Sex and the Bible, part 1

Introduction to the Scripture Readings:

Reader beware. The Bible is sometimes presented in
black and white. The Word of God is Christ; not the
literal bible. Take the culture of the time into context
plus the difficulties in translation. Concepts today are
not the same concepts or thinking patterns of years
thinking patterns of years ago. Reader beware, at
times the literal reading of the word is horrendous …
Readings: Genesis 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13

Sermon: ‘Sex and the Bible, Part 1’

Introduction of the women from grassy narrows – Kanata is the Algonquin word for village. It’s also where we got the word Canada – Village. Welcome fellow Canadians. Welcome fellow villagers

For us today the welcome is different. For us the main identity is not fellow villagers, not fellow Canadians. For us the main identity is fellow human beings. At our core we are all human.

Fellow human beings. It is a teaching found among many indigenous peoples around the word including the Algonquin, the Ojibway, the Mohawk, the Huron, the Iroquois, the Chippewa, the Cree and many others here in turtle island which we call North America and around the world.

We are all human. We are all in relationship to one another. And that relationship is a sacred one. For us as Christians that relationship is sacred through our understanding of God revealed in Christ our brother who invites us to see God as a parent and each other all as brothers and sisters, we are all connected. We all belong to God. God created us all.

I invite you, indeed I call you to begin here. We are all God’s children. We are all deeply connected. There is no we and they. There is only an us.

At the same time though deeply connected we all speak from our own experience. I do not speak for the LGBTQ community. I speak as a fellow human being who is an old straight white guy. I can only imagine the pain and difficulty experienced by those who identify within the LGBTQ community. But as a fellow human being and as a minister of the gospel of grace, trusting in God I dare to speak about the Bible and sex – with the intent of offering a warm welcome to all members of the LGBTQ community as full participants in the church’s life and ministry.

And so we begin.

In 1994 the Presbyterian church recognized the existence of what was then called homosexual people. The church recognized this was not a lifestyle choice but rather the way people were born. The church said to be a homosexual was not a sin. However the church called homosexuals to
practice celibacy because to practice homosexuality was a sin.

Over the years many have called for change pointing out this discrepancy. The church has been slow to respond. Until finally a small group within the church said it was time, indeed that it was past time for the church to act. A number of overtures were sent to the assembly of 2015 asking the church to recognize and to affirm that gay and lesbian people be fully included in the life, work and ministry of the church and to recognize that a loving, dedicated relationship was not sinful

This threw the church into a frenzy. Today the 2016 general assembly has its opening worship and this week the reports of the committees looking into these overtures will be heard. Already though the indications are that the assembly will want more time to decide and will ask that the various reports be sent down to presbyteries and congregations like ours to study the “issue” and report back. We will find out for sure by next Sunday when we will continue this study on sex and the Bible.

Our starting point is that we are all human. I invite you to come back to that over and over again.

Let’s look at the story in Genesis 19

From the beginning it is a brutal story. Two messengers come to Sodom
where Lot and his family reside to warn Lot to flee Sodom because of the
destruction headed their way at the hand of the almighty God

A gang (there really is no other word to describe them) gathers outside
and demands that the foreigners, the strangers be turned over to them so
that the gang can have their way with them.

Two things happening here:

  1. Gang rape
  2. The absolute mistreatment of the guests from a cultural and biblical perspective

These are the intents of a violent group of people. Rape is dehumanizing
utterly humiliating, degrading, horrifying whether it is a violent act towards
women or men.

Gang rape is also the antithesis of how guests are to be treated in biblical times. Both cultural and Biblical norms call for housing, feeding, caring for and protecting guests within your walls.

These men from Sodom have entered ‘gang mentality’ mode and are beyond reason.

Interestingly Lot tries to bargain with them – offering up his two virgin
daughters for them to do with what they want. Can you imagine? Yet few
people comment on this part of the passage.

Some commentators soften the blow of this offer by saying that Lot knew this to be a safe offer; that the gang would not take him up on it because they were after only one thing – the gang rape of the two men, the two guests in Lot’s house. In a terrible moment of male dominance and violence the gang wanted to humiliate the guests. That was their intent.

Lot is now at risk himself and the two men inside open the door drag lot
back inside and close the door before anyone else can get in. Then the
Lord God strikes the gang members blind. They stumble around trying to
find the door before tiring, giving up, dispersing and heading back to their
own homes.

This text is used by some as a text that proves that God sees
homosexuality as sinful. Many others, including myself, argue that this text
has nothing to do with loving, caring relationships between two people
regardless of sexual orientation. It is a text about violence, rape, gang
mentality and utter gracelessness in the treatment of strangers.
When this text is used as a proof text that people who are gay or lesbian
are sinners, it is a violation of the text itself. It is not true to what is
happening in the text.

The other two texts we focus on today are both from Leviticus. We don’t
often look at the book of Leviticus – it is a book of laws and rules and
general guidelines for living for the people of Israel in ancient times. But it
is a book that tries to help the people of Israel carve out a definition of
who they are and how they are to live. They are to live not as they did in
Egypt, following the cultural and religious norms found there; they are not
to live as those they encounter in the land of Canaan; rather they are
called to live as God’s own people. So Moses expands on the meaning of
the ten commandments and gives explicit instructions in terms of daily life.
But some of the ideas are very strange to the modern listener.

For example:
People with physical disabilities are not allowed to be priests, nor are they
allowed to go into the sanctuary and offer sacrifices to God. This includes
people who are blind or lame, people who have a blemish of any kind; no
one with a mutilated face, or a limb too long, or a broken hand, or a
broken foot; no one with an itching disease, or scabs or crushed testicles.

Slavery is okay.

If you put a curse on your mother or your father you will be put to death.

Priest who wants to marry can only marry a virgin

Touching a dead body makes one ritually impure

Priests not allowed to touch any dead body unless very close family
member

All who commit adultery are to be put to death

And in the same way a man who has sexual relations with another man is
to be put to death

These reflected cultural and biblical norms of ancient Israel

Are they applicable today?

Very strong patriarchal male centred world. In terms of sex and sexuality
almost all of these are instructions to men. Men, keep it in your pants –
don’t have sex with your mother, your sister, your aunt, your grandmother,
your granddaughter, your niece. Don’t have sex with your sister in law – at
least not while your wife is still alive. This is all in the context or
restraining men from overactive sexual impulses and urges. And don’t
have sex with other men. That’s what it says.

But interestingly, in both Leviticus 18 and 20 where it states “If a man has
sex with another man it is a detestable act”, references are made to
Molech an idol complete with a temple dedicated to him. Two things
happened in the temple of Molech, a Canaanite god: first, child sacrifice
and, two temple prostitution and orgies. There was lots of sexual acuity as
a spiritual connection to Molech. Orgy practices were common where men
would have sex with women and then in the same bed with other men. It
is in this context that the statement needs to be read – don’t have sex with
other men like you would with a woman.

Commentators are split in this

Some say this is evidence that “homosexuality” is a sin

Others say these are instructions of restraint directed primarily towards
men in a male dominated world where men easily used their strength and
their power to lord it over others. These commentators state that these
passges have nothing to do with loving committed relationships.
Indeed looking at the three passages, none of them reflect the kind of
loving caring relationships of people who may be gay or lesbian
I agree with these commentators and with many of my colleagues both
within the Presbyterian Church and beyond. Ancient Israel was a man’s
world and men needed to be told to keep it in their pants because they
had both a feeling of superiority and of entitlement

None of these passages have to do with the inappropriateness of sexual
activity in loving, caring and dedicated relationships. Nothing at all.
So where does that leave us.

It leads us to recognize that the Bible does have a lot to say about
dedicated and loving relationships. One of the major themes of the Old
Testament is “hesed” (a Hebrew word roughly translated loving kindness).
God is full of “hesed” for people, full of forgiveness, grace, care,
compassion, mercy and kindness. And God calls the people of Israel
through the prophets to practice “hesed” in relationships with one another

The question is not about heterosexual or homosexual relations – the
question is about “hesed”. Loving relationships.

The question the church should be concerned about is not whether men
are having sex with other men, or whether women are having sex with
other women. The question the church should be asking is how we
support both men and women in their relationships to be caring and loving
and supportive and faithful.

Why, because here in this place and at this table we celebrate the loving
relationship God has for us and for all people, and here in this place and at
this table we strive to be more like Christ who exhibited radical love andradical grace to one and to all, without exclusion.

We are called to be like Christ.

Bite by bite, sip by sip we are called to become more like Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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