There has been a sea change in our understanding of homosexuality in my lifetime. My first encounter with the question of homosexuality in the church was when a seminary professor brought it up in class in the 1980’s and advocated for creating a space where the moral character of monogamous, same-sex partnerships can play itself out. I did not know at the time that this would be an issue that would follow me throughout my pastoral ministry and that I myself would come to affirm the sanctity of loving and faithful same-sex marriage.
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the extraordinary coming of the Spirit in the birth of the church. It’s appropriate to continue my sermon series on human sexuality and consider what the Bible says about homosexuality on this Sunday because we recognize the church as a Spirit led, discerning community of faith. There’s no clear, uncontested teaching on homosexuality in the Bible and equally sincere and discerning Christians can have different understandings on matters such as same-sex marriage. We will, therefore, want to commit ourselves to respectfully listen to each other and to agree and disagree in love. What we should be able to agree on is that our sexual mores embrace Jesus’ love ethic in which all human relationships are mutual, responsible, caring, and loving. And we can have confidence that God’s Spirit will guide us to greater clarity as we discern together using the Bible, reason, tradition, and experience as our sources of authority.
My encounter with a family of cardinals as I was working in our church landscape reminded me that families come in many different forms in nature. We human have the most complex family structures, which are necessary for the nurture of our children who have a long adolescence. The basic biblical pattern is that of a life-long monogamous union between husband and wife. We affirm that sexual union is for pleasure, and closeness, and procreation. Still, we notice that family patterns kept changing throughout the Bible and that our present model of nuclear families in not found in the Bible. Our families face multiple challenges in our postmodern world. Christian family values that respond to these challenges need to be more than a moralistic parsing of right and wrong. Our focus is on the good, the true, and the beautiful—that which brings life, joy, and flourishing communities and respects the dignity and worth of each person.
Remembering our mothers on Mother’s Day is little more than sentimental kitsch if we fail to recognize the crucial role than women serve in creating flourishing communities. Empowering women, therefore, changes the world. This sermon also opens my series on human sexuality in response to our recognition that we’re not all on the same page with respect to what it means to welcome and include our LGBT sisters and brothers. We begin with the recognition than sex is an integral part of God’s good creation. For our discernment, we will use the standard Christian sources of authority that begin with the Bible and include reason-science, tradition, and experience.
Small churches are wonderful places for creating relationships that enhance our lives. But that takes time, which is in short supply as we find ourselves constantly multitasking in our American rat-race. Young families especially feel the squeeze. Jesus’ disciples most likely felt similar pressures that led to the decision to pull an all-nighter fishing on the sea of Tiberius. After a demoralizing night of not even catching enough for a decent breakfast, let alone some to sell, they meet a stranger on the beach (who they eventually recognize as Jesus) who tells them how to catch a net full of fish and invites them to breakfast on the beach. It’s a heartening story of grace and provision when we feel that things couldn’t get much worse.