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TEXT: I Corinthians 6:9-11
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes #43: Homosexuals
A few weeks ago President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage. Some hailed the news as a breakthrough for civil rights, as great as the abolition of slavery. Others saw it as the end of Western Civilization, as the final proof that the world has gone mad. Whatever you make of his words, you have to admit they're important. Most of what politicians say is fluff: this is not fluff. Same-sex marriage, if implemented, will change the world. For good or bad.
Whether and how this should affect our voting in November is worth thinking about, but it is not the topic of my sermon this afternoon. I'm going to assume that same-sex marriage will be implemented in the next few years, and even if it isn't, that more and more gays and lesbians will come out of the closet-and into our lives.
How can we live with practicing homosexuals, men and women who are openly gay, even promoting their cause? This is not a political question, but a personal one. It is a spiritual matter, one that demands hard thinking and wise living for us to navigate.
I am not the first man to ask the question, of course. For years, Christian leaders have thought about it, and responded to it, but not all in the same way. Some Christians want to welcome gays into the church, even into the ministry. Their thinking is clear and simple: If we're going to exclude sinners from the church, we're all excluded, because 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God'. Why single out gays instead of the greedy or bitter or lazy?
Some Evangelicals lean this way, but it is more common in churches that subscribe to Theological Liberalism, the Episcopal Church for example or the United Methodists.
Conservative and Evangelicals tend to go the other way. Most are strongly opposed to the gay agenda, and more often than they'd care to admit, many are often strongly opposed to gays themselves-or at least that's the vibe they give off.
The third option is the one I propose: Hate the sin, love the sinner. Homosexuality is sinful, and Psalm 97:10 says-
You who love the Lord,
This is in the Bible and it applies to us and our gay neighbors. But this is not all the Bible says about sin and sinners! Jesus said-
Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
All sins are not created equal, of course; some things are more serious than others, but.cursing, hating, and persecuting God's people sound like pretty serious sins to me, every bit as bad as homosexuality-and maybe worse.
If we fear that befriending homosexuals, welcoming them into our homes, inviting them to church, and so on, is going to condone their sins or lower our standards, we have to remember: this is exactly what the Pharisees thought of Jesus loving publicans and harlots! What we take as compliment, they meant as a criticism-
This Man receives sinners and eats with them.
THEORY AND PRACTICE
This, I think, makes for good theory. What loving Christian would say it's wrong to love sinners? What reasonable Christian would think denouncing and lambasting and ridiculing sinners is an effective way of reaching them for Christ?
Of course, we ought to be both firm and compassionate. But how do we translate our theory into practice?
One thing is sure: the Law won't get us there. The Law of Moses calls homosexuality an abomination and imposes the death penalty on men who do it. Coming to the New Testament, Paul sees it as a form of idolatry in Romans 1, and assures us that people who live the gay life will-
Not inherit the kingdom of God.
The appalling story of Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of the Law in action. The prophets say the people were inhospitable, gluttonous, idle, and oppressive to the poor. They were all these things, but Genesis calls our attention to another sin, homosexuality, calling the men who practice it-
Exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.
Extreme sinners deserve extreme punishment, and that's what God meted out to them, raining down fire and brimstone, destroying the evil cities.
The Law has got nothing more to say about homosexuality: it is a gross sin against the Lord and others, and is sure to end in Judgment. The Law offers no hope to gays and lesbians; it doesn't care if they're struggling or not, if they intend to change or not, if they pray to change and do everything they can to become better people! There is no mercy in the Law! All it does, Paul says, is-
Brings about wrath.
The only thing that will change homosexuals-and the way we treat them-is the Gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes-and nothing else is. We're not going to love sinners-gay or otherwise-until we get the Gospel into our hearts. Knowing what it is-explaining it, citing the proof texts, and so on-won't do. We've got to meditate on the Gospel, tease out the implications, and live by it.
Even when Tom and Mike move in next door, fresh off their honeymoon in romantic Acapulco! Even when your buddy Steve comes home from the doctor as Stephanie! Nobody likes awkward situations-and nobody likes them less than I do-but the Lord has put us in the world, and part of living here is serving our neighbors no matter how distasteful we find them.
When it comes to loving the homosexual, how does the Gospel change us from the awkward and hard-hearted people we are to the kind and generous people we ought to be? Before I get to that, I ought to say something about homosexuality itself. I don't have any proof texts for what I'm going to say, but I think the Bible and sound theology support it. Here goes:
I think homosexuality has to be seen as two separate things. First, there is an orientation, an attraction to people of your own sex. God has not made people this way, but the Fall has; it has re-wired the soul and not all of the wires are in the right place. This is why some people are tempted by one thing, and others by another. Nurture has something to do with it, but it's not the whole answer. When I was a toddler, I had four good friends, two in the neighborhood and two at church. Rick King and Jimmy McKee were the boys; Mindy Elrod and Elizabeth Hall were the girls. I liked all of them very much, but I didn't like Rick and Jimmy in the same way I lived Mindy and Liz. I didn't know what sexual intercourse was and, had never seen a naked female in person or in pictures, but even then, I was 'sexed'-my dad never had to tell me, 'Son, when you grow up, you have to marry a girl, not a boy'. Your experience is probably the same.
Homosexuals have the same experience but, instead of being attracted to the opposite sex, they're drawn to people of the same sex. They are not exposed to it necessarily or taught to be this way, but they are this way. This is homosexuality as an orientation, and I don't know what we can do about it, but pray God will give them the discipline and hope to live pious and celibate lives.
The other aspect of homosexuality is what I chiefly have in mind today: homosexuality as a way of life, romantic affairs with people of your own sex, whether one for life or a different one every night.
How does the Gospel enable us to love these neighbors, people whose way of life we cannot approve of?
HOW THE GOSPEL CHANGES US
In the first place, the Gospel enables us to see what homosexuals are. They are sinners-yes the are-but that's not all they are: they're also broken people, and many of them are tormented by guilt and shame, fear and despair.
In His first full sermon, Jesus preached the Gospel, Luke tells us, and spoke of sinners as broken hearted people, whose hearts He came to bind up. The rabbis preached Law, and all it could do was to break the bruised reed and to quench the smoking flax.
The Gospel replaces scorn with pity, arrogance with humility. It unclenches the fist and offers an open hand of friendship.
Who is the Gospel for? For the ninety-nine who never strayed from their Shepherd, or for the one sheep who did? The Gospel is for lost sheep and lost coins and lost sons. And lost homosexuals.
In the second place, the Gospel tells us what we are. We may not be homosexuals, but we are every bit as broken as they are, only in different places. Romans 1 suggests that homosexuality is a kind of idolatry, a version of self-love. It's not my idol, but am I wholly free of idols? Am I a man without self-love?
No, I'm not. Of some, Paul says, covetousness is idolatry; of others, whose god is their belly. Jesus warned about loving the approval of men over the approval of God. Have I sometimes put my appetite above my God and my wife and my friends? I have, almost every day I do! Have I coveted things even when I should have been content with the Lord's Abiding Presence? Often I've done that. And haven't I frequently feared man more than the Lord? Yes I have.
This means I'm not much different than the homosexual; that instead of looking down on him, I'd be better off looking down on myself and praising God He saw fit to save such a low down rotten sinner!
When I start looking at myself this way, all the scorn and pride and holier-than-thou attitudes that so offend gays and make them want no part of Christ or the Church begin to recede. By humbling myself, I begin to-
Adorn the doctrines of God our Savior.
In the third place, the Gospel reminds us that the lost cannot be won with justice. One afternoon Jesus and His friends were wending their way through Samaria. As the sun sank in the western sky, no one invited them in for the night; nobody offered them a meal. James and John knew felt this was wrong-and they were right, inhospitality is a very serious sin. Moved with a sense of justice, they asked Jesus-
Lord, would you have us call down fire out of Heaven as Elisha did?
What was His response? He didn't tell them the Samaritans were okay as they were, or that they didn't deserve Hell-fire. What He said was this-
You do not know what spirit you are of! For the Son of Man did not come into the world to destroy men's lives, but to save them!
If sinners can be won by the claims of justice and the threat of judgment, Jesus could have stayed in Heaven and issued His warnings from there! But they can't be won this way! Only love touches the heart. When it comes to the wrongness of homosexuality, we have made out point! It's time to make our other point-
For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
In the fourth place, the Gospel tells us God can save anyone. Loving your neighbor is not a technique a clever way of winning them to Christ or getting them in the church. We want to do these things, of course, but we're supposed to love them whether they repent or not. But knowing God can save them-and that He might use our friendship and generosity to do it-makes it easier to befriend gay neighbors and treat them with courtesy and respect and kindness.
A WORD TO THE HOMOSEXUAL
Let me close with a word to the Christian struggling with homosexual temptations, or the homosexual who wants to believe in Christ, but fears he can't live the Christian life.
I don't believe you can change your orientation, but I know you can offer it the Lord and ask Him for the grace to practice self-control. This will be hard, harder for you than for many straight people because-at least theoretically, most of us can marry and enjoy our spouses' bodies, while you can't.
Jesus Christ is enough to satisfy your longing for intimacy and companionship. He is the friend of sinners and the Bridegroom of the church. You say it is easy for me to say-I have a beautiful wife and the comforts of married life-but easy or not, it is also true!
Controlling sexual desires is hard, but it's hard for most people. Heterosexuals are bombarded by unwholesome images and obscene words daily, and many of us live the Christian life-not very well-but we live it. You can too, whatever your temptations. Because, supported by the Gospel-
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
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