September 15, 2019

Disaster Averted

Preacher:

Disaster, disaster.
We all fear disasters.
Disasters are all around us.

Hurricanes destroy whole island communities.
Blowing them away with horrific winds and washing them away with over whelming floods.
Wild fires rage out of control all around the world;
sending up in smoke ancient forests as well as peoples’ homes and businesses.

Disaster follows disaster.

Earthquakes crush homes and people, whole cities collapse under their power.
Tsunamis follow, washing away seaside communities, leaving behind death and desolation.

In our cities, towns and villages deadly drugs sweep away thousands of lives each year.

Guns and gangs, fighting to control drug markets, blow away many more lives each year.

Disaster,
disaster,
we all fear disasters.

We see them all around us.
And we live in fear of the day when it will be our turn to be visited by disaster.
We live in fear of the day when we will receive that dreaded diagnosis.

We pray that we will be spared the disastrous loss of a child.

We fear for our relationships.
How long can I continue to endure my partner’s disastrously abusive behaviour?

Yes, we all live with the full knowledge that disaster threatens our futures; lurks out there like a dark and foreboding cloud on the horizon of our lives.

It appears that a disaster is building,
forming and taking ominous shape,
within the life of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Many of us have lived in quiet dread of the day when the issues of gay marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexual people would make their way to the forefront of our congregational life, here in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Many of us have quietly and unrealistically hoped and prayed that these issues would just go away.
So we could live out our days with peace, not conflict, in our church home.

Alas, this is not to be the case any longer in the PCC.

Recommendations have come down from the General Assembly that if approved may well ship wreck many congregations within our denomination as they are visited by financial disaster due to an exodus of members and adherents.

It is the experience of all denominations who have opted for the inclusion into their church families, of same sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, that many of their people have left them.
Putting the burden of a lack of time, talent and treasure on those who remain behind.

The ministries of some congregations have failed because of the disastrous effect of the exodus of members caused by this proposed change of church law.

Disaster,
disaster,
disaster.

The recommendations from General Assembly, (see link below)
are they a recipe for disaster for our denomination, for our congregation?

Good question.

I think the answer depends largely on our response to the situation.

Over the next few months presbyteries across Canada will be voting on the recommendations of General Assembly that have come down to us through the Barrier Act.
If these recommendations pass by a simple majority of 50+1,
they will almost certainly become the law of the church at the 2020 General Assembly.

I realize that at this point many of you,
at least emotionally, are already headed for the exits.
But before you pack up your ball and your bat and prepare to leave this community of faith, please listen to your pastor’s plea.

If your heart of hearts tells you that you cannot be part of a church that condones the performance of gay marriages in the sanctuary of your church.
If your understanding of scripture tells you that cannot be part of a church congregation that condones the presence of ordained practicing homosexuals in its pulpit.
Then before walking out the doors of this church for the last time please walk with your pastor through one more sermon.

It might be the most important sermon you have ever heard.

It is surely the most meaningful sermon I have ever preached.

The recommendations have not yet been passed.
So, at this point these changes to church law are not a “done deal”.
Indeed, these recommendations may not be approved by the presbyteries.

And so, disaster may yet be averted.

But if the passing of these recommendations would cause you to leave this church because you remain unconvinced that there is any word in the Bible that condones any sort of homosexual sex act.

If that is where you are at theologically.

Then move over, make room for me.
Because I am right there beside you.

Based on my understanding of scripture I remain unconvinced that there exists in our Bible any clear indication that homosexual activity of any sort is condoned.

I have listened to the arguments of those who find support in scripture for approving these two recommendations of the General Assembly.
Here are a few of these arguments as I understand them.

One goes like this.

They argue that the penalty for homosexual acts prescribed in the Old Testament is the same as that for disobedient children; namely that both should be stoned to death. (Deut. 21:18-21, Leviticus 20:13)
We have learned, they argue, that stoning little Johnny for not eating his broccoli is not something God would approve of.
But we persist in persecuting those who would like the church to bless and condone their monogamous and loving same sex relationships.

Then there is the argument that the Bible portrays homosexual sex as a sin that as more detestable than heterosexual sex outside marriage.
So much so, that just Lot was prepared to offer his daughters, rather than his male guests,
to the crowd that wished to gang rape someone that night in Sodom. (Gen. 19:1-11).
People who quote this scripture in defense of homosexual relations say the story says more about the low status of women in Lot’s day.
Than it does about the relativity of the sinfulness of gay verses straight sex.

Then there is the argument from science.

Genesis tells us, “…male and female created he them.”
Genesis further says that woman was created from man, for the purpose of the mutual comfort of man and woman.
That is to say Genesis teaches that all humans are created for the express purpose of supporting each other in heterosexual relationships.
However, those arguing in support of homosexual relationships point to science.
Of course, science is open to question on this topic as it is on most topics.

But science says that people are created with either male or female genes, or is it chromosomes, and so they are scientifically provably distinct from one another.
So according to science gender is fixed.
But some scientific studies suggest that sexual orientation, even in early childhood, may not be.
Science points to the idea that we are born with a fixed gender but with sexual orientation that lies on a spectrum.
At one end of this spectrum is the never to be changed heterosexual. While at the other end are those persons who appear to be born with equally unalterable homosexual tendencies.

I cannot quote a scripture here to support the offerings of science on this topic.
But I would caution the church, when making decisions around the life and work of the church,
not to discard out-of-hand the knowledge of creation, and hence the knowledge of the nature of God, that comes to us through science.

We have done this before and lived to repent of the damage such willful ignorance has caused us to inflict on those who held unorthodox views.

Like the sun, not the earth, being the center of the solar system.

A fourth argument made by those who would vote in favour of these two recommendations of General Assembly is based on Paul’s teaching in Romans 1:18-28.
They question if Paul is talking here about monogamous, faithful and loving same sex relationships.
Or is Paul speaking here to condemn promiscuous sex of all types.
Sex in religious settings, like male or female temple prostitution.
Sex in cultural practice, like the practice of soldiers taking male children as sex slaves to accompany them on their military campaigns.
Sexual orgies of all types.

A fifth argument that I have heard suggesting there are reasons to vote in favour of the recommendations is the argument around our willingness to make accommodation in the way we live as the Body of Christ when it comes to divorce and remarriage.

We do not condemn to a life of single, sexual abstinence those who have suffered through the disaster of a failed marriage.
Rather we hold with Living Faith, a subordinate standard of our denomination that says.
“When a marriage is shattered beyond repair, it is sometimes better that it be dissolved than that the family continue to live in bitterness.” (Living Faith 8.2.5)

We say this as a denomination, even though Jesus said that those who remarry after divorce are committing adultery.

So why are we hung up on the idea that two adults of the same sex, those who science says were created orientated to love those of the same sex, cannot be permitted to find human comfort and companionship in consensual, monogamous and faithful same sex relations?

The same argument can be made around our accommodation of women leading in worship in spite of Paul’s direct commandment that they should be silent in the church.

The Bible very clearly tells us that women should be silent in the church. (1 Cor. 14:34)
The clear injustice of this stricture against women, who God created female, has led the church to adopt laws that directly oppose scripture.

And then there is the argument found in the book of Acts where God lowers the sheet that is filled with all manner of creeping and crawling beasts and tells Peter to kill and eat.
When Peter refuses God’s command because those critters were deemed unclean by Jewish dietary laws. God tells Peter to call nothing unclean that God has created.

From this episode Peter came to the knowledge that even Gentiles were to be saved in the new creation that was life after Jesus’ resurrection.

So then why can we feel justified in calling those who practice homosexual relations within a monogamous relationship unclean or sinful.

Opponents of same sex marriage and the ordination of practicing gay people would answer this argument by saying that breaking Jewish dietary laws and committing sexual behaviour sins are not comparable.

They are not of the same magnitude of sin.

Actually, for the early church, all of whom were Jews, they were pretty much of the same order of importance. There is a lot more written in scripture, and the Jewish commentaries of Jesus’ day, about dietary law; about what you were and were not allowed to eat, than was written about who you were allowed to love.

So, there are some of the arguments that I have heard from those who would vote “YES” on the two recommendations that have come down from General Assembly. And as I have said; as an interpreter of scripture I remain unconvinced by any of these arguments.

My doctrinal understandings of the legitimacy of same sex relations remains unchanged.
I find no explicit warrant for it in scripture.

But let me put aside my teaching elder hat for a moment and speak to you from my heart as your pastor.
I have been the pastor here for just over six years. So, if you have been here for that whole time, I have been your pastor for six years.
I would hope that over that time you have come to love and trust me as your pastor.
As I have grown to love and trust you and learned to accept and live into the role of being your pastor.
So, from my heart, unguarded and as unfiltered as I can be, let me share my loving admonition to you this morning. What ever happens around this issue. Do not leave your church home, our church home, in search of a more perfect one elsewhere.

Rather, stay with us and deal with this looming disaster as I believe Jesus would.
I believe if we look to Jesus,
Jesus will lead us through this time of trial and out the other side.
The Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine to seek out the lost sheep.

Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well who had multiple sexual partners.
He introduced her instead to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus let the life transforming power of God’s Kingdom, come to earth in himself, come to that woman in his own person, instruct her on how she should live her life going forward.

Jesus did not condemn the woman taken in adultery, instructing her only to go and sin no more.
Presumably from that point on she had to seek out her own salvation in fear and trembling.
Learning by listening what God saw as sin and sinfulness.

It turns out that Jesus leaves us, like he left these two women, without clear cut explicit instructions about how he felt about committed, monogamous sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.

As your pastor I remain unconvinced that there is explicit warrant in scripture for condoning homosexual practice.
As your pastor it is also impossible for me to say to those who are committed to their same sex partner. And who are at the same time committed to Jesus Christ as their Lord and saviour.
That God condemns them for who they are and for who they love.

In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.
The Man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.
He enters the community of Christ with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.
He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.
He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.
When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.
When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash.
So, he becomes first an accuser of the brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

Bonhoeffer also says that the sooner our ideal of the perfect church is shattered the better.
Because then we can enter into true fellowship with God and with our sisters and brothers.
Because true Christian fellowship comes only in and through Jesus Christ.

What Bonhoeffer meant by all this is that if we spend our time and our energy looking for the perfect church, for our ideal Christian community, then that ideal will become our idol, that which we worship.
And Christ will be lost to us.
And Jesus,
loving and worshipping Jesus
and loving our sisters and brothers in Jesus, will take second place in our lives.

Has your dream church been shattered this morning?

I hope so.

Because if it has.

Disaster has been averted.
And we can get on with being,
for God and for one another,
the Body of Christ,
held together in Christ,
in this time and place
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The recommendations from General Assembly

Express Feedback on General Assembly Decisions re. Sexuality