Sermon - 10th June 2018
Choosing the right way
Scripture - Genesis 3:8-13; Mark 3:28-35
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Let us begin with a question: thinking back, what was the biggest decision you have ever made in your life?
And a second question: for how many of you did that biggest decision have something to do with your sexuality or gender identity?
Sometimes, the decisions we make can be trivial with little or no apparent consequence in how we choose… tea or coffee? Pizza or curry? To come to church or to miss it and go elsewhere? To accept the offer to go for a drink with a friend, or go home and watch TV…?
About the biggest decision of your life, it is those sorts of decisions which do have consequences, which will change you forever and impact on the lives of others close to us.
Consider this pencil: I can do many things with it, but what if I take a big irreversible decision and act on it… this pencil is broken. We cannot put it back to together; we cannot go backwards, but… and here’s the wonderful thing, we now have new opportunities, like – for example – making out of it, two smaller pencils.
Close to the start of the Bible is a story in Genesis about a big decision, which we will now hear read to us…
<Reading 1: Genesis 3:8-13>
That evening they heard the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid from him among the trees. But the Lord God called out to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden; I was afraid and hid from you, because I was naked.”
“Who told you that you were naked?” God asked. “Did you eat the fruit that I told you not to eat?”
The man answered, “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”
The Lord God asked the woman, “Why did you do this?”
She replied, “The snake tricked me into eating it.”
When you open a Bible, and see it broken into sections, remember this… the headings you read there are not part of the text: they were put there by the editors. Here are four examples from different translations of the passage we have just had read to us. Sadly, these titles can often skew our expectation of what we are about to read.
This story from the start of Genesis is an attempt to explain the heart of the human condition – our separation from our Creator God.
Something I love about the Book of Genesis is the closeness the book’s characters have with God. They talk with God; God talks to them; they exchange ideas with each other. We see this in today’s reading.
One way of looking at this text is to label the actions of Adam and Eve as disobedience to God, something which we might call ‘sin’, and because Adam and Eve ‘sinned’, all humankind are ‘sinners’. This doctrine of Original Sin has been around in Christian thinking since Irenaeus (2nd Century CE) and Augustine (4th Century CE).
In his commentary on Genesis, the Australian queer theologian Michael Carden writes this:
“Rabbinic Judaism rejects Christian notions of a Fall… nevertheless, Jewish tradition has recognized that in eating the fruit, humanity changed… this does not mean that humans are damned or totally separated from the divine. They are still charged to find the good…” [Commentary on Genesis. In: The Queer Bible Commentary (2006), p. 29]
In the story, there is a lot of blame passing. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Ultimately, Adam and Eve are forced to face up to their big decision and they are expelled from the Garden of Eden.
And for us, our biggest decisions will have had consequences. For many, your big decision to leave the country of your birth because of your sexuality; for others, your coming out will have changed your relationships with others…
Remember what I said about the closeness to God the characters have in the book of Genesis. Even after they leave Eden, the dialogue with God continues… Cain, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. And that is a theme which runs through the whole Bible: no matter the choices made, God does not give up on humankind. God keeps open the dialogue for those who are willing to enter into the conversation.
Before our Gospel reading, let us pause to reflect on our biggest decisions with a song “World Without You” from Stephen Schwartz’ musical “Children of Eden”, the composer of “Godspell”. (Click here to listen to it on Youtube.)
Oh my Father, Lord and Creator
You know that half my heart is yours
All that you gave me I can't repay you
If I betray you, I'll break in two
How could I live in a world without you
You'll stay here, Adam, be my son forever…
But oh my life's partner, my wife, my lover
You know that half my heart is yours
Each time I see you, you fill my spirit
Just knowing you're near, it makes the day new
How could I live in a world without you
Oh, Father please don't make me choose
Either way it's more than I can bear to lose
Either way it's ripping out my heart
This choice is tearing me apart
You see what have done
Pain has come into the garden
Where there is choice there is pain
Make this one choice my son
Choose not to eat this fruit
And you will never have to make a choice again
Oh Eve what would you give
If this day you could relive
Would you let the apple go uneaten?
No, I cannot bear to feel this pain
But I would not go back again
Oh my garden, all peace and beauty
I know that all my heart is yours
I want to stay here, stay here forever
Father forever, I cannot leave
But Eve I don't know what else to do
How can I live... I cannot live... I will not live..
In a world without [long pause]… You…
Remember last week, when Mel preached about the boy Samuel being called by God? When Samuel grew up, the people of Israel made a choice: they demanded to have a king like the other nations. God, through Samuel, said that this was a bad idea, and if you read the Old Testament books of 1 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, you will read about a lot of very bad kings!
But despite their choice, just as with Adam and Eve, God did not give up on his people. God had a plan in the shape of Jesus. And now we are going to hear some of Jesus’ most powerful and even unsettling words!
<Reading 2: Mark 3:28-35>
[Jesus said,] “I assure you that people can be forgiven all their sins and all the evil things they may say. But whoever says evil things against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, because he has committed an eternal sin.” (Jesus said this because some people were saying, “He has an evil spirit in him.”)
Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside the house and sent in a message, asking for him. A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, and they want you.”
Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He looked at the people sitting around him and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother.”
The context of this reading is that Jesus has returned to his home town, and the people there do not recognise the young man, the carpenter’s son, they once knew and say He has gone mad! Jesus’ popularity and following is huge, and a few verses earlier, we are told that Jesus and His disciples do not even have a moment to stop and eat! Jesus has just performed a healing and some people say He is demon-possessed, and the way in which they try to fix him is to call for His family.
We LGBT people are sadly used to insults, and we may have endured verbal or even physical abuse. I know from speaking to some of you that your being lesbian or gay has been branded as possession by an evil spirit and families have tried to ‘fix’ you. You are in good company: they saw in Jesus something that did not fit in with their view of the world.
How did Jesus respond? He spoke of forgiveness. As we saw in the Genesis story, God did not give up: throughout history to the coming of Jesus, God’s plan is a simple one: reconciliation of humankind to their Creator.
Jesus’ harsh words about the unforgivable sin were aimed at the inflexible teachers of the Jewish Law. While that verse (Mark 3:29) is open to considerable interpretation, I look at in this way: the unforgiveable sin against God is putting obstacles in the way of God’s simple plan: stopping people responding to God’s love. The homophobic preachers of today (and those whose churches who sit complicity silently on the side-lines) need to hear that!
One of the criticisms levelled at the LGBT community by the homophobes is that we are falsely redefining the family, which to their mind is one man and one woman. You do not need to a Bible scholar to spot that almost none of the personal relationships mentioned in the Bible are like that!
And in our passage today, we hear how Jesus redefined the concept of family. Even though His mother and brothers were just outside, He redefined His mother and brothers and sisters to be those who do God’s work, which is simple – making know God’s unconditional love for all.
Living with the biggest choices we have made, we, too, as LGBT people - with our blood relatives thousands of miles away or through estrangement - our next of kin, our mother or father, our brother or sister is now someone who is a channel for bringing God’s love into our lives.
In the song we heard, one line says, “Where there is choice, there is pain”. That is true, particularly in the context of our lives’ biggest decisions; yet, God’s call and invitation to us has always been to return to the love of our Creator. Humankind’s greatest pain is that separation from God.
Let us respond anew today to God’s call throughout all of history, bringing to God our lives. Amen.