Ruth 2:14-23; 2 Cor. 3:1-18; Matt. 5:27-37
Yesterday was a big news day for the United Methodist Church. They voted to reinforce bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA+ clergy members. In many ways the rules tightened. And so my Methodist brothers and sisters awaken to a new day, many of whom are expressing to me feelings of being beaten down by the rules, tired, exhausted, disheartened.
In the midst of the hurt, I commit to walk with my friends through the pain. I pray that they continue to proclaim the Law of Love and encourage their churches to do the same in the best ways they feel they can do that.
It also may come as little solace then to turn to our Matthew passage today and see Jesus tighten some rules, tightening the Ten Commandments, taking on adultery and bearing false witness.
Rules, rules, rules. Sometimes they are a good thing. Other times rules are used to restrict or control in unhealthy way.
It is easy to over-simplify the Bible and think that the Old Testament was about Law and rules, and the New Testament set us free from the Law. As it turns out, some things are more strict in the New Testament. So it is with today’s Rule of Love.
And this is where Jesus and the United Methodist Church seem to be at odds. When Jesus tightens rules it is defaulting to being more loving.
Do I believe that if Jesus were alive today he would preside at a gay wedding? Absolutely. I believe this because I believe the gospel.
I believe this because I have read the New Testament, and I see that at every turn Jesus was a champion for people to love each other and love the world deeply and fully in healthy ways.
I believe this because, like Pope Francis recently said to a gay man, I believe that “God made you like that.” And when you believe that, the equation changes.
Jesus fell squarely into this camp as well. He did not look at people who were afflicted as people tainted with sin, or tainted with the sin of their parents. He saw them as human beings. He saw them as human beings afflicted by the world, beaten down by a world that did not understand their worth and value and dignity.
He was someone who saw people as created in the image of God, and he blessed, encouraged, and ushered them into a fuller experience of the Holy. For many, marriage can be a prime avenue for a fuller expression of the most healthy, loving relationship possible.
So, of course Jesus would preside at a gay wedding!
At times throughout history the resounding NO of our institutions has been instructive. Discipline and correction is one way to look at these issues.
But in my eyes, these decisions of yesterday in the United Methodist Church border on abuse.
This is not about human rights. (Frankly I am sick and tired of people talking about these issues like it is about human rights). It is not about human rights. This is about human dignity. It is about people being valued as people, and encouraged to live full and healthy lives in the eyes of God, seeking to follow God in the deepest and most profound ways possible.
Not everyone is going to see Scripture this way. And I understand that. I value that. But as we continue to wrestle with scripture as God-fearing people, let us always remember that while God’s ethic of New Testament Law was not always a blanket yes (often calling for accountability and fortitude), that God also demanded the Law of Love be on our hearts at all times.
And let’s be honest. The decisions of the UMC yesterday have little to do with accountability and fortitude. They have to do with power and control. And that is what saddens me the most. Evil has crept into my friends’ church. It was revealed the moment “the local option” was rejected, revealing how deeply power and authority is being used to bind. As an outsider looking in, it looks a lot like people in power beating others over the head with rules. And as someone who has a position of power and authority in his church, I have to say warning bells are going off all over in my head.
Time to hit the pause button, UMC!
In Matthew today, Jesus’ whole point in tightening the rules was to incite everyone. It wasn’t beating people over the head with rules or controlling others, but asking for them to hit the pause button and examine their own lives. In the context of adultery, Jesus mentions that, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery…. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Holy cow! Doesn’t this mean nearly every man on earth is guilty? Wouldn’t most of the male population look like a bunch of pirates?
Jesus uses the Ten Commandments as a springboard to incite everyone. We are all guilty. No one can escape from the law, not even the Pharisees and Sadducees. Martin Luther would say that this is what drives us to grace – the condemnation of the law. It certainly shows the utter state of human sin, and that without Christ we would be nothing.
So as we walk forward with our Methodist brothers and sisters in what may seem for many like a frustrating and exhausting journey, let us commit to a season of humility and love. Let us listen. Let us walk with one another, and suspend judgment, whatever that may be.
We don’t want to be pirates here. We want to be the most loving neighbors we can. And we want to encourage others to use their power and authority wisely, take a posture of humility, and move forward with dignity and respect.
We don’t have to wrap ourselves in Pride flags here. But we must get our hands dirty, with prayer and action.
Let us blaze a trail together with our Methodist brothers and sisters, to a day when all will feel the power of Jesus’ healing touch, when all will know love, when all will feel hope, and when all will have the dignity and respect and Love they deserve.
May God grant us a just world for all.
Beautifully said, as always, Dr. Matt. Thank you.
Good head and good heart! Thanks, Matt.
Thank you, Matt. You are a blessing!