This Sunday is different from other Sundays. Threats and challenges to this body have arisen in recent days that are too great to simply pass over or ignore. And so I’ve set aside the Sunday lectionary in order to deal as carefully as possible with them. If you’re a guest this morning or missed out on Christian education or missed the newspaper on Friday you may not have heard, but the Diocese of Central New York has filed a lawsuit against this parish. If successful, they’ll gain control of our property, the rectory and this church building, our financial assets including: endowments, bequests, and bank accounts, and everything movable within the church building itself: the vestments, altar, lectern, organ, piano, prayerbooks, bibles, pews, computers, sound equipment, everything.
The days and months ahead promise to be difficult.
I think it vital that we step back and review what brought us to this point. Beginning this morning and continuing for the next two weeks, we’ll answer three questions: First; why we must do what we are doing. Second: what consequences do we face; third: why God allows suffering and what he accomplishes through it.
So: why we must do what we’re doing. In 2003, the Episcopal Church voted, as a body, to allow same sex blessings on a local basis, to let bishops permit blessings in their dioceses as they saw fit. That same convention gave corporate consent to the election of Canon Gene Robinson, a divorced man, living in a non-celibate same sex relationship with another man, to the office of bishop. The effect of both actions was to officially declare that homosexual behavior ought no longer to be considered sinful.
At first glance this may not seem like a big deal. If you keep up with the news, after all, then you know that “science” has proven that some people are born with internal predispositions toward homosexual behavior. This “advance” in scientific knowledge, in fact, is often cited by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church as the principle justification for the contemporary decision to bless sexual behavior that the bible condemns.
And, indeed, there is some evidence that many argue points to that conclusion.
At the same time, and we mustn’t forget this, there is also evidence that male promiscuity, alcoholism, and kleptomania among other desires and impulses may arise from genetic or biological “predispositions” as well.
And so to say that some human beings may be born with an inclination to behave in a certain way says very little about whether it is right to act on the basis of that inclination.
Christians especially must be wary of that kind of argument because the bible teaches us that human nature is fallen; that humanity as a whole has turned away from God and as a result humans are born with orientations or impulses that turn us away from God and toward ourselves. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus chapter 2 Paul writes this:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-4)
There is this inborn, natural pull toward sin that effects us all. For that reason we cannot uncritically embrace our natural desires and say that they are good just because they’re there.
We must measure our impulses and desires by the light of a standard that itself is not subject to our fallen weaknesses. That means the standard cannot be one that finds its origin with humanity. That’s why Paul says later in Ephesians 2, that scripture, the word of the prophets and apostles, is the foundation of the Church, Jesus Christ being her chief Cornerstone. Though written by humans, scripture originated and was inspired by God and through it God shines his light into our darkness so that we can see Truth. Otherwise we would remain blinded sin.
Well what do the scriptures say about homosexual behavior?
The first direct command is found in the book of Leviticus 18:22, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
Now, why would God care what two consenting adults choose to do? When you study Old Testament law you discover that together, if followed perfectly, the levitical laws serve to undo the effects of the fall, to restore a state of being like that which existed in the Garden of Eden prior to the first sin. The precincts of the tabernacle, in fact, recreate the Garden, the place where God and man enjoyed sweet communion and fellowship. In the garden God created man and woman and he brought them together in marriage for three purposes: 1. for the purpose of having children. When the love between a man and a woman bears fruit in children it reflects the overflow of divine love in creation. God created. Like him, we “pro” create. 2. for companionship, and 3. to reflect God’s own love for his people. Throughout the Old Testament the covenant between a man and a woman in marriage is used as an illustration of the covenant between God and the people he loves. That imagery continues in the New Testament where the Church is called the bride of Christ and Christ, the bridegroom of the Church. God intended marriage, from the beginning, to be a living vibrant reflection and witness of his own creative, unfailing love for his people.
The OT laws regarding human sexuality and you can see a whole host of them there in Leviticus 18, were given to restore that broken image. Homosexual behavior, incest, beastiality and other sexual behaviors that depart from the created norm of heterosexual marriage are proscribed and condemned.
But, some will say, that’s the Old Testament and we’re New Testament people. And, to a certain extent, they’re right. Jesus, in Matthew 5, said that not a jot or a tittle of the levitical law would pass away until it had been fulfilled and it is clear that in the New Testament some levitical laws are fulfilled; the laws having to do with the ceremonial function of the temple and ritual sacrifice for example. Christ, in the New Testament, replaces the tabernacle and temple of the Old. He becomes the location of our one true sacrifice. His blood alone cleanses and purifies. There is, therefore, no more need to stay away from things the law says are unclean. Christ’s blood makes all things clean for us.
Now, it is vital to note, that this fulfillment of the ceremonial law is not something that the church simply decided and declared on her own. The church recognized that the ceremonial law had been fulfilled because the Word of God reveals it to be so. In Mark 7:18-19, Jesus says:
“Nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”
That point is reiterated to Peter in a vision recorded in Acts 9:9-15. Peter sees a vision of unclean animals and hears Jesus say,
“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
The ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant have clearly been fulfilled by Jesus Christ in the New.
Now the question is: was the command in Leviticus 18:22 proscribing homosexual behavior among those levitical laws fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament? Does that law still apply today? There’s only one way to answer. If the New Testament repeats and reiterates the Old Testament command, we can be certain that it has not been fulfilled. Turn if you will to Romans 1:25-27. Here Paul is describing the effects of humanity’s turning away from God, the results of the fall:
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
Homosexual behavior both between men and between women is here, in the New Testament, characterized as a “perversion,” as an impulse that resulted directly from human rebellion. And it is shown here, like all sin, to be dangerous both to body and soul.
If there is any doubt you can turn to 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 where you will read the following:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God ? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God .”
Homosexual behavior is considered so offensive to God that those who engage in it and do not repent cannot enter his kingdom. Well, you might say, what about the other sins listed here, slander, greed, thievery, drunkenness, why do we focus exclusively on homosexuality? Trust me. I’d rather focus on anything else. The reason we focus on this particular sin is because it is the one sin that the Episcopal Church has presumed to bless. If the Episcopal Church would’ve passed a resolution blessing thievery or drunkenness or greed, then our response would have to be the very same. If, before every robbery, a thief were given the invitation to attend his or her local Episcopal parish to receive a rite of blessing for holy thievery, or before every drink an alcoholic might receive the rite of Holy Inebriation from his resident Episcopal priest, then you can bet that our focus would shift because sin, whether sexual or otherwise, is deadly to body and soul.
In Roman 6:23, we’re told that the wages of sin is death. So when the church tells people who are looking for salvation, looking for forgiveness, seeking healing, seeking the love and solace of Christ, that homosexual behavior is not a sin, she blocks the way; she encourages behavior that the scriptures say leads to spiritual death.
It is not loving or tolerant to do that. The promise of God is that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:8-9)
How can we be complicit, how can we participate in the act of denying this this forgiveness and this purifying love to our friends and neighbors who are gay? Those of you here, and there are several of you, who struggle with homosexuality, imagine if you had been told that it was good and right and your way to Christ barred and shut. I can’t think of a more hateful thing to do.
When the Episcopal Church passed resolutions doing just that in 2003 and confirmed them in 2006, we were faced with a choice. Could we continue to participate in Church that actively leads people away from Jesus Christ and toward the darkness of eternal death? As long as we remained Episcopalian we were bound to continue supporting the Episcopal Church financially through assessments and, if he should choose to force the issue, permitting the bishop to come and preach from this pulpit.
It is at this point that we need to turn to 2nd John 9-11
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”
Do you see that last line? Anyone who supports and welcomes a teacher who is leading people astray is a party, is a participant, in that teacher’s work. By maintaining our participation in and support of the Episcopal Church we were, according to this text and others, participating in the work of leading souls away from Christ.
I can’t do that. I just can’t. The message I’m responsible to preach and proclaim is not mine. It’s his. I do not have the authority to depart from it. But that responsibility is not just mine. By virtue of your baptismal vows, it is yours as well.
Your vestry recognized that. You recognized that. After a series of parish meetings, the vestry voted disassociate from the Episcopal Church.
This morning we are facing the consequences of that decision. Every time you take a stand for the gospel there will be consequences. Jesus said,
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)
Personally, I want nothing more than to go back to the days when my biggest concern was crafting an effective bible study or fitting hospital visits in around my sermon study time. I desperately wanted to preach a regular sermon about the Good Shepherd and his sheep this morning. I love this church. I love you. But if we compromise on this matter, I think we also compromise our integrity, our faith, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. These things are far more important than buildings or assets or furniture.
The call is then is to stand firm. To love our enemies; to pray for those who persecute us; but for the sake of Jesus Christ, for the sake of those he loves and died to save, to never compromise, never back down, never surrender the truth of the gospel.