Jun 2, 2018
Focus Scripture Acts 10:
I am nervous about posting this podcast because it refers to the Marriage inclusion/redefinition of marriage debate. My denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia is considering changing its definition of marriage to be between "two persons" rather than between "a man and a woman".
In this sermon I do not state my own view on that matter but I do detail the proposals being put to our denomination at its national conference in July this year. (2018)
I do make my on view very clear on one matter however! Our unity, what makes us Christians is Christ. All who have faith, who recognise they have been claimed by Christ, who know they are sinners and have been forgiven and led to repentance are united in him. We are not saved by our view of or definition of marriage, whatever view is right!
THE controversy in the early church was about whether people had to become Jewish in order to become followers of and believers in Jesus. Acts 10 is about how the Spirit is poured out on non-Jewish people who had not adopted Jewish practices. It is the final proof that God’s love does not depend on being a particular race or doing particular things but is available to everyone. As one of my commentaries put it “the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be hindered by our preconceived notions of who or what is unclean.... the Spirit continues to work among us, in spite of our prejudices.” (OTLC) This is not just a hard lesson for Peter, we must all learn it if our world is to survive and human divisions are ever to end!
My great fear is not that my denomination will change our definition of marriage, nor is it that it will maintain the view that marriage is only between a man and a woman. My great fear is that whichever way the Uniting Church decides - people will break fellowship with us. I believe that Acts 10 tells us that what unites us is not our doctrine of marriage but the life, the teaching, the healing, the table fellowship and above all the death and resurrection of Jesus for all of us. The Spirit is poured out on all who trust in him.
I conclude my sermon with these words
"Part of the definition of marriage which will not change is that it is for life to the exclusion of all others. Well our commitment, our life, our unity is in Christ, and not in anything else to the exclusion of all others. This is where we must stand! This is our faith and this is the hope of reconciliation we have for all humanity and all creation. Amen"
Below the next lot of asterisks are my preaching notes. They may not make much sense because I leave gaps to adlib. Listen to the podcast (audio file) to get the full sense.
The Proposal being put to the assembly: https://uniting.church/08-marriage-and-same-gender-relationships/
The report which led to the proposal: https://uniting.church/b23-standing-committee-report-on-marriage-and-same-gender-relationships/
A counter proposal can be found here: https://uniting.church/31-definition-of-marriage/
For an academic Biblical background to the issues see these two papers: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/uploads/Thompson_Geoff_%28Zadok_Papers%29.pdf
Our Acts reading picks up the story of Peter and Cornelius right atthe very end... two visions...
Ephesians 2:11–12 (CEV)
11 Don’t forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called “uncircumcised” by those who take pride in being circumcised. 12 At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God,
Outer courts of temple, no eating, only full conversion to Judaism...,
The background to this is a bitter division in the Church... Peter and Paul in Antioch...
Peter goes to Cornelius’ house and preaches the gospel. While he is in full flight suddenly the Holy Spirit falls on the assembly. Now every Christian receives the Spirit, you may have varied experiences.... This receiving of the Spirit is just this, but I think it is also a parallel to Acts 2.... Just as the crowd is astounded in Acts 2 when the disciples spoke in different languages the Jewish/circumcised believers are astounded that these Gentiles receive the Spirit and speak in tongues, and just as baptism follows there, so baptism follows here.... They don’t have to be circumscised....
The transformation for Peter is complete. He accepts their invitation to stay with them for some days....
In our setting what does all of this mean? As one of my commentaries put it “the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be hindered by our preconceived notions of who or what is unclean.... the Spirit continues to work among us, in spite of our prejudices.” ( OTLC ) This is not just a hard lesson for Peter, we must all learn it if our world is to survive and human divisions are ever to end!
For Peter the Romans were the enemy.... It would have been so easy for Peter to say no...
You may have heard in the news that The Assembly when it meets in July is going to Consider same sex marriage. A report has been written by a task group which reflects deeply on the issues and has laid four possibilities before the church.
1. Offer the rites of marriage only to opposite-gender relationships, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants to conduct, or to decline to conduct, “blessings” of same-gender relationships as long as such ceremonies “do not resemble marriage” without any officially approved rites for such services.
2. Offer the rites of marriage only to opposite-gender relationships, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants to conduct, or to decline to conduct, “blessings” of same-gender, covenantal relationships according to officially approved rites for such services.
3. Offer the rites of marriage only to opposite-gender relationships, and forbid Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants to conduct blessings of same-gender covenantal relationships.
4. Offer the rites of marriage to opposite-gender and same-gender couples, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants freedom of conscience to perform marriages or not.
The committee favours the fourth option and will be recommending it to the Assembly meeting.... I do not want to talk about that today except to say that there is a terrible danger of division. Whichever way the Assembly decides there will be people who will wish to break fellowship with us.
I take the Bible very seriously 2 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the purpose of the Bible is to 2 Timothy 3:15 (NRSV) “... instruct you [us] for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Bible’s purpose is to bring us to Christ. Think of those great passage, just two, my favourite 1 John 4:10-11 .... Or that great Classic John 3:16-17 “For God so loved...” The Basis of Union reflects 2 Tim 3:15 when it says “When the Church preaches Jesus Christ, its message is controlled by the Biblical witnesses. The Word of God on whom salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture...”
What it is that unites us is not that we are adequately inclusive, nor is it that we hold a particular view on Marriage based on Jesus’ and Paul’s quotation of Genesis 2 (23-24). Our unity is based on Jesus, on his incarnation on him being truly divine and truly human, on his teaching, healing, eating the outsiders as Peter does and with those at the centre too. It depends on his death for us as one of us and on his risen life, which he shares with us by pouring the Spirit into our hearts. Paul in Ephesians 2:14 ff puts it like this in his flesh in his own body “...he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:14–18 (NRSV)
It is time for us to make a stand, not a stand to say we must be inclusive and allow same sex marriage. (Though many want to say that!) And not a stand to say we must stick up for a Biblical interpretation of Marriage which sees the traditional definition maintained. (though many want to say that.) No we must make a stand on our unity in Christ, that what unites us is Jesus. To allude to Galatians and 2 Timothy we should not be blown around by the winds of doctrine believing whatever takes our fancy, nor should we return to the beggarly and elemental spirits of the Law. What unites us is Jesus “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.... [and so]...There is no longer Jew or [Gentile], there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Part of the definition of marriage which will not change is that it is for life to the exclusion of all others. Well our commitment, our life, our unity is in Christ, and not in anything else to the exclusion of all others. This is where we must stand! This is our faith and this is the hope of reconciliation we have for all humanity and all creation. Amen