This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: “Let it Go — Tradition (What does the Bible say about gay marriage?)”

In the movie “Shall We Dance” Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon play a married couple who are a bit estranged. Gere, in a sort of midlife crisis decides to secretly take ballroom dancing lessons. Sarandon begins to suspect Gere is having an affair and has him followed. The private detective reports back that Gere is only taking dancing lessons. He is surprised that Sarandon is still furious. She is furious because Gere has kept something secret from her, his wife. Why does this make her furious? She says this:

“Because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on this planet. I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things—all of it, all the time, every day. You’re saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.”

Married couples are to be witnesses and companions of each other. Witnesses and companions in the good times, the bad times, the terrible times, the mundane times, all the times, every day. And when that happens, life is becomes a partnership of two people traveling on a journey of mutual support and companionship and, maybe, love. Not everyone wants to be in a marriage. But some who do are told they can’t be in such a relationship because of who they are, or who they want to be married to. They are gay. They want what Sarandon describes, but are told they are not “eligible”. Who will be their witnesses? Who will care about their lives? What does the Bible say about Gay marriage? Come and hear about it on Sunday, March 1, when Pastor Jeff preaches “Let it Go – Tradition (What does the Bible say about Gay marriage?) based on Matthew 19: 3-12. You might be surprised.

JMPC Lenten Devotionals for 2020 based on the Minor Prophets.

Lenten Devotional 1 (This blog entry will only provide every other day because my associate pastor covers the days in between. I will not be posting those, not because they are not worth reading (they are) but because they are not mine.)

February 26, 2020

We begin our Lenten devotional series on the Minor Prophets. In the Jewish tradition, they are called “The Twelve”. They are “minor” prophets not because they are of lesser significance, but because they are short compared to the “major” prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They are not prophets in the way we typically think of “prophecy” proclaimers. They do not predict specific future events. They are not “soothsayers”. They are prophets because they speak truth to power and remind folks that there are consequences to all we do. They made these prophetic statements in poetic sermons that have been preserved by their followers in these books of the Old Testament. These poetic sermons were preached to Israel and Judah in response to the conduct of those peoples that the prophets proclaimed was contrary to God’s will. They described what God would do in response. These were warnings that the people needed to repent in order to remain God’s people. These prophets can be hard to read because they were, and are, reflections of humanity’s inability to live as God would have us live. That is why they are good Lenten devotional material because they demonstrate that even though we cannot live as God would have us live; we are forgiven, nonetheless.

Day 1

Hosea 1: 2

2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’

Hosea preached for 40 years or so in Israel, primarily, and saw many things. Hosea saw both Israel and Judah at peace and with independence. He also saw Israel decline and fall to Assyria and its people taken into exile. This decline and fall of Israel are the principal focal points of his message.

Hosea opens with God telling him to marry a prostitute. Why would God do such a thing?  One of the interesting things about prophets is that God often tells them to do strange things for two reasons. First, so the prophet can get a feel for how God feels. Second to be a living illustration for what God wants the prophet to say. Here are a few examples:

  • Isaiah was commanded to walk around naked for three years.
  • Jeremiah was told to walk around wearing chains and a wooden yoke.
  • Ezekiel was told to cook his food over human (and later cow) waste.
  • Here Hosea is told to marry a prostitute, at worst, or a promiscuous woman, at best.

Why is Hosea told to marry such a woman? Because that is what Israel is like to God. God chose Israel to be his people, his “bride”. But the people betray God and run off to be with other “gods”. They go to the ones who seem to offer a bit more than the “husband” in the marriage. They are promiscuous at best and prostitutes as worst. God wants Hosea to feel the pain God feels at this conduct. God’s feeling of betrayal and humiliation are easier to understand when Hosea lives publicly with such a woman. “This is what God feels like!”

Are we like the people of Israel? Do we betray and humiliate God by running off to be with other “gods”? What are the other gods in our lives that we seek out for a kind of comfort we don’t think we can get from the true God? What do those gods offer? A moment of pleasure or solace. What does the true God offer? Eternal shalom and contentment. Where should our priorities lie? Seems like an easy choice.

What does the Bible say about Homosexuality and Gay Marriage? (Part 1): Thoughts on what is and what isn’t there.

What does the Bible say about Homosexuality and Gay Marriage? (Part 1)

You might remember that I was called to be your pastor in 2014.

My first Sunday here was also the Sunday when there was a “town hall” church meeting to discuss the PCUSA General Assembly decision that pastors and churches were allowed to conduct gay marriages.

Simply put, the PCUSA policy is that we are allowed to conduct gay marriage but are not required to do so.

Some thought JMPC should have a policy on what our position gay marriage was so that people would know.

I did not want the church to create a policy on something that was, for us at that time, purely hypothetical.

We already had a policy that said for someone to be married in our sanctuary, they had to be a member or sponsored by a member.

As your pastors, could not be required to conduct any marriage.

Most importantly, I did not want to prohibit any  marriage of two members of our church, perhaps baptized here, confirmed here, and certainly loved here, simply because they were the same sex.

Why not decide then?

And that is where it we left it.

But then you asked us to preach on it.

So, here we go.

This is a big topic.

There are many books and articles that have been written about homosexuality and the Bible.

I have read many of them.

And I have come to a particular conclusion that I will share this morning.

Know that I cannot give this topic it’s due in 20 or even 40 minutes.

I would be happy to have a Bible study on it if folks want to dig deep.

For those that just want to know what I think, you will have to trust my research and interpretation.

Let me start here.

Last week, we talked about what the Bible says about guns.

We all laughed a bit when at the flippant response of “nothing” because guns did not exist in Jesus’ day.

While the Bible does say a few things about how we might use guns, the concept of a “gun” is simply not there.

This week we are answering the question about the what the Bible says about homosexuality and gay marriage.

But I must be transparent.

I have a personal story.

In 2004, my son, Aaron, appeared sad and troubled.

All he told us was that he had started to date someone but that it didn’t work out.

Sometime later AJ said he had something to tell us.

He was pretty anxious about it as we sat down in our living room.

He wanted us to know that the relationship that did not work out had been with another man.

After he said that AJ was quiet.

I asked AJ simply, “Are you telling us you are gay?”

His answer was equally simple.

“Yes.”

What made AJ anxious is that he did not know how we would react to this news.

I could understand that.

He had been raised, and confirmed his faith, in a church that did not affirm homosexuality.

In 2004, the PCUSA did not permit homosexuals to be ordained into any church office.

It certainly did not permit homosexuals to be married by PCUSA ministers or in PCUSA churches.

The view most widely spoken in most churches was that homosexuality was a lifestyle “outside the will of God”.

It should have been no surprise that AJ was apprehensive about “coming out” to mom and dad who had also been raised in such churches.

Would mom and dad still accept him and love him?

Well, we did, and we do.

One concern we had was that if and when AJ met someone “special”, they could never be married because that was not allowed in either the church or the state.

Well, AJ did meet someone special.

His name is Adam.

Their romance blossomed and now they are going to get married, thanks to the fact that gay marriage is now legal in the U.S.

What’s even better is that the marriage of AJ and Adam is being officiated by a PCUSA pastor because as I said, in 2014, the PCUSA granted permission to PCUSA pastors to do it.

I am not that pastor because my assignment is to “just be dad” and to make an embarrassing speech.

To me, it’s all good.

But I know that there are members of this congregation who scratch their heads and wonder how I and the PCUSA can be “OK” with this.

Doesn’t the Bible say this is forbidden?

An abomination?

What does the Bible say about homosexuality and gay marriage?

Here is the surprise.

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

Over the next two weeks, I will tell you why I believe that.

Next week I will talk about marriage.

This week I will talk about sexual preference – homosexuality – LGBT people.

They are two different things.

So, to get started let me ask this question.

First, this.

Why do we care?

Last week we talked about guns and one reason we did that is because guns can be used to hurt people.

We care about that.

And we learned that the Bible does not prohibit weapons but does prohibit some ways we use them.

But how does homosexuality hurt us?

Why do some find it so disturbing that homosexuals are demeaned and attacked?

Here is what I think.

Many of those who are heterosexual find homosexuality profoundly unattractive.

They find it “icky”.

They can’t imagine it, and don’t want to.

They can’t help that.

It’s a gut thing.

They feel so strongly about it that they want it to be forbidden.

One place they look for such a prohibition is the Bible.

If the Bible says its bad, that’s good.

Because so do they.

No change in the law or change in the church can change the way they think about it.

And I am not here to try, and I am not here to judge, though what I have to say is worth thinking about, at least as far as the Bible goes.

What does the Bible say?

First, we have to talk about two different things.

Sexual orientation or preference: that is who we are attracted to.

Sexual conduct: that is who we have sexual relations with.

One is who we are.

The second is what we do.

Let’s start with what the Bible says about sexual preference – who we are.

Nothing.

The concept of “sexual orientation or preference” is nowhere in scripture.

There are a couple of suggestions of loving relationships between men and between women that are affirming, but they are vague and are not what the passages are about.

In Biblical times, the concept of sexual orientation and preference was not on the minds of anyone.

What was on their minds was sexual conduct.

There are a few references to that.

These are the ones that people recite to support their belief that homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals are sinners.

But when read in context, they simply do not say that.

Two in particular are in the Old Testament.

The first in Genesis.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  

Two angels visit Abraham’s nephew Lot who lives in Sodom.

While the angels are residing in Lot’s house, all the men of Sodom demand that Lot give the angels to the men so that the men can, basically, rape them.

Lot refuses, he and his family escape, and Sodom is destroyed by God for its evil.

What was the evil?

Not homosexuality.

This is what Ezekiel says about why Sodom was destroyed.

Ezekiel 16:49-50

49This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

No mention of sex there.

That abdominal thing?

A refusal of hospitality.

Instead of food, shelter and protection to those in need, gang rape.

Certainly, an abomination, then and now.

The next reference is the Holiness Code of Leviticus which governed Israel as it journeyed to the Promised Land.

Leviticus 18: 22 and 20:13.

22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

and

13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

This is certainly sexual contact between men.

Not who they are but what they do.

Why is this an “abomination”?

Because it was a way for men to worship foreign gods.

These verses simply have nothing to do with sexual orientation.

They do have to do with sex, but their sinfulness is not about sex.

It’s about worshiping false gods.

Male cult prostitutes used by men as part of pagan religious practices in tribes surrounding Israel.

Israel was God’s chosen people who were to distinguish themselves by refusing to participate in the religious practices of other tribes.

Worshiping foreign gods while being in covenant with YHWH was the abomination.

[As an aside, cloth made of two different fabrics and fields planted with two different kinds of seed were forbidden as abominations.

Eating pork or shellfish were abominations as well.]

So, these Old Testament passages really don’t condemn homosexuality or sexual conduct other than in pagan rituals and sexual assault.

Simply put, the Old Testament is not a good source for laws against it.

And we also need to remember this:

Something important happened between then and now.

A new covenant.

Jesus.

The fulfilment of the law that reconciles us to God.

So, what did Jesus say about sexual orientation?

Nothing at all.

Jesus did talk about marriage, but that is not a text about sexual orientation or even sex.

But I will talk about marriage next week.

Does the New Testament talk about homosexuality anywhere?

Again, no.

It does talk about sexual conduct that is a sign of our sinful nature.

What kind of sexual conduct?

Paul describes it in his letter to the Romans.

Uncontrolled.

Unrestrained.

Uninhibited.

Abusive.

Idolatrous.

Punitive.

Not homosexuality or sexual preference or sexual orientation.

Homosexual certainly, but also heterosexual.

And no one argues that any of those things are good, then or now.

I’m aware that some rely on short passages in  1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy and Jude to support a homosexual prohibition, but I don’t read them that way.

So, does the New Testament say anything that we might consider affirming about those whose sexuality different?

While not explicit, we see something of it in today’s scripture.

Acts 8: 26-39

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth. 
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’ 
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

There are basically three things that we need to note in this passage.

First, this Ethiopian is a eunuch.

He is neither male nor female in the eyes of the world.

His male genitalia are not present.

His sexuality is uncertain.

He is excluded from the assembly of the Lord according to the Old Testament.

Second, he is seeking a right relationship with God.

That is why he had been to Jerusalem.

He is reading Isaiah!

Third, after Philip gives the eunuch a bit of instruction, the eunuch asks to be baptized.

Phillip, a disciple of Jesus, baptizes him because there is no reason not to.

The Ethiopian’s uncertain sexuality does not exclude him from becoming a disciple of Jesus.

Of course, this is a thin affirmation, but there is basically nothing else.

Why?

Because it did not matter.

Jesus says this about eunuchs.

Some are forced into it; some choose it; some are born that way.

More importantly, Jesus says this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Loving God is worshiping God alone.

Loving neighbor is caring for and about your neighbor.

There is nothing there about sexual orientation.

There is nothing there about intimate relationships between people of the same sex.

Only the prohibition of sexual acts that are abusive, idolatrous, punitive, uncontrolled, uninhibited and unrestrained.

We need to be very careful not to curse someone for doing something we find unattractive when the Bible is unclear or silent.

There is little you can do about your dislike of a lifestyle that is unattractive to you.

But Jesus teaches that we are not to hate those who are different from us, just because they are different.

What does the Bible say about sexual orientation?

Nothing.

What does it say about loving, committed same sex relationships and  same sex marriage?

Come back next week and we will talk about that.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: What does the Bible say about homosexuality and gay marriage? (Part 1)

A few years ago, a pastor friend of mine and I were talking about a beloved member of his new church who had died. She was “full of years” as they say. She had been a faithful member of the church, sung in the choir, and been ordained a Deacon. She was a retired teacher. She had never been married. When he went to the viewing, he saw a woman sitting next to the casket who was clearly disconsolate. Not knowing who she was, he asked a member of the congregation. He was told that this woman had lived with his dead parishioner for decades. She too was a retired teacher. She too had never been married. My friend assessed the situation and decided that he would treat this woman sitting by the casket as if she were his parishioner’s spouse. He sat next to her and talked to her about her life with his parishioner. He had her sit up front at the funeral. He mentioned her close relationship with the parishioner during the eulogy. He gave her a hug at the graveside. A few weeks later another of his parishioners asked him what he thought about the PCUSA proposal to allow same sex weddings to be conducted by pastors in church. He told his parishioner about his interaction with the woman sitting by the casket and said that their relationship might have been a marriage, but of course he did not know. His parishioner looked at him with mouth open and finally said, “That never occurred to me!” This amusing story made me think. What would the congregation have done if she had told them she and her roommate were “more than friends”? Would they have labeled her a sinner and made her leave the church? Would they have defrocked her as a Deacon? Or would they have affirmed her monogamous relationship with her companion? Might they have said something like, “Who cares?” What does the Bible say they should do? This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church, Pastor Jeff will preach “What does the Bible say about Homosexuality and gay marriage?” This topic is timely timeless. Come and hear about it at 8:30 and 11. Keep your heart and mind open. We will look forward to seeing you.

What does the Bible say about guns? Thoughts on when arms are justified.

What does the Bible say about guns?

When I was in seminary, I took a class from one of my favorite professors.

I don’t remember how it came up, but she criticized the United States for being the only country to ever use nuclear weapons.

She was, of course, talking about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

I challenged her on that criticism by telling her about my dad.

Jim Tindall joined the Marines in 1944 when he was only 17 years old.

He fought in the Philippines with Marine Bomber Squadron VBM 611.

He was with the ground troops whose job was to capture and secure airfields from the Japanese for the bombers.

When the Philippines were retaken, his next task was going to be part of the invasion of Japan.

Had that invasion taken place, casualties on both sides would have been astronomical.

One study estimated that invading Japan would cost 1.7–4 million American casualties, including 400,000–800,000 fatalities.

There was also an estimate of five to ten million Japanese fatalities.

The odds were against my dad surviving that invasion.

Thankfully, that invasion did not happen.

It did not happen because we dropped those 2 bombs.

While still horrifying, the use of those bombs saved hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of lives.

Including Jim Tindall’s.

It certainly would have been better if there had been no war at all and so no need to use those bombs.

But that was not the way it was.

Were we justified in using those weapons?

It’s complicated.

Today I am going to talk about different weapons.

I could be talking about any weapon.

But the question you asked me to talk about was what the Bible says about guns.

In the United States today, there is a great debate about gun violence and whether we should be able to regulate guns as a society.

And I can understand why this is important.

Here are some statistics.

In 2016, 4.7 million pistols, 850,000 revolvers, 4.2 million rifles, 850,000 shotguns and 833,000 uncategorized firearms were manufactured in the United States.

That does not include imported firearms of which there were 4.5 million.

It does not include the ones already here.

That’s a lot of guns.

Many of them are used for sport or hunting.

I own two shotguns.

I take them to the skeet or trap or sporting clays ranges and try to hit clay targets shot from slings.

It’s fun.

I also occasionally watch the NRA channel (I think its actual name is the Outdoors Channel, but it’s mainly a gun show).

They have these competitions where someone goes through an obstacle course that makes them shoot at targets from angles and distances while standing behind or beside “cover”.

I confess, it looks like fun.

I also know people that hunt.

I have no interest in hunting, but I have fired a few rounds at targets from a hunting rifle.

It was fun.

But these weapons can also be used on people, right?

Here are some more statistics.

In 2017, there were 14,500 gun murders in the U.S.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki there were 226,000 deaths.

So in the U.S. over the last 20 years, perhaps, we have had more deaths from gun violence than from the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Does the Bible say anything about using weapons and specifically guns against other people to kill or injure?

I will limit my answer to the New Testament and the specifically the words of Jesus.

Those are the words that we try to live by, right?

So, what does Jesus say about guns?

Of course, the flippant answer to that is nothing … nothing at all.

When Jesus walked the earth, there were no guns.

Nor were there nuclear weapons, missiles, B-17s (which my uncle George Thursby flew in), tanks, cannons, long bows … you get the picture.

To say that Jesus has nothing to say about guns would be to say Jesus has nothing to say about any weapon that did not exist in his day.

But that is the beauty of Jesus.

Jesus speaks to us in 2020, not because he specifically addresses things inconceivable to him during his time on earth, but because Jesus speaks to a way of life that promotes love of God and love of neighbor.

How that applies to weapons is complicated.

There are generally three things we might think of when we think about Jesus and guns.

Jesus says, “turn the other cheek”.

Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers”.

Jesus says, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”.

Hearing Jesus say these things, it would be easy to say that Jesus would reject any kind of gun that could be used to harm another person, which is basically all of them, right?

But then we get to today’s scripture reading.

Luke 22: 35-38

35 He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ 36He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ 38They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

Did you hear that?

Jesus tells his disciples this:

And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 

Swords were the handguns of Jesus day.

So, today would Jesus say, sell your coat and buy a gun?

People have been puzzling over this passage since Luke handed out his Gospel.

It just does not sound like Jesus, right?

So let’s put it in context and see what it might mean.

Our text comes from Luke’s description of the Last Supper.

Jesus tells his disciples about what their lives were going to be like after he was gone.

Jesus reminds his disciples that when he sent them out on their own before, they were told to take nothing with them because they could expect to be welcome wherever they went.

In those days, Jesus was hailed as a healer and teacher.

Jesus was famous and honored and well liked and … well … feared.

Surely people would, and did, feed and shelter his disciples.

But things were about to change.

Jesus was going to die the death of a criminal.

An outlaw.

So, all his followers, and certainly his inner circle, would be considered outlaws as well.

Hospitality was unlikely.

People would probably react to the disciples with derision and scorn.

Many were going to want the disciples dead.

Jesus was telling them to be prepared.

Have money.

Have supplies.

Arm yourselves.

A sword was more important than a coat.

Jesus is telling his disciples that they are about to be outlaws and will need food, shelter and security in order to survive.

And Jesus wanted them to survive.

They were to be his witnesses to the world.

To do that they needed to live.

And to survive, they needed to be armed.

But the purpose of being armed was to prevent someone from taking what they needed to survive.

Swords were for self-preservation.

Preservation of the community.

So you might ask, how is that consistent with turning the other cheek, or being a peacemaker, or avoiding death by sword?

We need more context.

Earlier in Luke, Jesus gives this instruction to his followers.

29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Does that mean we must allow folks to assault us and rob us?

Make peace by being dooormats?

Have no way of protection ourselves?

No.

That is not what Jesus is saying.

When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he was not talking about an assault.

Getting a slap on the cheek in Jesus’ day was just an insult.

It was humiliating and demeaning.

Then and now the normal response was to strike back.

It’s what I would want to do.

But when we strike back, things often escalate and go out of control.

Jesus is saying don’t do that.

Don’t escalate.

Do what you must to make peace, defend if you must, but no more.

When Jesus says to give up your shirt if someone takes your coat, he is again not saying that we are to be doormats.

Jesus is saying that you should not harm or kill over stuff.

Stuff can be replaced.

Life can’t.

But it is a bit more than that.

Jesus is also saying that we need to understand proportion.

Insults are no reason to draw blood.

Your stuff is not to be a reason for violence.

And while in appropriate circumstances swords can be used for self-preservation, when you pull one out, it leads to a sword fight and sometimes you lose.

And die.

Which is why Jesus says to live by the sword is to die by the sword.

It’s just true.

And everyone in those days knew it.

But there is another reason to think before you decide to fight.

When I started boxing, Craig Wolfley, my coach, told me that there were tow things I needed to know.

I was going to get hit.

I was going to hit.

If I was not able to do either of those, boxing was not for me.

The same is true here.

Don’t square off to fight, unless you are ready, willing and able to fight.

Why do I say this?

The live and die by the sword comes in this context.

Jesus is about to be arrested.

Some of his disciples pull their swords.

Jesus tells his disciples to put their swords away.

Why does Jesus tell them that?

First, Jesus does not want to be saved.

Second, if the disciples try to save him with their swords, they will all be killed by the large crowd of men armed with clubs and swords.

Trying to save Jesus from this crowd would be basically suicidal.

But there is also this.

Jesus did not want collateral damage.

When one of the disciples pulled out his sword, he cut off the ear of some poor servant who just happened to be standing nearby.

All this risk, for no reason.

So, what was Jesus saying when he tells his disciples to arm themselves?

I think it goes something like this:

You are to love God and love each other.

Caring for and about other people is evidence of both.

Caring for yourself preserves your ability to do those things.

So, if someone is trying to harm you or your neighbor, you are allowed to draw your sword.

If someone is trying to take the things you or your neighbor need to survive, you are allowed to draw your sword.

But don’t use your sword to respond to insults.

Don’t use your sword to protect stuff.

Don’t use your sword when you just can’t win.

For the disciples, that meant swords were allowed … ever recommended … sometimes

In 2020, maybe that means guns are appropriate … sometimes.

So, if someone is trying to harm you or your neighbor, you are allowed to draw your gun.

If someone is trying to take the things you or your neighbor need to survive, you are allowed to draw your gun.

But don’t use your gun to respond to insults.

Don’t use your gun to protect stuff.

Don’t use your gun when you just can’t win.

I think that is what Jesus is saying.

So, how do we decide when to point and shoot at another human being?

This is where the issues of war and guns converge.

Last week Matt talked about war and military service.

For centuries, people have tried to define a “just war”.

A war Jesus might approve of.

What does such a thing look like?

  1. The war must be permissible under the law.
  2. It must be just or warranted.
  3. It must be proportional.
  4. It must do only what needs to be done and no more.
  5. It must be the last resort.

That sounds a bit like Jesus.

That is where we might decide to turn the other cheek.

That is where we might decide that giving up our stuff is better than taking a life.

That is where we might decide to refuse to give up our lives in an unwinnable fight.

 But trying to figure that out in different circumstances can make your head hurt.

It would be better if we had no reason to use guns, but that is not our world right now.

That is why I can say, with some confidence, that my seminary professor who decried weapons was naïve.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not respond to questions I have been asked and which many of you might have about church security.

That is a matter that we plan to address.

But I am no fan of guns into church.

Why?

It’s a matter of competence.

It’s a matter of trust.

Who is competent?

Who is trustworthy?

Who is competent and trustworthy to decide those things?

There is too much risk of injury to bystanders.

Kind of like what happened to that poor servant at Jesus’ arrest.

An errant sword swing cut off his ear.

We want none of that here.

What does the Bible say about guns?

It’s complicated.

But worth thinking about.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: What does the Bible say about … ? sermon series continues. This week: Guns.

I took a class at seminary on the New Testament letters. My professor was one of my favorites. I don’t remember how it came up, but she was critical of the United States for being the only country to ever use nuclear weapons. She was, of course, talking about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. I challenged her on that criticism by telling her about my dad. Jim Tindall joined the Marines in 1944 when he was only 17 years old. He fought in the Philippines with the VBM 611 bomber unit. His job was to capture and secure airfields for the bombers. When the Philippines were retaken, his next task, along with the rest of the Marines in the Philippines, was going to be the invasion of Japan. Had that invasion taken place, casualties on both sides would have been astronomical. One study estimated that invading Japan would cost 1.7–4 million American casualties, including 400,000–800,000 fatalities. There was also an estimate of five to ten million Japanese fatalities. The odds were against my dad surviving that invasion. That invasion did not happen because we dropped those bombs. While still horrifying, the use of those bombs saved hundreds of thousands of people. Were we justified in using those weapons? In the United States today, there is a great debate about gun violence and whether we should be able to regulate guns as a society. Are we ever justified in using weapons against other people to kill or injure? We have been asked “What does the Bible say about guns?” in our congregational survey. Come and hear about it on Sunday, February 16 at 8:30 or 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches about it based on Luke 22: 36-39. We will look forward to seeing you.

What does the Bible say about Salvation? Thoughts on sheep and goats.

What does the Bible say about Salvation?

Today we embark on a theological journey that pursues the answer to many questions about what the Bible says about several things.

Each one could support a month-long Bible study.

But I can only provide an overview in about 20 minutes.

So let’s get started.

When my son was four, Karen and I enrolled him at the Temple Emanuel preschool in Mt. Lebanon.

AJ made many friends there and learned a fair amount of what it meant to be Jewish.

AJ knew he was not Jewish.

He even said that on TV when a local news crew asked kids at Temple Emanuel what Hanukkah was about.

AJ explained it nicely and then said “and that’s why we celebrate Hanukkah. Well I don’t because I’m not even Jewish!”

That was 30 years ago, and they still remember and laugh about it at Temple Emanuel.

AJ’s Jewish education was in addition to our Sundays at Southminster Presbyterian Church where AJ went to Sunday school.

I thought this ecumenical education was good for him.

Then one day AJ asked me a question.

Are my Jewish friends not going to heaven?

That short question took my breath away.

I said something like, “That’s up to God and I don’t believe God would keep people out of heaven just because they were Jewish.”

He nodded and seemed satisfied.

But that got me to thinking.

What does the Bible say about who gets saved and who doesn’t?

What does the Bible say about salvation?

Here is what Jesus says.

Matthew 25: 31-46

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

The great revivalists of the 19th and 20th centuries had a particular method for evangelization of those who came to their tents.

The biggest part was a series of sermons that included this question:

If you were to die tonight, do you know if you will go to heaven?

What followed was often a long list of scripture passages that said you must believe in Jesus in order to be certain heaven was your destiny.

Then there would be an altar call.

You would be asked to come forward and recite the sinner’s prayer.

Billy Graham’s went this way:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name.

Amen.

This prayer signified repentance, gratitude and faith.

The one praying was now a Christian and if hit by a bus right after the revival would indeed go to heaven.

The idea was simple enough.

“Believers go to heaven and unbelievers don’t”.

Believe and be saved.

Don’t believe and be damned.

Is it that simple?

Or is it a bit more complicated?

There is some scriptural support for altar call conversion.

But there is also a good deal of scripture that does not support it.

So, what did Jesus say in our text?

Here are some things about the passage that we need to know.

Our text today is the only passage in the New Testament that describes how we will be judged at the end of time.

It is Jesus talking.

It is not a parable, though it does use a shepherd, sheep and goat metaphor.

Jesus is saying, “This is how it is going to work.”

So, we need to pay particular attention to this passage and perhaps read all those other statements about who goes to hell in light of this one.

To be clear, there is a good deal of debate about how we should interpret this passage.

All of it comes from the way we translate a Greek phrase.

Panta ta ethne.

It’s in v. 32.

The NRSV translates it “all the nations”.

Others translate it “all the gentiles”.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both translations, and the theological implications are pretty big.

For those who translate panta ta ethne as to “all the gentiles”.

The least of these or the “little ones” are interpreted as Jesus’ followers because Jesus refers to them as family.

So what Jesus is saying is, if gentiles treat Jesus’ followers well, they get into heaven.

If not, they don’t.

Its all about the gentiles.

So, what about Jews?

They are not mentioned.

What does that mean?

Maybe that they are welcomed into the Kingdom because they are still God’s chosen regardless of what they do.

We just don’t know.

The implication is that the requirements of this passage don’t apply to Christians because they said the sinner’s prayer and are forgiven because of their faith and belief.

Saved by faith alone is the way Paul puts it.

But I am uncomfortable with that concept.

Does that mean all I need to do is say, “I believe in Jesus!” and I’m saved?

That reminds me of my initiation into my fraternity in college.

We were given a secret password, and secret handshake and a secret response to a challenge from someone who wanted to make sure we were really brothers.

Here was the problem.

None of these things were really secret.

Lots of people knew all that stuff.

So, someone could say the right words, but that did not make them my brothers.

Is the sinner’s prayer kind of like that?

A sort of heavenly password?

Whether we believe it or not?

And if we say those words can we now treat other Christians with contempt without concern?

Can we act like condemned gentiles with impunity?

It doesn’t seem fair.

Doesn’t seem just.

Is that faith?

Is that belief?

I don’t think so.

But even if I have faith and belief, is tends to fluctuate from time to time.

I don’t know about you, but my faith and belief are often a wilderness journey with many hills and valleys.

So, do I have enough faith?

Some of us don’t even know from moment to moment if we have any faith at all.

And sometimes we kind of find it all hard to believe, right?

It’s like those holiday signs in Macys at Christmas that say “Believe”.

Believe in what?

Macy’s

Consumerism?

Santa?

Jesus?

And then what about all those times we look up and say:

Where are you God?

Are you there?

Are you really there?

We see that in scripture.

Read the Psalms.

Listen to Jesus on the cross.

If I have to believe that faith is the only way, I am afraid I might not make the cut.

But … if panta ta ethne means “all the nations”, it means that everyone – me, you, the folks at Temple Emanuel, all those gentiles, and everyone else – stands before Jesus and is judged by the same standard.

What is that standard?

Did we do what Jesus asked?

Did we live the way Jesus lived?

Did we believe that Jesus’ way of life was the only way to live?

Did we take care of each other?

Did we love each other?

Did we love Jesus?

Did we love Jesus by living the way Jesus lived?

Loving God and loving each other?

If we did, we go to Jesus right.

We are sheep.

I like that.

But this interpretation disturbs many.

Why?

Because it means we have to do something to prove we belong on Jesus right.

That we are sheep.

What proof?

What does Jesus say?

Feed the hungry.

Give water to the thirsty.

Clothe the naked.

Welcome the strangers.

Care for the sick.

Visit the prisoners.

Care for and about each other.

I find it interesting that there is no mention of any theology, philosophy, orthodoxy or ecclesiastical rules or practices.

Just caring for and about each other.

What disturbs many about this interpretation is that we wonder if we measure up.

We worry that we did not do enough!

But remember, Jesus does not say we need to care for everyone.

We can’t physically, geographically, or economically do that.

What we are told by Jesus to do is what we can.

The best we can.

Within our capabilities.

Some can do a little.

Some can do a lot.

We can help one person, or we can seek to change the system that allows these needs to continue.

Leonard Sweet is dean of Drake Theological Seminary.

Sweet says this:

Jesus taught that we live in a world where what goes on in one corner affects every corner, where what happens to one child in Turkey affects every [person in] Manhattan. How can this be? One of the greatest discoveries of the soul, Jesus said, is the awareness that there is no separation between anything. Touch one thing and you touch everything. Touch earth and you touch heaven. Help one life and you help every life. Show one person love and you show love to the universe. Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to Jesus.

But you have to do something.

But we can all do something.

So, in the end, I find this passage remarkably hopeful.

Regardless of where my faith is on any given day, I can do something that Jesus tells me is important.

And this makes sense.

It answers AJ’s question.

Who is saved?

Sheep.

Who isn’t?

Goats.

We don’t need to say the magic words or even know what they are.

We don’t need to measure our faith or belief.

We just ask if we lived the Jesus way.

If so I am a sheep.

Who is a goat?

Maybe only those who do none of what Jesus describes – ever!

When I think about it that way, I’m not sure I ever met a goat.

I find that comforting, too.