Sunday, February 27, 2005

Just how shocking is the Gospel?

Sunday morning, I went to hear Rev. James Buchanan preach at Fourth Presbyterian Church, "a light in the City" in the shadow of the Hancock Building, at Michigan and Chestnut streets on the Magnificent Mile. It was an amazing experience - one of the first places that I have felt really welcomed into a church in almost 2 years. I'll be quoting some of his sermon - an incredibly powerful preaching on "the woman at the well" passage (John 4) - later on this week. But as a result of his preaching, this image came to me, almost completely, as we prayed the prayers of the church.

Pastor Buchanan started his sermon with the prayer, "Startle us, o God..." - and I admit, I prayed that prayer with him. (I'd say it was the first time one of my prayers had been answered that directly in a long, long time...it certainly worked for me.) Thank you, Pastor, for the inspiration...and with apologies to the author of the Gospel of John, I offer you...

Jesus Talks With A Gay Man - (John 4:1-33, 39-42 - more or less...)

1 In late July, the Metro Chicago Synod heard that Jesus was attracting more first-time visitors and baptizing more adults than any other ELCA pastor in the city, 2 although in fact it was not really Jesus who had baptized them, but his irregularly-commisioned staff of unordained lay ministers. 3 Now when Jesus learned of this, he left the seminary community in Hyde Park and went back once more toward the ELCA headquarters on Higgins Road.

4 Now to get there, he had to go through an area just north of downtown called Boystown. 5 So he came to a part of Boystown called Northhalsted, not far from the plot of ground where Emperor Mayor Daley had ordained that the Chicago Cubs should play baseball. 6 Cub's Stadium was near there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey on the Red Line, sat down at a sidewalk café table outside the bar called Hydrate. It was just about lunch-time, and though the rainbow flags were fluttering in the breeze and the music inside the bar was pumping, there weren't many people around (because it's often hot and miserable outside, at mid-day in late July, in Chicago).

7 A waiter came to the table, wearing a bright pink "His+His" t-shirt and a "Silence=Death" armband, and raised one eyebrow at the man seated at the table in front of him in the "Come Follow Me" t-shirt. Jesus said to him, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (All the lay ministers had gone down the street to pick up Subway sandwiches for the rest of the journey.)

9 The gay man said to him, "Hey...you tell me. After all, you appear to be a straight Christian, and I'm a gay man. Let's face it - we don't get many religious folks in Boystown, let alone places like this. And I'm not only a gay man, but I'm a Muslim gay man. So where does a guy like you get off asking someone like me for a drink?" (For Christians do not associate with gays, nor with Muslims if they can help it.)

10 Jesus answered him, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

11 "Hey, mister," the gay man said, "I'm the waiter here. I don't see you with an order pad or a serving tray, and it's tough for customers to even get close to our fountain-drink station, let alone our bar. So how are you going to get anything for me to drink, let alone 'living water'? Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you somehow greater than the folks who own this place, who let us drink have free water and soda (and snitch the occasional mixed drink) whenever we want?"

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks your water, or your soda, or your beer will get thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

15 The gay man said to him, "Yeah? Mister...you know what, I have no idea who you really are, or even what the heck you're talking about. But you're the first Christian man in 20 years that hasn't spit on me, or called me 'an abomination' to my face. Somehow, I think I want some of what you're offering. Give me some of this water you keep talking about, so I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to get something to drink."

16 Jesus told the man, "OK - just call your wife and come back here, and we'll talk."

17 "Who are you kidding?" the gay man said. "Don't you know where you are? You're in Boystown, for cryin' out loud. I don't have a wife, or a girlfriend. Heck, right now I don't even have a boyfriend," he replied.

Jesus said to her, "You're right when you say you have no boyfriend. The fact is, you've had five boyfriends, and the guy you're living with now isn't even your boyfriend. He's just a guy you picked up in the club - some guy who doesn't even know your real last name."

19 Whoah, buddy," the gay man said, "that's pretty intense! How'd you know that about me?" Jesus was silent. "OK...I get it. Maybe you're one of those folks who can see right through people - maybe one of those guys with 'second sight.' Maybe you're one of those folks who 'have the Spirit,' like those televangelists say. 20 I don't know anything about that. My family - my people (the ones who are observant, anyway) - think that you have to pray five times a day to Allah to get that kind of power. The rest of the people I know don't even bother with that spiritual mumbo-jumbo...they just think you have to work out a lot, look good, live fast, die hard and leave a good-looking corpse. And all the Christians I've met think that I have to pray their way, and start living life their way, or I'm 'going to hell.' Either way, my day-to-day life is so empty, I'm not convinced that I'm not already in hell. What's a guy supposed to believe?"

21 Jesus said, "Believe me, my friend, a time is coming when you won't worship God in Mecca, or in the gym, or in the club, or in a church sanctuary. 22 You and your friends worship what you think you know, but do not know. Christians worship what they do know, for salvation is promised in Scripture. 23 Yet a time is coming - and has now come - when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

25 The gay man said, "I know that the church folks say that their Savior is coming. Maybe when he finally gets here, he will explain everything to us."

26 Then Jesus declared, "Then wait no longer. I'm the one they're waiting for."

The Irregularly-Commissioned Lay Ministers Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then the lay ministers returned and were more than a little surprised to find Jesus apparently talking with a gay man - one who appeared to be Middle-Eastern in origin, to boot. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with him?"

28 Then, leaving his tray and his order pad behind at the table, the gay man went back to the bar, and even next door to the gym and to the other clubs, and said to the people, 29 "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted. Could this possibly be 'the Christ' all those religious folks keep talking about?" 30 People came out of the gym, and out of the bars and clubs, and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile the lay ministers (the ones who considered themselves Jesus' disciples) kept saying, "Hey, padré, you may walk on water, but come on - even Michael Jordan's gotta eat something." 32 But Jesus said to them, "I have a source of energy that you know nothing about."

33 Then his disciples said to each other, "Did someone slip him some Mrs. Field's cookies while we weren't looking?"
....
Many Gays and Lesbians Believe


39 Many of the gays and lesbians who gathered from all around Boystown believed in Jesus because of what the waiter said: "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted." 40 So when the people of that area - gay men, lesbians, bisexuals (even people in civil unions from Vermont and Episcopalians visiting from New Hampshire) came to him, they urged Jesus to stay with them. So rather than continuing the ride out to Higgins Road, the irregularly consecrated lay ministers found some rooms at a nearby bed-&-breakfast, and he stayed in Boystown - amidst the people with whom most Christians would not associate - for two days. 41 And because of what Jesus spoke to the men and women there, many more became believers.

42 The people who heard Jesus said to the gay man who first encountered him, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
+ + +
Yes, Virginia - yes indeed...the Gospel really IS that shocking.

-------
March 17, 2005

Over my shoulder, a backward glance...

Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever expect the attention this entry has received. It's been humbling, and gratifying.

Over the last three weeks, I've followed Sitemeter links to many, many blogs that have linked to it, and read loads of comments. As a result, I feel I need to address a couple things that have been major themes in those comments.

First of all, this entry just poured out of my soul the night after I heard Pastor Buchanan's sermon. In it, I hoped to share a contemporary context for a story that still stuns and amazes me. I haven't gone back and edited the original post, because I truly believe that I was driven to write it by a Higher Power - that's all I can say. In many ways, this is not my writing. I took the NIV text of John 4, and worked from that.

A number of people have quite rightly gotten irate about the image of Christians spitting on a gay man. They have been justifiably angered by a broad-brush tarring of all Christians as homophobic - and I truly do regret that. However, in the same breath I have to admit that many of my gay friends have experienced that kind of behavior, and for several of them, I was the first Christian they had met who hadn't shouted at them, spit at them, or screamed, "You're going to HELL, faggot!" In addition, for 12 years I lived in suburban Kansas City, and repeatedly experienced the Gospel according to the so-called Rev. Fred Phelps as he and his followers protested in front of churches, and even at funerals of gay men.

Even in my own tradition, there is a strong sense that homosexuality is "the rhinoceros in the living room" - so long as we don't wake it up, it won't gore us. It has only been recently (after experiencing the worship communities at Trinity UCC and Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago) that I've found Christian churches that have gone beyond the "don't-ask-don't-tell" level of acceptance. So if you felt this reaction, accept this apology: if I were re-writing it today, I'd do it differently.

I mentioned that I took the NIV text as my starting point. One of the most frequent criticisms of this telling has been, "So where is the repentance? How come you left out the 'go and sin no more' portion of the text?" The fact is, I left it out simply because John left it out.

(Interestingly enough, there are lots of behaviors that I haven't repented of. I still struggle with lust, gluttony, and lying (white and otherwise); I can still be a particularly vulgar individual (especially in Chicago traffic); in short, I have not repented of a lot of the sins I committed before I accepted Christ as my savior. That doesn't mean I don't believe; that doesn't mean I don't strive. It's the difference between justification and sanctification, I guess. And frankly, people have been arguing models of soteriology for hundreds of years. I'm not going to solve those battles here...)

Another recurring comment is, "What's so freakin' shocking?" The answer, surprisingly, should be "Nothing." After all, in churches that have been using the Revised Common Lectionary, the story of the woman at the well has come up every three years for a long, long time. And the commentaries on the Gospels talk about just how much despising there was between Samaritans and Jews. So we've known all this for a while. It shouldn't surprise anyone.

But people are shocked, and startled. One man wrote, "It's like opening a bottle of ginger ale and finding Bushmill's Irish Whiskey inside; it's not bad, but it is a bit of a shock."

I think a part of this is because so much of the media and conservative Christianity has painted homosexuals as the destroyers of marriage, families, and all that is good - and the image of Jesus talking to one of "them" has been mind-blowing to a number of folks. We forget how scandalous Romans 5:8 really is: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (NIV).

A number of people have pointed out that Jesus was a Middle-Easterner, and no one would have talked to Jesus about being "Christian" or being connected with them. You're right on - point taken. If I were re-writing it, I'd probably have changed the word to "religious people."

A few comments have been made about my use of the term "irregularly-consecrated lay ministers" instead of "disciples." This is a particularly un-subtle dig at my denomination, who regularly claims "the priesthood of all believers," but sets up sacraments (such as baptism) as things only done by regularly consecrated and ordained ministers. Call me a heretic (get in line, if you do...) but I believe the presence of the Word, the water, the people, and the Holy Spirit was enough for Jesus' time...what's different now?....

I posted some additional reflections a couple days after writing this - you can find them here and here.

Finally - to everyone who has written, and commented, and linked: I give thanks to God for you, for your affirmation, and for the time you spent to comment, to encourage, and to challenge. I'm grateful for all the attention - and hope that my few scratchings here point people back to the Gospel, to an outrageous Jesus, and to the endless love that is in Christ. Soli Deo gloria.

48 comments:

Poor Mad Peter said...

STeve, this is amazing. May i pass it on to our online spirituality group, Springs Family?

Rick said...

Amazing what the Gopsel really is! Great post. Outstanding!

Love is bold.

Rick

So I Go said...

whoa!! amazing.. thank you Steve for this incredible post.

jeff

Im A Foto Nut said...

I get the point. Then again I never dissagreed that Heaven, and Christ's Salvation was for ALL sinners.

My other comments are best held form offline conversation.

Geo said...

The True Gospel of Jesus is so GREAT even most christians do not believe it!
Great Stuff!

Thanks

Peace

Wes said...

A treasure in a beautiful and intuitive revelation of scripture.

Im A Foto Nut said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chris said...

Wow. Simply wow. Where can I read more of this Gospel of Grace and Love?

RickinVa said...

This was powerful...

And I've asked my conservative friends to comment on it over at my blog...

Jeff H said...

Maybe it's just me and my background, but it's not all that shocking to me. More shocking is that so few Christians get it--that the Gospel is a scandal. It is not meant to be taken lightly, nor is it meant to be easy to stomach. It is meant to pierce a person to their very core, to shake--no, to shatter--the very foundation of their world.

Jesus today would--and, through we Christians, should--find the lowest of the low, the most conceited of the all the conceited, the most horrific of all the horrible, and touch them. Shame on us for not being Jesus to a dead and dying world.

Michael said...

Great stuff, Steve. Years ago I saw the Fountain Square Fools in Cincinnati do a version of Jesus and the Samaritan woman that moved me to laugh and to cry. Your version touches me closely, of course, as a gay man who finds Jesus easy to deal with but some of his followers more of a challenge. Thanks be to God that God is the source of the water and pours it out on us. If we had to count on the waterbearers all the time, we might all die of thirst. {Them too, sadly.]

bobbie said...

really great steve - very moving. i replied to your comment on my blog, but i think i'll drop it in an email just so you see it.

Todd said...

steve,
thanks for this post. i shared it on my blog (which means you may get about two more people coming to read :-)

the woman at the well is a story that defines a lot of what we do in our community...i love provacative posts like this. good to get us thinking!

Anonymous said...

So, does Jesus eventually get to telling them (as he told the woman caught in adultery), "Neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more?" Or not?

Steve F. said...

I took the text straight (pardon the pun) out of the gospel of John - and there, there is no "go and sin no more." The link to the text is at the top of the story...check it out.

Anonymous said...

What I'm getting at with my "sin no more" comment above is the following question. Are you making the assumption that in showing acceptance of the gay man, that this means that Jesus would not want the gay man to change his ways, that is, refrain from homosexual activity?

There seems to be a tone in the comments I've read here that Jesus talking to a gay man would be some sort of shocking surprise to "uptight Christians". Untrue. There is no sinner that Jesus is not willing to come to and offer grace to. In that respect, it is no more surprising that Jesus would talk to a gay man than that he would talk to an adulterer, or a tax collector, or an embezzler, or just about any of us sinful creatures. But he does want repentance. Are you all assuming that repentance is unnecessary and not expected? That the gay man can continue in his ways because Jesus accepts him? If so, I'm not asking you to argue for your position, I'm just asking for it to be stated explicitly rather than implicitly.

Anonymous said...

Wes D. said...

Eugene H. Peterson couldn't have paraphrased it better!

MY LORD IS A MADMAN, I TELL YOU! MAD WITH LOVE!

Deadyouthpastor Walking said...

One of my favorite people in the world, Keith Harris, is an associate at 4th Pres. Glad to hear of the atmosphere there.

I am in awe of your blog. This is my first visit and I am humbled to see that you have listed mine among your links.

Thank you for sharing your heart and life with cyberspace-- you are good for our souls.

Caroline said...

Dear Anonymous

I short while after meeting the woman caught in adultery (the passage I think you're referring to) Jesus met a businessman caught in selfishness. Several associates had complained to Jesus about this guy, but Jesus had just suggested that anyone who wasn't sinful should throw the first stone.

Everyone left except Jesus and the selfish businessman, who Jesus sent on his way with an injunction to "sin no more".

Unfortunately, the businessman, thought that he was just being a tough, but fair, ambitious guy climbing the greasy pole of promotion.

I guess that he had an excuse then for not changing his selfish ways?

wilsonian said...

Thanks for stripping off the cultural cloak which has dulled our (my) senses.

Stinking brilliant!

thebloke said...

An amazing post. Thank you for capturing the message of the gospel and applying it to our contemporary context. May we all get the message of the gospel for today.

dave paisley said...

Dude!

Big time ;)

Galen said...

Seems like basic stuff to me.

Was this supposed to be shocking?

Steve F. said...

No, Galen...it wasn't. The truth of this lesson has been told for 1900 years or so. We read this every three years or so in the Revised Common Lectionary...it's part of "the old, old story." So it shouldn't shock anyone.

But evidently to a whole bunch of people, it is. When people look to the church of Christ - in all its brokenness and sin - for guidance instead of to Jesus, we're looking for the sheep to guide us, instead of the Shepherd.

But that's why I wrote it, in part - to let people know where I think Jesus would be, if this were today-in-America versus then-in-Samaria.

I am grateful to God for everyone who has drawn interest to this post. It seems to have struck a nerve, for whatever reason...

John Schroeder said...

Great piece, see my full comments here

Anonymous said...

the gay man keeps referring to Jesus as a Christian, and it's deemed remarkable that Jesus would be speaking to someone of middle-eastern origin...but Jesus was Jewish, and of middle-eastern origin.

Just sayin'.

Steve F. said...

Yeah, I could have done a less middlin'-rough job of making the transition from Samaria to Boystown...point taken. But I think the major points come across...

GalatiansC4V16 said...

I agree with some of the others that are surprised at the "surprise" of this article. Basically it is a "Find & Replace All" where "woman at the well" = "a gay man", from John 4. Same story, different variable. I would not be surprised at anyone I found Jesus talking to, as He is the Creator of us all, and we are all souls for whom Christ died, regardless of the classification of our sin.

I did find it interesting that your follow up comment claims that you "took the text straight (pardon the pun) out of the gospel of John", but in "verse" 15 you seemed to take liberty to editorialize in a way that I don't find in the original text, nor any other translation. Particularly when you say:

"you're the first Christian man in 20 years that hasn't spit on me, or called me 'an abomination' to my face".

I am not sure what the purpose was for this inflammatory comment, but I find it particularly offensive to Christians who have spent years witnessing in love, to gay people. I know Christians who have dedicated their lives to sharing Christ with gay people who don't know the Lord, who would never consider spitting on anyone. Personally, I have been spit on by those whom I have witnessed to while having very similar dialogs as you have written here, but have never once thought to spit back. Why do you broad brush all Christians who witness to gay people as "spitters", and indicate that it would take Jesus himself to be the first one to ever come along in 20 years who would not spit on those to whom they were witnessing to?

James 4:6 says that "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.", and one can see that Jesus believed this when he witnessed. In the case of the rich young ruler from Luke 18, Jesus recognized him as proud, and gave him "law" in his witnessing encounter, whereas in the case of the woman at the well in John 4, he recognized her as humble, and gave her "grace" in his witnessing encounter with her.

As far as Jesus' supposed encounter with "a gay man", just as He was with the rich young ruler or the woman at the well, He would be less interesting in their particular sin, but rather in the "proudness" or "humility" of their heart. I believe that Jesus would respond according to their heart's condition, not to what particular sin they where incubated with.

Steve F. said...

First, Tony, thanks for taking the time to reply to my post.

You're exactly right - with the exception of local color, it is exactly a "find and replace all." That's why I've been surprised by the storm of interest. My conclusion, which is only supported by the feedback I've received, is that while the power of this story has been there for more than a millenia, evidently no one has been able to convey the level of distaste that might have been present in Samaria back then. The tragedy seems to be that while the "old old story" has been saying this for years, very few people have heard it until they got clubbed over the head with it.

I appreciate your ire about my "inflammatory comment." My only excuse is that the idea of "Christians have spent years witnessing in love to gay people" has been mostly a work of science fiction in my life for the last forty years, until the last 45 days. Even at the seminary I attended for a while, I watched gay men and lesbians passed over for endorsement, sidelined in their candidacy, and attacked in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Until I encountered some loving folks here in the blogosphere (Rick L. at a new life emerging, among the first of them), I'd only met a very few folks who met your criteria. Then, at a conference here in Chicago I met Rev. Jeremiah Wright at Trinity UCC/Chicago, and then encountered the folks at Fourth Presbyterian, both of which have an extraordinary ministry to the GLBT community. But until then, the experience of my GLBT friends has been the gamut from "well, we won't say anything in public about your friends" to "don't ask/don't tell" to "they're gonna burn in hell, you know."

So my broad-brushing is my own sin - but it is the sin of my own experience. I'm looking forward to meeting some more of the folks you talk about...it will be a refreshing experience. My only goal was to point to the amazing scandal of the original text in a contemporary way.

Thanks again for being willing to comment. "As iron sharpens iron..."

Shelly said...

I'm a late comer to this post...guess it stirred things up a little. Just wanted to let you know that I linked to it today.

Thanks for this and blessings,

jeremy sawatzky said...

hey,

just found ths blog today, so im arriving to the scene rather late. just wanted to say this post deeply moved, challenged, and impacted me. thanks so much for it. ill probably link to it off my blog at some point in the near future.

i work with a nonprofit youth missions organization in canada, and i wrote a blog on homosexuality awhile back that got quite a few people mad at me. i got hate mail and angry phone calls like you wouldnt believe, even though i dont think i wrote anything too offensive. oh well. but yeah. i love this post you wrote. thanks again. if you wanna read the blog i wrote on the issue, check it out here:

http://jeremysawatzky.blogspot.com/2005/02/i-like-gay-people.html

id love to hear your thoughts, drop me an email if ya want, its in my blogger profile. thanks again!

jer

GalatiansC4V16 said...

Steve,

Thanks for your response as well, and for the “iron sharpening”. Hopefully my response will be received in the same Spirit that yours was written. I apologize for the delay in my response, as I had to go to Washington. I was able to witness to some GL&B people in DuPont Circle while I was there, and you’ll be glad to know that there was no spitting! 

If you’ll bear with me a moment, I’d like to respond further and clarify a few things from my last post and from your response.

First of all, I’d like to say that in relaying my surprise, that so many were surprised at your John 4 rendition, I was not being critical for your writing it. I believe you are correct in explaining that there was a culture divide that separated Jesus from the woman, and that divide may not always come out in a quick reading of the passage from our western point of view. (Although it could and should be pointed out that the culture divide in John 4 is racial, not sexual). You certainly brought out that divide in writing on a contemporary issue. To that I am appreciative, as it touched many while solidifying that point.

Second, I wanted to say that I appreciate your apology and explanation on the issue that I raised about broad brushing all Christians with the inappropriate actions of some “Christians”. I went back and re-read the comments you updated in your original post, and I can see the statement that I reacted to was written from your experiences, and you didn’t set out in your writing to swipe all, with the sins of some. I sincerely appreciated your acknowledgements to the issue I raised, and I wanted to tell you that.

I think it is important that we don’t use the experiences we have as individuals, to label a whole group to which others claim to be part of. For example, your (and your friend’s) experiences with some, perhaps well intentioned but ill-informed Christians, or even those that are downright angry and intolerant, may seem to be the way a lot of Christians behave towards gay people. But that doesn’t mean that all, or even a majority, behave that way. In addition to your experiences, many portraits of “Christian’s” attitudes towards gays come from the media. An angry man yelling with a sign that says “God Hates Fags” is much more sensational for the news media, than a group of Christian men in a small group, meeting, supporting, loving, and praying with other men who are struggling with homosexuality, and who are having an effect on them and their desire to follow the Lord.

The same is true for me! I must to be careful not to use the experiences I have had of gay people persecuting me personally, as a measuring stick to determine that all gay people are hateful and persecute those who want to have open and honest dialog about the gospel. If someone claiming to be a Christian spits on you, it doesn’t mean all Christians behave that way. Likewise, if a man claiming to be gay rapes someone, that doesn’t mean that all gay men are rapists. Our individual experience with a group of people doesn’t determine or define the totality or the majority of that group. Neither group should feel compelled to have to defend the “kooks” who claim to be in their camp. To that end, I think we can both agree, and I appreciate your honesty in saying that your writing with the “spitting” comment was indeed, coming from your own experience only. I concur with your conclusion that those things you describe in your own experiences should be unacceptable to those who claim to follow Christ.

After rereading your March 17th update, the thing that jumped out at me more than the spitting comment you made, was how a normal dialog between a Christian and a gay man seemed to be such a shock to you and to others. Although I know of “Christians” who bash gay people, I never give them any credit or take them seriously. I didn’t think others did either. On the other hand, I do know of, have participated in, and have seen many Christians, have calm and loving dialogs with gay people, in an effort to share the gospel with them. Why that taking place is a shock to so many people grieves me tremendously.

Lastly, I am glad you have finally “encountered some loving folks in the blogosphere”, as you put it. I hope when our dialog is over you’ll consider my words to be in the same category. However, I did want to ask for clarification on an issue that was brought up earlier in this blog, but never was answered. When you were asked about the “sin no more” directive from Jesus, you answered that you were quoting from John 4, and that that directive is not in the text of the story. I agree and understand your response to that question. But I never saw an answer to the later question regarding the necessity of repentance, and whether you believe a gay man can continue in his practice of homosexuality because of Jesus’ acceptance of him. Since this was left unanswered, I felt compelled to respond to the person asking in this forum.

In consideration of this question, we have to place the “sin of homosexuality” in its proper rank among any other “sins”. I fear that since today the subject and discussion of homosexuality has such a “front page” category in politics, religion, culture, and society, it sometimes may appear that some believe that it is a greater sin than any other sin. But this is not so. We “all fall short” and we all have the sinful nature to contend with. The issue is not which sins are greater, but rather, what we as individuals do with the temptations that are inevitable to come. We all have sinful temptations. Do we succumb to them, or do we resist them? That is the issue; not whether my temptation category is a greater or lesser sin than yours or another’s. For example, I am often tempted to lust after beautiful women. The temptation is not sin, but what I do with it in my mind or with my future actions, certainly can be sin. Another man on the other hand, might be tempted to desire after a good looking man. Likewise, the temptation is not sin, but what he does with that temptation in his mind or in his future actions, certainly can be sin. In these two examples, if either of us doesn’t “flee” the temptation and we fall into sinful behavior, one sin is not any worse than the other in the eyes of God. Both would be turning away from God’s intended purpose, for man’s intended purpose, and therefore, would be sin. As Christians who have accepted Christ not only as Savior, but also as Lord, we are to confess those sins, and repent (turn from) them, in order to “walk with Christ”. We deceive ourselves if we claim that we can accept Jesus as Savior, but continue in sinful, unrepentant behaviors, and thus deny Him as Lord of our lives. Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I know some little old ladies who claim to be Christians and who know that gossip is sin. However, they choose not to deny themselves of that sin, and willingly proceed into its practice. I also know gay people who claim to be Christians and know that gay sex is sin. However, they choose not to deny themselves of that sin and willingly proceed into its practice. Both are equally incorrect in their practices and outside of God’s plan. When I fail to deny myself from lusting after a woman, or if I were to let that lead into an adulterous or fornicating relationship, I am also incorrect and outside of God’s plan. Once again, the issue as a Christian isn’t “which sin”, but rather, what we do with the temptations that we all have. The fact that the temptations are different for different people is irrelevant.

In addition, I am not talking about isolated bouts of failure, but rather, the purposeful justification of a particular sin that one is not willing to confess and repent of. If each of us builds a god in our own minds to suit our own desires, a god who doesn’t mind the particular sins in which we each are tempted, then we are violating the first and second commandments. The passage, in which you originally quoted, John 4, says that the true worshippers of God must worship Him in spirit and truth. We must look at the objective Word of God, and conform our lives to what He says we should and shouldn’t do, despite the fact that our sinful nature tempts us at times to turn away from God and do things that we would rather do (i.e. gossip, lust, fornicate, etc.).

I mentioned in my last post the difference in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well contrasted with his encounter the rich young ruler. In both instances, Jesus responded in compassion and love. However, His responses were very different. In the case of the woman, the compassion and love came by giving her grace, because He knew her heart and that she was willing to turn (repent) from her sin that He had just exposed. However, in the case of the rich young ruler, the compassion and love from Jesus came by giving the man law, because Jesus knew his heart also, and that the man was not willing to give up his riches in order to follow Jesus. The issue wasn’t her type of sin verses his type of sin (adultery vs. idolatry), but rather, that Jesus knew who was humble and who was proud. Scripture tells us that God gives “law to the proud, but grace to the humble,” and we see Jesus doing just that in these two encounters.

With that said, just as your rendition of “Find and Replace” of the “woman at the well” with “a gay man” was so gripping in Jesus’ example of giving grace, the same gripping reaction could be realized by doing the same with the “rich young ruler” in Jesus’ example of giving law. To bring your rendition full circle, in closing, I’ve appended this example for your consideration.

Jesus Talks With A Young Gay Man
(Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27, and Matt 19:16-26 more or less..)

17 As Jesus started on his way from Boystown, a certain young gay man, wearing a bright pink "His+His" t-shirt and a "Silence=Death" armband, ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.”

19 “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I realized that I was – “different”.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, break off your sexual relationship with your gay lover and use that time and energy to help others, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When he heard this he became very sad, because he enjoyed gay sex, and was in love with his committed partner. He also was a respected leader in the PCUSA denomination, a founder of the GLSEN organization.
23-25 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for a gay man to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for an HIV virus to go through a condom than it is for a gay man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The lay ministers who were present were even more amazed at his words, and asked “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
In my closing comments, I’d like to clarify, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s recording of this passage was not to preach against being rich, but rather, that anything that we are willing to put more important than God, stands between us and a correct relationship with God. Likewise, I didn’t write the above to preach against being gay, but rather, to demonstrate that anything that we are willing to put more important than God, stands between us and a correct relationship with God, including lust, pornography, adultery, gossip, and yes, homosexuality. If we justify our sins instead of repent of them, we get the law that Jesus gave the rich young ruler, however, if we repent of them instead of justify them, we get the grace that he gave the woman at the well.
Verse 21 (Mark 10) says that Jesus “loved” him, but that love was not given by approving of what the man was unwilling to deny himself of, but rather, the love was given by telling him he had to get rid of it, and then he could follow Jesus. The types of temptations you have may differ from the types that I have, but the fact that we both have them is undeniable. My prayer is that we both can repent of our sins, and rely on what Jesus told them, that “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Black Country Boy said...

hey man,i love this!
any chance i can offer it to my church mag if i giv u n the pastor oo wrote it props?
(that's if they'll accept it!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Michael, for this message.
It really hit me very hard, and I'm glad about that. I'm a homosexual, and I can't shake it off.
When Jesus said, "If you had asked me, I'd have given you a drink of living water: It was like He was talking to me. I said "Yes, please" so right now I'm hoping for my first taste.

Thanks again for your post.,
Michael

Anonymous said...

hi steve, i'm karen ward.

i stumbled across a link to your blog via jonny baker.

i'm also elca and also from chicago and now in seattle at apostleschurch.org

visit me sometime at submergence.org
and consider joining our 'eln network' of emergent/somewhat lutherans. there is a link to the beta eln site on my blog.

grace and peace

Love4theWord said...

Hey man. What a gift this is you have created. I believe it retains the meaning and grace of the Word of Jesus found in John's Gospel.

Thank you. I plan to post on my blog with a link to yours.

I'shalom

Seraphim

Dave Gill said...

Yeah...I found it somewhat refreshing (I wouldn't say SHOCKING) that this story would be told in this way. Coming from a UPC (that's United Petecostal Church...the Oneness folk) tradition (but a member no longer!), such things are NOT discussed. AIDS is portrayed as the scourge on the homosexual and they are judged more harshly than ANY of the sinners. It's horrible to say that because people who set themselves up as the ULTIMATE in holiness are ones that God doesn't seem to like very much...the proud. I have shortcomings and God knows they are many. But I know that while you CAN choose to act certain ways, folks who struggle with same sex attractions do not CHOOSE to. That's ludricrous. Thank you for putting this out there and giving me a heads-up about it.

In Christ,
Dave

Anonymous said...

Dear GalatiansC4V16
Thank you so much for your post. I have never heard someone clarify sin, repentence and salvation related to the area of homosexuality so clear before. I understand for people who are gay outthere and suffer the hostility of "Christians" out there. God has never called us to condemn another for Christ Himself came to save not to condemn, but one who doesn't not believes brings condemnation on himself already. It is because of the unwarrented and frankly unbiblical hostility towards homosexuals that cause so many gays and non gays to not even listen to the Gospel of repentence, forgiveness and submittance to Christ as Lord. This is rather sad because everyone is a sinner and needs Christ. It is heartbreaking to know that because "Christians" defame the name of Christ by being hostile causing homosexuals as well as other sinners to not come to realize what sin really is, what following Christ really is. The Gospel indeed is a message of love, but right along with it, Jesus says Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Bible is always consistent. If one theme is covered in one part of the Bible, it is covered throughout the whole Bible. Love is indeed there, and so is repentence. Sadly, because of the mistakes of Christians, many people confuse repentence with rejection, hatred, bigotry, and just plain predjudice. Well, anyways again thank you for your post. I pray that many will read it even though it is long and come to realize that Christ demands we repent of all sins and strive to obey Him although we are not yet perfect. "Work out your salvation in fear in trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." God bless to everyone!!

free ringtones said...

lol

Charles Muli said...

I was doing a reflection on John 4 when I stumbled on your website. I read it to my wife and she thought as I did it was a great article.

Your choice of Gay and muslim guy analogy does bring to the fore an example of how some christians are incapable of knowing how to deal with this issues. The Parable of the Samaritan could verywell replace the Gay and Muslim in showing that even what some rightwing christians (the likes of Rev Phelps in your artlicle would be an example) consider anathema. But as one Rev Al Sharpton once said once the dust settles it will be the right christians and not the rightwing that will carry the day in our ministry and interactions with Gay and muslim people. I pray that like Paul the Apostle (previously a rightwinger) The rightwing christian on the persecution road against that which they fear and dont know, may have a "Damascus encounter" where the Lord dramatically corrects their perception and live rightly.

God Bless

GalatiansC4V16 said...

Charles, Disagreement is not fear. You disagree with me, but that doesn't mean
you fear me. Likewise, those who disagree liberal adjustments to Biblical
interpretation do so on the merits of the hermeneutics of the text, not fear.
Calling out "fear" at those to whom you simply disagree is a typical
ad hominem
attack that resolves nothing.

Arguments for your position
allow for better dialog in the spirit, even if
we disagree.

Anonymous said...

G'day,

I actually got lead to your site b another site that a friend of mine runs.

I think that this is a FANTASTIC illustration and I agree with my friend who finished his blog by saying he thinks that Christians should be more like Jesus.

God Bless You!!

Thanks Again.

Dez!

Christopher Williams said...

It's funny that I came across this adaptation of the story of the woman at the well from John 4, and I must say that it was very moving and challenging. From the comments you made afterwards, you know that there will always be those who closed-mindedly choose not to understand where you are coming from, but instead find things to nitpick about. I wrote something similar based on John 21 when Jesus confronted Peter about his love for Him. I had just read it over and over again and felt that I needed to put myself in it. The impact that it had on my life was amazing so I shared it with others and got a large response from it like you did with yours. Sometimes it's good to "contemparize" the Scripture. It may be just the eye-opening experience someone needs to see God. Don't stop writing the way you do. Honest, transparent, unafraid, unashamed...that's what I need from others I encounter. Thanks!

Lorna said...

Came across this months after it's written and have to say it's powerful stuff.

thank you

Anonymous said...

I'm a gay man, so of course I was curious to what Jesus would have to say to me. He of course, never mentioned a word about homosexuality, and I know one or two of the disciples had a lot to say, but given that Christians seem to have a lot to argue about, it would be nice to hear it from the man himself.

I don't have much to say to Jesus right now, but I would like to say a word or two to the author.

First off Christian evangelical types always get the gay cultural references (ie pink t shirts, and armbands...what?) just plain wrong, and let's face it, today your accountant is as likely to be as gay as your waiter. It's not a matter of 'political correctness' or whatever, just simple marketing -- a person that associates this kind of over-the-top cliche with gay 'culture' just shows they really don't know anything about gay people these days. It would be like me assuming all you evangelical types are snake handlers or go about talking in tongues. You're more likely to be amused than offended, and this is my reaction entirely.

I do appreciate the humility in the tone of the article. Many gays and lesbians grew up in Christian churches, but were rejected by their church and often their family. If Christians often find a cool reception to their ministry, can you at least try to understand where this is coming from?

Now to really shock you, here's my advice. Even if you strongly believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, does God really need you to point this out to us homosexuals every time we get in a discussion on the matter? If both of our hearts were open, God could teach one of us (or both) a lesson or two.

Another shocking fact: gays can lead stable, healthy, productive lives. When my state, Massachusetts, became the first to allow civil same-sex marriage, I went to the Statehouse during the amendment debate. I others like me, a gay man in my 30s in a relationship for 15 years. On the anti- side, what kind of religious people did I notice? Preachers in bad suits and greasy hair yelling at everyone that they were going to hell, they they would get AIDS , that their intimate relationships weren't real or couldn't be blessed by God. Not to mention all the gay Catholic priests who are kept on a tight leash. If I'm going to recognize the 'error of my ways', it's not going to be from any of these Bible-thumping bozos.

The Christian message of redemption would be welcome in the gay community, and honestly, if you believe in the power of the teachings and the scripture, you would spend less energy trying to 'convert' homosexuals and more energy trying to reach out in fellowship to them.

BruceD said...

Jesus came to start a revolution of freedom, and we turned him into a religion of obligation. God help us.

Mark said...

Just found this via Maggie Dawn's reflection on this passage (came up in the lectionary yesterday) so you're likely to get a few more comments.

I have to agree with Anonymous who wrote 12/4/05 11:57 PM. His observations ring true to me and I consider myself a Christian who is gay and find myself towards the progressive end of the evangelical spectrum (adherence to orthodox statements of belief but sympathetic to social justice and cultural relevence priorities of the emergent communitites).

So good on ya for writing this. I'm sure you've caught a lot of interesting flack for it. But, as I'm guessing you already think, it simply adds to the growing evidence of making the point.

Blessings on the journey,

Livin' Vinil said...

Hello Steve! I came to this post some time ago, and really appreciated it since the very first read!
May I publish a translated (and slightly adapted) Portuguese version of it on my own blog? http://livinvinil.blogspot.com/
I'll also publish the paraphrase GalatiansC4V16 wrote (3/21/05 12:37 PM).
That's it!
Congratulations, keep rocking, and may the Good Lord keep on blessing you!
– Livin' Vinil