I felt good about Sunday. We were launching a new sermon series on the parables of Jesus from the Travel Narrative in Luke 10-19 and were beginning with the Good Samaritan: “Love God and love neighbor.” The timing was good. Providential, probably. The text seemed to work really well with what was happening in our society over the weekend and with what most of our people were bringing in their brains to our assembly.
I told our congregation here at Central a lot of what I had written here Friday morning. I made it very clear that our church believes, teaches, and upholds that homosexual practices are against the will of God. Not the urge, not the temptation, not even the orientation — the willful conduct is outside the limits of God’s purposes for his created people in the same ways it’s wrong when any of us gives in to conduct that is beyond the limits of God’s intent. But I also was very clear that all people are deeply loved by God and that Jesus died and was raised for the sins of the homosexual just as he was for the sins of all people. So Central is going to be over-the-top loving to everybody. We’re going to treat homosexuals with respect and dignity and we’re going to show them mercy and compassion and forgiveness and grace.
I left out completely the part I wrote in this space Friday about not seeing the Supreme Court’s actions as persecution of Christians or an attack on the Church. I do believe what I wrote in that paragraph Friday. Very much. It just didn’t need to be a main point on Sunday. Instead, I talked a little bit about fear. I asked our people to please not be afraid. The Kingdom of God has nothing to fear and plenty to gain right now. For more than four thousand years God’s people have always wrestled with how to be faithful when the culture changes. That’s one of the main themes of Scripture. I don’t see this as being much different. We will be faithful and, knowing our Lord, he will advance his Kingdom in ways that will surely surprise us. So don’t be afraid. Or angry. Scripture and history tells us this is normal. It’s expected.
I closed my comments with an appeal to negotiate this uncharted present and future in the name and manner of Jesus. I asked that we commit to upholding Christian principles with truth and grace, speaking and acting in ways that can never be labeled mean or hateful.
And then we prayed. We acknowledged to our God the fallen condition of his world, we confessed our own sins as a church, and we begged for his mercies so that we could be his light of mercy and salvation.
And it was good.
I had already written the sermon before the high court’s ruling Friday. But I added a couple of things Sunday to include gays and lesbians in Jesus’ definition of neighbor. In Luke 10, the lawyer’s question to Christ assumed distinctions among the people we meet: some of them we are demanded by God to love and some of them we are not demanded by God to love. Jesus’ story says there are no distinctions. We are called to love God and love neighbor, which means helping anyone in need. Anyone. So, in a list of people who are just like us and people who are nothing like us, people who live across the street and people who live on the other side of the boulevard, people who are dirt poor and people who are crazy rich, I mentioned “and the guy who’s flying his rainbow flag in front of his house this weekend.”
Jesus’ story says we are the unlikely neighbor rendering aid to people who don’t expect to see us coming. So, after mentioning our “4 Amarillo” week of service projects and after explaining our partnership with “Heal the City” free clinic, I also mentioned that “we’re going to welcome gays and lesbians into our worship assemblies with love and compassion and we’re going to eat with members of the LGBT community around our Lord’s Table in mercy and grace. And we will have conversations. And we will listen. And we will help. And it will all seem so very unlikely. And so Gospel.”
And, yeah, I know, none of this is going to be easy. This is going to be very difficult. This is going to take a whole lot longer than some of our people think it should and it’s going to be way too much too fast for many others. I heard from many people in their 20s and 30s on Sunday who appreciated so much our position as it was articulated. A young woman who was visiting our church from another city approached me, along with her husband, with tears in her eyes, so thankful for our grace and truth stand. Others in that same younger age range texted me and emailed me Sunday in gratitude for helping them sort out their feelings and forming a Gospel game plan with their gay and lesbian friends. A few people who are older than me began almost immediately asking questions about the details of how we’re going to do this, maybe a little concerned about our level of interaction or acceptance. I don’t know yet how we’re going to handle every single situation. We won’t be able to predict every situation or how our people are going to respond to those unforeseen circumstances.
Only two things are certain. We will not condone behavior we believe is a willful practice of a lifestyle that goes against God’s will. We won’t sanction by word or deed homosexual individuals or couples who are engaging in ongoing sinful conduct. But, at the same time, we will not turn them away from our building or our gatherings. We will love all people with truth and grace. That’s our commitment. And it might get messy. We might struggle with this. But it is our call and our duty as servants of our King.
Overall, I feel the same way I felt right after we unveiled to the church our partnership with the downtown Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches two years ago. I sensed great appreciation and even relief from our church family. Liberation. Freedom. I think on Sunday we provided our people with a theology and a language for something most of them have felt for a very long time, but just didn’t know how to articulate.
The hard work of loving and teaching, of grace and truth, is still ahead of us. May we enter into this work with complete abandon, trusting our God to advance his Kingdom to his eternal glory and praise.