Monday, January 25, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 3 - Living Out the Gospel

Part 3 – Living Out the Gospel
Luke 4:14-19

Introduction
            This is the third of four messages on homosexuality.  All the previous messages for this series are posted here on my blog.  You can look at previous posts if you missed a message or if you would like to share it with someone else.  It has been very challenging to preach this series, because it’s a very sensitive subject for many people.  My sincerest hope is to speak the Truth in Love.
            My message last week was especially difficult for some to hear because it points out the ways the Bible clearly marks the practice of homosexuality as a sin.  The Gospel (or Good News) of Jesus is sometimes hard to hear.  However, never forget that it is indeed Good News.
            The goal of my message today is to explain how Christians should live out the Gospel in a world with mixed up views about homosexuality.  Let’s start by reading Jesus’ calling to bring Good News to all humanity. 

Luke 4:14-19
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Good News
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ message is called the Gospel, which translates “Good News.”  The very names of the four books about Jesus’ life are called the Gospels.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus traveled around “…announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23)  The book of Mark begins by saying, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  We just read in Luke 4:18 that Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.”
It is indeed Good News that Jesus came to save the world.  For when we were yet sinners, Jesus came to forgive us and lift us out of our sin.  Sam Allberry, an ordained pastor in the Anglican Church who struggles with same-sex attraction, put it this way in his book Is God anti-gay?  He said, “The Christian message is the best news anyone can ever hope to hear.  It’s all about a God who is more forgiving and loving than we could possibly imagine.”  And yet, Allberry understands the Good News of Jesus Christ compels him to refrain from acting upon his attraction to people of the same-sex.  [Click Here to find out more about Sam AllberryClick Here to find out about his book Is God anti-gay?]

The Bad News
The Good News of Christ inevitable reveals there is also some bad news.  If Jesus came to save us, he must have come to save us from something.  Our Luke passage said Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, etc.  The bad news is poverty, captivity, blindness, and many other troubles caused by sin are part of the human condition. 
            The corrupted nature of humanity reveals itself in numerous ways and everyone is affected. We lie. We cheat. We steal.  We may also experience physical malfunctions.  I have a tendency to eat too much and that tendency can have dire consequences for my health.  Others have trouble controlling their tongue or are prone to addiction or suffer from mental illness or emotional troubles.
Sometimes the consequences of sin in our world are completely out of our control.  For instance, a child is born blind.  Neither the child nor his parents did anything wrong to cause the blindness, yet the child is born blind because sin has corrupted the very nature of our world.  This was not God’s will.  God’s will is for everyone to be perfect and whole.  Yet sin has distorted God’s original plan.
People argue about whether homosexuality is a choice or whether people are born that way.  In the context of the Gospel, it doesn’t matter.  We know that we are all born with many kinds of troubles.  I want to eat too much.  Another is born blind.  Yet another is born with an attraction to people of the same sex.  One is not worse than the other in God’s eyes.  They are all consequences of the same sin-sickness that infects our world.
The consequences of sin are very serious when we consider it in these broader terms.  And our horrible, hopeless situation reveals how desperately we need salvation.  That is why it is such incredibly Good News that Jesus came to save us.
            When we read the 4 Gospels, we see sickness, sin, demons, ignorance and walls of division being destroyed as a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into our world.  And Jesus invites all who will to come be part of the Kingdom.  His message was and is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."[i]
            He said repent, because we cannot bring our sin with us into God’s Kingdom. It doesn't matter what the sin is: whether it be hypocrisy or homosexuality, lying or lusting, gossip or greed, we must die to these and all selfishness with the help of Christ. Sometimes we will find complete healing from our sins in our lifetime. Sometimes we will continue to struggle for a long time, but the Good News is there is forgiveness and grace in Christ Jesus. He understands our weakness and his strength is sufficient to help us endure.  Ultimately, we will be made perfect. 

It’s Not Picking and Choosing
Some argue Christians just pick and choose which sins in the Old Testament Law apply today.  A couple friends of mine commented on Facebook about my message last week.  They rightly pointed out that the same Old Testament that forbids homosexuality, forbids eating pork, also endorses slavery, and stipulates many other disturbing regulations.  Are we just picking and choosing what we want to believe?
Definitely not.  This line of reasoning misunderstands the power of the Gospel.  Christ’s life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the law and ushered in a new era of God’s grace, changing the way we apply the laws of the Old Testament[ii]The Old Testament laws break down into certain categories and we can see how the Gospel affected each category: 
Cleanliness laws. (Don’t touch lepers or eat pork, etc.)   Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and also touched lepers and dead bodies, and was not made unclean by doing so.  Thus, Jesus ended the cleanliness and food laws of the Old Testament.  (Yeah!  We can all enjoy our pork BBQ and bacon!)
Worship/Sacrificial Laws.  (Sacrifices, circumcision, etc.)  Jesus taught his body was the true Temple and his death was the ultimate sacrifice for sin (John 2:21, Mark 14:36). Thus, his death opened the way for us to approach God, making Old Testament regulations concerning the Temple and its sacrificial system obsolete. 
Civil Laws. (Laws about slavery and stoning, etc.)  In the Old Testament, the people of God were the nation-state of Israel.  In the New Testament, Jesus reconstituted the people of God so they are a universal Church embodied in numerous local gatherings around the world and subject to the laws of secular governments. The Old Testament laws relating to the civic life of Israel (such as requiring the death penalty for grave sins) no longer apply to believers today in the same way as they did in the Old Testament.
Moral Laws.  (The 10 Commandments, sexual ethics, etc.)  The purpose of the moral laws is to show us our sins so we know how much we need Christ.  Also, they teach us how to act in love towards our neighbors.  Jesus fulfilled the moral requirements of the Law to perfection since we couldn’t, but he also restated many of the moral laws and said we should follow them—including the sexual ethic of the Old Testament.  These moral laws are also restated by other New Testament writers so they still apply to us today.[iii]
So if you look closely, you will see we are not being inconsistent—picking and choosing which laws we like and don’t like.  We are simply living out a new reality brought on by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
[Click Here for a blog by Rev. Brent White with more about the "picking and choosing" debate.]

Reaching Out
            The Good News is for everybody.  The church is called to be in ministry to all people.  Jesus didn’t come to save people who are already OK (or think they are already holy).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to heal those who are spiritually sick; this includes people who struggle with all kinds of sin—including homosexuality.  But how do we reach out to people struggling with homosexuality? 

First of all make it easy to talk about.
Keeping quiet about a taboo subject like homosexuality (or any sexual sin) only promotes secrets, isolation, and darkness where sin and suffering grow and fester.  Sadly, sometimes the last person someone struggling with homosexuality feels comfortable talking to is a Christian.  There are plenty of people in our world today who will tell them there is nothing wrong with practicing homosexuality, but it is not helpful just to be told what you want to hear or what sounds good.  What we all need is unconditional love and biblical truth. 
People struggling with same-sex attraction (or any kind of sin) need to know it is safe and encouraged to talk about our problems and struggles with loving Christians.  Therefore, live the kind of life that lets people know they can come and talk to you about anything, knowing you will be honest and caring, and will still love them no matter what. 
Along with this, you need to be careful how you talk about homosexuality.  Realize that people are listening to everything you say and the way you say it.  The careless things we say can have unintended consequences.  How would it sound to a teenage boy who is struggling with homosexuality if he hears his football coach joking about gay people or telling another player he tackles “like a girl”?  How would the angry, politically charged article condemning “gay rights” you share on Facebook be perceived by someone who is struggling with homosexuality?  How would someone feel if they overhear you talking about homosexuality as if it were the worst possible sin anyone could commit (which it isn’t)?  They’re probably not going to trust you with their struggle.  That doesn’t mean we disengage on the issue, but it does mean we must be thoughtful and loving and careful in how we engage.
If someone opens up to you about their struggles, recognize how much courage it took them to speak up.  Be sure to thank them for trusting you.  It is truly an honor for someone to open up to you about something so sensitive.  Be sure to protect their trust by keeping a confidence.  Pray with them.  Be truthful (as best you understand truth), but always be loving. 

Get rid of unhealthy stereotypes.
If you want to be helpful on the issue of homosexuality, try to deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes.  Be considerate in how you talk about others.  Learn to recognize and promote true, biblical values about what it means to be a man or a woman.  Discard the false images that the non-Christian world promotes and that sometimes creep into our churches.  What does it really mean to be a man?  What does it really mean to be a woman?  The type of person we are sexually attracted to has very little to do with our masculinity or femininity in a biblical sense. 

Honor Singleness.
Jesus offered an alternative to heterosexual marriage—singleness.  Therefore, people struggling with same-sex attraction may need to spend long years or even their whole life as single persons.  This can be difficult and requires the support of the church.  Don’t forget special efforts to minister to singles in the midst of all the couples and family ministries in the life of the church.  This is helpful for all single persons, regardless of why they are single—whether because they have not married yet, are divorced or widowed, or have chosen not to marry.  Always remember that people who remain single are as important as those who marry and singleness is a highly honorable condition in the eyes of God.
“But isn’t it unrealistic and unloving to expect someone to remain single just because they are attracted to people of the same sex?”  No.  That is a message our culture tells us—that you are not healthy or whole unless you are sexually active and eventually married.  But this was not Jesus’s opinion and other New Testament writers also offered singleness as an honorable and desirable condition for people to choose.  Centuries of devoted Christians have chosen singleness.  Some famous Christians who remained single were:  Jesus, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, George Handel, Leonardo de Vinci, Susan B. Anthony, and Isaac Newton.  But it’s not just famous people.  We have people in our own churches who have chosen to be single and have been blessed by it as they have been a blessing to many others.  And while singleness has its struggles (so does marriage by the way), singleness offers great rewards as well.  So let us support those who choose to be single.  It is a practical and godly alternative to marriage.

Be the Family of God.
Remember that the Church is a family.  Be sure to adopt people who struggle with homosexuality into your church.  You—as their church family—may be the only family they have.  You are a precious gift to them.  Make the most of it.  Invite them to be with you—especially in those times when a person normally gathers with family.  Sometimes the holidays can be the loneliest times for single adults.  Your friendship can make all the difference. 

Be a Welcoming Church for Everyone.
People need to know that the church offers support for those struggling with homosexuality.  They should feel comfortable coming to the church, knowing they can find help with their questions and struggles.  They need to know the church wants to and can help.  They need to hear the Good News that Jesus forgives and loves us no matter what we struggle with. 

Conclusion
            The Good News is for you!  We all have sin.  We all struggle.  Your sin—whatever it is—is no worse than mine or anyone else’s.  We are all in desperate need of Jesus’ saving love.  The Good News is Jesus freely offers salvation to anyone who sincerely wishes to take hold of it.  So there is no need to be trapped by your guilt.  There is no need to pretend like nothing is wrong.  The first step in healing is admitting the problem.  So I invite you to come to Jesus and cry out for help.  What he wants more than anything is to reach out and take your hand and lift you out of whatever sins you struggle with.  Won’t you come to him?  Won’t you trust him?  Won’t you let him save you?
 
 





[i] Matthew 3:2 NET
[ii] http://www.livingout.org/arent-we-just-picking-which-bits-of-the-old-testament-law-apply-today
[iii] Examples Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11