The 6th and the 1st (Sexual Immorality, Impurity and Greed)

Biblical Text: Ephesians 5:3-20 NLT

Full Sermon Draft

The 6th and the 1st is a reference to the 6th commandment (adultery) and the 1st commandment (no other gods). In the Hebrew scriptures sins in one are directly tied or related to sins in the other. This sermon is a continuation of our reading of Ephesians this summer. In our presentation Paul had three main points. The third of them is that the Christian life is a witness to the Wisdom of God to the powers in the heavenly realms, Satan and the World. In the back half of Paul’s letter he makes concrete examples which are elaborations of the 10 commandments. This week we’ve got the 6th and the 1st. The apostle’s presentation runs smack into the wisdom of our age, which is the lies of Satan and world. Paul doesn’t back away, but says choose. Are we witnesses to the powers that be, or do we prefer their lies? Test me. Listen to it and search the scriptures. Whose story conforms better to our flourishing? What I preach after the Apostle Paul, or the world?

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Leviticus 18:1-7,20-19:8 and Luke 11:1-13

Leviticus 18:1-7,18:20-19:8
Luke 11:1-13
Progressive Revelation, Christ & The Church, The Form which governs Christian Sexuality

Leviticus is a tough text for modern ears. This went a little longer and cut off a little quicker than I might has liked. And I just ignored the NT reading. I think the key to understanding such texts is to understand the special calling of Israel and by fulfillment the church. It is not that what is immoral changes. Jesus re-ups the moral law and in fact increases its weight in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1ff). And Jesus’ understanding of sexuality is completely governed by the pre-fall vision of the garden (Mark 10:1-12). And notice the two stories that are conjoined with that teaching in Mark 10: the kingdom belongs to the children and the Rich Young ruler. Jesus’ teaching on sexuality is tough. It would have to be accepted as children and grown into. It will also turn away many as just impractical. Yet, Jesus calls us to be a Holy Nation, a Royal Priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). We are to be different from the world. The reason for this difference is fully revealed to us in in the revelation of Christ. The reason doesn’t change the law. What it does hold out is grace. Where Leviticus states is baldly and expects us to keep it without knowledge, the church has been given the Spirit to grant knowledge and grace for living as exiles. It should not come as a surprise that powerful young men walk away. But the answer is not to deny the law. The answer is to be found in grace. Where the land used to gather up the uncleanness and spit out, today the uncleanness is devoured by the cross and the offer of grace.

God is No Repsecter of Shame


Biblical Text: Matt 1:18-25
draft 1.0

I’ve just start reading this book, only just past the theses declarations, but I’m somewhat amazed at them. The book is supposed to be the culmination of a generations scholarship on sexuality in the ancient world. And that culmination is supposed to be the upsetting of prior or simplistic thinking. This is what is startling to me: his theses are more or less what I have been taught my entire benighted life in the church and that horrible bastion of it called the LCMS. My guess at what that means is that scholarship is now distant enough from the church that it can “discover” the church’s understanding and roughly agree with it without really knowing.

How does that intersect with a small parish sermon. Well, the text is Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. (Our kids program is next week, so instead of doing John the Baptist, The Return we took Advent 4’s texts on Advent 3.) And Matthew’s account is really about the virgin birth. Coming off of the genealogy, Matthew had something to explain and an Old Testament prophecy to link in (Isaiah 7:14). In the ancient world (which the modern world is growing ever closer to) shame was the regulatory principle. Actions were governed less by any personal sense of a cosmic right and wrong but more by a social agreement upon what is honorable and what brings dis-honor or shame. The gospel disrupts all of that. It is a proclamation of freedom. Freedom from shame and freedom for right action. The core of the shame system was slavery. A slave could not have honor, so it didn’t matter how they were treated. And many were treated as sex slaves. It was an everyday occurrence. So, sexuality would be a defining sphere of shame. Caesar’s wife had to be beyond repute because Caesar was at the top of the honor pyramid and less than that would bring shame. And you can fill in the rest from slave to Caesar and all the forms of human sexuality.

Now the Jews had a much better grasp of sin or personal adherence to a cosmic code, but they were always fighting the honor system. Think of every time Jesus goes to a meal with the Pharisees and takes note of how they are sitting(Luke 14:7) or mocks those who like to parade around in fancy clothes (Mark 12:38-40). Pure honor/shame status clubs. Hence why Jesus calls the woman giving two mites better because she is much closer to the cosmic standard of justice.

Then comes the story of Joseph and pregnant Mary. This is pure shame vs. sin. Mary is sinless. The child is from the Holy Spirit. This is how God has chosen to act. How God has chosen to act, if Joseph goes along with it will bring him great shame. His village was still calling Jesus “Mary’s Child” at the start of his ministry (Mark 6:3). Honor/shame called for stoning. God said this is how I am going to save my people. Honor/shame says that God couldn’t be associated with anything that is shameful or lowering of status. God is born as a baby from a humble virgin. God is Immanuel in the midst of his people. In the midst of their shame. And he brings grace. And grace itself is shameful, because you can’t pay it back, because you are not in control.

God is no respecter of shame. He does care about sin and the law, but he also has given the remedy. Jesus, who saves His people from their sins.

Alternate Universe Sermon…

I’ve had a couple discussions following up on this past Sunday’s sermon. And I want to flesh out what a biblical consistent counter-factual would look like. The short version of that sermon was a confirmation of what the church teaches about marriage and sexuality. 1. All people are called to chastity. 2. Some are called to that within marriage while others are called to that being single. Being chaste is not being a prude, it is an act of love for God, for Christ and for your husband/wife or you community. It is an act of faithfulness and a statement of the hope that we have. 3. Without doing great harm to how the church has interpreted marriage and the chaste life, there is no way that same-sex marriage falls within those teachings.

The alternate universe sermon, or probably a sermon that did take place in this universe in a mainline denomination where the preacher still felt tied to grounded interpretation of the bible, would have been based on the first reading of the day Acts 10:34-48. The story is about St. Peter meeting the gentile Centurion Cornelius. Peter has been given a vision of formerly unclean food being made clean. He has made the journey and now finds that God has included the Gentiles. But even at that he would have been reluctant to baptize. It was the appearance of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles talking in tongues (the Gentile Pentecost to the original Pentecost preacher) that moves Peter to baptize. God made this change abundantly clear to Peter, and Peter followed God.

This alternate universe Sermon would then jump to Paul and quote Paul in Gal 3:28 – neither jew nor greek, slave not free, male nor female. It would tie Peter to Paul and both of them to John, with some statement that the Holy Spirit is moving in regards the male/female portion and a further revealing of the truth.

That alternative universe sermon is candy on the ears, and even has the chance of being true. BUT, BUT, for it actually to be the case, this is what is needed. First you have to claim that the Holy Spirit is acting and He should be acting in a way that is completely undeniable. Peter sees the gentiles assembled speaking in tongues and extolling God (Acts 10:46). To give this alternate universe sermon the preacher would have to declare what are those acts today. Is anyone willing to standup and say such a thing? Second you really have to claim the prophetic mantle. Without Peter’s visions of the risen Lord showing him the unclean food and declaring it clean, this never would have happened. Jesus made it very clear. So, to change 2000 years of teaching on sexuality, the prophetic element would have to be equally dramatic. Again, is anyone willing to standup and say such a thing? And here is probably the bigger thing. Alternative universe Parson just doesn’t have the authority or calling. The vision and the experience went to Peter. It was Peter’s words in Acts 15 on the same matter that sways the Jerusalem Council. Paul could say that the gentiles were good, but who was Paul? [Think about that for a second, St. Paul was not enough Acts 15 makes clear.] The equivalent of Peter would have to have this kind of change. And I’m sorry ELCA or TEC, presiding Bishop Hanson is not Peter nor is Bishop Jeffers-Schiori. Now if Matthew Harrison (President of the LCMS) were to in the course of a week or so suddenly change his tune, I’d have to give that some attention. But even that wouldn’t be Peter. Even in Lutheran understanding, if only by human means, Peter was still the leader of the apostles. Even in a fractured church, nobody is going to call the LCMS president the leader of the churches/bishops.

One does not have to be a Roman Catholic believing that the bishop of Rome is the Vicar of Christ and the direct heir of that original Peter, to say that the closest we come today to a Peter is the pope. If Benedict XVI came out and did what Peter did – confirm a movement of the Spirit with clear examples – I’m sure many would go back to ‘whore of Babylon’ language immediately, but for me that would make that alternate universe sermon plausible.

That is what I think a biblically consistent counter-factual would look like. I think that is something of what Rod Dreher is onto in this piece. I also agree with him that I think this will cost the orthodox church significantly over the coming decades.

The Putnam-Campbell data suggest the real battle will not be over whether or not churches are going to embrace gay marriage. As I said, the churches that do aren’t benefiting from it, overall. The question is going to be whether or not young people remain Christian in any sense connected to the Great Tradition. Homosexuality is a clear, bright line. The Rachel Held Evanses need to ask themselves if they would be willing to follow Jesus Christ if in doing so, they would have to take a countercultural position on the issue. To embrace same-sex marriage from a Christian viewpoint is a radical shift, one that repudiates two millenia of Christian thought and teaching.

Are we really so sure that we 21st century Americans have this right, and everyone that came before us, including St. Paul, was wrong?

All of which is to say that I expect a severe winnowing in the ranks of Christians over the course of my lifetime.

Rabbi Shmuley says…

If you haven’t seen Rabbi Shmuley, you haven’t seen TV in a bit. He’s an orthodox Rabbi that had his own show called Shalom in the Home. If you can imagine such a thing, he’s your wise and caring downhome uncle Rebbe. This is an interesting article that probably catches many religious people’s views on homosexuality.

It is kinda all over the place. As an orthodox Rabbi, he doesn’t deny the Levitical ban on homosexuality, but interestingly he want to pull a Christian move; he writes…

Homosexuality is a religious, not a moral, sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. Who is harmed when two unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Homosexuality is akin to the prohibition against lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during Passover; there is nothing immoral about it, but it violates the divine will.

Rabbi Shmuley says homosexuality is a Sabbath or Ceremonial law. He’s bound to those. Christians say they’ve been fulfilled in Christ. While the moral law is binding, the ceremonial has been put away in the face of the new covenant. And Rabbi Shmuley wants to say just ignore that rule. Concentrate on the other 611 laws. That’s enough.

What I wonder is for Shmuley, what is gained by calling homosexuality a religious sin? Sure, he gets to put the uncomfortable fact of his opposition on an unreasonable God, but he still ends up pointing out the problem with the entire law. We can’t keep it. Not a jot. Not a tittle. You don’t have to be homosexual to be in the same position. Lightening the load of the law is not the problem. The problem is denying its answer. Reconciliation in one person, Christ, on the cross.

It is easier to grant everyone basic humanity when we are all under the cross.

Turbulent Summer – Draft of a teaching response to the ELCA social statement on Sexuality

This is the internet so we can post drafts of things that we can alter later, right? Here is a draft which I’ve sent out for some review on a teaching response to the actions by the ELCA and the EC-USA this summer. I say teaching response because while I think many people would be able to tell you that the LC-MS and the ELCA do not agree on Human Sexuality issues, I also think that many would not be able to tell you why they disagree other than just plain orneriness. This response attempts to fairly review ELCAs arguments and to also provide the basis for the LC-MS position.

Here is the first paragraph…

Even for someone who would rather ignore denominational and church politics, this summer in the United States saw two major church bodies take hard votes on issues of sexuality. The Episcopal Church, much smaller in numbers today but long the church of the old WASP elite with cultural significance much larger than numbers, and the other body carrying the Lutheran name, the ELCA, both voted to recognize homosexual clergy and monogamous homosexual relationships. Those votes by those church bodies to adopt policies that are in opposition to historic Christian teaching are tough to ignore. What I intend to do in this note is to fairly and clearly portray the action taken and also to state the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s teaching on the same maters.

A Turbulent Summer – A Response to the ELCA’s Social Statement – Human Sexuality – Draft