That Verse – Paul 7

This can be listened to here

Gate Pa – Year A  22nd  Sunday of Ordinary Time,

Psalm                          Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26,44                                            
First Reading:             Exodus 3:1-15                     
Second Reading:        Romans 12:9-21                 
Gospel:                        Matthew 16:21-28 
What I want to say:
I want to wrestle with Romans 1:26 which on the face of it condemns homosexuality. I want to look at what Paul might really have been saying as an example of how to keep working with Paul.
What I want to happen:
I want people to be more informed and imaginative in how they approach scripture

The Sermon

      1.     Introduction:

A few years ago I was at a friend’s wedding way down south
at after match function sitting with group – some knew vaguely
            some just met
somehow we got talking about homosexuality and gay marriage
            as you do
some were for and some against
one person said – “what do you do with that verse in Paul??
I vaguely knew what I would do
but only vaguely
at wedding – fun
not deep and meaningful conversations about homosexuality
life is serious enough at best times
so I slid sideways and joined another conversation.
but that question has stayed with me
what do I do with that verse in Paul
that verse being Romans 1:26 and 27
which says
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”
often quoted in discussion about homosexuality
God is clearly against it.
so given everything I have said for the last 6 sermons on Paul and his letter to the churches in Rome
what do I do with it?

       2.     Who is Paul?

first up – want to say that this letter was written by a person
for a particular group of people at a particular time for a particular purpose.
important –
God didn’t write this
sure Holy Spirit was involved
and Holy Spirit is involved with us as we read it
still written by a person – not God
and I am allowed to disagree with that person
            lots of people disagreed with Paul at the time
            lots have down the years.

       3.     Wrestle Not Ignore

some of you might be shocked with that statement
suggesting that we do exactly what Paul did to his scripture – Torah, (The Law of Moses) History Books, Psalms, Prophets and wisdom literature
as we have seen – Paul wrestles with it
As I said last week – rabbinic tradition said that Torah was like 70 sided jewel
fully appreciate it community needed to look at it from all 70 sides
no one way of reading it
so they would discuss the law deeply
            not to get the right answers
            but to more fully appreciate it beauty and all it offered
which Paul does with radical conclusions
-         you can be followers of one true God
-         belong to new people of God
-         not be a Jew
-         not follow torah
too often with these kinds of passages we take the easier route and dismiss Paul as relic of past and of no help to us today.
Bible is our book
sits in our centre shaping our life as people of God
it is our responsibility to wrestle with it and not ignore it.
following Paul’s example – let’s wrestle

       4.     Wrestling with Paul

what does it mean to wrestle
it means taking seriously the people, places and culture that Paul was writing out of and into
and taking seriously where that verse sits in Pauls letter
so let’s start with the social context
as we do that we can ask “is Paul talking about homosexuality as we understand it? and what does he have to say to our situation?
When I was at university I did classical studies for awhile
one things remember was marriage arrangements
men and women got married
but sex within marriages was seen as only for children
deemed rude for men to bother their wives for any other sex
for that they looked outside of marriage – to other men
-         to temple prostitutes
-         etc.….
Paul writing out Greek social connect where men on men sex was a norm
occurred outside of marriage
so that wives were not having to deal with these needs
not what we are talking about today
Roman context slightly different
            there common people with slaves and servants
force slaves and servants to have sex with them
            today we would call this sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and rape
again – not same as what we are talking about today.

       5.     The letter

so what does Paul say then in the letter
when we read passages like this it is important
to put it back where it came from
read that verse with all the verses that go before it and after it
just like we would any other book
Paul is writing to churches in Rome
-         torah following church
-         not torah following  church
both think they have the truth and look down on the other.
offering way work together – 1:16-17 – all about faithfulness of God to covenant
renew creation
restore humanity.
begins said that this first few chapters setting out problem
problem being idolatry introduced by Adam and Eve
worship false gods
Paul and Romans lived in world surrounded by statues to gods
in roman empire – statues of emperor god
            amazing how many titles Paul and John in revelation apply to Jesus
            are titles come from emperor worship
so subversive and treasonous
put up across the empire remind everyone who was in charge
all were to give thanks to, to worship, the god emperor
where were statutes God put up to remind us to worship the true God
we are
we are living statues
because we forgot who we were
because we worshipped idols made in our image instead
bad stuff happens
so this is all pretty standard stuff within Judaism
as are next bits
leads some wondering whether these are Pauls thoughts
or if he is quoting what Jewish Christians in Rome would have said
begins with warning signs
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions… - verses we are talking.
often stop there as if that is the point Paul was making
But wait there is more
goes on with the real issues –
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters,* insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them.
what is Paul doing here?
setting a trap
because this is exactly how torah following Christians in Rome would have seen the non torah following Christians
just as many evangelical Christians see some of us more liberal Christians
if we are honest
but Paul does not stop
goes on and says
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
Just when non torah following Christians thought Paul seems to be siding with the torah following Christians
and torah following Christians think Paul has suddenly become their ally
snaps jaws of his trap shut with them all inside.
Paul isn’t condemning any one group of people at this point
describing problem with us all
and all creation
so that he can fully describe the wonder of what God’s faithfulness in Jesus has done
in breaking power death which holds us all.

       6.     Conclusion

 what would I say today if I were at that wedding
Paul did say that – but let’s look at what he said
don’t know that I agree with him
a.     I don’t think what we are talking about today and what Paul was talking about are the same thing at all
in fact using Paul suggest that his real concern was that people were being unfaithful in their marriages
what he is doing is describing how that happened in his world
not saying homosexuality in itself is wrong
if anything, we can say that Paul would want homosexuals
to live faithful life long relationships with one person
-         set high expectations for these things
b.     that before we use Romans to judge and condemn others as sinful in God’s sights
need realise that in doing so Paul says we are judging ourselves
that we – like all those we condemn – deserve death.
bit strong
get his point
don’t judge
that is God’s job
c.      instead look to God’s faithfulness
know covenant fulfilled
live it – as we said last week
and as he says in the last 3 ½ chapters.