Sunday, June 19, 2016
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity - Rom 12:14-21
Yet because we have received this from our Lord, we also now seek to bring Jesus’ brand of love to others. This means that we do show kindness and concern towards those who are different from us – even those who are engaged in overt sin such as the cohabiting man and woman, or the homosexual couple. We care about their needs and seek to assist them. And we also love them enough to tell them the truth – for that is the most difficult kind of love in today’s world. We speak the truth … not in anger or spite. But we speak in the hope that through repentance and Spirit worked faith the lost will be found. And as Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
If those words sound familiar, it is because they were the conclusion to my sermon last week. I wrote them on Thursday that week, long before the attack on the gay bar in Orlando. In fact when I preached them at the 7:45 a.m. service I didn’t know that an attack had occurred. It was only just before the 10:15 a.m. service that a member mentioned the event to me and I learned a few details.
As we now know, at around 2:00 a.m. last Sunday, Omar Matten walked into a gay bar and proceeded to kill forty nine people and wound more than fifty. A Muslim, he called 911 in order to pledge his allegiance to ISIS and identify his attack with their cause.
As they have on other occasion of Islamic terrorism, the media immediately began to try to explain away the event. They sought to defend the notion that this was “not Islam” since Islam is really “a religion of peace.” Attention was focused on whether Matten was closet homosexual who acted out of self-loathing, or whether he was a violent person, or just a deranged individual. In particular we have heard that this was an action motivated by hate.
As fallen people, human beings often have complex motivations for their actions. There are usually a number of factors that come into play. But when people identify their faith – in this case, Isalm – as the reason they did something, we should probably take it seriously. So for example, when Mohommed Bouyeri, who murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, explained his motivations for doing this he said “what moved me to do what I did was purely my faith. I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his Prophet.”
Now not every Muslim wants to kill you. That’s just a fact. What is also true is that when it comes down to the basic attitude towards homosexuality, Christianity and Islam hold the same basic view. They both reject it as something that is contrary to the divine will. And within the Islamic tradition itself there is in fact ambiguity about what should be done to homosexuals.
At the same time, it is also a fact that in its texts and history, Islam has an inherent tendency toward violence. It’s not by chance that in Muslim countries such as Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan homosexuals can be executed in accordance with sharia law. Combined with the concept of jihad which has a long history of violence, it’s not hard to understand how Mateen believed that he was doing the work of Allah in jihad by killing American homosexuals. His faith prompted him to walk into a gay bar and harm people.
Today’s epistle lesson from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is a timely reminder about how very different Christianity is from Islam. The Gospel leads Christians to act in ways that are completely different – in fact, in ways that the world can’t understand. Yet Paul’s words are also a challenge that force us to consider whether the Gospel makes itself known in our own lives. The apostle begins our text by saying, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Paul says that Christians are to bless those who persecute them. They are not to curse those who seek to harm them. When he says this, he is of course sharing the same teaching that Jesus taught when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
The Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul both teach us that we are not to seek to harm those who act against us – those who are opposed to us. You know what a Christian can never do? A Christian can never walk into a gay bar and shoot people because they are homosexuals. The very foundational texts of the faith forbid it and direct us to the opposite action. There is nothing ambiguous about it.
Instead, how do we treat others? Paul goes on to say:“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Paul says that we are to support the grieving. We are to seek to live in peace and harmony with others. We are not to be haughty, but instead are to give attention to those who have less status; to those who are less well off. And take note – all of this includes the homosexual couple next door.
That doesn’t mean we cease to call sin what it is. In the first chapter of this letter Paul wrote his most comprehensive assessment of homosexuality. He said, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
But when we identify sin and call to repentance, we never cease to share the love of Christ in what we do. This is easy to forget. Paul’s words in our text are both a rebuke and a challenge. When it comes to homosexuality it is easy to be repulsed – it is a vile act that obviously rejects the way God has ordered his creation. And more than that, we resent how our culture is constantly pressuring us to accept this sin as good and vilifies us when we don’t – you are, after all, “homophobic.” But none of that can alter the way we treat people who are homosexual. And in the same way nothing can change the way we treat all people. We cannot let our selfishness and self-centeredness keep us from acting as Paul describes in our text.
The apostle began this chapter by writing, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
When Paul says “therefore,” he is drawing a conclusion from all that he has written thus far. He has left no doubt that we are all sinners. In chapter three he has already said that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” He went on to say, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This sin is something that continues to plague us as the old Adam does his thing, and so we as we live we continue to confess our sin and repent.
But because of what God has done for us in Christ we do not despair. We know that we have forgiveness. And because we have received this incredible undeserved grace and mercy, through the work of the Spirit we seek to live in gracious and loving ways.
Paul says that though we have fallen short of the glory of God we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Already now we know that on the last day we will be declared innocent because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Or as Paul says in chapter five, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
It is this love of God in Christ that we now share with others – with all others – no matter who they are or what they do. We love them enough to tell them the truth – we call sin what it is. But because of the love we have received in Christ we seek to help and support even those who reject Christ and his word. We do both. The world doesn’t understand this, because it is the logic of the Gospel – a logic that can only be understood through the cross of Christ. And so we seek to love according to Paul’s words in our text: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”