first few centuries of the church. And at that time, the church was being persecuted, and Origen was one of the defenders of Christianity, who was writing to a critic of Christianity, and he was leveraging really impressive philosophical arguments about why Christianity makes sense or why it’s true. But then he says in one of his letters, he says to this pagan critic of Christianity, he says, if you want to know if it’s true, will you come to one of our churches and see how we love? And I think the more divisive the issue, the more opportunity we have to show the world how we love.
And so we’ll come to this table together today. I wanna ask those who are gonna serve you to come forward to the stage here so I can serve them. And while they do, I wanna remind you that Jesus was with his friends one night. He looked out and he saw a tax collector, and he saw a zealot. Those two could not be more opposed to one another. Tax collectors and zealots would literally go to war against one another in the first century. And yet these two men with profoundly different visions of the world and the kingdom of God both found themselves at Jesus’ table for a meal that night when he took a loaf of bread and he broke it. And he said, this is my body broken for you. And then he took a cup, and it was the promise of a new covenant. And he looked at his friends and he said, this covenant is forged in my blood. Take and drink. The New Testament testifies again and again that Jesus didn’t just die to make peace between you and God, or me and God, but that Jesus died to make peace among us, between us, and the one another.
And so I hope today that we can find peace with one another as we come to the table that reveals Jesus to us in a way that we can taste and feel and see. Let me pray and I’ll serve these who are gonna serve you and then you’ll be free to come and receive.
Loving God, thank you for calling us to be a church. It is not easy, but it is so good and so beautiful. I pray today at this table that you would help us to breathe deeply, to maybe get out of our heads a little bit, and to just bring our whole selves to this moment with you. And to remember it’s not just a moment with you, but a moment with one another. I pray that these would be for us today the body and blood of Jesus, and that you would remind us of the peace that you have made, and that you are inviting every kind of person into your kingdom, fellow beggars at your table enjoying the richness of this meal. We pray these things through Christ.
And we all said, Amen.
We have these two words that we offer to one another. Why don’t you stand at your feet? These two words that we offer to one another. And the more challenging the conversation that we have, the more meaning they have for us, I think. And so it’s very important to me that we get to end with this benediction. Grace and peace be with you. Amen, love you guys. See you next week.