Sermon Text – 11.17.2019
[Romans 1:26-27 and Matthew 5:43-45]
Dear Jesus, steel our resolve. Confirm our convictions. Soften our hearts. Amen.
Awhile back, I was driving around downtown Flint trying to get a feel for the city – and I saw a sign, like a big banner spread out on the fence next to a church sign. Gorgeous colors, a big rainbow flag and in big bold black letters it said, “All are welcome. Love is Love” And I thought to myself, they must be doing a Noah’s Ark theme – and what a nice message. It’s good to welcome everyone. But I shrugged and kept driving. Then, on my way back I saw a fellow walking down the road with a bright red hat, with really small white letters. He was walking towards me and the speed limit was low, so I caught the message the hat said, “Make America Great Again.” And I thought to myself – what a nice message. That’s so lovely. That gentleman wants to live in a country that he has worked to make great. Although I’m not sure what he meant by again, were we not great? When was the last time? [pause]. Do you feel that? I have given you nothing but positive messages so far – and yet the room is full of an unease. Because a rainbow flag or a MAGA hat carry with them unspoken multitudes. It’s clever really – we don’t know how to have a conversation, so each side creates phrases or chants or bumper stickers that no one can disagree with. Who is going to argue with “love is love”? In logic we call that a tautology. It’s an absolute truth, a statement that no one can argue with – but it also tells us nothing. Who doesn’t want to make America Great? And yet… there’s so much more to the conversation. You see, when we do that – when we over-simplify the conversation to little phrases that no one can disagree with, what we find is that those words become loaded with meaning that goes far deeper than a surface reading. Perhaps if we want to reach people’s hearts…maybe we need to use more than simple phrases and bumper sticker truths.


          You see, there are seven places in the bible that deal specifically with the issue of homosexuality. If you want to look them up they are Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, and 20:13, Judges 19. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, 1 Timothy 1:10 and Romans 1:26-27. Half are old testament, half are new testament.

          But before we jump into the text I want to introduce you to the Boogeyman Principle. Basically there’s this thing we do in arguments, where we draw our lines and then make up stuff about the other side. We paint the enemy as an absolute boogeyman, far beyond the actual problem. An easy example of this comes from the Disney classic Tangled, which is a movie about Rapunzel. In the movie Rapunzel is told by her wicked mother that the world is full of evil men who have pointed teeth and are all sorts of terrible. She lives her entire life afraid of the boogeyman. Problem is there’s no such thing as the boogeyman. When Rapunzel meets a real life person – the picture she had painted in her mind doesn’t match up. We spread lies about the other side to build up a picture of how terrible they are. In the modern world there are all kinds of boogeymen. All republicans must be money loving, greedy racists. All democrats are immoral socialists who want to take away my guns. All Christians must hate science and medicine. Affirming people don’t really love God or care about the bible, non-affirming people are all hateful homophobes. We paint a picture of what the other side is like, but it’s not real. The boogey man principle becomes a foundation made of glass – real life experience shatters it every time. If you actually meet someone and realize they are not the boogeyman – it shatters your entire world. If you spend your entire life afraid or hateful of gay people, and then you actually meet an LGBTQ person – and you see that they are delightful. It shatters your world. If you spend your entire life angry about those hateful conservatives who are homophobic and hate all gay people, but then you meet a compassionate conservative who is non-affirming but also seeks to love his LGBTQ brothers and sisters? It shatters your world. But what if we didn’t rely on fake stories or glass foundations? What if we had more than bumper stickers in our theology? What if we started with something more concrete – like scripture, tradition, reason and experience?

     The first argument comes from Genesis. For those who don’t know, Genesis, and actually the story in Judges is very similar, Genesis is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Most of us vaguely know what that is. They were two cities with a bad reputation. Basically, some visitors come to the city and stay with a man. During the night, a mob of men show up and say bring out your visitor so we can have sex with him. As a result of this awful sin – in Genesis God destroys both cities with fire from the sky. Sodom and Gomorrah have long been held up by conservatives as an example of how much God hates homosexual relationships. So what does the other side think? What do liberals do with these stories? It’s actually a pretty good response. This mob of men who came to the door – were they looking for a relationship? Would this story be any better if those men were heterosexual, wanting to have forced sex, rape, with a female visitor? Liberals are quick to point out that this story is about hospitality, and the evil of rape – homosexuality is not the focus. Sodom is mentioned thirteen times in the Old Testament as an example of God’s wrath, but just about every single time the focus is on hospitality, not on the sexual nature of the sin. Then the conservative response is to point out that even though the emphasis is on hospitality, that does not make homosexual actions moral.  

          I remember, I was eleven years old when I met my first “gay guy.” It was in middle school, and his name was Andrew. (BTW, in these stories, sometimes I’ll use real names, and sometimes I’ll change the names). He lived on a horse ranch, and as you can imagine the middle school girls were super into him. All the boys wanted to date the girls, and all the girls wanted to date the boy who lived with horses. I told him, “all the girls want to date you, why don’t you like any of them?” He said, “I don’t really like girls.” I was eleven, I didn’t know anything – so I shrugged and moved on with my life. I found out fifteen years later that Andrew was gay. He couldn’t share that when we were younger. Fast forward to high school. I had two really great friends, Tom and Nick. Tom and I had similar tastes in music – we went to concerts together. He introduced me to one of my favorite bands. Nick was a very close friend of mine – we ran a bible study together. We hung out all the time, watched movies, sleep overs. He always struggled with depression, but I never understood why. He was so awesome – just a really great guy. At fourteen I didn’t really have the tools to help my friend with his depression. Nick and Tom didn’t have much in common – I never really understood why they hung out so much. They hung out, but I never really saw what connected them. And no, for those trying to guess the end of the story – they never dated, they just had a shared secret. Tom moved to Texas, Nick stayed. I found out two years ago that they are both same sex attracted. He never told me. Which is another way of saying that he didn’t feel safe telling me. Andrew, Nick, Tom, and a bunch more – all people in my life, from my childhood who were Same Sex Attracted, none of whom ever told me in person. I’m not saying they owe me anything, they didn’t have to tell me – but they each waited until they were far away. They didn’t feel safe telling me who they were. I was not safe. The sin of Sodom was their failed hospitality, it was the way they treated people who were different. Did you know that there is a direct statistical correlation between churches that are non-affirming and an increase in the suicide rate among LGBTQ youth in those communities? If they don’t feel safe in church, the suicide rate goes up. I am a conservative. I am non-affirming. And conservatives like me have a history of committing the sin of Sodom, the sin of broken hospitality against the LGBTQ community. And for that history, I am so sorry. So that’s Genesis.

    Now let’s shift over to the New Testament. Even if Genesis and Judges are all about hospitality and you throw out all of Leviticus as outdated rules we don’t have to follow because Jesus freed us – even if that’s the line you take, there are still three more texts and they are all from the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1 and our scripture for today Romans 1:26-27. [read it] These were all written after Jesus, and the conservative argument is that they seem really obvious and easy to understand – so what does the other side say? The liberal response is about something called pederasty. A long time ago, in ancient greek culture there was a cultural tradition. Teachers, old men, would sometimes take advantage of their students, their male students, as payment for their services. I know, gross. It was basically something close to child prostitution, and the liberal argument says – that’s what they are talking about in the bible. They say, the bible doesn’t condemn real, equal, monogamous, relationships between the same gender. It condemns pederasty – unequal, forced, prostitution type interactions. Now, if you look closely at the text, the conservative response says, “okay, then why does Romans mention women?” There’s no female version of pederasty, no female teachers taking advantage – so it seems like that’s not what they are talking about.

Conservatives believe that there is a way that God designed humans beings to interact. There are obvious, biological indicators that point out man was created to be with woman, and vise-versa. This is the way we were created, this is the way we were designed, this is what the rules outlined in scripture and so this is the morally correct way to be together, the way God intended. On the other hand, liberals believe that we have recently shifted the categories. When the bible was written, they understood gender and relationships differently. There is outdated language that needs to be changed. There are people in the world who have desires they are trying to understand. They want to express these natural emotions physically – they’re not trying to attack visitors to the city, they’re not looking for one night stands, or pederasty. They are looking for love, for fulfillment and if God is love – then that trumps any rules that outdated scripture has. They say God is love, and so if love is what you’re searching for then you can’t be wrong. I know it’s difficult, but I am here this morning trying to shatter your glass foundation. I want to erase the boogeyman principle from your mind, for both sides. There are wonderful, God-fearing affirming Christians who love Jesus very much. There are beautiful, compassionate non-affirming Christians who want to love LGBTQ people very much. I just want you to understand that even if someone is totally wrong, completely backwards – it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying their best to connect to God with the information they have in front of them.

The good news this morning is that God designed each and every one of us. And God doesn’t make mistakes, and God loves you. The problem is that we have taken that line and turned it into a bumper sticker. God doesn’t make mistakes, so if I have a natural desire, it must be good and right for me to pursue that desire. But the reality is more complicated. We live in a broken world, with good and bad desires. A desire being natural, not a choice, something you can’t help; a desire being natural does not make it morally permissible. This goes for all of us. Heterosexual and homosexual. For example, someone burns down your house or steals all your stuff – it’s very natural for you to want to get revenge. To be angry, maybe even violent. That’s a perfectly natural emotion, pull, desire – does that make it okay for you to go get revenge? No. I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “well, you know their desire is not a choice, right?” Yes, I know that LGBTQ have naturally occurring same sex attraction. It is not a choice – but naturally occurring does not mean moral. It does not mean good. It does not mean God wants us to act on it. Another example, I am a heterosexual man. I am attracted to women. It’s a perfectly natural desire – does that make it okay for me to just go and act on those desires. Absolutely not. There are rules about that. As best I can figure out with my limited abilities – God designed us as man and woman. And if we have desires that go against that, they can be natural, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to act on them. Unlike last week, women in leadership – there are no counter-examples in the bible. If I can have a moment of honesty – sometimes I wish I could be affirming. It would be so much easier – and I have devoured book after book searching for a legitimate argument. But they’ve all fallen short. There are no supporting scriptures, and best I understand it no matter how clever your interpretation you can’t get the bible to say the opposite of what it says. The conservative approach is the official position of the United Methodist Church and will be the way we handle this topic as long as I am the pastor here.

But let me give the liberals a word of hope. I’m a human being – I make a lot of mistakes. I have lots of friends who are gay or lesbian or even a few friends who are trans – and they know what I believe. I disagree with the choices they make, but they also know I love them. First, I’m not asking for blind obedience. So don’t take my word for it. The reason I don’t spread my view very much is that I want you to look at the bible, look at your life. Talk to God about these things, don’t just take my word for it. I believe what I believe strongly, I think I have good reasons – but I am not perfect. First, don’t take my word for it. Second, love does not mean agree. There this idea out there that if you love me, you’ll let me do whatever I want. If you love me, you’ll let me walk all over you. If you love me, you’ll blindly agree with me, no matter what. But it is possible to love someone, to care deeply, compassionately for someone, and still disagree with their choices. It is their choice. Let’s try something real quick, say this with me. “I completely disagree with you, but I love you and God loves you.” 

          So now to the application. First, what do we do with our position? Liberal or conservative – how do we behave? Thankfully, it doesn’t matter what side you are on – the standard is the same. Our second scripture lesson for today tells us, [read 43-44]. This probably sounds familiar, it’s the same as Luke 6 which we used a few weeks ago. Love your enemies. Say you disagree with someone. But let’s make it stronger – say you hate them, say they are your enemy – you can’t stand them, they are horrible. Even if they are your nemesis, your mortal enemy – what does Jesus say? How do we treat our enemies? With love. We begin to see how tough love can really be. If you are an Ally, someone who supports LGBT relationships – you need to love homophobic people. That’s Jesus’ command. If you’re on the conservative side – you must love LGBTQ people. I don’t care if you disagree with them, you must love them. Some people in our world think that to be a “good” person means that you love some people, and hate others. If you hate the right people, then you’re a good person. Murderers, rapists, homophobic/LGBT people, democrats, republicans – as long as you hate the right people, then you are a good person. And believe me, I understand injustice, I understand anger, and frustration at the other side. But Jesus’ teaching is not hard to understand – replace hatred with love. Love your enemy.
          When I was in college, I had a buddy Greg. He was a good friend, but he really struggled with self worth. Because of the church he grew up in and the way they taught about homosexuality, he had deep bouts of depression that took him to really low places. He came to my room one time, said he wanted to talk. He asked if he could close the door, so I knew it was serious. I knew he was gay, but I had no idea the struggle he was going through. His epic struggle with same sex attraction had led him to doubt whether God loves him. He told me that he had found a male prostitution service off campus where he could sneak off for a rendezvous. He looked at me and he said, “I’m a monster, and I know that God hates me.” And I didn’t know what to do. Again, I never seem to know what to say when people come to talk to me. I didn’t know what the right thing to do was, so I stopped him. He started to say it again, “I know that God hates me.” And so I cut him off and wrapped my arms around him and gave him the biggest tightest bear hug I could, and I whispered over and over “God loves you and I love you.” God loves you and I love you. because I may not know the answers to all of this struggle, but I know that God does not hate my friend Greg. He cried and I tried really hard not to cry. And then I took his phone away. And I deleted the number to that service. I put my phone number in there. I told him, you start feeling low again, you call me. You don’t call them. You call me if you need someone to talk to. I will walk with you in your struggles with same sex attraction. Fast forward to the modern world, I don’t know if you know this – but because of my failures, and my struggles with my sexuality, particularly around pornography, a struggle I have overcome – I actually spend a lot of time providing support to men both hetero and homosexual who are seeking to live into God’s plan for human sexuality. I have sought with my life to become a safe space where they would not be judged, they would not be hated, but they would find love and support and sometimes challenge towards a Godly sexual ethic. It doesn’t matter what side of the argument you are on. Your instructions from Jesus are the same – replace hatred with love.
          Last week when there was tension in the text we had teachings and counter-examples – and so the advice I gave was to look a little closer, dive a little deeper into the text to find the real meaning. This week, there are no counter examples. There are seven explicit condemnations, and maybe you walk through them one at a time and try to get the text to say the opposite of what it says, but there’s no counter-examples. There’s no tension in the text. There are other things it could mean – as we have seen, but none of it is affirming. So the tension this morning is not with the text, the tension is with the people. The uneasiness we feel is the heart of community. Last week, when there was a contradiction in the text I told you we are invited to look a little closer, to dive a little deeper into the text. So take that application and put it into this week. When there is a contradiction in the people you meet, look a little closer, dive a little deeper into the people around you. Shatter the glass foundation of the boogeyman, realize it’s a real life person you’re dealing with. Conservatives – if the only thing you have to say to same sex attracted individuals is something like “hate the sin, love the sinner” or “the bible says it, that settles it” – then shame on you. That’s bumper sticker nonsense and it is not love. Liberals – if the only thing you have to say to same sex attracted individuals is “love is love, do what you want” – then shame on you. That’s bumper sticker nonsense and it is not love. We are called to love the sinner, and hate the sin – and love is love, but it’s more complicated than that – isn’t it? Perhaps we have to stop reducing the issue. Let it be big. Let it be complicated and difficult. Let it be real people we interact with. Application part 1, when there is contradiction in the people around you, dive a little deeper into those people. Replace hatred with love.

          The second piece of application, and the last thing I’m going to say is very simple. In the end, who is your God? At the end of the day, when you get to heaven – who is in charge? Do you worship God or your opinion? Do you find that you can only worship God if God completely agrees with you in all things? Silly example that proves a point – if the bible happened to say that all white men with beards are not allowed to drink coffee or eat bacon. I’d be upset, devastated probably, but I mean – he’s God. I don’t follow God with conditions. All my keys. I trust God completely. If I get to heaven and God says, actually you are wrong – I’m totally fine with LGBTQ relationships. Love is love. Am I going to argue with God? If I get to heaven and God says, you were right, this is how I designed the world, and I made it very clear in scripture – am I going to argue with God? At the end of the day, when you stand in front of God – who’s opinion matters more. If I’m wrong – on any issue – I submit myself to my God. Another way to put that might be – Eyes up Flushing.


          Whether it’s a rainbow flag or a MAGA hat – our world is designed to shut down conversation. We don’t know how to talk to one another, so we use bumper sticker theology not to engage but to declare allegiance. But I think Jesus calls us to something more. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you love your enemy, no matter who that may be. May you shatter the glass foundation of prejudice and assumptions. And May you get a little closer, dive a little deeper into the people God has put in your life to love. Amen.

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