Summary: A sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Series A, Proper 16, based on the second lesson.

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15th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 16] August 24, 2008 “Series A”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, from the beginning you created us male and female, and through the gift of marriage, founded the basis for human community. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word, and give us courage to embrace your will for our lives, that we might embrace and uplift your gift of marriage, that the joy of the family might be renewed. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Several weeks ago, I received a phone call from Pastor Blair, who asked if I had read the latest issue of “Forum Letter,” published by The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, which he graciously pays for my subscription. I told him that I had not as yet received my copy, but would read it as soon as it arrived.

“Well,” he said, “Your sermon is written for August 24th. The cover article, entitled ‘Pastoral Counsel on Gay Marriage,’ needs to be preached. I even looked up the lessons for the next few weeks, and quite frankly, the second lesson for the 24th is a text on which this article is based.”

The next day, my copy of the “Forum Letter” arrived at the church. I immediately sat down at my desk and read the cover article. And I must admit that I found it to be enlightening concerning a couple of issues that face our church on the controversy over gay and lesbian rights, as interpreted by our courts. The fact that in Massachusetts and California it is now legal for persons of the same sex to “marry,” has created a new challenge for the church.

However, before I go any further, I would like to pause and say that I did not find my sermon to be “written” by this article. Although there have been times in which I have found a particular article or another pastor’s sermon or commentary to be so inspiring to me that I have followed their outline or train of thought, I still preach my own sermons. And I do cite and give credit to the author.

Furthermore, I always begin with the assigned lessons for the day, for I believe that this is my responsibility as one called to proclaim the Word of God. And I must admit that Pastor Blair was right, that our lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans, does provide us with the guidance by which we, as Christ’s Church, are to view what becomes the acceptable norms of society.

Listen again, to the second verse of our text: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The truth is, you and I, and all who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, are citizens of the kingdom of God, as we live out our life here on earth, in whatever human society in which we find ourselves.

Thus, Paul is telling us that even though our human society might find certain behaviors and actions to be acceptable and normal, does not mean that this is how we are to live as children of God. The fact that two states have now “redefined marriage” to be any committed relationship between two persons, regardless of whether they are male or female, may be politically correct in our society, but does not mean that it must be adopted by Christ’s Church.

Yet because these two states have determined that it is legal to perform a marriage between two persons of the same sex, brings before the churches in those two states, the possibility that they may be asked to solemnize such unions. And, according to this article by Richard Johnson, the editor of “Forum Letter,” the fact that California has no residency restriction for those seeking to be married in the state, means that same sex couples can go to California to be legally married, and come back to their home states, and seek their churches blessing upon their marriage.

The truth is, I am really disturbed by the direction in which our society is headed, not only with the redefining of marriage, but with many decisions that have been reached over the past fifty years. Quite frankly, individual rights have become so emphasized lately, that I have become concerned about our communal rights, as people living in our society. It is my understanding that protecting the ethical fabric of a community is the basis for individual expression.

Nevertheless, what bothers me even more, is how the leadership of our church, and especially the bishops in the California Synods seem to acquiesce to the norms of society. According to Johnson’s article, a letter addressed to the pastors in the Sierra Pacific Synod, jointly written by the retiring bishop, David Mullen, and the newly elected bishop, Mark Holmerud, was intended to provide pastoral guidance relative to the church’s “changed context” in California.

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