Category Archives: sexuality

Keeping the Law―yes. But…

Reading
Matthew 5.21–37

 

The great Talmudic sage Hillel was born in Babylonia in the first century BCE. As a young man he came to the Holy Land to study Torah at the feet of the sages of Jerusalem. He was initially a very poor, but brilliant student, and became a famous Torah scholar and eventually the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin. He is often mentioned together with his colleague, Shammai, with whom he often disagreed on the interpretations of Torah law: Shammai often follows the stricter interpretation, whereas Hillel tended toward a more lenient understanding of the law. In the great majority of cases, his opinion prevailed. Hillel encouraged his disciples to follow the example of Aaron the High Priest to ‘love peace and pursue peace, love all G‑d’s creations and bring them close to the Torah’. Hillel was a very humble and patient man, and there are many stories that illustrate this.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this―go and study it!’ ― https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/689306/jewish/On-One-Foot.htm

___________

In the Sermon on Mount Jesus says, 

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

How can Jesus say he is not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it, when he says ‘You have heard that it was said [in the law of Moses] … but I say to you…’ 

In looking at this, I want to spend most of my time this morning talking about sex and sexuality. 

Got your attention? 

Firstly though, a few words about anger. Jesus says, 

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement … 

I have never murdered anybody. It’s true. Believe it or not! 

But have I been angry? Why, yes I have. Is it wrong to have angry feelings? People often have angry feelings. We’re all subject to feelings of anger, some of us maybe more than others. Is Jesus condemning angry feelings? 

Can’t we be angry about the climate crisis? About a lack of integrity in government? Can’t we get annoyed that the Brisbane Heat came seventh in the Big Bash League? 

Yes, we can. And some of us may. 

Jesus isn’t talking about feelings of anger here. He’s talking about what we do with our anger. It’s possible to be angry for a while, and then calm down. 

Alternatively, we can nurse our anger. We can feed it and let it grow. We can justify it. We can say it’s all someone else’s fault. 

We can decide to get even. 

That’s where the real harm is. Not in getting mad sometimes, but in what we do with it. The Book of James helps here: 

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. [James 4.1–2a]

Anger often comes because we’re anxious or scared, or wanting something that isn’t ours. The Apostle Paul says,

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [Ephesians 4.26]

I just wanted to spend some time here on anger, because we all get angry sometimes. You know what else we feel? We all have feelings of attraction to other people. We are sexual beings. 

We may be attracted to another person; who that is partly depends of course on our sexuality. People have varying degrees of attraction to people of their own or the ‘opposite’ sex.

Feeling angry is not a sin; what you do with the anger is the issue. Do I let it go, or do I let it build up so that I mistreat someone else? 

It’s similar with sexualised feelings. Do I accept them as part of life? Or do I dwell on them, do I let them grow in my thoughts, until I want to possess another person? Until I want to use another person for my own gratification? That is the issue. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, RCL, sermon, sexuality

The True Light enlightens everyone

Readings
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12

 

The secret of the divine purpose is in Christ, and it is an ‘open secret’ accessible to all believers. It is and remains a mystery in the sense that no human intelligence could have guessed what God planned to do; but it is now revealed to Paul and his group (see 3:3–6). Its content is that Gentiles as well as Jews are united in a common hope and blessedness, with all racial barriers broken down (2:11–22) and all specious claims to exclusivity exposed. — Ralph P Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Interpretation Commentary

Do our churches embody the reconciliation and unity of often hostile groups—Caucasian and African American, Christian and Muslim, heterosexually identified and LGBTQ persons, the one percent and the working poor? Do they manifest the wisdom of God in its rich variety?… — Stephen B Boyd, Connections: Year A Vol.1, Advent through Epiphany

___________

What was the biggest struggle of the early Christian church? What was the thing that divided one group of Christians from another? 

Hint: it’s something we all take for granted today. Another hint: we heard it in our Ephesians reading.  

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The biggest struggle was this: most of the first leaders of the church, like those in the mother church in Jerusalem, taught that Gentiles should become Jews in order to follow Jesus. They should be circumcised and stop eating prawn cocktails and bacon sandwiches. The way to Christ was strictly through the covenant God had made with Israel. The Apostle Paul on the other hand taught differently. Paul taught that the covenant God had made with the Jewish people had become an open covenant in Christ. It was a new covenant, available to all who received it in faith. Gentiles were welcome as Gentiles. And this was really controversial. 

There’s no problem now, of course. As far as I know, I’m 100% Gentile. And I suppose many of you are. We don’t think at all about having to become a Jew if we’re going to be a Christian. 

Paul’s way, ‘his gospel’, encountered lots of opposition. But he won through and the church became a mixed body of Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s Gospel won so completely we’ve forgotten it wasn’t always this way. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, Epiphany, sermon, sexuality

Open Doors

Reading
Revelation 21.10, 21.22 — 22.5

 

…if one reads this text with an ear for its ecclesiological significance—taking the new Jerusalem (as did the early Christians) as a metaphor for the church—then one is immediately struck by the fact that the community of the faithful is not regarded as trapped in the fallen, corrupt world of human experience. Rather, it is already part of the new heaven and earth that God will bring to completion at the end of time—the new creation that brings the first creation to its perfection. — Joseph H Britton, Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 2

Instead of solitary individuals judging other human souls to damnation, I believe God would prefer a much different path: mutuality. The desire to go on such a journey is no delusion; instead, it is the proper desire of every human being to realise what it means to be mutually human in the presence of the living God. — Michael Battle, Heaven on Earth

———————-

Today’s reading from Revelation speaks of a holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down to earth. What do you imagine when you think of that? I imagine lots of office blocks and streets with shopping precincts. 

But remember: the Book of Revelation is a vision and not a prophecy. It doesn’t tell us what is going to happen in the future, but it calls us to ‘imagine’. The imagined city of John’s vision is unlike any you’ve ever seen. For a start, it’s a cube, not an office block in sight. It’s a cube 2400 km long, 2400 km wide, and 2400 km high. It has walls; the ancients couldn’t imagine a city without a wall. The walls of this city rise 66 metres, over twice the height of the Story Bridge. 

Walls are commonplace, aren’t they? We see walls everywhere, though perhaps not walls quite so high. 

Australia continues to have high walls that prevent refugees from settling here. Since last weekend’s election, around fourteen men have attempted suicide on Manus Island and there is no end in sight to their horrible situation. And on Sorry Day, we must also acknowledge that indigenous people are prevented from joining the common wealth of this nation. It’s hard, perhaps getting harder, for our nation to face itself and look at who we have become. 

Does God like walls? Some Christians seem to think so. Israel Folau has erected a wall high enough to exclude anyone who isn’t straight, a wall that condemns them to hell. People have tried to make this a ‘freedom of speech’ issue. A neighbour of mine recently went to a conservative church conference where he heard that freedom of speech would be a major issue in the election last weekend. He was very keen on this; I asked him what responsibility these churches would take for young people who ended their lives because of the teaching that God has rejected them. To his credit, he just looked thoughtful and didn’t argue. 

Yet disputes on sexuality continue to prop up some very high walls. I had lunch with another Uniting Church minister during the week. A gay couple came to her service last Sunday, where they were welcomed. Sadly, the reason they were there was that their previous church had asked them to leave because they were in a same-sex relationship.

Not only are these walls high, but people are thrown over them. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, RCL, sermon, sexuality

We’ve got Marriage Equality, so why am I not satisfied?

Readings
Exodus 15.19-20; 16.1-3
Luke 15.1–3, 11b–32

Last Sunday we welcomed Pastor Alex Pittaway, who brought the message to us. Alex is Pastor of MCC, the Metropolitan Community Church in Brisbane—a church that has for 40 years been a safe haven for the LGBTIQ community. He is also recognised by the Uniting Church in Queensland as a Chaplain at Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland. Alex describes himself as a progressive evangelical and is passionate about Jesus, social justice, the environment and combating LGBTIQ bullying in schools.

It was a delight to have him with us. Here is his sermon:

___________________

Good morning. Would you pray with me? 

I’d like to start by thanking Ariel and Rev. Paul Walton for this invitation to speak here this morning. You have a wonderful congregation that has shined the light of the inclusive Gospel of Jesus for so many years not just for the LBGTIQ community but anyone who has experienced marginalisation for so many years. 

This morning I’d like to share with you my own experiences about what it means to be part of the LGBTIQ community from a Christian perspective. I want to start by acknowledging my own limitations: I speak as an educated, privileged, anglo-saxon male who does not have to experience the realities of living as a person of colour or as a person with a diverse gender expression. Never the less I’d like to share some heartfelt experiences backed up with some solid research as we ponder what comes next for LGBTIQ inclusion now that marriage equality is a reality and that most legal discrimination against the LGBTIQ community is gone. We have never lived, in Australia at least, in a better time to be LGBTIQ. Yet why do I feel, despite all these advances, that something is not right. I don’t pretend to speak for the entire community, but I do want to speak for myself. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Ecumenical, sermon, sexuality

Walls fall

Compassionate Shepherd,
your love flows from the heart of God,
and touches us in our points of pain;
hearing your voice,
may we find healing in your word
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
Ephesians 2.11–22

 

Eliminating boundaries does not in itself create peace. Peace comes only by eliminating the hostility behind the dividing walls. God does not merely tear down walls, but unites people in the One who is our peace, creating one new humanity. — Karen Chakoian, in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, Kindle ed’n, loc. 9130

______________________

There’s a saying: Good fences make good neighbours. And I can believe it.

But I’m not so sure about walls.

History is filled with stories of walls, and littered by the remains of walls. Perhaps the earliest walls we know about were around the city of Jericho. We know what happened to them.

Walls fall.

Or if they don’t fall, they are remnants of an earlier time. Perhaps you’ve walked along the top of the walls of York or Jerusalem, as I have. Or along the Great Wall of China, or Hadrian’s Wall across the North of England, as I’d like to. 

Once, these walls served to keep undesirable people out. They were walls of separation. They have a very different purpose now. They’re tourist traps, bringing the outsiders in rather than keeping them out.

Walls fall, whether literally or not.  

I don’t remember the Berlin Wall being built, but as a child I expected it to last forever. I recall watching tv news reports of people escaping over or under it to the West, or dying in the attempt.

But in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. 

Walls fall. 

 Walls may fall because their day is done, because they crumble to dust; but walls fall too because people cry out against them. We saw that very clearly in Berlin in 1989. The Wall could not withstand the weight of protest.

Walls may have their time, but that time ends.  

About 500 years before the birth of Christ, the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. When they returned to Jerusalem, one of the first things they did was build a wall and throw all the foreigners out. 

In an age of technological sophistication, walls are less useful.

But we still build them.

When I visited the Holy Land a few years ago, I was saddened to see the wall that separates Jerusalem  from Bethlehem. 

Wall at Bethlehem

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, RCL, sermon, sexuality, Uniting Church Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia

Love your LGBTQI Neighbour

A very significant article in JAMA Paediatrics says this:

The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.

In the USA at least, suicide rates in all students, especially LGB students fall where same-sex marriage is legalised.

Love your LGBTIQ neighbour.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under sexuality

A blessed stranger (Easter 5B, 3 May 2015)

Reading
Acts 8.26–40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.…The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
1 John 4.1, 21

At the beginning of our service, we prayed a Prayer of Invocation which came from Korea. It began:

Stay with us, blessed stranger,
for the day is far spent,
and we have not yet recognised your face
in each of our sisters and brothers.

Philip the deacon met a stranger, a blessed stranger, on the wilderness road from Jerusalem to Gaza. And Philip saw the face of Jesus in the stranger’s own face.

This is part of the fulfilment of Jesus’ words to the disciples in Acts 1:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The Book of Acts is about the way the Good News of Jesus spread in those early days of the Church. At first the message was heard in Jerusalem, and then in Judea; those who were part of the covenant people were to hear it, and respond. Which they did.

But the message couldn’t be contained to the people of the covenant. It burst those boundaries, like new wine bursting old wineskins. They proclaimed it in Samaria, where tainted people lived because their ancestors had violated the covenant.

And then the next step comes: the ends of the earth. Total non-Jews. And so we come to the first recorded time that someone from “the ends of the earth” heard the Good News of Jesus.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, church year, Easter 5, RCL, sermon, sexuality