Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is the Biblical view of homosexuality unloving?

Genesis 1:27
Matthew 19:4-6
1 John 4:8
In thirty-two years of ministry, I have counseled with one person who confessed to being gay to me. It happened many years ago. For this person to do so took great courage; they knew my Christian convictions about the practice of homosexuality. But the reason for their telling me was clear enough: They wanted some Christian they trusted to listen to them speak of their struggles with their sexual orientation.

And so the person told me simply, “I’m gay, pastor.” I responded in the only way I knew how to as a Christian and a pastor. I put my hand on that person’s hand and told them, “I understand and I want you to know that I love you and that God loves you too.”

In telling that person that God loved them, I wasn’t encouraging them to give into their own personal impulse to engage in homosexual relationships. But just as I would use God’s love as the starting point in conversations with any person struggling with temptation, I began with God’s love.

Love is always the place God starts in helping us to deal with temptation or sin in our lives.

As Luther points out in The Small Catechism, even God’s moral law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, begins with the words, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt…”

God and His Word always begin in love. We see this in Jesus: God sent His Son Jesus into this world to save sinners; and if we are willing to turn from sin (and to keep turning from sin) and to believe in Him (and to keep believing in Him), God will save us for life with Him that lasts for all eternity.

But, as we deal with tonight’s question, “Is the Biblical view of homosexuality unloving?” we need to briefly mention a few facts we know about God through His Word and through Jesus, God’s Word made flesh.

Fact one: To suffer temptation is no sin. Every human being who has ever walked this planet, even Jesus, Who was both true God and true man, gets tempted to sin.

The orientation to homosexual behavior is no worse than the orientation to sin which is universal to human experience and no different from the particular sins that might have special appeal to us. (I often joke that we all have our own favored personal sins of specialization, along with all the other sins to which everyone else is drawn.)

Had I told the counselee who confessed to being gay that they were damned for their sexual orientation, I not only would have been unloving, I would have been lying.

Fact two: No sin is worse than any other sin. James 2:10 says: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

All sin is a violation of God’s holiness and will. To judge the gay person involved with one or more people sexually to be worse than the heterosexual person involved with others sexually or than the person who routinely takes God’s name in vain, is wrong.

Sin is sin. And the wages of sin is death. But all who own their sin at the cross, trusting in what Christ accomplished there, has forgiveness and life with God.

Fact three: Love is not approval. When Jesus prevented a judgmental mob from stoning a woman caught in adultery, He didn’t tell her, “Go back and keep doing what you were doing.” He told her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11)

Fact four: We in the Church hold what Jesus calls “the keys to the kingdom.” That means that we have the delegated responsibility to proclaim God’s forgiveness to the repentant and His condemnation to the unrepentant.

We are to speak God’s truth, even God’s uncomfortable truth, in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re standing in front of the church building and you see two young people go out to play in the middle of Miamsiburg-Centerville Road.

Would you say to yourself, “That must be what they like to do”?

Or would you, instead, say something to warn them of the dangers in doing what they’re doing?

Love would compel you to warn them, I think.

Just so, the loving exercise of “the keys of the kingdom” should call us to tell anyone who asks what God has to say about the unrepentant practice of homosexuality: it places those who engage in it in a state of separation from God, no matter how much we love them.

So, what exactly does God’s Word say about homosexuality?

Exodus 20:14 tells us, “You shall not commit adultery.” This is the sixth commandment, which The Small Catechism explains: “We should fear and love God so that in matters of sex we are chaste and disciplined in our words and actions, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.”

The covenant of marriage between a man and a woman is meant by God to be the exclusive place in which sexual intimacy happens.

Now, let’s be honest: Jesus says that even when a husband looks lustfully on another woman, he violates this command. So, the chances are that no human being is guiltless when it comes to the sixth commandment. Not one. (If you think you are guiltless of violating this command, see me after worship. We'll talk. But you'll have a lot of convincing to do!)

But, whatever our sexual orientation, our call remains the same, to repent and believe in the gospel, the good news of new life through Jesus (Mark 1:15).

A section of Leviticus is known as the holiness code. Unlike other parts of Leviticus, which contains ritual/sacrificial law no longer valid because Jesus has become the once-and-for-all definitive sacrifice for our sins and civil laws meant to govern a theocratic nation that no longer exists (ancient Israel), the holiness code is an elaboration by God of the ten commandments. It's part of what the theologians call God’s moral law. One elaboration of the sixth commandment is in Leviticus 18:22. God says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

Of course, some people who think that there’s a divide between the God of the Old Testament and the God revealed in Jesus will object to our even mentioning passages from the Old Testament.

Such people haven’t paid attention to either Old or New Testament.

Jesus says of the Old Testament’s moral law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Yes, some may say, but Jesus never condemned homosexual intimacy as a sin.

That’s not entirely true.

Every time Jesus spoke of sexuality, He spoke of it as something that happens exclusively within a marriage between a woman and a man. He quoted Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one” (Matthew 19:5).

Homosexual practice was far more prevalent in first century Rome than it is today; yet Jesus always puts sexual intimacy within the bounds of a heterosexual marriage with three partners: God, a woman, and a man.

So, is God’s will about sexuality and homosexuality as expressed by Jesus and in various places in Scripture unloving?

For me, this boils down to one simple question: What is God’s reason for making us sexual beings? I think that the Bible identifies three reasons.

First, God intends to acclimate us to what a relationship with God is like.

God is eternal; we are mortal.

God is spirit; we are physical.

And yet, in Jesus, God reaches out to us and calls us to be in relationship with One Who is totally different from us, totally other.

Ephesians 5 and other passages of Scripture imply that marriage is a metaphor for our relationship with God in Christ. We marry the opposite and in that relationship, God intends for us to be made as complete as it's possible to be in an earthly relationship (despite all of the ways married people have created to get in the way of that happening), just as we are made eternally complete through our relationship with Christ.

Man and woman complement each other. They are the same but different.

In Genesis 2:23 [ESV], we’re told that Adam looked on the woman God made to be his wife and declared that she was the same, but different: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

People may experience a kind of love and sexual excitement in homosexual relationships, but they won’t be all that God intends for us.

We are most challenged to be our best selves, our fullest selves, in relationships with the other, not in those with the same.

Ephesians 5 says that husbands and wives are both to submit to each other in the same way that we are to submit to Christ. It's in the surrender to “the other” that God liberates us to be who God made us to be.

There are two other reasons that God made sexuality for married couples, I think: to provide pleasurable intimacy to one another and, when it is God’s will, to share their love with children.

In the Old Testament, Sarah gave expression to both of these purposes when she asked God about His improbable promise that she, in her nineties, would, for the first time, become the mother of a child: "After I am worn out and my lord [my husband] is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Genesis 18:12) God’s answer was, “Yes!”

The gift of sexuality comes from God. God thought it up. He created it.

And it is a gift of love that He intends to protect from any adulteration of these three purposes.

God doesn’t say no to sexual intimacy outside of marriage because He hates us, but because He loves us and wants us to use His gift as it was (and) is intended.

In this, as in so many other aspects of our lives, even when we don't think it's true, God is love.

[You might also be interested in my take on the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. In a nutshell, as a civil matter of law for our pluralistic society, it didn't really bother me that much. Read the whole thing.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the final installment of our midweek Lenten series, Tough Questions.]

For the Whole Church (including me): Make Disciples, Not Excuses!

This is a message meant for all Christians, including the one I see every time I look into the mirror.

The Church must stop blaming culture for its failure to be and make disciples of Christ. The Roman culture into which the ascended Jesus first sent His Church was far more secular and overtly hostile to belief in the one God revealed in Jesus than is true of North American culture today.

The time for bellyaching and blaming others for our failure to be the Church that Jesus has commissioned us to be has past.

Our call is clear: Do the Great Commission. Our authority to do so is clear: Jesus Himself gave it. (Matthew 28:19-20) Let's resolve together, Christians: No more excuses!

Pray, just as Jesus commanded us, for God to send workers into the harvest, Christians to share the good news of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus with the whole needy, disbelieving world. (Matthew 9:38)

Pray that God will help you grow as a disciple each day through daily quiet time in the Bible, through regular involvement in groups of laypeople who meet and pray together and stand under God's Word and are accountable to each other, through regular worship of God with God's people in the Church. (More than 1.3 times per month, the current pathetic average among church members in the US these days.)

Ask God to bring unbelieving people into your life who you can befriend, serve, share Christ with, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, make disciples.

I'm tired of excusing my failures as a Christian called to make disciples by blaming our secular culture. The underground and non-State-sponsored churches in nations like China and Russia are making disciples despite government hostility and cultural opposition. The risen Jesus is bigger than any culture.

Instead of whimpering in our holy huddles, feeding on the deadly diet of self-righteousness, as so often happens with Christ's Church these days, let's move into the world with the boldness that comes from knowing we belong to the living God Who has conquered the world through Christ's cross and with the humility of those who know that we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ.

Let's live believing the revealed truth that Jesus is the only way to life with God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and, moved with compassion for all of our neighbors everywhere, make disciples.

Let's make disciples, not excuses.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, April 03, 2017

Who can't change?

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Calico Skies by Paul McCartney

"It was written that I would love you
"From the moment I opened my eyes...

"I will hold you for as long as you like
"I'll hold you for the rest of my life..."

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Jesus' Sign of Power

John 11:1-53
A dictionary defines the word, sign, as “an object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.” Signs never point to themselves, they always point us to something else.

The gospel of John is often called “The Book of Signs” because it’s built around seven signs performed by Jesus.* 

John tells us elsewhere in his gospel that “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” But John chose to tell us about just these seven signs so that we could come to “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31) (This includes the eighth and perfect sign: Jesus’ glorification, His death and resurrection.)

There are some Christians who claim that miracles should be happening every day of our lives. In one way, they’re right: Whenever a person comes to believe--trust in--Jesus, God grants them eternal life with Him. But if miracles happened every day, they wouldn’t be miracles at all, but, as one preacher says, “ordinaries.”

Jesus’ signs brought the miraculous in-breaking of God into this world, pinpricks of God’s light and sovereignty into our darkness, pointing to God, not themselves.

If people think that miracles--miracles like superabundant finances, never-failing health, conflict-free relationships, perfect fulfillment at work, being brought back from the dead--are the norms for Christian disciples, they misunderstand Jesus and His Gospel.

Today’s gospel lesson, John 11:1-53, recounts a spectacular sign performed by Jesus...the one which, according to John, solidified the intentions of the Jewish religious elite to see Jesus crucified by their Roman overlords.

As has been true over the past several weeks, John’s account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead, all that led up to it, and what resulted from it, is too long for us to examine verse-by-verse. We’ll go section by section.

In verses 1-16, we learn that Jesus’ friends, Martha and Mary, are facing a crisis. Their brother, Lazarus, is dying. Jesus knows this, but doesn’t tell the disciples.

Instead, Jesus waits for two days before saying or doing anything. Why? One Bible scholar suggests that Jesus felt the need to spend those two days in prayer, discerning what He should do.

I think there’s good reason to believe that’s true, as we’ll see later in the lesson. But just on first blush, there are several reasons why Jesus might have used these two days to pray.

First of all, Jesus loved His friend. But Jesus also never performed a miraculous sign for His own benefit. Jesus likely wanted to ensure that healing His friend was the Father’s will and not His own.

Another reason: Bethany was just two miles from Jerusalem. In just the previous chapter, we see that the last time He was in Jerusalem, there had been efforts to stone Him and to arrest Him. Of course, Jesus’ entire life was spent preparing for the time when He would go to Jerusalem to offer His life: ”the lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) But Jesus would not go to Jerusalem until it was His time, the time appointed by God the Father. (John 7:30) Jesus had to make sure that the Father wanted Him to go to Jerusalem and His cross at this time.

When you and I confront decisions or try to discern whether what we want conforms to the will of God, we need to spend time waiting and praying. If a thing is right, God will give us peace, permission, and prompting. If it isn’t the right thing, we won’t sense God giving us His green light.

Eventually, Jesus and the disciples learn that Lazarus is dead. The disciples are the voice of common sense when Jesus tells them that they need to go to Judea, where Bethany is located. If Lazarus is dead, there’s nothing Jesus can do, they reason, and besides, Jesus would be walking into a death trap.

But Jesus won’t be dissuaded. Thomas, his voice dripping in sarcasm, becomes the first person in our lesson to say more than understands: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)

What Thomas didn't realize is that when we throw in with Jesus, it means death to our old selves, the willing crucifixion of our sinful, selfish ways of living, so that Jesus can raise us to new life.

In verses 17 to 37, Jesus goes to Bethany, where He encounters Lazarus’ grieving sisters and their grieving neighbors. Each are disappointed in Jesus.
  • “Lord,” Martha [says in verse 21], “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
  • In verse 32, Mary says: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
  • And later, the townspeople ask each other: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
The mystification and even, maybe, anger felt by the people in Bethany who had believed in Jesus doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their faith in Him. We see this in an interchanged between Jesus and Martha. Jesus assures Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Martha responds with a confession of faith despite her grief and tears: ““Yes, Lord I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

You’ve heard me say it before: The only people who get mad at the God we know in Jesus are the ones who believe in Him; you don’t get mad at a God that you don’t believe is there. We may struggle in our faith, like Thomas, Martha, Mary, and the people of Bethany. But if we will wait and pray, God will give us peace and sustain us with the promise underwritten by Jesus’ death and resurrection: All who have the Son in their lives have life with God that cannot be taken from us.

The sign Jesus performs next points to this reality. In John 11:38-44, Jesus goes to the tomb and orders the stone rolled away from its doorway. Martha protests. It’s been four days and the body will have begin to decompose and smell. But, remember that Jesus has already prayed about this. He deliberately waited until He was sure that Lazarus was dead so that Lazarus’ death, as He puts it, will happen “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Jesus will perform a sign that will allow all present to “see the glory of God,” so that they can believe. (John 11:40)

Just before Jesus raises Lazarus, He prays again, a prayer of thanksgiving that God had guided Him during those two days of prayer: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42) Jesus’ time of waiting and praying assured Him that He was doing His Father’s will.

Now consider: If Jesus, God the Son, God in the flesh, needed such an investment in waiting and praying before acting, how much more do we need to wait and pray each day?

After uttering this prayer, Jesus called Lazarus from the dead, out of the dark tomb into the light of day.

[A mostly accurate rendering of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead as portrayed in Jesus of Nazareth. This film is my favorite portrayal of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The words spoken by the John character here are based on Jonah 2:6.]

All who saw this sign were bound to talk about it...and they did! And anyone who heard about it would have been amazed.

But not everyone is happy with it. The unhappy ones, the Jewish religious elite in Jerusalem, see Jesus as a provocateur, sure to incite the Romans to assault their people. The religious leaders in Jerusalem say: “If we let [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:48) (They say this even though the Romans had taken away their nation long years ago!)

Instead of trusting in Jesus, Whose signs gave glory to God and not Himself, the religious leaders put their trust in the power of Roman swords.

It’s always a mistake to put more stock in or be daunted by the power of earthly rulers than we do in God.

Long after the last ruler of this world has died, Jesus, the King of kings, crucified, risen, and ascended will hold the field alone!

Psalm 118:9 says: “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.”

Who do you put your trust in today, Jesus or earthly rulers? Jesus or the things of this world that will someday be reduced to ashes by the hand of God? Jesus and His grace or this world and your fears? This is a choice we must make each day.

As we come to the end of our lesson, Caiaphas, the high priest, becomes the second person in this incident to say more than he personally understands. He tells his fellow priests that instead of worrying about what impact Jesus might have on the Romans, they needed a simple solution. They should kill Jesus off, he said, and save the nation. “ is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)

Caiaphas thinks that if they get Jesus executed, that will be the end of things. The nation will be spared the Roman sword and life can go on as it had before this Disturber from Galilee arrived.

In plotting to send Jesus to a cross, Caiaphas is actually playing right into God’s plans.

Jesus came into the world to do exactly what Caiaphas proposes: to die on behalf of sinners so that they might not perish.

“I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” Jesus says in Luke 12:50.

Jesus had performed a seventh sign with the goal of showing His identity and, as a result of the world's rejection of Him that resulted, to go to the cross for you and me.

From a worldly perspective, Jesus’ fate is sealed when He raises Lazarus from the dead.

From the perspective of God, this sign is the final confirmation that the One Who performs it is “the Word made flesh,” the Messiah Who came to die and to rise and to give new life to all who trust in Him.

We human beings sometimes presume that we are and ought to be in control.

But the universe, life, death, and resurrection are in the hands of the God we meet in Jesus alone.

That’s important to remember because life in this world can sometimes go wrong. But if you follow Jesus, no matter what the sarcastic or the cynical or the powerful of the world may say, you will never be wrong.


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

*Seven Signs Performed by Jesus in John’s Gospel:
1. Changing water into wine (John 2:1-11)
2. Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:46-54)
3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-15)
4. Feeding the 5000 (John 6:5-14)
5. Walking on the water (John 6:16-24)
6. Healing the man born blind (John 9:1-7)
7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45)