The Sermon I Didn't Want to Preach
I don't believe in preaching headlines. Pastors who do are like morning drive-time DJ's who read the headlines and comment on them. Sermons aren't to be mere commentary on the daily news, but God's eternal Word for these temporal times. I don't believe in preaching headlines, but I've been driven to it this morning. First the Episcopal Church elected a bishop who divorced his wife and has been openly gay for years. Second, Monday's Austin American Statesman had a full page ad from local pastors and people supporting a local Presbyterian pastor ordaining an openly gay elder. Third, and the proverbial straw, was the Letter to the Editor in Monday's paper which used our text for this morning, the feeding of the 5,000, to say that God can use homosexuality to do miracles even as He used a few fish and pieces of bread to do one.
I am constrained to say something about all this, and the first thing I say is beware of stepping back and taking a fresh look at these things. This is what we are encouraged to do by education, by sophistication, and by psychology. Take a step back; maintain an objective critical distance from things. This sounds very intelligent, very modern, very rational, but stepping back can be very dangerous to thinking, to judging, to believing.
You can step back so far that white is black and crooked things straight. If you hike, bike, or travel in wide-open spaces you've seen this for yourself. From a distance you can't make out colors. Even something snow white will appear black from far enough way. Something crooked and broken doesn't look that way from a distance.
This phenomenon in the physical world exists in the spiritual one. Step back far enough and electing a brazen sinner looks like you're electing a saint. Hey, aren't we all sinners? Aren't we all broken people? Doesn't this homosexual man have many gifts that the church can use? Is your prejudice against homosexuals and homosexuality any better than prejudice against black people and different races? As race prejudices were put behind us in the 20th century, isn't the 21st century the time for putting aside sexual orientation prejudices?
Step back far enough and wrong looks right and right looks wrong, but even this isn't the major problem with stepping back. A person can step back so far that he/she ends up missing Christ totally even as Philip and Andrew did in our text. Jesus puts before Philip the problem of 5,000 hungry people and no place to buy bread for them. Rather than see Jesus as any sort of answer, even though by this time Jesus had shown Himself able to work miracles and the disciples had confessed Him to be the Son of God, Philip sees even more of a problem than where to buy food. Where would they get enough money? Andrew too looks right by the Bread of Life, the Creator of all fish and grain, to a boy with 5 small loaves and 2 fish and concludes things are hopeless.
If we step back far enough to look at the world around us, we too will miss Christ and rightly conclude that things are hopeless. We might as well go along with the pessimism, the despair that would keep men and women in lifestyles that are anything but "gay;" we might as well let them wallow in sins that have been canceled and whose power has been broken. What else can be done with the limited resources we have?
Can you see why we pray as we do in the Collect for this week? We desperately need Jesus as our Ruler and Guide lest while passing through things temporal we lose things eternal. Homosexuality, sexual sins, sin in general is a monstrous problem which mankind has always been confronted with and tried a multitude of ways to deal with from the persecution of sinners to glorifying sins. Only Jesus can help us to deal with temporal sin and sinners in such a way that we lose not things eternal.
In the Epistle for today, Paul says the Christian life is battered by winds of teaching, the cunning craftiness of men, and deceitful scheming. This is not the first time Christians have been asked to accept sin as a good thing. Before homosexuality, easy divorce and living together before marriage traveled the same path of open mindedness, tolerance, and finally open acceptance. Not only sins against the 6th Commandment have gone this way but sins against all the others have too. The most damnable thing, however, isn't that the sins have become acceptable, but now you can have your sins and eat your Savior too, that is, you can have your sins and remain in Communion with the Church.
This damnable error infects us all. Who among us does not think we're right to hold a grudge? Who among us does not believe that the gossip we listen to or spread is just "talking"? Who among us believes that the lust in our heart is really adultery? Who among us does not believe that repentance really means, "I'm sorry but that's just the way I am?"
It's true to say that Christians DO come out of the ranks of the filthiest sinners. Paul tells the Corinthian congregations that some of them WERE fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. "Such were some of you," Paul writes, "but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God."
Christians come out of the ranks of the most vile sinners, and with St. Paul I assure you no one is worse than me for I am chief, but dear friends, no one is saved defending their sins; no one is saved trumpeting rather than confessing their sins; and certainly no one is saved who declares wrong, right or black, white. No one is saved who claims to rule and guide Christ rather than to be ruled and guided by Him. And do you understand it doesn't matter what the sin is? You can't be saved defending gossip, lust, refusing to attend Church, or any sexual sin no matter how socially acceptable and predominant it might be.
To say something is not a sin that Christ says is a sin, is to forsake Him as your Ruler and Guide in this temporal life and so to lose things eternal. To say that Christ saves people but nevertheless leaves them enslaved to their sins is to say that His shed blood is powerless, that Satan is more powerful and that Christ died in vain. Would it not be absolutely horrible if Jesus left me in my sins? What sort of Savior would declare, "It is finished," from the cross and then say, "But you still must live in your sins?" Even more than we need Jesus as Ruler and Guide, we need Him as Savior, a real Savior.
But be clear on this, we will loose Jesus as our Savior if in the face of the rampant wickedness around us we appeal to Him only as Judge. We must beware of thinking that Jesus came to stamp out sins and sinners in the world. In Monday's paper there was an editorial cartoon, that was blasphemous, but could have been made so perceptive by changing the last panel. The first panel shows a Christian praying, "Dear Lord, the Episcopal Church has elected a homosexual bishop." The second panel has him praying, "Can you rain down a little fire and brimstone?" The third has him continuing, "Or perhaps some pestilence to demonstrate your anger over this?!" In the fourth God responds, "Not now! I'm watching "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." I love that show."
It is blasphemous to say that God watches and enjoys a TV show where the fashion sense of homosexual men is used by heterosexual men. God doesn't do that but sinners do. We laugh at drag queens; we ogle lesbians, but expect God to punish homosexuals. But if God would start a campaign to stamp out sins and sinners, His foot would first come down here. As I Peter 4 says and Ezekiel shows, judgment always starts with the House of God.
Moreover, when we seek Jesus to put this fallen world back into order by the temporal means of law and judgment, we end up like those in our text who sought Jesus as a worldly king but missed His eternal kingdom. We are wrong to want Jesus to reign over the world so we can live in a temporal world of apparent peace and goodness like people on 50's and 60's TV shows because Jesus wants us to live in an eternal world of real peace and real goodness.
We need a Savior in order to enter that world. A Savior to save us from real sins. When we deny things like homosexuality, living together, bigotry or gossip are real sins, we lose Jesus the real Savior. He came into the world to bear real sins. When He was baptized by John He confessed real sins. He confessed to be guilty, thought He was not, of the sins of homosexuality, living together, bigotry and gossip. He went to the cross with a conscience guilty of these sins and all the rest. His Father had Him nailed to the cross and He died drip by bloody drip for real sins. He was whipped, beaten, tortured, and abused in a very real way to pay for these very real sins so that sinners like us might enter His very real world without end.
Jesus provides very real ways for sinners like us to enter this world. He provides Baptism where by means of Water and the Word, His blood washes over us filthy sinners leaving us pure as the driven snow regardless of what our sins have been. He provides Holy Absolution whereby He gives to men the power on this temporal earth to forgive any and every sin before the eternal God in heaven. He provides His Body and Blood in a Meal where His eternal heaven intersects with this temporal earth and sinners are given to eat and drink His Body and Blood for the remission of their sins and for the life everlasting.
This fallen, temporal world is going to continue the direction it has been going since Adam and Eve took their first fatal and fateful step away from God as their Ruler and Guide. Read the opening chapter of Romans. When men turn completely turn away from God, they always end up legitimizing the sin of homosexuality. This is one of the final steps in man's descent into decadence. It was prominent in Greek society before it fell. The Romans saw this and so outlawed it, but then gave in to accepting homosexuality in the declining years of their civilization. Rome followed the way of Greece.
God's people in both these civilizations followed the Lord as their Ruler and Guide because He was also their Savior. So dear friends, firmly rooted, securely grounded, and thoroughly bathed in the bloody fact that we've been saved, we've been redeemed for things eternal, we will follow our Savior through the storm tossed sea of things temporal to that world without end. Men will decide what they may. They will step back so far from God and His eternal things that they'll be able to declare obvious sin and sinfulness to be beneficial and even spiritual. Their decisions don't alter the truth or our salvation. They may alter things temporal, but not things eternal. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (8-17-03); John 6:1-15