Monday, July 20, 2015

The Great Divide in the Road

Listen to this sermon HERE

God used Amos, a lowly shepherd from Tekoa, to announce the coming judgment on God’s own people….and it would be caused by GOD
Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?  Amos 3:3(NLT)
The divide was coming and it was Israel’s fault for turning in the direction of the world and forsaking obedience to the Word of God.  You can’t walk with God unless you walk the road God has chosen!

There is a lot of talk in our United Methodist Church these days about the possibility of a split over the issue of homosexuality. This denomination of 12.5 million people could become several denominations with splinter groups abounding.  Some peg next year’s General Conference as the place where the great divide in the road just might happen.

While all this is troublesome, I’m not particularly worried about the church organization; I am, however, intensely concerned about not having a great divide with the One we are all supposed to be worshipping!

But if it does happen, I believe God can certainly use the scattered leftovers of Wesley’s fighting children to God’s glory – even if it means we become like the inhabitants of ancient Israel taken to the woodshed. 

The presenting issue for this sermon is what happened on June 26th when the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) published its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held in a 5–4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

After the decision was announced there were a myriad of reactions throughout the land.  There were gay pride parties, dancing in the streets and even rainbow displays at the White House. 

There was also weeping in the streets by evangelical traditionalists who sensed that the institution of marriage God created in Genesis had been tossed in the trash bin. 

Rev. Alan Bevere (First UMC, Akron, Ohio) wrote:  According to the state, marriage is a right not to be denied, which is now extended across the U.S. to gay and lesbian couples. The church has never viewed marriage as a right, and those Christians who believe it should be so understood by the church need an introductory course in the theology of marriage. For Christianity marriage is a gift from God given to two people.(emphasis mine)

United Methodists are just as divided as the general public.  In our Annual Conference just weeks ago, the vote on removing all reference in our Book of Discipline to homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching was split: it was defeated 500 for and 700 against (which is a similar split with a different outcome of the SCOTUS decision, which was passed 5-4).

What that means is, as a world-wide church we are as divided as the culture, and that is prime territory for a move of God

And if I’m right, it won’t be a pretty move or a pretty outcome, because God takes no prisoners!  You either walk with Him or stand against Him.  

My purpose today is not to recount grievances, point fingers, or debate whether homosexuality is a sin that can be forgiven.  Nor do I want to rehearse all the Biblical verses and theories about both sides of the issue.[2]

However, the issue of the SCOTUS decision brings us to the main thrust of what I want to say to you this morning about the debate that rages in modern culture, and particularly within the United Methodist Church:

This debate, for followers of Jesus Christ, does not hang on the decision of the SCOTUS, nor does it hang on the cultural choices of good or evil people; it doesn’t even hang on what is deemed legal or illegal.  Rather, this debate begins and ends with whether or not homosexuality is sin in the eyes of almighty God, Jehovah, JHWH.

Now, if it is not sin, we are beating a dead horse, and we ought to shut-up about all of it. 

But, if it is sin, and since the Supreme Court of our nation says it isn’t sin, then we find ourselves at odds with the government. 

And it isn’t the first time!  And, truthfully, it’s not all that bad!    

One of the sources I read this week quoted District Superintendent Sky McCracken (Western KY):  …there are some areas that already exist where church teachings and civil laws differ.  He noted that both capital punishment and abortion are legal but United Methodists challenge both. 

Indeed, that is a short-list; there’s actually a pretty long list of legal activities in our nation that John Wesley would have fired a preacher OR church member for, including:  use of recreational drugs and alcohol, tobacco, gambling, gluttony, lying, backbiting, gossip, and, well, about a ton more in the New Testament alone, including refusing communion if you’ve not been regular in church!

Friends, listen, there’s no shortage of times that true followers of Jesus Christ have been at odds with the government.

And, if the current trend in culture and American politics drive us back to the catacombs, well, we could do worse than live like the early church!

Now, with churches and culture divided, it is tempting to say SCATTER…DIVIDE…PART WAYS

What I want to say this morning is, hold-on…that’s NOT the Christian response.

The Sunday after the SCOTUS decision was announced, Rev. Jeremy Troxler, pastor of Spruce Pine UMC in our Annual Conference opened worship with these words from 1 Corinthians 12, where the Apostle Paul writes to a divided church about how we are all part of the body of Christ, a body where the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you,’ nor can the head say to the feet, I have no need of you. We are a body, where, paraphrasing what the Bible says about marriage, the many become one flesh. 

He went on to say: 
If you celebrated on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
If you were upset on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
If you didn’t know how to feel on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.

The Christian response, no matter what governments do or don’t do, is to be the body of Christ, striving in all we do, even when it’s messy – especially when it’s so messy we can’t see for the mud that’s being slung back and forth – to BE that body of Christ Jesus for the world to see a blood-stained cross and an empty tomb for the likes of even us!

And so, we come to the question that fills the air like an invisible elephant in the room…what in the world should we do; what can we do?

What should I do

There is a quotation attributed to St. Augustine I used in a sermon a year and a half ago here to form a response to Bishop Melvin Talbert’s departure from his ordination vows; I think it is a fitting response here:

In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; In all things, Charity

In essentials – UNITY

No condemnation of others….simple disagreement will do!

If the United part means anything in United Methodist Church, it means we try at all times to possess a unity of spirit and kindness towards those whom we believe are wrong.  We may not agree, but we do not have to batter each other.

Let me say it plainer:  It means judge not!

In one of the source files I read Indiana Area Bishop Mike Coyner….warned against being judgmental of couples who sincerely want to be married, committed and faithful. He noted that plenty of heterosexuals [straight people] have allowed ‘marriage to be violated, ignored, abused, and reduced to mere convenience.’

That is like the pot calling the kettle black.  God’s prophet Jonah got ticked-off that God didn’t destroy Nineveh.  The Ninevites and Israelites hated each other; so do the fringe elements of traditionalists and progressives. 

In the end, all of Nineveh’s people repented and turned Godward, except for the so-called man of God, Jonah, who wound-up sitting under a bush in a snit of a pity-party.

Live the good news until you earn the right to share it

One author I read this week said that people do not line up to be judged.  If we are going to be evangelistic, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, we will have no-one listening unless there is kindness in our voices.

In non-essentials – LIBERTY

don’t get bogged-down in outward appearances or even others’ behavior.                              

How do YOU expect pagans to behave?

Lost people act like lost people, because they’re lost.  If you are put-off by pagan behavior you’re closer to self-righteous judgment than you are to loving forbearance.

Remember you were once a condemned sinner also. 

Canadian pastor Carey Nieuhof was in my reading resources this week.  In writing to pastors, Nieuhof spoke from a position of having dealt with same-sex marriage as law in his country (Canada) for the past 10 years.  He:

reminds us that there isn’t any kind of difference between same-gender sex and other sexual sins…You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time.  If you believe gay sex is sinful, it’s really no morally different than straight sex outside of marriage.  Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).  I know you want to believe that’s not true (trust me, I want to believe that’s not true), but why don’t you ask around? You’ll discover that only a few really surrender their sexuality.  Not to mention the married folks that struggle with porn, lust and a long list of other dysfunctions.  If you believe gay marriage is not God’s design, you’re really dealing with the same issue you’ve been dealing with all along—sex outside of its God-given context. You don’t need to treat it any differently.  By the way, if you don’t deal with straight sex outside of marriage, don’t start being inconsistent and speak out against gay sex.  And you may want to start dealing with gluttony and gossip and greed while you’re at it.  At least be consistent…humbly address all forms of sex outside of marriage.

Whether you’re a progressive waving the multicolored LGBTQ flag, or a traditionalist-conservative worried about if God can stand up to all this sin, we all need to remember that we are all children of Adam’s race, steeped in the depravity of our sins.

If you‘ve come out of that and can say with the Aldersgate side of Wesleyan assurance, I’m saved, and going on to perfection in love, you also need to remember that you have not arrived at perfection in all things, and God is still in charge of judging – for all the rest of us, that’s way above our pay grade!  Which leads us to our pay grade….

in all things – CHARITY

How do you love someone with whom you disagree so strongly?

I would point you to my wife.  She has learned to love someone whose views are so wrong....Me!

Of course you can love someone who is so wrong!  How do you think the offer of the cross got here? 

Scripture declares we were all sinners, lost, and enemies of God.  But God proved that he loved us by coming to earth and dying for us while we were yet sinners.[3]

So, it’s what you do for people…not the way you feel about people, that conveys the love of Jesus Christ.

be ready to meet needs, and love like Jesus who gave himself

When you come face-to-face with those who hold such a different view than yours, I hope you’ll remember to speak truth in genuine love.

David Dorn is a professor who wrote in response to a confused student’s question, If I choose to be gay does that mean I can’t go to heaven:

Personally I really wish I could read the biblical text and see the argument that homosexuality isn’t a sin. Unfortunately I still see that it is. The way I read it, the sin is not in the orientation but in the act. The same holds true for heterosexuals who engage in sexual acts outside of what God calls holy. Culture doesn’t define holiness, God does. And that steps on all people’s toes.

In the end, this great divide in the road speaks of the need for the kind of bridge-building God said we can do to bring those who have taken a wrong turn back together.  I think, and I think God says that includes all of us. 

There is only one God, there is only one King;
     There is only one body, that is why I sing.
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together
     With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together,
     Bind us together with love.[4]

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!


Father God, our hearts are torn sometimes.  We come to you confessing our ignorance of how to pray for those we love, but see things so differently that it causes us to be Cain, killing our brother.

We kill with words and sometimes it gets so out of hand there is physical violence, and even murder.

And sometimes we murder Your church in the name of our way of thinking.

O Lord, how can we speak peace to a world lost in killing and hedonism when we are no different with our jihad-holy war attitudes.

Forgive us, Lord; set us on a right path of understanding, forgiveness and love toward each other.

Give us humility and forbearance to act like your children. 

For those of us who jump strongly on one side or the other of this issue of homosexuality, despising both the sin and the sinner, help us to remember you died for sinners so they could come close and find redemption.

For those lost in the sensuality of selfish need, grant wisdom – an opening of the mind, so the heart can be set on Christ, not pleasure.

For the United Methodist church, steeped in this broiling conflict, we pray for attitudes, demonstrations and arrogance to be dialed-back, that Your Holy Spirit may be once again sensed in our holy conferencing and following Christ.

Protect us from the evil one, and give us the daily bread of holiness to spread across the land.

In the name of Christ.


There is some quoted material and ideas throughout this sermon which are not footnoted (but usually italicized), which are simply a distillation of thought generated by the “sources” listed below.  There is no intent to utilize any author’s work as if it were my own.  There is simply too much to footnote each word, phrase or idea.  I am indebted to all these contributors for this sermon end-product.


2.       John Pavlovitz, Six Ways Christians Lost This Week
11.    Marc Tooley in The American Spectator, Justice Kennedy’s Pursuit of Gnosis
12.    David Dorn in Ministry Matters, Am I Going to Heaven?
13.    Talbot Davis in Ministry Matters, Reuniting Christology and Sexology
14.    Jason Byassee in Ministry Matters, The Church and Homosexuality: Finding a Way Forward
17.    Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service, Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Adds to Church Debate

[1] Title Image: By Duncan Lock, Dflock, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] For more on that see my sermon Open Our Eyes Lord, November 10, 2013
[3] Romans 5:8

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