18 Jul The Long Goodbye – Part III – The Practical Application Of Our Faith – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 10 – July 16, 2023
Preacher: Rev. Stephen McPeek
I speak to you in the name of the Father and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Please be seated.
So, my dear friends, and siblings in Christ, the countdown is on with only 4 weeks left until Alexis and I say goodbye to you and head for Spain. I’m so thankful for the support of the vestry, and the goodwill of so many during this time of sadness. As well as time of expectation. As you know, if you’ve been listening. I’ve used the last couple of weeks to share some of the things that are important to me that I hope you will take from me and implement in your own lives.
I courageously said to you, imitate me. I want you to copy me. There are 3 things that I know you love about me, and if you love them about me, then darn it, copy me. The first one was “Love God and love each” other- so dang simple, but not always so easy. The second thing I talked about last week was living in vulnerability and authenticity, having the courage to be open with the life you are living, with all of its good sides and all of its struggles so that we can help each other walk with the Lord.
And today, if you read the Herald, you would see that I wanted to talk about another thing that’s really important to me, and I think it’s one of the things that makes me who I am, and that is practical application of the faith, and I actually tweaked the title a little bit for today. The title is: “Careful practical application of the faith.” I’ll explain to you why. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but when I end my sermons, I usually say something like: “So what does this mean for us?” And I usually do this with my hands. “So what does this mean for us?” Right? And some of you freak out when I say that, because then you’re like, “Oh, no! Now I’m going to have to think about what this means, and what do I have to do? I can’t just go home and say, ‘Oh, that was a nice sermon.’ But instead, I need to think about what does that mean?” And the reason that I say that is that I firmly believe that it’s so important that we actually apply what we have heard to our lives, and that we wrestle with the things we hear and apply them and integrate them into our lives. For my whole adult life as a follower of Jesus. I’ve constantly asked these questions, what does this Scripture, whether it’s through a sermon, or just reading the Scripture? What does that mean for my personal life?
What are the implications for my life? The second question is this sort of modern phrase, “What would Jesus do?” is a really important question as we’re navigating our lives. What WOULD Jesus do? How would Jesus respond? How would Jesus love? How would Jesus act? What example did He set for us that we should imitate?
The third question that’s been important to me for my whole adult life is: “What does the character of God show me for my life? How can I imitate God’s character, and invite transformation in my life, so that I will take on the characteristics of God.Without transformation, our faith and our church attendance unfortunately, are powerless. and a lot of times just amounts to empty words. To not apply the truths and the values that we hold dear, and that we hear and learn about leads to hypocrisy and a focus on institution. When we start to focus on institution, in other words, on the club, the parish, CtK, whatever it might be, it is just not attractive to other people except to us.
Real life comes when we live with God, and when God is transforming us and working in our lives. The sad thing is that our gatherings lose attractiveness to younger people and to the kids, our own kids. I’m absolutely convinced that if we are living with God, and we are applying what we’re learning about God to our lives, there is a dynamic to our faith that is very attractive.
Our endeavor and our focus should not be on sustaining the institution of CtK, but rather on reflecting and demonstrating the life and character of Jesus to the world around us.
Now, one thing that I like about the Episcopal Church is that we don’t tell you what you should do with what you hear. I’ve been in churches which tell you, and almost command you to do things, and if you don’t do it, somebody’s going to come up to you after church or during the week, and they’re going to say you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.
That’s like a little kid. In the Episcopal Church we pride ourselves on being more intellectual. And we try and treat each other as adults. We leave it up to each other ourselves to decide how to apply what we hear. The important thing that I’m saying to you and challenging you with is: Please apply what you hear and learn. Wrestle with what you hear, wrestle with what you read, and ask the question, how does this apply to my life?
Jesus says in the Gospels:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might. This is the greatest and first commandment, and a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We know what Jesus says, we know these words, we know this commandment. But the question is, how much do we wrestle over the questions, “How does that apply to my life in my daily living. What aspects of God’s character can we learn from the Scripture and relation to the people we’re relating to? How did Jesus demonstrate this in his own life?”
I guarantee that if we, as Christians, busied ourselves with the application of just this one Scripture, we would have enough to do for the rest of our lives. It would have a profound impact on the life of the church, our families, and those we work with daily. Sometimes, when there is conflict going on in my life with people that I love, I ask the question, “What does love look like?”
In conflict you can’t always be nice and and soft. The question that I ask is, “What does love look like in that situation?” I would encourage you to ask that question. if you are in conflict with people you love.
And then I asked the question, “Is there anything in my life that is not in alignment with the love of God?” You’ve heard me say that before, because that’s what it’s about to me. We have the love of God, and our job is to align ourselves with the love of God. Ask that question, “Is there anything in my life, whether it’s behavior, attitude or words, that is not in alignment with the love of God. When we kneel down and confess our sins, this is what we’re doing. We’re not like digging around to see what is dark and ugly. The real question is, is there anything that doesn’t match up with love that I’m living, because that’s what I want to change and want God to change in my life.
One of the Scriptures we heard today that Iris read was from Romans. The very first sentence was, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Say that with me: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
One more time. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This is such a powerful statement. Why is it powerful? I think many people live with a sort of a constant feeling of condemnation. There’s this gut feeling that something’s wrong with me. I’m not worthy. I’m not good enough. I’m too sinful.
What would it be like to apply the Scripture in our daily life? I know for myself that in applying and wrestling with this Scripture, it led me into a really great inner freedom. There were so many voices condemning me, voices from my childhood, voices from mistranslated Scripture, and voices from other Christians. At some point in my life, I grasped the truth by wrestling with Scripture that I am loved by God. I am beloved, and because of that there is no condemnation. I am loved, and I am accepted. This made such a big difference in my inner world.
The process of applying what we hear and what we read, in my opinion, keeps us and keeps our faith dynamic. And that’s what I want to challenge you with today – to apply the gospel. Don’t just hear it, you know. My biggest fear as a preacher is that I would leave the church, and people would pat me on the shoulder and say, “Oh, that was a nice sermon,” and that was it. I want to know that lives were changed. I want us to apply the Word of God so that it impacts our lives and impacts our church.
There is a flip side of this sermon that I want to address. The flip side is that sometimes we really have to wrestle with the things that we read in the Bible because history shows us that we cannot take things literally and apply them without understanding the context in which they were written, and the intent behind the words. When this has been done, this literal application of Scripture,
it has led to great injustices, and has hurt many people. and the church, unfortunately, has inflicted great pain and damage on groups of people because of Scripture that was taken and interpreted wrongly or out of context, and turned into damaging theologies.
Do you know the story of Galileo, the scientist? Do you know that he was put under house arrest until the end of his life because the Church believed that Scripture said, more or less, that the earth was the center of the universe? They literally persecuted Galileo who,through science, saw that this is not true. The Church was so steeped in their theology and their conviction that the earth was at the center of the universe that they imprisoned him, and who knows what else they did to him. That’s one example. Another example is women. Even up until today. In many countries women are held under the thumb of men who say that Scripture says, “women do this, women do that, women cover your hair. Women do not speak in church.” They took a cultural thing and made it into a theology, with the result that women have been oppressed in the Church for generations. And, thank God, we, as the Episcopal church, have begun to move out of that. We ordained women and we have women bishops. Women, I hope you feel that from me. As a woman, you are just the same as the men, or maybe even better.
For a long time, mixed marriages were forbidden in the United States because of Scripture that talks about not intermarrying. When my mom and dad got married in Colorado in 1957, my mom is Japanese-Filipino, and my dad is Caucasian. It was not allowed by law in half of Colorado for them to marry, because it was a mixed marriage. I mean, how crazy is that? It was based on Scripture. Slavery in the United States was based on Scripture. It beats me how long this horrible theology was upheld and it was so wrong. We know it was wrong, but it was in Scripture. What I’m saying is: We have to be careful when we apply Scripture that we are not taking it literally and just applying it. Now for those of you Episcopalians who pride yourself in being intellectual, it’s not a problem for you, but there are still churches today that try to apply it literally.
Yesterday Christopher Street Day parade was a very profound experience for me. Alexis, Minahal and I found ourselves at the very front of the Pride Parade.
We were helping to carry this huge pride flag, rainbow flag. I saw this morning that we were even in the news. You see us walking with 15,000 people through the streets of Frankfurt, basically shutting down the center of the city, and people all along the way were cheering and clapping. It was very, very moving.
I had never marched in a Christopher Street Day parade, and it moved me to see the freedom that has been fought for and gained in Germany that allows people to be who they are. When I first came out, my dad said to me, “Steve, I’m okay with you coming out. Please just don’t get dressed up and go march in one of those parades.”
I messaged him yesterday and sent him some pictures of some of the people we encountered. I jokingly said, “You mean like this, Dad?” He said, “Yes.” I had just a boring t-shirt on. I said to him, “I’m an obedient son.” He replied, “Thank you.”
The point of Christopher Street Day is the freedom to be who we are. The point that I want to make through this story is that Scripture was taken, actually a mere 7 scriptures, and a theology that condemned Lgbtq people was developed and put into place and exercised for generations, and is still being used in countries like Uganda, where friends of ours are in fear for their lives because of the laws that have been passed just recently. It’s not just government. It’s the churches that are supporting and driving this horrible theology. Paul had an understanding that was radical for his time. He lived in a world that was so full of structured inequalities and very disparaging differences, and in the midst of this setting he somehow received the understanding that all people are on equal footing, and that differences in race, economic status, or gender simply do not matter to the Lord. It seems like this revelation was a significant disruptor in his world when he said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus, and if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, and an heir, according to the promise.”
In Paul’s world baptism into Jesus Christ leveled the playing field for all, and it abolished social distinctions. Unfortunately, Paul was also a product of his cultural time. While he propagated this radical new thought about the way people are, he also upheld things that were part of his society, like discrimination against women. He wasn’t consistent to the end with the revolutionary forces of change. While advocating for equality for all, he also told women to submit to their husbands, slaves to obey their masters. He made other obscure statements about other groups of people that have been grossly misinterpreted and used to hurt and oppress whole groups of people.
On August 3rd, , we’re going to have an LGBTQ+ online meeting where I’m going to teach about the 7 Scriptures that have been used historically to create this anti-gay anti-LGBTQ+ theology, because I believe that it’s important to dismantle this theology, so that the oppression and the disrespect come to an end.
We’ve seen that starting to happen in places like Germany. But there are so many other places, even the United States, where things are going backwards, and people are being pulled back into the old way of thinking.
In closing, this whole issue of homosexuality as it is written in the Bible, if you would delve into it, you will see that Scriptures were taken out of context, and meanings given to them that are simply wrong. Let me read you one of the Scriptures from Paul to the Corinthians. It says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice, homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, etc., etc., etc., will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. So the problem with that is, that it was translated homosexuality, and applied to include people of the same sex who love one another. But if you delve into the Word of God, and into those mere 7 Scriptures, you begin to see, see that that is absolutely not what was being talked about. What was being referred to was the practice of straight older adult men having sex with boys as a religious cultic practice. It was pederasty. This is what Paul was resisting.
How do you take pederasty and make it into something that covers all people of the same sex who love each other. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but we’ve done it, and we live under that judgment. People that I know and love live under the weight of that translation. We have to ask ourselves, “How did we get from a word that refers to pederasty and economic exploitation, to a theology that denounces any kind of same-sex relationship, including loving, committed covenantal same-sex relationships?
It has resulted in so much persecution, repression, and death. Among the 15,000 who were marching yesterday, I can guarantee you that a large percentage of them have had bad experiences with the Church because of this theology. Many have left the Church and turned their backs on God. Others have held on to God and created their own way of worshiping, because often the Church did not welcome them. Others, according to statistics, were driven to depression and suicide.
So what does this mean for us? All I want to ask of you today is that you walk away from this sermon with determination and commitment to wrestle with the Word of God and the things you hear in the sermons, and to appropriately and carefully apply them practically to your life. I trust that this will energize your faith in God and keep life as a follower of Jesus exciting.
I need to add one thing that is separate from the sermon. As you know, we are getting ready to leave. You also know that I’m a very relational person. I love being your pastor. I love spending time with you. I wish I would have had more time to spend time with each one of you learning your so about your stories and interacting with you. Many of you have had that with me, and I’ve really, really loved it.
One of the things in the Episcopal Church is that when a priest leaves a parish, he or she is required to end all pastoral relationships. This is the give the next priest the best chance at bonding with parishioners and fulfilling his or her role as pastor.
In other words. if you want to have a pastoral conversation with me, you better hurry because you have 4 weeks and I’m still available. You can email me can call me. We’ll get together. We’ll go for a walk. We’ll drink coffee, but after we leave, after my contract is wrapped up at the end of September, I am not allowed to have pastoral contact with you.