Posts Tagged ‘Wesley Hill’

Sermon 05-17-15: “Honor God with Your Bodies, Part 1”

May 27, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

This is the first of two sermons in which I look at the issue that threatens to split our denomination in two: homosexuality, or same-sex sexual behavior. In this sermon I begin examining some popular, though tragically misguided, arguments for changing our church’s doctrine in light of Paul’s words on the subject in 1 Corinthians 6.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

No video this week, but click the playhead below to listen to the audio. To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3.

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

“Deflate-gate” was back in the news last week. An NFL commission determined that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady knew that the footballs he used in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts last January were inflated below the league minimum for air pressure: he knew they were under-inflated. So, the commission determined, Brady cheated—and he lied about about cheating. For one thing, in his smartphone contacts, the assistant equipment manager who deflated the footballs was nicknamed the “Deflator.” The NFL didn’t buy Brady’s explanation that he nicknamed him that because the man was trying to lose weight!

brady01

In the minds of many, however, the NFL came down with a surprisingly steep penalty: a four game suspension of Brady without pay; a fine; and a loss of future draft picks for the team.

Was this penalty too harsh? Many people thought so, including Donald Trump, who tweeted: “People are so jealous of Tom Brady and the Patriots… They can’t beat him on the field, so this!”

trump_tweet

A few, like basketball commentator Dick Vitale, however, thought the penalty was too lenient. Vitale said that since Brady flat-out cheated, he should get a six-game suspension. And besides, if being suspended means spending more time with his supermodel wife Gisele, how bad can the punishment be? Read the rest of this entry »

“You can’t add one thing to what’s been done for you”

August 28, 2013
adam_ant

Adam Ant, at 58, singing and playing his heart out in Atlanta earlier this month.

I saw a childhood hero of mine, Adam Ant, at Atlanta’s Center Stage Theater earlier this month. Ant (née Stuart Goddard), who struggled for years with bipolar disorder, is healthy again. He and his band have been touring non-stop for the past three years, and they have chops!

The reason I mention this concert is because Adam Ant is just another in a long line of childhood heroes—mostly musicians, in my case—who I thought I had outgrown at some point in my life.

In fact, over the past several years, I’ve returned as a grown-up to every band or artist I ever loved as a child, adolescent, or teenager, and you know what? I still love them: the Beatles, Paul McCartney and/or Wings, Adam Ant, Styx, Asia, Men at Work, the Police, you name it. If I ever loved them, I love them still.

The funny thing is, there was a period of time in my life when I thought I’d outgrown them. Even the Beatles! As hard as it is to imagine now, I went about 15 years without listening to this band that had been one of the most formative influences in my life, not to mention my musical development.

So, musically speaking, I’ve come back home.

I thought of this just a couple of days ago. While I was running, I was listening to Keith Green’s Ministry Years 1977-1979 on my smartphone. Years ago, I thought I had outgrown Green’s music—along with the other first-generation Christian rock bands or artists I listened to back in high school or college. Never mind that Green’s two-disc compilation Ministry Years helped see me through a very difficult freshman year in college.

I realize now, of course, that I haven’t outgrown Keith Green. In fact, having been to seminary and read and studied a lot of theology over the past nine years, I’m actually impressed that his songs are as theologically rich and orthodox as they are.

When I was running the other day, this Green song brought me to tears—the same way it did 25 years ago when I first heard it. Again, I feel like I’ve come back home. The song, written from God’s first-person perspective, challenges us to imagine how much God loves us, his children, even when we’re tempted to doubt it.

Nearly every line is perfect. I could quibble with the one in the refrain in which our Lord tells us, “To me, you’re only holy.” Well, not quite, the Wesleyan in me would say, but we’re in the process of becoming holy. And we can be confident that through the Holy Spirit we’ll get there eventually—in the resurrection if not before.

As the song reminds us, even when we fall victim to sin, we can always receive a fresh start from our merciful Savior: “Nothing that you’ve done will remain, only what you’ve done for me.”

Last year, when I blogged about Wesley Hill’s profoundly moving book about his struggle, as a homosexual, to remain faithful to Christ, I drew attention to the following grace-filled paragraph that applies to all of us sinners as we struggle to overcome sin—whatever our particular sin or sins happen to be. The words in italics represent my small changes to what Hill wrote:

Christianity’s good news provides—amply so—for the forgiveness of sins and the wiping away of guilt and the removal of any and all divine wrath through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Seen in this light, the demand that we say no to the sins we struggle with need not seem impossible. If we have failed in the past, we can receive grace—a clean slate, a fresh start. If we fail today or tomorrow in our struggle to be faithful to God’s commands, that, too, may be forgiven. Feeling that the guilt of our past sins or present failures is beyond the scope of God’s grace should never be a barrier preventing anyone from embracing the demands of the gospel. God has already anticipated our objection and extravagantly answered it with the mercy of the cross.[†]

This message of extravagant love and grace comes through in Green’s song. And it’s a message I need to hear—and then hear again!

Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 64.

About Adam Hamilton’s recent sermon on homosexuality

September 27, 2012

Have you noticed that I dress like Adam Hamilton?

At General Conference this summer, Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, two of our most famous UMC pastors, made a motion to change our United Methodist Book of Discipline to say, in effect, “We agree to disagree on homosexuality.” Their motion failed, I’m happy to report. I imagine that very few doctrines of our church enjoy unanimous support. Besides, we don’t require that members agree about doctrine in order to be members in good standing. (By the way, this doesn’t apply to clergy.) “Agree to disagree” is already an implicit part of what it means to be United Methodist.

At the time, I was disappointed that Hamilton made this motion, simply because I thought, based on a chapter in Confronting the Controversies, that he was on “my” side of the issue—which is to support our Discipline‘s traditional understanding of homosexual behavior. I couldn’t imagine that someone on “my” side would want to water it down in this way. It was also disappointing because Hamilton has been committed to reforming the institution of the United Methodist Church. Along with many others, I believe that reform starts by reclaiming Christian orthodoxy. Whatever else it may be, the Discipline‘s language on homosexuality represents orthodox Christian thinking on the subject.

With this in mind, I wasn’t surprised when Hamilton preached this sermon earlier this month, at the end of which he said he was “leaning” toward full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. I admire his courage in saying so, although to say he’s “leaning” is a bit mealy-mouthed compared to the impassioned words that precede this conclusion. If he believes in his argument, how is he merely leaning toward change? Shouldn’t he instead want to storm the barricades of the UMC?

Read the rest of this entry »

Wesley Hill’s “Washed and Waiting”

June 1, 2012

This week I read Wesley Hill’s poignant memoir Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Hill, like many homosexual Christians who find that they can’t not be gay, has chosen the difficult path of celibacy.

Along with the Bible and the weight of two millennia of Christian reflection on the subject, I commend celibacy to all unmarried Christians, with the understanding that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman. As I’ve said before, this puts me at odds with many of my fellow United Methodist clergy, and is deeply counter-cultural.

Hill’s book only reinforces my convictions. Like me, Hill is unpersuaded by creative exegesis that reinterprets what the Bible otherwise says clearly on the subject. But for both Hill and me, the conviction is deeper than proof-texting a few verses and saying the-Bible-tells-me-so. Against the autonomy that many Christians feel they should have over their sex lives, Hill writes:

From the gospel’s point of view, then, there is no absolute right or unconditional guarantee of sexual fulfillment for Christian believers. And this is one more reason the Bible and the church’s prohibitions of homoeroticism have seemed less and less surprising or arbitrary or unfair the more I’ve thought about them within the context of the gospel. If all Christians must surrender their bodies to God in Christ whenever they enter the fellowship of Christ’s body, then it should come as no great shock that God might actually make demands of those Christians and their bodies—demands proving that God, and God alone, has authority over us.[1]

I’m pleased that Hill “agrees” with much of what I’ve written on the subject. Unlike me, however, Hill has paid for the privilege of his convictions.

Having said that, I need to offer an apology. I see now that much of what I’ve said on the topic recently—or at least the way I’ve said it—has been way too glib. I’m sorry. I failed to appreciate how all-consuming this struggle is for gay Christians who are trying their best to be faithful to the Lord. Moreover, I’ve been nursing my own bruised feelings from arguments I’ve had with clergy friends on the subject, and my tone has reflected that pain.

Whatever else Hill’s book is, it is the opposite of glib—as even Hill’s critics would surely concede. Hill describes an unrelenting struggle against something that is at the core of his being. I kept waiting for life to get easier for him. I kept waiting for a happy ending that never quite came.

For me, the most devastating passage in the book took place toward the end, long after Hill came out as a gay, celibate Christian, long after he’d found love and acceptance among Christian friends, long after—silly me—I imagined his struggle should have gotten easier. He describes going to a friend’s wedding reception. All his friends were dancing. They eventually talked him into joining them. They introduced him to a dance partner, a beautiful young woman named Karis. Reluctantly, Hill asked her to dance. (I assume she knew Hill was gay.)

As Hill set the scene, I became aware that I was rooting for Hill to feel an attraction for her. And Hill was apparently rooting for himself to feel something, too.

A couple of days later I explained to my friend Chris over breakfast what had happened. We danced, I said. I was with this beautiful girl. I was holding her hand and touching her back. Her dress was thin and showed every curve on her body, I said. I could feel her sweating through the dress, and, inches from her face, I could see every exquisite feature she had. “And, Chris,” I said. “I felt nothing. No attraction. No awakening or arousal of any kind. No sexual desire whatsoever.”

Chris nodded. He knows my situation backward and forward and wasn’t fazed by what I was telling him.

“The worst of it,” I continued, “is that while I wasn’t attracted at all to this stunningly beautiful person who was my dance partner, I couldn’t stop looking at the guy dancing several feet away from me. I did notice him. I noticed his body, his moves. Chris,” I said, “I was attracted to this guy. All I could see and desire was another guy across the room while I’m dancing with this girl. This is so frustrating. This is what it means to be gay, and I would give anything to change it!”[2]

What do you say to that? How do you tie up this experience with a bow and make it all better? Where’s the consolation?

Consolation does come for Hill, but, unlike my words on the subject, it never comes neatly or easily.

All of us who struggle with sin, whether we’re gay or straight, should be able relate to Hill’s beautiful reflections on God’s grace. I’ll leave you with this:

Christianity’s good news provides—amply so—for the forgiveness of sins and the wiping away of guilt and the removal of any and all divine wrath through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Seen in this light, the demand that we say no to our homosexual impulses need not seem impossible. If we have failed in the past, we can receive grace—a clean slate, a fresh start. If we fail today or tomorrow in our struggle to be faithful to God’s commands, that, too, may be forgiven. Feeling that the guilt of past homosexual sins or present homosexual failures is beyond the scope of God’s grace should never be a barrier preventing anyone from embracing the demands of the gospel. God has already anticipated our objection and extravagantly answered it with the mercy of the cross.[3]

Amen.

1. Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 70.

2. Ibid., 133.

3. Ibid., 64.