St. Matthew 10:24-39
Do we continue in sin that grace might abound?
It was in 1987 that my parents finally asked. As I continued to show a therapist my proposed letters to my parents explaining to them my on-going coming out as a gay man, this wonderful man advised me that they would ask the question when they were ready to hear the answer. Duly warned by my brother who had entertained them for a week up in Oregon, I knew that they were going to ask the question. I was prepared, I thought. My father was substituting for his successor at Grace Church in San Mateo for a couple of weeks, so my parents invited me to dinner in the parsonage we had inhabited for almost two decades, now the home of some other people. There in the familiar living room, filled with unfamiliar furniture they asked me. "Michael, tell us all about it." And I did. I talked about my early remembrances as a child. I talked about my growing suspicions as a teen, and my growing fear during my early college years. I talked about my marriage and how I hoped that it would make all of what I knew to be true about myself go away. I talked about my wife who left me for other reasons. I talked about the struggle to come out in suburban New Jersey, and of the congregation that didn't quite understand. I talked about St. Francis, and my daughter Anna, just then beginning to understand. I talked about my then-partner Rich, who had gently and sometimes brutally nursed me back to a kind of mental health. I talked about my deep deep faith that God had made me the rich, complicated person that I ended up being. I talked about how the whole experience had developed my spirituality and my believing. And then my father said, quoting St. Paul, and today's second lesson, "Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?"
It is a spiritual conundrum with which I still wrestle, and it has such a hold on me that I cannot avoid preaching on this whole enterprise this morning. For those of you who have different spiritual conundrum that involves the core of your being, I hope that you will be able to make the connections. It may be difficult. However, hear the voice of Erna Dennert, a long time friend of mine, a former member of the Dutch Reformed Church, telling me as she told me some twenty years ago, "Tell us about it, pastor!"
The conundrum is not about sin and being gay. It's about being a sinner along with everyone else, and it's about being a slave to that sinfulness, while attempting to be a slave to the Gospel. Paul wants us to understand that we cannot use the causality of sin, death, redemption, and resurrection as a means to drawing close to God. What we need to understand is that God desires us in spite of what we see, or other see, as sin. Perhaps it's really about being a slave not to sin but rather being slavish about other's expectations when God's expectations are really quite simple, "Turn to me (that is repent) and live."
Being a slave to the old ways shouting out of the darkness
God always wants to make a people out of us. That's what the story of Abraham and Sarah, the story of Ishmael and Hagar, and the story of you and me is all about. It's about being human. If Eve and Adam are tempted by the serpent's invitation to "become like gods", then we are tempted in turn to ignore God's invitation to simply be human, not holy. There are hard truths that any followers of Jesus, or of the Most High needs to take into themselves. For Peter it was that he didn't have enough faith, for Mary Magdalene that she still didn't recognize Jesus, for Hagar that she couldn't see beyond the wilderness, for Sarah that she only saw her age, for Abraham that you can argue with God. For me it was that God was calling me as a gay man to be just that.
We are tempted to be slaves to the old ways, the old ways of envisioning ourselves. We are tempted not by the possibilities of God's grace, but rather by the hindrances that seem to be our history with God. For all that we have hidden away, because we continue to think that it is sin, that it is turning away from God, that it is thwarting God's continuing creation in our lives to this lack of repentance Jesus says, "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops." What does God whisper to you in the dark of your own search for wholeness? What does Jesus say to those who want to follow? "Go and sin no more." "Go turn to God." This is what we hear in the dark that God loves me just as I am without one plea. This should be shouted from housetops!
What is really dangerous about this kind of talk is that it soon separates us from people. Jesus understood this when he talked about the ramifications of really following his truth.
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
The Gospel never makes sense it is a scandal. For some of us who have recognized God's hand in what others have seen as the dark places and dark sides of our lives we realize that our very lives are a scandal, a stumbling-block, an offense, an abounding in grace in spite of the sin. It's not what people want to hear. They like guilt and shame. The way of honor and of self love is difficult, it requires us to not only believe in God's good graces, but to believe in our own holiness as well. So mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, bishops at Lambeth, or in Africa, or in this country for that matter, national churches, preachers, senators, and presidents will find the witness of our lives nonsense. Too bad. Not peace, but a sword.
Listen to the prayer of the day for this morning that is prayed in Lutheran Churches:
"O God, our defender, storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief."
The storm of people who cluck-cluck about the inappropriateness of our lives, or of our mission as a congregation or diocese is stilled by Jesus resolute command. Do we will need to huddle in fear of family, church, or nation when the God of all creation has commanded the stillness that quiets fear?
Being a great nation
Hagar is the slave, and she is the mother. She is laid low by her status as woman and servant, and raised up by her status as the mother of the heir. And even though God has different plans for this great family of Abraham and Sarah, God still has a plan for Hagar and Ishmael.
"Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring."
Others may claim the purity of their faith and theology, and even others the integrity of their descent and lineage. But we are, all of us, even though sons and daughters of Hagar, yet sons and daughters of God's promise and design. "I will make a nation of him also!" In the ancient near east this meant that Ishmael, the son of the concubine, the outcast, the exile, the pariah, had a name and had a family. God did call him by name. By all accounts Hagar and Ishmael had "lost their lives", as Jesus would later call it. But it is that same Jesus who sees in such losses hope for finding the very life that God has offered in the first place.
For my gay brothers and sisters my blessing is "may grace continue to abound in you. Shout such graces from the roof-tops." And for those of you who are in the mainstream of life, may you find your own losses and incongruities, so that you might realize God's grace as well. Let us all, together, glancing at the font, walk in what St. Paul called "newness of life."