Discussion is how we do theology

Sermon C15  Fourth Sunday in Lent         2013-03-10
Trinity Lutheran Church, London

Theme: Discussion is how we do theology.

Verse: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

In our household we have a few favorite TV shows.  One is still being produced and every Thursday night at 8:30 we look forward to gathering around “the tube” to catch the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory.

OK I lied.  We don’t gather around any kind of TUBE.  Do you remember that term?  Or maybe that was just a British term for the Television.  The TUBE was a slang term for TV or tellie as again the Brit’s called it.  From a technical point of view, the TUBE was a really good term.  It refers to the big ole cathode-ray tube that shot electrons at a phosphorus coated screen. Now days … we watch a flat Light Emitting Diode screen and we never watch LIVE TV broadcast.  Nope … we recorded it on the PRV and watch the TV show on the LED screen later on so we can skip all the ads.

How many of you are like my family and watch – The Big Bang Theory?

But then there are the groups of faith-filled Christians that would cringe that the Pastor’s family watch such a Biblically heresy titled show.  Their reading of the bible tells them that the world is only 7,000 years and that the scientific theories of the big bang creation, fossil records and carbon dating are all fallacy.

I gotta tell you – let me be bold and clear – I truly believe the scientific record and the evidence that the world and universe is so much bigger and older that literal biblical interpretation of the world being only 7,000 years old.

For me the bible mathematics that gets you to 7,000 years is not a literal and historical record of God’s creation.  God’s creation is so much bigger than our understanding.  Yet the bible record is true in both of its stories of the creation that God created the universe and all that is in it and gave it order and structure, and that the 2nd story is also true about the broken relationships of humanity to God and to each other.

Two creation stories – yes there are two.   Maybe you are not sure about that two creation story idea, so le t me ask these questions:

a)     God made the world in how many days? (Answer 6) That is story one (Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a  yes the first halve of verse 4).

b)     What is Adam made from? (Clay) That is from story two. (Genesis 2:4b to 2:25).

 

If that confuses you, then maybe you could attend some of our Bible Study classes.  J

Yes there are TWO creation stories.  And in that tradition – I have a 2nd story about our family TV watching habits.  Anybody ever seen Gilmore Girls?  It ran from October 2000 until 2007 and we have started watching it anew with our daughters.

So Rory is about 17 years old and just moved from the local high school to Chilton, the Ivy league prep school; big pressure, lots of writing assignments , major exams and tests.  One of the boys at Chilton has taken to call Rory by the name Mary.  Rory asks her mother why.  Mom responds : “That’s a biblical reference – you know Mary – mother of God – virginal and innocent.  You’re lucky he didn’t add Magdalene.” (not an exact quote – forgive me Lorelai). Do you know what Rory’s mother meant?

The Roman Catholic church taught for many centuries that Mary Magdalene was the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus in the gospel of Luke.[Luke 7:36–50]

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 

Mary MagdeleneNowhere in our scripture does it tell us that Mary Magdalene was that  sinful woman, yet large part of Mary Magdalene’s reputation became the repentant prostitute. In western art, she is “often semi-naked, or an isolated hermit repenting for her sins in the wilderness: an outcast.”  (The Pentinent Magdalen by Guido Cagnacci : http://www.wikigallery.org/)

This image goes back to a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great in 591.  It wasn’t until 1969 that the Vatican rejected this interpretation separating Luke’s sinful woman and Mary Magdalene.

But maybe that image is too strong to forget.  Many modern artists still show Mary that same way:

  • Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ;
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar,
  • and Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ,

So what I’m getting here?

Firstly that our God given faculties of reason are part of how we make our interpretation of the bible.  I learn about scientific knowledge and I don’t forget that knowledge when I read and work to understand the scriptures.  I don’t place one of the other, but use each one to help interpret the other.  Mathematically, the chances of the world having formed and developed into what we see experience and understand around us, those chance are much too great to be just CHANCE.  That is where my reading of Genesis informs my scientific understanding – it wasn’t chance – it was God`s work – a creative and all understanding God that made all of this happen.  Then the scientific knowledge of the age of the world informs my reading of Genesis that God created an ordered universe giving it structure and even purpose but that does not mean a literal 6 x 24hours periods, nor does it mean that Genesis chapter 1 is  recipe book description.  Both I can hold both as true: my scientific view and also my faith view of scriptures.

Secondly:  We are always interpreting the bible as we read it and try to understand its meaning there for us.

Do you know in scriptures what God’s first commandment to us is?  What is the first imperative statement in our Bible?  We only have to read 28 verses to get there. In Genesis 1:28; God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply”.

This command never means – Eat lots of oranges (fruit – full) and work at your mathematics (multiply).  Rather, this is a command to fill the earth with our own species.  So while that example is deliberately silly,  I’m making the point that we do interpret and use our reason to come to our understanding of what scripture is telling us.

And to my main point today: What do we do about the motion that the ELCIC passed in July 2011 that allows pastors and congregations to perform same sex marriages and blessings?

There are number of question that I have heard being asked about this issue of same sex marriage:

Let me answer these as best I can:

 1. Do we have to talk about this?

Nobody is forcing us to talk about this.  The 2011 national convention voted to change our policy on the same sex marriage. I believe that we do need to talk about this.  Our church council believes that we should talk about this.What is really important – is not which decision we make, but rather that we have talked about this openly.  Not stuck our collective heads in the sand and said “we don’t want to talk about that” or “that’s not important” or “why should we talk about it when it will divide our congregation?”

This issue is out in society and all of Canada and most church bodies, have already, or are talking about these issues.  It is a stumbling block for most churches today.  But not talking about this will not make it fade away.  I have been watching this issue at our national and synodical assemblies over the years. We have been talking about this, and now it has come back to us as a local community to be open about this and to be mature in our faith enough that we can risk having a conversation about the matter of same sex marriage.

2. Isn’t this an agenda of the Synodical and National Bishops?
No.  I would read this differently.  Our eastern synod has certainly been making decisions in a more liberal fashion, but has also been a matter for the delegates at the Synod Conventions – it was the people and pastors of our own congregations that have progressed this issue.  Again at the national level, I first heard of the issues being debated in 2004 but I’m told that it goes back much further, before either Bishop was even close to being elected, but rather when they were parish pastors themselves.

3. Is there a deadline for us to make a decision?
No there isn’t.  There is no pressure from the synod or the national church for us to move on this.  However, as I see it, we should be talking about this before anybody comes to us and asks, “What kind of ELCIC congregation are you? One who will, or one who won’t marry gay couples?”Now, we could of course do nothing, which in effect make the statement “No we don’t do same sex marriages”. That is true because that is the way it was, and we have not done anything to change that – so the default is “no”.  But also this would send a message that there are certain things we don`t, or won`t talk about in church.

4. I’ve already made up my mind about this, why do I need to talk about this?
Dialogue is the only way we can process this.  Are we one in our thinking about same sex orientation and the scriptures, and our faith understanding? No we are not.  But we do not have to be divided.  As mature Christians, we can have the conversation about what we believe and how we understand scripture, and how we understand each other.

Church council asked me to put together a plan for an education process about the ELCIC same sex issues.  The way I have done this is to promote discussion collectively or in groups.

That has already started – I have discussed with some of our bible group, and with individuals.

I published a “Study Booklet –  Homosexuality and the Bible”. This document is some of my thoughts on how to approach the subject plus some references to the major biblical passages that reference homosexuality.

I REALLY encourage you to read this document (available on-line and in the narthex).  Even if you feel complete confident in your understanding of issues, PLEASE read the document.  It does not tell you what to think, but it does lay some foundational idea that might challenge you to think deeper about your own position and about how you get to that position.

We are also holding several study/conversation/workshop sessions to talk about these issues.

Notice that no date for a meeting to make a decision has been set.  That last step is for us to make together only when we are ready to do so.  But the conversation is the important part before we are able to do anything.

So I’d like us to practice some conversation and interpretation – right now. I’m going to read the Gospel from Luke – then we will break up into small groups for about 4 or 5 minutes to talk about today’s gospel reading.

In Luke especially, Jesus is often found eating with sinners – today it is tax collectors and sinners.  The church leaders that question Jesus about the sinful company he keeps.  Jesus tells them a parable.

My question for you discuss, what is the sin in this story?

PLEASE RISE FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable:

 “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

>>>  The congregation broken in small groups – the groups discussed ideas and Pastor Steve then asked the bold theologians (i.e. the congregation members) to share their groups thoughts.

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Reference & Notes

From Wikipedia

The young earth idea was documented by Bishop Ussher:

  • The Ussher chronology is a 17th-century chronology of the history of the world formulated from a literal reading of the Bible by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland). The chronology is sometimes associated with young Earth creationism, which holds that the universe was created only a few millennia ago by God as described in the first two chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology
  • Also see :
    Luther, Martin (1958). Jaroslav Pelikan. ed. Luther’s Works vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1–5. Fortress Press. “We know from Moses that the world was not in existence before 6,000 years ago. (pg. 3)”
    and
    Shakespeare’s (1599) line given to Rosalind addressing Orlando in As you like it (IV, 1:90) was an unquestioned truth in the sixteenth century.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_creationism
  • More modernly:
    Henry Morris, (October 6, 1918 – February 25, 2006) was one of the founders of the Creation Research Society, explained it, “Christians who flirt with less-than-literal readings of biblical texts are also flirting with theological disaster.” According to Morris, Christians must “either … believe God’s Word all the way, or not at all.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_M._Morris
    Pastor Steve’s note ->> Remember my sermon a few weeks ago about Binary opposition?

ELCIC MOTIONS from the 2011 Convention

http://www.telc.ca/pdf/Three_Motions_2011.pdf

 

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