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Monday, January 11, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 1 - Love is the Key

Part 1 – Love is the Key
1 Corinthians 13:4-10

Introduction
            Love wins.  It was the slogan that rang out on social media, in news clips, and on banners all over our nation when the Supreme Court of the United States released their ruling on the legality of gay marriage on Friday, June 26, 2015.  The verdict, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that States cannot keep same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their unions.  The decision polarized people in our country more than ever before.  People advocating for gay rights were jubilant while those against the ruling were angry, afraid, saddened, and deeply concerned for our nation.  One thing the ruling points out is just how far public opinion on the issue of homosexuality has shifted over the years.
            The United Methodist Church has prayed about, studied, and debated the issue of homosexuality since at least 1968.  The best minds and hearts of our communion have spoken consistently about homosexuality in a way I believe speaks the truth with love.  Our denomination’s official stance from the 2012 Book of Discipline states:
“Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage…  We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”  [For the full statement and other statements in the United Methodist Book of Disciplines related to homosexuality, click here]

            That being said, there is disagreement among people within our denomination about homosexuality.  Some hold to the view presented in our discipline.  Others believe the denomination needs to change its stance and discard the idea that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.  Opinions of United Methodists in the Bible belt of the southeast tend to be more conservative—holding to the traditional view—while opinions in the northeast and western jurisdictions advocate for the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals as ministers in the UMC.  The opinions of most United Methodist in areas outside of the US—places such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America where the church is growing exponentially—conform to the traditional view that the practice of homosexuality is a sin and should not be condoned by the church.
            Our next General Conference—which meets every four years and is the only legislative body that can speak for the United Methodist Church as a whole—will meet this May and most certainly will discuss the subject of homosexuality and how our denomination should respond to the changing tide of public opinion on this issue.  I invite you—regardless of your opinion on the issue—to be in prayer for our leaders at General Conference that God would give them great wisdom to lead our denomination regarding homosexuality.
            I have been praying for several months about whether or not to preach on this subject and, if so, how.  Although this is a difficult subject and one that often stirs up strong reactions, I believe it is imperative for us to seek understanding from God.  Thus, I want to ask you to commit to be present for (or read) each of the messages in this series.  Over the next few weeks, we will consider what God would say about homosexuality and how Jesus wants us to live in a world that that has changed its attitudes about those who are gay. 

Love is the Key
The time we spend here considering how to live as Christians in a gay world will only be productive if we love one another.  Love is the key.  So let us first consider how the Bible teaches us to love as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:4-10. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-10 [Slides]
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. 

Now, let’s examine some of these aspects of love more closely. 

Love is patient and kind.
We may be tempted to dehumanize people with whom we disagree about hot topics like homosexuality.  “How can anyone believe that!” we think.  “They must be stupid or mean or evil!”  But love requires us to be patient with people you think just don’t get it and gentle with folks whose religion or faith seems weaker than yours.  You see, love is patient and kind, not fed up and mean. 

Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Don’t be jealous when other people or groups seem to win and you lose.  It was really hard for me to see gay rights activist marching in parades celebrating their victory with the Supreme Court.  The slogan "Love Wins" seemed like a slap in the face, as if I don't love because of my position.  All this at a time when many felt like their country was falling apart.  It was hard not to be “jealous” in a sense.  It was hard not to lash out in anger, but love isn't "jealous".  On the other hand, love isn’t boastful and does not swell with pride over perceived victories—rubbing your victory in the noses of those you’ve defeated.  It is very difficult not to be rude in the midst of such critical fights as come up over serious issues like homosexuality, but love is not rude. 

Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
Love doesn’t demand people to see things or do things our way.  We should make our case—reasoning with people—hoping they will come around to our way of thinking, but it’s their decision.  And love means that we let people follow their own path and not become irritated when they don’t follow ours.  Furthermore, we don’t hold a grudge against people we love when their beliefs clash with our own or when we feel mistreated.  It’s not easy, but love is worth it. 

Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 
Ultimately, what we really want is for injustice to vanish and for truth to win.  Yet sometimes pride disrupts this aspect of love.  We want to be right; we want to win.  And sometimes, the harder we fight to be right (and the more people we can get to agree with us that we are right) the more our selfish pride can blind us to the fact that we might just be wrong.  And it might just be sometimes that our desire or desperate need to be right starts to overshadow our love.  True love—in the biblical sense—rejoices when the truth wins out even if we have to admit we were wrong.
In regards to the issue of homosexuality, I find myself praying fervently about the fact that I might be wrong.  I don’t think I’m wrong.  I’ve taken great care to study, and meditate, and pray about, and research, and listen, and learn as much as I can about this issue so that I can be as confident as possible in my understanding.  Yet I never want to feel like the case is closed and so shut my mind or my heart to what someone else has to say.  Although I know what I believe, I always want to listen in case God shows me something I’ve missed.  You see, this is a serious issue that affects scores of people at a very deep level.  It has broken families apart, driven some to suicide and others to brutality or murder.  Yet my role as a Christian (and especially a Christian leader) requires me to have an opinion, to lead our church according to God’s will, and to take a stand the best I know how.  The love of Christ compels me.  And yet, I also understand all too well the disturbing reality that I could be wrong
If one day find that I was wrong, I hope that those with whom I disagreed will have mercy and forgive me because I was only trying to do what I thought was right.  In turn, I want to be merciful with those I disagree with now--treating them the way I would want them to treat me if the shoe was on the other foot.
I pray your most earnest desire as we go through this study is—not to be right and not to win, but—to rejoice whenever the Truth wins out even if it means you’ve been wrong. 

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Living as a Christian in our world requires faith, courage, and perseverance.  It requires us—with God’s help—to live out the principles Christ gave us the best we know how.  It requires us to have the courage to uphold the truth even if everyone else disagrees (or to be willing to change if we discover we were wrong).  Our faith requires us to persevere through it all—regardless of the difficulties—because we trust Jesus. 

Love will last forever.
All our understanding is limited.  Even what we know for sure will one day become irrelevant.  The same is true of our power, our influence, our traditions, our ways of life…  The only thing that will be left is love.  Therefore, we must make love our highest aim.  For if we are right, but without love, we have nothing.  And even if we are mistaken, but full of love, we are better off; because, one day our mistakes will be washed away, but love will remain forever. 

Summary
            Love is the key.  So in closing, I want to summarize the loving attitudes that will serve you best over the next few weeks as we consider how to live Christian in a gay world.  Really, these attitudes will serve you well in many areas of your life.  So, I encourage you to:
1.     Keep an open mind and a humble heart.
2.     Even if you don’t agree, try to at least understand someone else’s point of view.  I find that I learn more from people with whom I disagree than from those with whom I agree.  It doesn't mean I accept what they say, but sometimes understanding the position of those with whom I disagree clarifies why I believe what I believe.  Perhaps it will for you too.
3.     Remember, this is a safe place.
o   It is a place where you can come open your heart to God and listen for His guidance,
o   where you can agree or disagree, knowing God loves you either way,
o   where you can let God change your mind and heart or find He confirms what you already knew. 

Invitation
            I invite you to come to Pleasant Grove UMC for each of the messages in this series—with an open mind and a humble heart (or read each message here on this blog over the next few weeks).  I invite you to seek to be more loving, as spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13.  Most importantly, I invite you to ask Jesus to take control of your life and to commit to follow Him.   Christ is the embodiment of love--proven when he gave his life for us on the cross.