Breaking Down the Walls by Rev. Lynda Ellis

Ephesians 2:11-22

When you are getting ready to buy a car or a truck, what sources do you look to in making your decision?

Maybe you read the latest Consumer Report?

If you’re lucky you might have the VIN # and you can find out all kinds of information……..

Or perhaps you pull the car fax to see what the history behind the vehicle is?

Maybe you know something about the engine and what year it was made and all the possible little – or big – things that could go wrong with it…….

Maybe you grew up in a family that always had Chevys…..that was the tradition in my family

Or in your past experience you’ve had a certain make and you would never ever in a million years buy another one of those……….

When making decisions as Christians, we have similar resources available to us…..resources that make us unique as Methodists, but not necessarily uniquely Methodist.

Last Sunday, Pastor Leah introduced a 5 week series on Why Methodist?

She talked about how the United Methodist church has a broad umbrella but at the core of our faith is love for God and love for our neighbor…….

Today, I’m going to talk about how we make decisions as United Methodists…..

Or maybe more to the point, the resources John Wesley recommended for use in decision making…..

We call this resource the Quadrilateral……. If you think of a box with 4 squares or quadrants……in one box we put scripture, in another box tradition, in the 3rd box reason, and finally in the 4th box experience.

John Wesley would say that scripture is primary but each box contributes to our decision-making process.

And in that process, we need to allow scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to interact and balance one another.

If any resource is taken to an extreme, then problems develop.

The extreme use of scripture takes every word of scripture literally and ignores or discounts both reason and experience.

When tradition is taken too far, then our decisions can become rigid and stagnant.

Over-reliance on experience can cause us to lean too heavily on emotion and to think less critically.

The over-use of reason can lead to rationalism and an accompanying loss of the sense of the mystery of God being at work in our lives.
This Wesleyan quadrilateral, as it’s come to be known, can be used for making all kinds of decisions…..maybe not for buying a car, but it is useful when talking about important issues when we need to be thinking critically.

One such issue and it’s been an issue for a very long time……since 1972, when wording in the “social principles” in our Book of Discipline was changed, and ever since then, groups throughout the world wide UM connection have worked tirelessly to change that wording.

And that is wording around the issue of homosexuality and who can or cannot be ordained in the UMC, and who can be married.

We’ve watched our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran church, in the Presbyterian church, in the Episcopal church, in the United Church of Christ, all grapple in one way or another over this issue.

And we had one more go-around at our Annual Conference session three weeks ago when the voting members of the Annual Conference voted an amazing 86% on a statement of inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters

And another amazing 86% to not support the Traditional Plan that was adopted at the special General Conference in St. Louis in February which is even more restrictive and punitive that the language that has been in the Book of Discipline since 1972.

So, using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, how do we as United Methodists use the guidelines of scripture, tradition, reason & experience to help us with the issue of homosexuality?

If we approach homosexuality through tradition, we see that homosexuality has been treated unevenly…….

It wasn’t until late in the 12th century that homosexual acts were condemned……

And, it wasn’t until 1945 that the English word “homosexual” was introduced in the RSV………………..and other translations soon followed suit…….prior to that the words used were “young boy”.

Looking through the window of reason, we have to ask ourselves – “what do we know about homosexuality through the sciences?” …..

Scientific data available today suggests that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice but a matter of ontology: that is, it is of the being of the individual, not the doing…….

In other words, a person’s sexual orientation is established before birth.

It also suggests that this has been present in human life since the dawn of history.

If we look at experience, we can ask ourselves the question, “what is my experience with sexuality?”

How comfortable am I talking about issues that relate to sexuality?
We know something about homophobia……

We know about stereotypes….

We know a lot of stuff……but none is absolute.

And finally, we approach the question of homosexuality through scripture.

What does scripture have to say about homosexuality?

Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Scripture says something about homosexual acts but any evidence of homosexuality as a sexual orientation is absent.

At most, there are 6 or 7 texts in the whole bible – Hebrew scriptures and New Testament combined that say anything at all about homosexual acts…….

And if we are going to quote them and use them, then we must interpret them in their historical context.

John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop, wrote in 1991 in his best-selling book, Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, “once again, the prejudice is so deep, so widely assumed to be self-evident, that all major churches have in the past simply quoted the Bible to justify their continued oppression and rejection of gay and lesbian persons.”

Colby Martin, the author of UnClobber: Rethinking our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality, the book that Leah has invited the church to read & discuss together, writes in detail about what he calls “the clobber” passages.

The Sodom and Gomorrah story is often cited to be God’s condemnation on this behavior.

Yet a closer reading of this narrative in its proper context reveals it to be a strange story involving hospitality laws in a nomadic society that our world of freeways, bright lights and chain hotels cannot even imagine.

It is a story of gang rape, which cannot ever be anything but evil.

It is a narrative that portrays violent actions toward women that few people today, even among fundamentalists, would be eager to condone.

Leviticus 18 & 20 are simply priestly restrictions against blurring the boundaries of Israelite identity & culture.

The primary focus of chapter 18 in Leviticus is on prohibitions against violating the family dynamic, not least of all through incest.

Taking into account the context of the New Testament, and Paul’s writings more specifically, we find that the homosexuality the New Testament writers oppose is male prostitution and the practice of pederasty………the use of young, usually pre-puberty boys by older men for the purpose of sexual gratification……

A common practice in the Greco-Roman culture.

They all indicate exploitation, not nurturing, caring relationships.

Bishop Spong goes on to say that biblical scholarship of the past two hundred years or more, has, for the most part, not been made available to the average person sitting in the pew.

So mainline Christians allow the television preachers to manipulate their audiences, most times to their own financial gains, by making the most absurd biblical claims without their being called to accountability in the name of truth.

How easy it is for us to forget that it was with the marginal of society – the folks on the fringes – the lame, the blind, the homeless, Samaritans, and women with whom Jesus identified.

We talk a lot about inclusiveness in our churches…..about unity…..

And that leads us to our reading today from Ephesians……..

The author explores what it means to live in unity in the church in the midst of diversity

The diversity referred to is the rift between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians

The Jewish Christians considered themselves superior to the Gentile Christians…..

They regarded the Gentiles as unclean, strangers, foreigners to the covenant of Israel.

…….walls of hostility existed between the Jews and Gentiles

But we are reminded in Ephesians that it is in Christ that Jews and Gentiles are reconciled and made one……

Those who were considered outsiders became insiders….

In Christ, we see the dividing wall of hostility broken down…..

In Christ, we see a peace which goes beyond the uneasy quiet between conflicts

In Christ, all creation, including all people, have been made one.

We know something about walls……every day we read or hear the news about the horrific conditions of people and children being detained at the southern borders of the US…….

We have lived through history where many of us have witnessed political and social barriers crumbling in Eastern Europe, South Africa and the Soviet Union…..to name a few…..

Barriers we thought would never come down……

And we know something about personal walls and how difficult it is when walls of personal hostility stay in place

We don’t easily give up on those we don’t like……

It is remarkable how the walls of hostility created by race, nationalism, economic injustice, and ignorance can be erected in new places even as they come down in others……

Walls……we encounter them in our personal lives, in the life of the communities where we live, and even in the church.

Hopefully, we may no longer use the Bible as a simplistic weapon

But perhaps, as a people of faith, we take a deep breath and think about our roots as a Methodist people……a faith community that began as a movement……

My prayer is that we remember and re-remember what the apostle Paul implies that it is more important to be aware that we are graced by God, than it is to be sure we have all the answers.

May that be the unifying ground of reconciliation as we constantly and prayerfully seek to face the walls that divide us in our families, in our congregations, in our communities, and in our world.

To avoid them is to remove ourselves from the peace that Jesus offers us.

The peace of Jesus is the peace that comes from the ability to love those with whom we have differences,

To seek out the outcast

To give ourselves for the needs of the world rather than our own needs.

May it be so. Amen.