The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Sermon for our People

Sermon for Our People
At Augsburg Lutheran Church, Winston-Salem NC                                   by Rev. Daniel Pugh

The following sermon was given on the day that Augsburg Lutheran Church voted in favor of allowing same-sex marriages 236 to 150. The audio can be found here.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Many of you have been relaying your vote to me over the last several weeks, wondering where I will stand today. Of course I’m talking about if I preach from the pulpit or the center, what were you thinking about? And I’ve politely told many of you that you don’t get to decide where a pastor should stand. Why are you laughing? I’m sorry, that’s how I feel. Here I stand.
I’ve been immersing myself in Luther’s writings  I’ve been trying to get into his mind, to find something that would help today.
And here’s the God’s honest truth- if Luther were 500 years younger, if he were 32 years old today, would he be for same-sex marriage? I genuinely don’t know. None of us do.
I bet he’d be against it in 1515, given his late-medieval setting and their understanding of anthropology.
But I cannot say that Luther would be for or against same-sex marriage if he were born in 1983 instead of 1483, because cultures evolve. But I can tell you that he was a pioneer of marriage equality in his day, insisting that Priests be afforded the right to marry.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is better to stay unmarried unless you are burning with Passion.
 The catholic church was basing their tradition to not allow Priests to marry on Paul’s example to stay chaste and thus, no one should get married.
Luther points out that Paul here admits this opinion that it is better not to get married comes from him, not God, and that marriage should be seen as a “concession” not a “command”.
Paul separates his opinion on the subject from God’s command. How many of us can?
Luther easily makes the claim that forcing priests to remain unmarried, against their will, even when they are burning with passion, is a bad idea.
I read this to Pastor Rinn because it’s classic Luther.
Luther says that a priest can have 100 mistresses, and remain a priest. [1]But marriage- Luther says sarcastically-in-cheek- is “The greater sin”
Luther, obviously, did marry, and he encouraged others who were burning with desire to marry.
Many priests were already in committed relationships, many priests had children.
But because their marriages weren’t accepted by the church, the priest’s lover and children were forced to live a life a life quietly and in the shadows.
Here I am immensely grateful for Luther standing up for marriage reform, as I can’t imagine leaving my wife and kids in the shadows, and we know my kids don’t stay quiet very well.
Today’s debate is quite different from the one Luther dealt with 500 years ago, but a compelling discussion is where Luther would stand, if he were born 500 years later.
Some of you are convinced that Luther 500 years ago or 500 years from now would stand by solo scriptura, even despite the amount of biblical scholarship that have moved beyond inerrancy since Luther’s time. 
And based on that reading of the authority of the bible, you would be convinced that Luther would remain against same-sex marriage in any age, including in 2015.
Others of you view Luther as a mover and a shaker, and can easily see how marriage reform in his day builds a bridge for us to permit marriage to all who “burn with desire” in our day.
But the truth is- we will never know how a modern-day Luther would feel about this topic.
We will always live in that mystery.
But if Luther were here, preaching to you, I’m most confident that he’d sink his teeth into this gospel lesson about who is the greatest,[2] and deliver a rousing sermon about what happens when we think of ourselves too highly.
Luther- not me- would rebuke you all for poor behavior over the last weeks. He’d call you to repent from slander, for your abuse of community, repent from name-calling, grand-standing, anger and hostility on both sides.
We all fall short of the glory of God, Luther would say. He’d rebuke the pastors too, I’d think, for allowing such dissension to emanate.
And he’d quote scripture extensively to make the point,
Maybe 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”[3]
Or use Romans 12 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”[4] 
If Luther would here, his sermon would start with something like that.
Pastor Rinn and I have prayed over you all, for this congregation, and for the Holy Spirit to give us a sense of its peace.
And last Sunday night, we both received that peace with the same realization- this whole matter is in God’s hands.
Pope John Paul was famous for saying after a long day- something like, “God this is your church, not mine. And I’m going to sleep.”[5]
This is God’s church. Not ours. If God wants to bless same-sex marriages, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t.
So we can relax from thinking we are in charge. If Augsburg’s pastors cannot perform same-sex marriages, then someone else will. Our vote will likely have zero effect on the number of same-sex marriages performed, nor on the number of same-sex marriages that God blesses.
Moreover, I know lots of people who were married by a judge, and not in a church, and I think God can find a way to bless those, if he so chooses, whether officiated by a justice of the peace, a sea captain, a friend who got ordained for $20 online, or even a guy who kind of looks like Elvis. If God wants to bless something, or not to bless something, there is really nothing we can do about it. We simply voted on whether or not most of us want to bless these unions, and we will never have unanimity, but the church doesn’t thrive on unanimity nearly as much as it thrives on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.[6]
The disciples are seemingly never unanimous about anything other than being in fear. They bicker behind Jesus’ back because they are afraid of Jesus and what he will say next. The last person to speak up was Peter, and Jesus snapped back with the greatest rebuke ever uttered, “Get behind me Satan.” 
Jesus had said that the road ahead is long, and it involves submission, subjugation, and even crucifixion.
That can’t be the way- Peter says. And Jesus tells him to shut-up and fall in line.   
And since that rebuke at Peter, none of them dare speak up to Jesus. Their fear is palpable.
And here’s what I’ve brought back from my study and meditation on this text.
Fear is the opposite of faith.
It’s true- the opposite of faith isn’t doubt- faith and doubt are dance partners- the opposite of faith is fear.
Faith is an action to act like Christ. Fear is the self-made state of emergency that leaves us paralyzed.
This happens over and over again- in the calming of the storm, Jesus asks the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And to Jarius who’s daughter has died he says, “ “Do not fear; just have faith” “
Faith is to act like Christ. Fear is the self-made state of emergency that leaves us paralyzed.

I have never seen fear like I did as a chaplain for AIDS care alliance.  AIDS is a terrible disease. And the fear that people around AIDS victims made it all the worse.
A pastor friend of mine in California during the AIDS epidemic, was leading communion using a common cup, and saw people refusing the wine out of fear of getting the disease. So the next week the pastor gave everyone communion first, and she would be communed last. She’d drink after everyone else to show that you can’t get AIDS from communion. The last will be first, and the first will be last.
…So I began to work with people with AIDS who were broke from the expensive medication- out of work from the side effects- and shunned by society who feared what they didn’t understand.
I was assigned to Mr. Lewis because I was the white chaplain, and Mr. Lewis was popular in the African American community. And his church didn’t know he had aids. If they found out, he’d be banned from attending there.
I spent the summer making visits to Mr. Lewis as the last part of my week, on Friday afternoons. I’d help him in the house, and we’d laugh about how young I was and how white people look funny singing gospel music.
Mr. Lewis’ son was 18 and had just graduated from high school. He came home one day and while he was coming to through the door, Mr. Lewis told me- “he doesn’t know.” If he asks, you’re with the hospital.
I said a prayer with Mr Lewis and his son, who then went upstairs to his room.
Daniel, I’m dying. It’s aids that’s killing me, but my son thinks it’s my lungs. My son doesn’t know because he don’t need to know about my “lifestyle.”
I spent the summer watching him die slowly without the help of his family and faith community, from whom he had to hide his “lifestyle.”
Since his church couldn’t accept him, I was there to be his chaplain. To walk him to death. To lead him to grace. To show him that death doesn’t have the final word.
And I was mad- people shouldn’t have just any pastor at their bedside- they should have THEIR pastor.
And I vowed to insure that there was a place for everyone in God’s church, as equally sinners in search for God’s grace. 
Watching someone lying there at the end of life, you realize how frail we are, and with such a short span of life.
By Mr. Lewis’ bedside, I found myself letting go of my disappointment in his church for not accepting him.
Life is too short for anger. I’ve seen the end, and I’m here to tell you, fear and anger in life leads to fear, anger, and regret at the end of life. If you don’t want to spend your last days that way, don’t spend any days that way.
It’s going to be OK. God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good. 
Jesus is making the slow walk to his death. And the disciples are scared to talk to him. They fear that Jesus is the kind of guy who punishes those who aren’t worthy, that Jesus does not suffer fools. The disciples fear that Jesus comes to bring condemnation and anger and vengeance.
They don’t know that Like all fears, these are unfounded.
They don’t know that Jesus’ life is too short for anger.
They don’t know that the Cross is not the end.
They don’t know that Jesus stands for love. For perfect, unconditional love.
What they don’t know can fill a warehouse. But God’s love can fill the world.
God’s love always wins.
I had the second reading changed for the first time in 3 years. Because we need to hear these words from Paul about boasting.
Paul writes, on my own behalf I will not boast, except in my weakness.
“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”[7]
Our greatest strength is in our self-emptying. When we feel half empty, that is when God can fill us up.
As the children sing, they are weak and He is strong.
And perhaps the greatest view of the cross is from on our knees.
If Luther were here, after asking for our sins to be confessed and forgiven, he’d make sure to preach about grace.
In his Heidelberg Disputation, on theology, Luther writes, “the person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him add sin to sin and he becomes doubly guilty. He seeks himself in everything.”[8]
He continues

Now you ask, “what then shall we do? Shall we go our way with indifference because we can do nothing but sin? By no means. Fall down and pray for grace and place your hope in Christ in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection. Through the law comes knowledge of sin. Through knowledge of sin, comes humility, and through humility, grace is acquired.”
Amen brother Martin. Grace upon Grace.
I’m assuming that since there’s 1 service, that I get double the time to preach, is that right?
I’m almost done.
If the vote doesn’t go the way you voted, there are a few of you who are considering leaving this church.
If that is your context, and you want to find more like-minded people, be careful not to insulate yourself with others who don’t challenge you.
Promise me, promise yourself that you won’t leave because of a bad policy, and trade it for bad theology.
Promise me, promise yourself, that you’ll find a church that preaches law and gospel.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that preaches inclusion in the body of Christ, and that offers communion to all, as Jesus says, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin. Not just those who think like you.
Promise yourself not to be lead into the drowning waters of fear, instead of the baptismal waters of faith.  
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that preaches sin and grace. And shows extra attention to say no matter your measure of sin, your measure of grace is greater.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that follows the creeds that tie us to the ancient church- 
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that reads a diverse array of scriptures, and not just what sounds good or is comfortable.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that honors baptism and communion as the two sacraments that follow a life of Christ.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that challenges you to action, pushes you to serve others, and embodies the gospel in a broken world.
And most of all, promise yourself that you’ll find a church that boldly proclaims that we are united with Christ crucified, united in death, and united in resurrection with Christ who holds to Romans 8- “There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.”[9]
And if you can’t find that, just come back home. If Luther were here, that’s exactly what he’d do.  
Know you are always welcome back here with your pastors. The bond that brought us together in Christ is stronger than any policy.  
To borrow a line from the wedding liturgy, “What God has put together, let no one separate.”[10]

[1] Luther, Martin. "Commentary of 1 Corinthians 7." Luther's Works. Ed. Hilton C. Oswalkd. Vol. 28. Saint Louis: Concordia House, 1973. 24. Print.
[2] The Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B is Mark 9:30-37.
[3] NIV
[4] Romans 12:1-4NIV
[5] Faley, Roland J. Footprints on the Mountain: Preaching and Teaching the Sunday Readings. New York: Paulist, 1994. 423. Print.
[6] ‘Fruits of the Spirit’: see Galatians 5:22-23.
[7] 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, NRSV.
[8] Luther, Martin, and Timothy F. Lull. "Heidelberg Disputation." Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings. Second ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989. 54. Print.
[9] NRSV
[10] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Pew ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006. 288. Print.

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