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Archive for January, 2014

The Holy One – “God”

2nd Sunday after Epiphany; January 18, 2014

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2014

 

Bible reading:

Bible reading – Acts 17:24-28 (secondary text Ps 139)

Paul’s statement to the Athenians

       at the Areopagus, a low hill which

       was a place for meeting, legal matters, and teaching:

The God who made the world and everything in it,

This One who is Holy in all of heaven and earth,

does not live in Holy Places made by human hands,

nor, as though in need of anything,

is God served by human hands.

This God, this very God! gives to all mortals

life and breath and all things.

From one ancestor God made all nations

to inhabit the whole earth,

and allotted the times of their existence

and the boundaries of the places where they would live,

so that they would search for God and perhaps

even grope clumsily for God!,

though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

For “In him we live and move and have our being”;

as even some of your own poets have said:

“For we too are his offspring.”

 

 

Introduction

We are speaking together

       in these weeks following the

Christmas and Epiphany seasons

 

about the fundamentals of our faith

       Christianity for “first years”, if you will

              a basic primer in the language

                      and concepts of our faith.

 

What does it mean to say “Christian”?

       What does it mean to be “Christian”?

 

I thought of the old joke about the poor hiker

       who was accosted by a great, hungry bear.

The hiker immediately called out a prayer

       “O God, make this bear a Christian bear”

And just then, the hiker heard the bear speak

       “Dear God, for what we are about to

       receive, make us eternally grateful” Amen.

 

What does it mean to be a Christian bear?

       What does it mean to be Christian?

 

We are using the book by Marcus Borg

       Speaking Christian as our special resource

              for our inquiries.

 

Last week, we reflected on words and actions

       and particularly on the word salvation

              as a word of commitment more than

                      just intellectual belief in something.

 

We wrote our commitments on paper

       beginning with the phrase “I will…”

              rather than “I might”, or “I’m going to try to…”

 

 

The character of God

This week we are looking at the word God

       and what it means to have the character of God.

 

Marcus Borg says that there are three large categories

       under which we may understand the character of God:

 

God is indifferent

God is punitive and threatening

God is gracious, loving, and compassionate

 

The indifferent God is the removed God

       of old deism but also functionally of modern politics

              We refer publicly to God, but then we do

                      whatever we need to do with wealth and war

 

The punitive and threatening God

       is the God of those who for whatever reason

              emphasize order, rules, and punishments

                      for breaking the rules

 

This God is definitely in the Bible,

       whereas the indifferent God largely is not.

              The punitive and threatening God

                      helps support punitive, threatening people.

                             Our out of control prison system

                                    is an example

 

Although we need a measure of order

       generally, this concept of God goes far beyond

              order right into a focus on fear, punishment,

                      and domination

 

Finally, there is Borg’s favorite and mine,

       the gracious, loving, compassionate God

              who is also reflected in the Bible

 

But has to be discovered within the stories

       a fruit lifted from the garden in which there   

              are weeds of fear and retribution

                      and punishment

 

The character of this gracious God is one

       who lifts up the poor and the oppressed (p86)

              with great urgency and kindness

as displayed in the person of Jesus.– Borg p91

 

This weekend we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.

       who famously wrote a letter from prison,

              in which he he spoke to the question

                      “Why we can’t wait.”

 

In this letter, he famously wrote:

 “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim…when you see the vast majority of twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky…when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you…when…your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

— Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

 

What an immense story of pain.

       And yet King did not counsel revenge

              but rather the opposite

 

In the 1956 “Integrated bus suggestions” document

       this behavior was encouraged:

“If cursed, do not curse back; if pushed, do not push back; if struck, do not strike back, but evidence love and goodwill at all times.”

 

What is this sort of character?

       It could be seen as the character

              of a gracious and loving God

 

who urgently cares for the poor and the marginalized.

 

God! If this is God, then who are we?

       And how might we become more like God?

              That becomes the next question

 

 

Interview Paul Michalec – increasing in love

For the 2nd half of our reflection time this morning

       I’ve invited my good friend Paul Michalec

              to share with us about some insights

                      that reflect becoming more like God

                             becoming our better and truer selves

 

In 2nd Thessalonians 1, Paul (not Michalec!) writes

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.

 

The love of everyone of you for one another is increasing!

       Or we might say, the character of God

              among you is increasing.

 

Is that possible? Doesn’t the world just tick along

       never really changing?

              This does not seem to be the divine

                      or Biblical view.

 

So what does it look like for our love to increase,

       for our spiritual character to grow in strength.

              This is what Paul Michalec

                      has been reflecting on in some

                             sabbatical writing he has been doing.

 

Paul?

       Welcome.

              Paul is a professor of English at DU

                      Courage and Renewal facilitator

                             (Parker Palmer-type work)

Moderator of a UCC congregation in Lakewood     

       Anything else I should say…?

 

Paul has identified what he calls

The 5 ineffable qualities:

 

Paul – what motivated your writing?

       What is the goal?

              What are the qualities?

(calling, presence, authenticity, wholeheartedness, imagination?)

 

So we may be formed more and more

       into the character of God

              our love “increasing”!

 

 

(If there is time – final section)

 

God and Eternity

This referent of the word God affirms that reality, “what is,” is ultimately a sacred reality, a “more,” all around us, wondrous and glorious – Borg p71

 

…The word God refers note only to a glorious and radiant “more,” but to a “more” with “character.” – Borg p75

 

I think our sense of “eternity” reflects this “more.”

 

Question #3 from contemplative circle on Thursday:

What might “resurrection from the dead” mean in our modern world full of our scientific and material world view? What, if anything, invites consideration that life may be in some way eternal?

 

My thoughts:

I think it is that life feels so lively, that a sheer blank end seems utterly inadequate, non-fitting, a snuffing out of the ineffably bright light of reflective consciousness. It is only intuition, our imagination, and the heart that teaches us about a “more” inside of death. But it is some forceful teaching. It is a central intuition of human history and culture that there is a greatness in life and death which is not explained by simple physical/material endings. And this teaching wants to flow. It has legs. It keeps returning in different forms, some of which are beautiful and winsome and awaken and resonate with the deepest chords of our soulful selves. And ultimately, it seems to flow with love, love which is just as at home in death as in life; in loss as in gain; in suffering as in joy. Love flows in all things, finds all things, weaves all things, and is the good ground beneath our feet, whatever our pathway.

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Speaking Christian in Word and Deed

Liturgical Date; Calendar Date

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

©Vernon K. Rempel, 2014

 

Bible reading:

James 1:25

But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

 

James 2:14-18

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

 

 

Introduction

being not hearers who forget but doers who act

 

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

 

Faith and works

Words and action

 

The relationship is fraught

      

Hans Denck put it this way:

No one may know Christ unless they follow him in life and no one may follow Christ unless they know him. –Hans Denck

 

And Francis of Assisi said

Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words

 

The new pope takes his name from Francis

       and seems to be doing at least some of what

              St. Francis was saying

 

Living in a small apartment, driving a small car

       but also it is so much the words of the pope:

              that it is more about love than judgment

 

that the church has been like a scolding parent

       and needs to be more like a welcome-home parent

 

And here embedded is the paradox

       What we remember from St. Francis in this case

              is his words – is words about words!

 

Preach the gospel and if necessary use words

       And what the pope does in terms of economic

              decisions matters a lot

                      but what he says –  his words –

                             may be even more influential.

 

So people of faith, especially Mennonites

will often say we want not just talk but action.

       But words matter – and in fact are often

              the key form of action

 

Words and action are deeply woven into each other.

       Words are the coin if the commerce of thinking

              and reflecting people.

 

They may disguise but they may also reveal

       what is closest to our hearts.

 

And we need a heart that is not naïve

       but is strong and courageous

              when we act. And the words we ponder

                      and let in make all the difference.

 

So words matter.

 

We’ll be looking at this in our worship

       in the next several weeks –

              the season after Epiphany

                      which this year runs through March 2

 

Using Marcus Borg’s book Speaking Christian

       as a key text.

 

And Dan Wessner is helping us to focus

       on our faith words in Adult Education.

 

So I’d like to briefly interview Dan about this

       this morning.

 

Dan?

 

Questions:

1) What matters to you about Jesus Christ in your life?

2) What is the core of your approach for our Adult Education program?

 

 

Just a few further reflections

       The book of James seems to have been written

              to a community where people were trying

                      to get away with a gospel that didn’t

                             impact their whole lives

 

The book is about economic divides

       in the community especially.

              And about using money to have privilege

                      in the community.

 

It is a forceful denunciation of this.

       Faith needs to be an expression in real life

              and especially including financial life..

 

So much so that Martin Luther

who had found a new sense of the graciousness

of God, called this book the “Epistle of straw”

       and would have removed it from the Bible

              if he could have.

 

But!

James 1:17

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

 

A gift from above – sounds like grace

       sounds like generosity and graciousness

              in the heart of all things….

 

So even for James, all the goodness comes as a gift

       it’s just that people were wanting to

              get away with injustice by separating faith and works

 

 

Faith. & works

Words & action

 

James – what we do; how we live, matters

 

In my heart & in my relationships

From shopping cart to mortgage to car to friendships to career to colleagues to suppliers & customers & students & neighborhood & nation

I am living faith out in all these arenas

 

Christian faith – but what is that?

       And here’s where Marcus Borg’s book comes in….

 

He wants to talk to us about our “Christian” words

       so the title Speaking Christian

              he argues that our Christian words

                      have been badly distorted

 

Distorted by what he calls “heaven and hell” thinking

       that reduces the Christian message to the formula:

              “we need to be saved so that we can go to heaven”

 

Eg Salvation –

Salvation is not just getting to heaven instead of hell;

God’s love is eternal & so a lot if human stuff will be worked out when we depart from this first place, and it will have to do with how we lived –

but an eternal dichotomy between heaven & hell is such a violent & simplistic reduction of the human heart & human fate

 

And people asserting this always have themselves going to heaven – and you’re not unless you’re agreeing with their control scheme

 

But Borg points out that the Biblical view of salvation

       is so much broader. It includes:

liberation from bondage: economic, political, and religious

       (in the Exodus story)

return from exile – salvation is coming home!

       comfort, comfort ye, my people

rescue from danger (key meaning in the Psalms)

deliverance and transformation – especially Isaiah 35

from not seeing to seeing

       (gaining sight; gaining insight)

from death to life

       not only life after death, but actually being able to live our lives now – not the walking dead of zombie stories but lively people living what matters to them – it’s always a great spiritual direction question – are you living your life?

 

from sickness to health

       and from broken mind and body to wholeness

from fear to trust

       “fear not” the messengers say over and over

political (public) – disenfranchised to enfranchised

       we have a vote, we have a voice that can matter

       and make a difference

injustice to justice

violence to peace

 

Ultimately, salvation is what Verna Dozier

       calls God’s dreams for this world (p52)

 

 

And all of this will be the basis for what happens next,

       after we die

mystery that it is,

 because love us eternal

 

 

 

Commitment & risk

 

See pad in leather folder

 

Marriage vows

 

I will do something – fix the shelf

 

No try, only do – martial arts

 

Committees, too often where responsibility goes to hide out

 

Church of the Savior – I have a vision for something I will do – who will join me?

 

Bearing Witness – what “I” am doing, which you may also do, or it may inspire what you want to do… But not “what we all need to do”

 

Conversation with Ervin – can we be in the room together; do we have the capacity; can we risk to be of very different conscience in the same room?

 

 

 

 

So… Words matter –

not so much words vs action as it is empty words vs words of substance – Christian words! Words that struggle for salvation together!

 

Words gathered in careful teaching & deep reflection; words that reshape our hearts

 

Otherwise – do harm in our commitments & risks;

 

Letter to a young activist – Merton

“You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you….”

“The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth; and we turn the best things into myths.  If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments.”

 

Salvation as God’s dreams for our world – and we all work it out together well aware of our need for humility & also taking courage & confidence as we find true love – true Christ-like love – in our hearts.

 

Pursuing God’s dreams by the power of the HS – etc Borg p51 MSMC vision

 

This conference that is now offering ministerial credentials for the first time to a leader openly in a same sex relationship!

 

Words matter; how we get together matters; how we handle our money, our politics, our sexual decisions – all of it matters – all is a matter of faith

 

Faith & works

Words & action

 

Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage, and wisdom moves the world. -Ammon Hennacy (Catholic activist, 1893-1970)

 

 

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I thought I would post this brief note that I sent to leaders in our conference upon hiring Theda Good a couple of years ago.

***

August 2, 2012

Dear conference colleagues and friends,

A good summer’s day greeting to each one of you. I wanted to personally write to you to let you know about our new pastor, Theda Good.

On Sunday, July 29th, the members of First Mennonite Church of Denver (FMC) voted to confirm Theda Good as our new Pastor of Nurture and Fellowship.  Theda is a member of FMC and is well known by the church community.  She was chosen as part of a national search that considered many candidates. The search committee at FMC felt led by the Spirit to nominate Theda and their recommendation was unanimously supported by the Leadership Council.  Theda has the heart, devotion and calling for ministry, and we believe she will be an excellent addition to our Pastoral Staff.

Theda is also in a long term loving, committed relationship with another woman.  Our congregation loves the Mennonite Church.  And we understand that hiring a pastor in such a personal relationship is somewhat new in our denomination.  And so I write this to you my ministerial colleagues with great desire for loving discernment and dialogue with you, as seems appropriate. I welcome your prayers and good thoughts and contacts in the days to come.

I am grateful for Theda’s call to ministry, and for the congregation’s discernment around that call. And I want to continue to be “at the table” with you all in holy conversation as we continue our ministries together. In this decision, our congregation seeks with all our hearts to faithfully follow the Spirit’s leading in the way of Jesus Christ.  May it be so among us and in our conference and denominational communities.

Vern Rempel

First Mennonite Church of Denver

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I came across this piece in looking at some of my other writing. Because of the autobiographical notes in it, as well as some of the other brief notes of theological orientation, I thought I would include it in my blog now, on the eve of licensing Theda Good.

To Herm Weaver, conference minister, and the ministerial committee of Mountain States Mennonite Conference

May, 2008

Vern Rempel

This is my brief answer to the question “how did I come to this moment” for blessing Dawn and Theda’s life commitment. I think I will take a bit of an autobiographical narrative approach.

Before I went to college (Hesston and Goshen), I had no real thought about same-sex attraction. I suppose I knew it existed, but I don’t have any memory of even the concept. In college (’76-’80), I remember joking about it, along with all the other race, religion, national identity, etc. jokes. Then two women declared there relationship at Hesston. This did not seem that extraordinary to me. I think it fit for me with everything else I had been brought up to accept by my pretty progressive parents: racial integration, equality of women, international perspective.  This seemed just like one more bit of variety to me.

In seminary (’83-’86), the big issue was pastoral leadership by women. Same-sex orientation wasn’t much on the radar. We all thought, however, that homosexuality might be a good issue for Willard Swartley to add, in his treatment of Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women. I, at least, thought he might go in the direction of some sort of acceptance, as he did with women in leadership. (It turns out he did not, as evidenced by his book – disappointing to me; same with my college friend John D. Roth. But I want to affirm that I continue to have immense respect and admiration for both Willard and John.)

I think homosexuality began to be talked about more in earnest among Mennonites after Bethlehem ’83. I became a pastor in ’86. About two years in, homosexuality flushed out as a hot issue. So I preached a sermon about it, and publicly declared a welcome to lesbian and gay members at Community Mennonite in Lancaster. This resulted in a variety of interesting, annoying, useful, and puzzling encounters for my remaining eight years in Lancaster. During this time, I was invited to serve on the “Listening Committee for Homosexual Concerns” that was established in the wake of the statements taken at Purdue ’87 and Saskatoon ’89 forbidding same-sex partnerships for Mennonite church members. The statements had included a portion about further dialogue, and our committee was part of that process (Ann Showalter was also on this committee). During these years, I wrote and revised an ongoing think-piece about homosexuality. I would send this to folks, if they wanted to hear more about what I was thinking. I offered also to meet with people for prayer and discernment as they were willing. (Nobody ever took me up on this.). We had several gay and lesbian members at Community Mennonite. I never, however, encouraged the congregation to take an official position. I felt like this would be waving a provocative flag and in any case was not necessary to achieve the welcome we wanted to create. I was never invited to do a relationship ritual of any sort there. I did attend a union ceremony, as it was called, for Doug Brunk and his partner Lloyd Bowman, the latter of whom attended Community Mennonite. It was a beautiful celebration in a botanic garden in Philadelphia. I went with my small children; Marilyn couldn’t attend because of her work schedule. Our children had no trouble taking it in an integrating this variety of ritual, which intrigued me a great deal.

When I came to Denver, I sent ahead my “think-piece” and some related comments, as part of the candidating process. It was not much discussed in the candidating visits. A couple of people asked me about it, and I said the main thing for me when people considered this was “take two tablets of history and call me in the morning.” Since then, I have preached regularly and often about a welcome for lesbian and gay people. I generally include such comments in litanies about who all is welcome at God’s table, or in considerations of historic oppressions, etc. I have not done much major teaching about it.  Nor have I encouraged the congregation to take a collective position here either. In the past years I have actually thought about it very little and have moved on to other kinds of discernment and focus, most of which for me have to do with my own sense of spirituality, what it means to be a truly Holy Spirit centered organization, and how to preach and lead in a way that invokes a deep sense of the presence of the Spirit of God in our daily lives. But welcome for people in obviously alternative sexual relationships (many may be in less obvious alternatives!) continues to be part of what I understand to be God’s dream for this place and for my ministry.

Key Bible passages for me are the welcome of gentiles in Acts 10, the litany of inclusion in Galatians 3:28, and locating this in what I see as the great Biblical trajectory of moving toward an accountable and public project of love, rather than the framework of rules that helped guide the primitive Hebrews. I believe we reside in this ongoing project and that it is all about the journey; it is never finished. For me the Bible is more the source of a river in which I may also get wet (baptismally?) than it is a gold mine of deposited wealth there for the digging (although that metaphor can also go only part way for me).

I am pleased that I was able to be part of this celebration of commitment. It was a beautiful, life-affirming event. I think it affirms sexual openness (what we do, we do in the light) and fidelity, which for me are hallmarks of healthy body-spirituality. (Michel Foucoult says that the basis for a post-modern ethic is [at least] what I am willing to declare and observe repeatedly and publicly.) I am pleased that I am part of a conference that holds “relational accountability” around the Holy Spirit as it’s core value, meaning that we commit ourselves to come to the table together again and again to discern our Biblical project together (actually having those prayer and discernment meetings I offered in Lancaster).

Thanks for your consideration and relationship,

Vern

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“What is sin”

Vern Rempel – January 2013

(revised January 27)

 

Herm Weaver, our much-beloved Mountain States Mennonite Conference conference minister, asked me to put together a short note about what I understand to be “sin”. This is in response to the question of a congregational elder from Ohio, asking how we define sin if we support same-sex relationships and leadership.

This could be a longer conversation, certainly, but I’ll just offer a few brief notes at this time.

I understand sin to be fundamentally a breaking of relationship, with God and with people. It is in this sense the opposite of the command to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. It is failure to do either or both of these. In this sense, sin is a condition of alienation and isolation.

I also think it is an expression of sin when we fail to be true to best selves, true to the place where our hearts meet God’s heart. So we compress ourselves into false stories and occupations.

So for example, Mary was true to her best self, to the “Christ in her”, if you will, when she said “yes” to Gabriel, instead of trying to make something else of her life. Peter was true when he ultimately overcame denial and gave his life to Christ, even to the point that he was able to come into community with Gentiles.

I think that John the Baptist and Jesus and Paul powerfully and persistently invited folks into relationships in renewed communities with other people and with the Holy Spirit.

In this way sin is not a failure to follow a list of rules. Rules are certainly sometimes shorthand for helping us to stay in life-giving relationships, but it is the relationships, not the rules, that ultimately matter.

One example here would be that the Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. And so Jesus did not follow the rules of his religious culture and teaching when he healed on the Sabbath, supported his disciples picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, and so on. And Jesus did not follow the rules when he stepped out and found community with women (eg. woman at the well), lepers, and Samaritans. In this same vein, Paul extended Peter’s spiritual insight about Cornelius and became an even more powerful advocate of relationships in Christ with Gentiles. He went so far as to say even the hated Scythians and Barbarians could be in Christ.

Most of all, sin is about redeemed relationships, not about the anxiety of the day expressed by where the church thinks we need to draw the line. Line-drawing from our recent Mennonite history includes questions of Sunday School, life insurance, science, divorce, women in leadership, and now of course people in same sex relationships. How can we do better at having open and loving conversations about whatever happens to be troubling us?

I think we do best to ask: who is loving God and their neighbor? Who is living according to the fruits of the Spirit? Who is living a life of transparent and accountable joy and love in the way of Jesus Christ? These are the measure for what is not sin, but rather the way of salvation.

Thanks!

Vern

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Good Winter’s greeting to you in the Spirit of Christ!

 

Herm Weaver asked if I would write a few key thoughts about how I connect with the Bible regarding licensing for ministry Theda Good, who is in same-sex marriage with Dawn Kreider. Here are some very brief notes. I would very much enjoy telephone or in-person conversation about this material. Just let me know.

 

 

Bible reflections on same-sex relationships

For me at this time, here are a few key passages that shape the core and tone of my sense of Biblical spirituality.

 

1) The refrain from Genesis 1 “it was good”. I believe God has created the earth and all that it is in it for beauty and goodness, peace and love. This means that violence and hate are not necessary, but are rather distortions of what is most true about us from the beginning. Messengers from God in the Bible tend to bring a related affirmation: “Fear not”. What we have in the Spirit of God is goodness and is not rooted in fear. So we do not need to give in to shaping our lives around fear, regardless of what we are talking about together. Rather, we seek to have minds and hearts that can perceive the “it was good” of creation all around.

 

2) Paul’s words in 2nd Thessalonians. These thoughts are a great indication of the heart of Christian community: “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.” (2nd Thessalonians 1:3). I think the core of our community is a delighted love for one another – that we care and learn and listen and rejoice wholeheartedly with each other. Whatever we say on any topic, this sets the tone. If we do not have this tone, let us find it together.

 

3) Jesus words in Luke 4:18, 19. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” I hear in these words a deep commitment to justice and release as key moves of redemption and healing in all that we do.

This sets the tone rather than something more secular like “law and order” for how we love and live in this world. And in theological terms, grace takes precedence over law, to use Paul’s language, not as a basis for ethical license, but as a way to create a better, more heart-based and relational foundation and center for a redeemed community in the Spirit of Christ.

 

4) The story of Peter in Acts 10. The words of God to Peter ring out “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This passage is critical to my sense about sexuality and holiness. We must discern whether what we are talking about is something named clean by God or not. I look at so many same-sex relationships and see faithfulness at their center. To me, this, like the new insight Peter has about Gentiles, says God has named this “clean.”

 

5) Fruits of the Spirit. Paul’s list of Spirit fruit in Galatians 5 marks what is good among us: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Are these present in same-sex relationships? If so, that is a key learning. If a same-sex relationship is not automatically labeled “impure” or “unclean” what do we see in the relationship? Does it look like the fruit of the Spirit?

 

6) What about the seven passages in the Bible that explicitly reject same sex relations? I think that without exception, these passages are written about situations that do not reflect or even know about committed same-sex relationships dedicated to living in the Spirit of Christ. We must apply what we can from our Biblical learning to the relationships we know about today.

       I have read that the particular passages about same sex relations variously apply to situations of ritual prostitution, or “foreign” practices of a perverse sexual nature, or people going against their true nature and possibly other unwholesome reasons for sexual practice. The critical question for me is: do these texts that speak against same sex relations seem to be aware of relationships between people that are characterized by wholesome transparency, a desire to worship God and follow Christ in life, and are marked by the fruits of the Spirit?

       And I also very much welcome Rick Warren’s comment that there are seven verses about same sex relations and 2,000 verses about poverty (the British Bible Society says 2,848), so perhaps that could guide our emphasis in our consideration about what is important to address in our daily lives and in our ministry. (from Christianity Today 2005)

      

      

A key resource

In addition, I think Willard Swartley has excellent help for us in his book Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women. In the introduction to his “Summary of learnings” pp229ff, he offers these points:

1) Quoting the Bible does not in itself guarantee correctness of position.

2) To avoid selective use of evidence, the entire Biblical witness on a given subject should be considered.

3) Each particular text or section of the Bible should be used for its main emphasis, not for its attendant features.

4) The interpreter should give priority to theological principles and basic moral imperatives rather than to specific counsel on particular topics when these two contradict.

 

Swartley offers a total of 22 points that continue to explain his recommendations.

 

Thanks for your consideration with me!

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