St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-23-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-23-2018

Not That Kind of Christian Introduction to the Congregation

1 Corinthians 13:1- 14:3, Acts 26:9-18, John 13:34-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.

That is one of the first songs I remember learning way back when I was a child. But, thinking about it today I realize that it is not a childish song; even in my adulthood it can fill my heart and soul with the beautiful warmth of knowing that I am, indeed, loved by the divine! And, after all these years, that same wonder-full feeling still fills me when I think that I am loved by the divine in spite of my imperfection!

Sadly, not everyone has known that magnificent feeling of belonging to something far greater than any earthly pleasure can instill. Sadder still, there are those who once knew that glorious connection to God but had that beautiful light snuffed out by the selfish, self centered, hate-filled teachings of those who will declare “Jesus loves me, this I know; but he does not love you, the sinner; the Bible tells me that also”.

I can’t say it was the first time, but it is the most outrageous encounter of such false Christianity I have ever seen, when I once saw a news report on the television, over a decade ago I believe, where a certain group, claiming to speak for Christ, were protesting against gay rights. I didn’t hear their speech but I saw the signs they and their children, as young as 6 or 8 years old, were carrying that read “God hates fags”.

I- was-enraged!

My anger wasn’t about their stance against homosexuality; even though I don’t agree with their assessment and certainly not their derogatory language, I could calmly discuss that topic; my anger wasn’t about the word “fags” in their declaration, it has the combining of the other two words in the sentence, “God hates…”

I was overtaken with the desire to crawl through the TV, take somebody by the hair and ask “Who are you to declare who God hates”! “Who are you to teach these children to hate”! “And who are you to teach the world that God and Christ are about hate”!

I find their words repulsive; and I have to think about how repulsive they are to the many non- Churched, and how they contribute to the growing number of de-Churched people in our world today.

I Am Not That Kind of Christian

I see and hear such disparaging messages every day in our world; I guess that is to be expected. But when it comes under the guise of Christianity I repeat to myself the words of James who writes “With [the same tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so”. (3:9-10 NRSV)

Yet it is so. Far too often, under the name of “Fundamentalist Christianity”, “Evangelical Christianity”, or “The Christian Right”, those who have wealth and political power get more attention and are sensationalized on public media for their outlandish statements than do those who speak the simple message of the love of God and Christ for all people.

Then, when they do get the attention, they enrich themselves in the name of Christ at the expense of Christianity. One, more recent case I read about, is the evangelist who was asking his followers to give more money so he could buy a $54 million private jet. This, the same man who owns multiple multi-million dollar mansions; the same man who supports public policies that hold women and minorities in lower status than white Christian men, withhold aid from the downtrodden, marginalized, and disabled; preaching that those people wouldn’t have such problems if they would just “get right with God”.

With such public displays of self-aggrandizing, is there any wonder why we see a growing number of the non-Churched and of the de-Churched in the world today?

I Am Not That Kind of Christian

All too often this same group will promote racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination in the name of God and Christ. In the same way they once declared slavery sanctioned by God, they will pluck a few lines of Scripture from the Bible to justify their position and will tell their followers how “the others” are the cause of all of our problems and rile their followers into a fear-based frenzy against those who look or act differently; be they refugees, immigrants, or even of our own citizenry, and do so without considering the consequence of how those who are different, as well as those who love someone who is “different”, are being driven away from the Church; the place that should be an attraction for those who can love indiscriminately and should be fostering such all-inclusive love.

I Am Not That Kind of Christian

Sadly, such false teachers have also distorted the concept of “blessings” from God; integrating it with “good fortune” or “luck”, whether good or bad luck.

This shows up most clearly in issues of education and employment when poverty is blamed on someone’s lack of initiative rather than recognizing their lack of opportunity. They will claim that everybody has the ability to get a good education that will lead to a good job when the fact is, for example, not every school district is equally funded and that not everyone, no matter how hard they try, can go to college; placing those from wealthier families in higher regard while simultaneously holding those already at a disadvantage even lower. Then, they will declare the successful as being “blessed by God”; which comes with the implication that the unsuccessful are not “blessed by God”.

Can you imagine how crediting God’s withheld blessing for someone’s struggles contributes to the growing number of the non-Churched and of the de-Churched in the world today?

I Am Not That Kind of Christian

Expanding that thought a little further, some such preachers are quick to look for God’s wrath in another’s suffering. I remember the evangelist who boldly preached that hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans was God’s wrath against the city for allowing the planning of a Gay Pride parade. And another, the worst words I’ve ever heard spoken in the name of Christ, was the one who preached blessings on the shooter at the Pulse night club massacre and encouraged his congregation to join him in praying that God would “finish the job” and end the lives of the dozens of wounded so they, too, will be burning in hell by tomorrow morning.

My body was sickened, my heart was broken, and the eyes of my soul saw thousands of people who would never know the love of God, never come to the light, because of that man’s darkening words.

I Am Not That Kind of Christian

Perhaps the most abusive practices of such preachers are in the realm of sexuality.

I’ve already touched on the issue of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender children of God so I won’t go further into that. But the Church, again speaking in general terms, has been, for centuries, twisting our society’s thoughts about the God-created human body in unnatural, ungodly, ways.

The starting point of this part of today’s message might be in addressing, not the wrong things taught by the Church regarding sex, but the silence on the issue. “Abstinence Only” sex education is no education at all. Not only does it leave those brought-up in such darkness more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease; it also makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse as they lack the knowledge, tools, and language needed to avoid or escape unwanted advances. The silence also leaves young people without the same knowledge, tools, and language needed to deal, in a healthy way, with their developing sexual awareness.

All too often, when the Church does speak about sexuality to young people it is done so in a way that indoctrinates shame, guilt, and even fear. That is destructive enough in itself, but also carries into adulthood and into marriage in a stifling way.

Related to this is the Churches failure to address or to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy sexuality; both in physical and emotional terms; again, leaving so many people fumbling in the darkness trying to find their way.

One area of sexuality that the Church doesn’t seem to be afraid of addressing is the condemnation of pornography. This might be all well-and-good until you begin to define “pornography”.

Is mere nudity pornographic? I say not!

A few months ago I read a newspaper article of an incident at a Texas airport where a woman was breastfeeding her infant child in the waiting area. Someone complained; security was called in; then the police, and the woman was arrested for indecent exposure. Then, as her two, slightly older children were present, the charge of “corruption of the morals of a minor” was added. THEN, with that added, a search warrant was issued for the family home and another charge was added, this one including the father, for “possession of child pornography” based on the discovery of a picture of the two older children… naked… at bath-time in the bathtub.

Just a little more on nudity; in depictions of God’s greatest, most beautiful creation, man and woman; Adam and Eve; do we really need strategically placed fig leaves?

Such negative teaching (and lack of positive teaching) is hurtful, not only to sexual minorities, but to all people, and presents Christianity to the non-Churched as hateful and idiotic; and further contributes to the number of de-Churched.

 I Am Not That Kind of Christian

Just one more thought to give you. A few weeks ago I was reading comments on facebook about the separation of children from their immigrant parents at our southern border. There was one woman (I’ll call her Jane) writing hateful, hurtful things like “they deserve it; that’s what they get for coming into our country, we don’t want them here”. Another woman (Ann) was respectfully offering a counter opinion. After a few rounds of back and forth a third woman chimed-in telling Ann “Don’t waste your time trying to get Jane to be compassionate; she’s a Christian”.

I checked Jane’s home-page and found her photo’s of Christian symbols and Bible quotes. Indeed, she was a proclaimed Christian.

My heart sunk with the thought that someone speaking so hurtfully about others who are made in the likeness of God could claim to be a Christian and wondered how many good, compassionate people, like Ann, had developed such a negative image of Christianity; adding even more to the number of un-churched and de-churched.

I Am Not That Kind of Christian

 

I look around our world and I see many people, younger and older, that are seeking a sense of connection to something far greater than any earthly pleasure can instill. But sadly, owing to the false messages they’ve heard, they are not looking toward the Church of Jesus Christ.

I believe this must be changed, and can be changed if we join our voices and consolidate our efforts into speaking louder and more effectively against the messages of hate, damnation, and exclusion than those who promote such messages.

I propose today that we, St. Matthew’s congregation, make it our mission to do our part by educating ourselves so that we can educate others to the fact that We Are Not That Kind of Christians!

Be that done from here in the pulpit, in our evening programs, or in other venues it is time; it is past time, for the Church to reclaim the teachings of the love of God and Christ in Christianity!

Amen.

 

1 Corinthians 13:1- 14:3

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant

5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;

10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

14:1 Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.

2 For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.

3 On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

 

Acts 26:9-18

9“Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.

11 By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.

12“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,

13 when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions.

14 When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’

15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

16 But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you.

17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you

18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

 

John 13:34-35

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”