Presence, Out Here

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: October 13, 2019
Wisdom Reading: Rumi, Galatians 3:23-29
Message: “Presence, Out Here”

Wisdom Reading

Rumi
Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love. Rumi

Galatians 3:23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore, the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female (there is no longer gay nor straight, bisexual or transgender); for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Message

Will you support the church with your prayers, your presence, your service, and your gifts? Last week we talked about what it means to support the church with your prayers, what is prayer, how does it work, how do we practice? Today… What does it mean to support the church with your presence? What does it mean for the church to be a presence? And in particular in the context of today, joining the other Reconciling UMC’s of Omaha… what does it mean to be a presence on this National Coming Out Sunday in support of our LGBTQIA+ friends, family, and siblings?

I want to begin by touching on what are considered the primary biblical passages, that are not supportive of our LGBTQIA+ siblings, used in defense of their position as people of faith. They are often referred to as the six clobber versus, or passages.

First – Using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a blanket condemnation of homosexuality in any form. Let me just say this is unequivocally not true. This is the story of angelic beings visiting Lot and the men of the city showing up on Lot’s doorstep demanding Lot send the men out so they might “know” them, “know” in the biblical sense of sexual relations. This is not homosexuality; this is a demand of gang rape. Not only that, it gets worse when Lot offers his daughter instead of his guests, of course that is not mentioned when this story is used to condemn homosexuality. The clearest definition of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in the bible comes from Ezekiel 16:49 – “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about same gender relations.

Second – Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 – these are found in the Levitical Law… the purity laws, these prohibitions citing male same gender relations, are contextually about a warning against practicing in the temple prostitution that was common in the culture that surrounded the Hebrews and as a result would make one ritually unclean… thus the context within the purity laws…also within this context in the early tribal nature of the Hebrew people, sexual acts were understood to preserve the tribe so if it did not produce children it was seen as unacceptable. These passages do not address same gender relations as we understand them today, in the sense of loving, relationships grounded in the science of orientation, they simply do not apply.

Third and Fourth – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:1-10 – These passages deal with the practice of pederasty… the practice of an older male and a younger male. Pederasty…where we get the word pedophile. These relationships were often non-consensual in which a younger male was purchased as a slave… perhaps not unlike sex trafficking today, this and temple prostitution and a promiscuous lifestyle. These verses are about particular practices of the day which would be considered unhealthy and inappropriate relationships regardless of orientation. Thus, once again, these passages do not address same gender relations in terms of what we know about the science of orientation or loving, monogamous, long term relationships today.

Fifth – Jude 6-7 – These two chapters cite Sodom and Gomorrah as the resource, which we have already spoken of as well as temple prostitution. For the same reasoning as already discussed… these passages are not dealing with same gender relations as we understand them today.

Sixth – Romans 1:25-27 – Likewise, these verses in the Letter to the Romans are dealing with temple and cult prostitution. Paul is addressing a particular practice common in his day and time and in Rome that would be seen as wrong regardless of orientation.

Suffice to say, as one of my favorite Bible professors at seminary says, “In terms of biblical condemnation of same gender relations, and in particular loving, equal, relationships based on orientation and the science of orientation we know in the 21st century… It Is Not in There. Period.
Growing up in the church, I do not ever remember my dad preaching on these passages or on same gender relations… He would have been in his prime, preaching-wise, in the early to mid-seventies… when the UMC added the discriminatory language to our discipline. I would like to think it was because he knew we were called to love and support all God’s children… I don’t know though; I never had that conversation with him.

What does it mean then… to support the church, to be the church with our presence? I think about my dear friend when I was in junior high. He and I had become fast friends, best of friends. I was at his house as much or more than I was at my own. So much so, I called his mom… “Mom” she called me one of her other sons. We were constantly together. As we both moved into high school… he began to push me away, we hung out less, he was always busy doing something else, we grew apart… I didn’t know why… at that age I am not sure I could have understood. I moved away.

Years later I ran into him at a mall in Wichita. We visited for a bit, I asked if he ever got back to our home town. He replied, “No, there is nothing there for me.” I remember the comment seemed strange and alien to me but I didn’t say anything.

After I was in the ministry, I reconnected with him. We were eating lunch together at Carlos O’Kelley’s when he looked across the table at me and said, “Kent, I am gay you know.” I replied something to the effect of, “Yeah, I think I had figured that out. I’m straight you know.” We both laughed. We had numerous years of reestablishing our relationship and friendship. He died some 10 or so years later… I had the honor and privilege of officiating at this service.

I think of him often and wonder if I could have handled, understood when we were young about how to be present to him in those years. I have thought of all the youth I have worked with in youth groups at churches I have served, or at church camp, those who I know have come out and those I still wonder about… and how I might have been better present for them in their young years. How the churches I have served might have been better present for them when they were young. How much better it would have been to be able to celebrate them them, rather than they feeling the need to hide.

It is why I have invited Terri to share with us this morning part of her story… so I…so we all… might have a better understanding about the stories we may resonate with… or the stories we may need to hear in order to better support by being more present as individuals and a church.

Please refer to the sermon video, as Terri’s text from the dialogue is not yet available.

What brought you to FUMC?

What words of encouragement would you share with those who have not come out, because they are not ready, or they do not feel safe because of their jobs or family?

How would you encourage us and our church, especially those of us who are allies, to better be present for our LGBTQIA+ siblings and friends?

We are called in this stewardship month to consider at what level we might be able to resource our community of faith… it is not only the way we support FUMC with our prayers… It is how we facilitate and resource our ability to be present in support of our community and especially those who seek a safe space and place to be who they are.

Looking back now, I wish I would have had these biblical scholarship tools earlier. Looking back now I wish I had known more how to be present for my friends and students and youth who lived in fear because of who they are.

However, I have the tools now. I know better now how to be present. I do not fear the hierarchy of those powers that be who continue to hold improper interpretations of scripture in order to oppress and dehumanize our LGBTQIA+ friends, family, and siblings.

And so… how will I support, how will we support FUMC with our presence?

By creating space here… in this building and on these premises that ALL are welcome to be the unique and unrepeatable child of the Divine they are.

By creating space here, in these hearts where ALL are Welcome to be the unique and unrepeatable child of the Divine you are.

The Church should be a Presence of Grace. A place where Love is a given. A place where “coming out” is no longer necessary. A Place where we, all of us, simply are. A Place Paul envisioned where…

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer gay nor straight, bisexual or transgender; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Today and every day… we celebrate YOU. This. Is. So! Amen!