Good morning! A special welcome to my mother Mae Sutherland, my sister Mary Ellen and my brother-in-law Steve Miller.
This morning we complete our sermon series and book study on “Christian Social Witness” with “Human Sexuality”. I seriously considered not doing this sermon this morning, it is embarrassing and awkward and doubly so with my family here. Why do I need to preach on this subject?, but a better question is, why is it so awkward to talk about our human sexuality. It is natural; a normal part of what it means to be human and alive, just like eating and sleeping. We were created as sexual beings and with a natural need for human intimacy, in fact, God commanded it. In Genesis Chapter 1 verses 27 & 28 we read: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”. And, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) I remember my father asking me once if original sin was “sex”, but it is clear from Genesis that original sin was Adam and Eve’s, our, disobedience and refusal to obey God, not sexual intimacy.
The catalyst for this sermon and teaching series was a request to have St. James’ added to the Integrity website as a welcoming and affirming community to everyone including those with a different sexual orientation than heterosexual. Many of you have said of course we are welcoming and affirming as is required by our baptismal vows. (BCP, 305)
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?, and we answer, “ I will, with God’s help.”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?, and we answer, “ I will, with God’s help.”
There are no exceptions made. None. Period.
When the woman was caught in the act of adultery, her accusers brought her to Jesus. It was legal, according to the Hebrew law, for her to be stoned, but when Jesus said, let the one who has not sinned throw the first stone, all her accusers quietly left, leaving the woman standing alone with Jesus. Jesus said neither do I condemn you and sent her away with the command not to sin again. Scripture teaches against many different sexual sins, in lists that include greed, inhospitality, avarice, theft, and lying.
Looking at today’s gospel, it is not what we do, but our humility in acknowledging our sinfulness that makes us right with God. The Pharisee, by definition lived his life to fulfill the law. The Pharisee would also take a liberal approach to the law attempting to make it actually doable. The Pharisee in our story was confident that he was doing his best in fulfilling God’s law and gave thanks that he was not like others who stole or lied or were sexually immoral or even like the tax collector. The tax collector in turn acknowledged, he was a hopeless sinner and prayed for mercy from God. The truth is that we have a just and merciful God who loves and forgives the repentant sinner. And today’s parable tells us that the tax collector went home justified before God.
Let us return to the topic of human sexuality and marriage. Over the years and centuries, the primary purpose of marriage was to raise children. Marriage helped to ensure stability of the family unit, economic stability for the care and nurturing of children. In recent years, and in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, marriage is a state of mutual joy, comfort and support in good times and bad times, ie companionship, and thirdly, when desired and God willing, for the procreation and raising of children. Sexual intimacy can and does provide pleasure and mutual joy. We are created to live in community and relationship and marriage is a way to secure companionship with mutual respect and compassion, someone we can trust to be there for us and someone that our partners can count on to be there for them. The Bible is full of stories of couples making vows to each other, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, David and Jonathan. John’s Gospel records Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine as occurring at a wedding. Marriage is a tradition, is scripturally supported and reasonable. Marriage is actually something that the couple does, not the priest or the justice of the peace. When a couple chooses to make a lifelong commitment to each other, they invite their family and friends to hear their public vow of fidelity to each other and to receive their blessings for a long, happy life. When a couple knows and loves God, they also choose to invite God to hear their marriage vows and to receive God’s blessing on their marriage.
This is relevant because some people are arguing that the companionship gay and lesbian couples exhibit and the love and care they feel for each other should likewise be recognized and blessed by the church even if their relationship will not result in children. The same is true for some heterosexual relationships.
“In response to the sexual revolution of the late 1960’s, Episcopalians first sympathetically addressed the question of homosexuality at official levels in a report produced at the 1967 General Convention. Although the convention report identified Genesis 1:27 (“male and female he created them”) as the basis of the church’s teachings on sexuality, that document also asked for a reexamination of such matters as birth control, contraception, sterilization, illegitimacy, prostitution, and homosexuality. In addition, the report alluded to the need to focus on forgiveness, and it asked church members to reconsider both attitudes and laws relating to those ostracized by mainstream society for their sexual orientation.” (Lewis, 130)
In 1974, Professor Louie Crew and other Episcopalians organized an advocacy group, Integrity, designed to promote the concerns of lesbians and gays within the church. At the 1976 General Convention, Integrity, argued for the full and open acceptance of homosexual Christians. Integrity members helped influence the conventions’ adoption of two important resolutions: one, recognizing that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church”; and two, endorsing the idea that homosexuals are entitled to the same civil rights as other citizens. These two resolutions were overshadowed by the convention’s even more controversial decision, to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood.
In January 1977 Paul Moore, the activist bishop of New York, ordained Ellen Barrett, a lesbian and one of the original co-presidents of Integrity, to the priesthood. In 1996 Walter Righter, retired bishop of Iowa, was placed on trial for heresy for ordaining an openly gay man to the diaconate in the diocese of Newark in 1990. The jury of eight bishops acquitted him because the Episcopal Church recognized no “core doctrines” that concerned the canonical status of non-celibate homosexuals in its midst. The 1997 General Convention decreed that dioceses should offer health benefits to unmarried domestic partners, and issued an apology to gays and lesbians for “years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church.” The 2000 General Convention, while defeating a resolution that would have authorized the development of a rite for same-sex unions, did recognize the existence of committed, monogamous, homosexual relationships. In March 2004, Gene Robinson was the first priest in an openly gay relationship to be consecrated as a bishop in a major Christian denomination believing in the historic episcopate. The 2012 General Convention approved blessing a same-sex couple and the 2015 General Convention approved marrying a same-sex couple, days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage for all Americans. A canonical change was made changing the term “man and woman” and replacing it with “couple”. Two new marriage rites were authorized with language allowing them to be used by same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. Same-sex weddings began in the Episcopal Church in Advent 2015.
Sanctioning and blessing the marriage of same-sex couples is not the same as sanctioning illicit sex. Illicit sex is basically anything that erodes a person’s dignity through making them do something they do not want to do. It doesn’t matter what gender, persuasion or variety…if someone is unwilling it is wrong. If it harms a third party such as the spouse of one of the partners, it is wrong. If it crosses the boundary of a relationship such as teacher and student, doctor and patient, priest and parishioner, adult and minor, then it is wrong.
More over same-sex couples are held to the same standards as opposite-sex couples. In our diocesan clergy covenant and rule of life, one of our practices is hospitality and building healthy relationships with others and with self. Included are physical self-care, mental and emotional self-care, spiritual self-care, care of personal and work relationships and sexuality. Sexuality is first, about living a chaste life where we are diligent in our awareness of the effect of words and actions on others and, if partnered or married, living in a committed and monogamous relationship, if single, being celibate. Second, sexuality is actively voiding all forms of pornography. Human trafficking, slavery, and objectification of both men and women are antithetical to our baptismal and ordination vows to respect the dignity of all people.
In conclusion, whether we are talking about gender issues, age issues, race issues, economic issues, sexual issues or any other way we find to exclude the other, we are reminded that in our baptismal vows we are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as yourself, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We are to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven; we are not to judge lest we be judged; and we are to humbly acknowledge that we are all sinners seeking justice and the grace and mercy of our God. God forgives those who repent. God is merciful and gracious. God loves you and me even in the midst of our sinfulness. Praise God! Alleluia!
And standing as you are able, we will continue with “The Renewal of Baptismal Vows” as found on page 292 of the Book of Common Prayer, …