The Compassion of the LORD

Posted May 21, 2017

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Different Views on LGBT

Today I want to talk about God’s love for his lesbian, gay and transgendered children. Then I’ll conclude by looking at two key biblical ideas for healthy intimate relationships.

I’ve written about this on my blog, and in my book Making Sense of the Bible. I invite you to read my blogs or to read the entire book. What I want to focus on today is God’s character, how I hope each of us reflects that character, and how that shapes my understanding of how God sees his gay, lesbian and transgendered children.

This question is not hypothetical. A 2015 Gallup survey of 1.6 million Americans found that 3.8% said they were gay or lesbian. Our survey of our congregation mirrored this closely with just under 4%. That would mean that of our 18,000 adult members, 720 would be gay or lesbian. 4,000 children are under 13 at our various campuses, so its likely that 160 of our children will one day come out to their parents. The statistics range from .3% to .6%. for transgendered persons. Even if we use the lower number, that would mean 54 of our adult members would be transgendered, and another 12 children. I know some of these people. These are your fellow church members, your brothers and sisters in Christ, the Sunday School and Vacation Bible Camp children you teach.

Our society’s views of LGBT people are rapidly changing. Two weeks ago, the Gallup organization released their latest poll on whether Americans supported legally recognizing same-sex marriage. The data shows 64% of Americans support legally recognizing same-sex marriage, 34% oppose. In 2016 this poll broke down responses by age. For the first time last year a majority of the oldest generation supported legally recognizing same-sex marriages. Among those 18-29, that number rose to 83%. Of course, in 2015 the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the US.

Among a vast majority of today’s young adults, including our graduating seniors, this is a moral issue. But the moral issue for them is inequality, prejudice and hurting people. For many, the chief culprit in perpetrating this prejudice and harm to gay and lesbian people is the church.

Questions

  • Have you personally known any gay people? Did knowing them, and/or their families, in any way affect your own view about the validity of committed gay relationships? Do you and your children, grandchildren or other young people you know view this issue in the same way, or are there differences?

Divisions Over Interpretation

The question we ask in church when determine what we believe is right or wrong is not, “What does the Gallup organization say?” Or “What does the Supreme Court say?” Or “What do Millennials say?” Our question is, “What is the character and will of God?” In this case, “How does God look at his children who are gay and lesbian?”

Some are quick to say, “Well it’s right there in the Bible! God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” But that’s not precisely how it works. If it worked that way, we’d still require circumcision; we’d put people to death for being disobedient to their parents or for working on the Sabbath, we’d still allow slavery, women would pray with their heads covered and would be required to remain silent in church. None of us would have savings or retirement accounts, as Jesus clearly said not to store up treasures on earth. Interestingly, America would never have separated from England given that Scripture calls Christians to be obedient to the kings as God’s appointed rulers. I could go on.

Yes, we discern God’s will be reading Scripture, and rightly interpreting it. The lens by which we interpret everything in Scripture is Jesus, who is himself the Word of God. We also interpret any given Scripture in the light of the major themes of Scripture. Jesus spoke of these as the “Weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23). We look for the character of God revealed in Scripture, principally through Jesus. We look to the commandments Jesus said summarized all the rest: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Or, as you know, he also said the Golden Rule summarized the law and the prophets: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And we bring our intellect to the table, and our experience of the witness of the Holy Spirit. We study to understand the historical and cultural context in which a given passage was written.

Today I’d suggest that Psalm 103 captures some of God’s defining attributes, seen again and again in Scripture and clearly seen in Jesus’ life. It’s captured in multiple verses throughout the Psalm, but I love how it is expressed in the 13th verse: “Like a parent feels compassion for their children—that's how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor him.”

It was compassion that I felt for gay and lesbian people as I listened to their story, heard their pain and feelings of isolation, and it was compassion I heard from their parents in our congregation….As I listened to those parents, I found myself thinking again and again about this text: “Like a parent feels compassion for their children—that's how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor him.”

Are some same-gender expressions of intimacy sinful? Of course. I believe the same things I’ve preached the last four weeks relate to all couples, gay or straight. God’s ideal is that physical intimacy be in the context of marriage, as old fashioned as that sounds. God doesn’t want us taking advantage of people, hurting people, or treating sexuality as though it means nothing. God created intimacy as a good gift, intended to express and bind people together in love. When it is misused it can cause pain….

We don’t all agree at Resurrection as to whether we feel God would bless same-gender relationships. I believe God can and does. But some don’t. What we agree upon here is that we will be a church that welcomes everyone with open arms, and that we will have compassion and demonstrate love for everyone.

Questions

  • About 160 years ago, many denominations in the United States divided into northern and southern branches over the issue of slavery. The pro-slavery people quoted passages like 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 to say God approved of slavery. Those verses haven’t changed in 160 years. What makes it possible for virtually all Christians today to believe that slavery is wrong? Do you see any parallels between that issue and today’s divisions about gay marriage, or the treatment of transgendered persons?

Real Intimacy

That brings me to my conclusion. To remind you of what we learned last week:

  1. Sex is a good gift from God.
  2. Sex is meant to be an expression of love.
  3. If misused, sex can bring pain.

Paul notes that we are to “Live a life worthy of the calling with which you’ve been called.” That includes how we live towards those we are romantic with. That includes what we do with our bodies.

I remember one of the couples who took our survey the last time we did it. They’d been married more than 60 years. They indicated on the question about intimacy that sexual intimacy was no longer a part of their marriage—it wasn’t physically possible because of one of their medical conditions. But, they noted, we are more intimate now than we ever have been. We know each other deeply. We complete each other’s sentences. We hold each other’s hands. We don’t go to sleep at night without a kiss. We’re grateful for the years we had the other, but we wouldn’t trade it for the intimacy we share today, having been faithful to one another, having cared for one another, and having shared life together all of these years.

In the end that’s what the birds and the bees are really all about—to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until we are parted by death. The physical part of this is important, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing is love.

Questions

  • Do you agree with the pastor that the most important aspect of “the birds and the bees” is in our heads and in our hearts? Does that perspective devalue physical intimacy, or does it elevate it into its appropriate place as a good gift from God to deepen and cement loving relationships?

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