Word of the Week

A Hard Preaching Task

How does one preach at a Gay Affirmation Service and stay true to the Biblical text and the nature of what is and isn't appropriate in the pulpit?

I wasn't quite sure.

I got special help this week though from my Duke friends who I hung out with eariler in the week and also through conversation with church folks through the week. And, of course, the normal "sermonizing."

I don't normally post sermons (as I think they should be heard not read) but in this case, I thought it might be important.

A Different Kind of Love

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and I Corinthians 13

Today, Washington Plaza Baptist Church is doing something that sets us apart from most churches. We are celebrating Gay Affirmation Day. When I shared the word about this special emphasis day with friends of mine from outside the church, those who attend other congregations and even my pastor friends in other churches unanimously there response was “Wow, I’ve never heard of that before!” (And, I have to add that some of my pastor friends were jealous about this special day in the life of our church about how it is celebrated with such ease). As part of our “daring to be different” sermon series, I think today we are enacting in a powerful way through our presence here what it means to be a different kind of church.

It’s a day to celebrate the diversity of who we are as a local Body of Christ. It is a day to be true in proclamation of our convictions about God’s love and care for all people. It is a day to be authentic in whom we really are as a community of faith about who is welcome here which is everyone. This fact about Washington Plaza church gives me great hope not just for our little community but for the church universal going forward in the future.

Today, I know that you as worshippers here come with a variety of different expectations about what will be said from the pulpit this morning in light of this special occasion.

Some of you come, secretly wishing that the sermon doesn’t mention the words gay at all. While you have no problem with it personally, you don’t want to hear a theological verse by verse explanation of all the verses in the Bible that speak to what it means to be gay. You’ve been a part of churches where you heard this before. You’ve been a part of churches where one topic seems to dominate the pulpit. You’ve seen pastors go overboard and not seem to know how to talk about anything else. You wish this morning that we could just talk about God’s love as clearly explained in our New Testament reading this morning and move on. But, in hoping for all of this, what might happen is we don’t stay true to the Biblical text placed before us this day.

 Then, there are some of you who have come this morning hoping that this pulpit takes on the larger issue of what it means to be gay according to the Bible. You are hoping that our sermon will clear up some ideas and maybe even some misconceptions you’ve had about the topic. You are hoping for a clear Biblically based answered to dispute those around you who might claim that homosexuality is a sin. But, what I suggest that you are looking for is a Bible study or small group discussion. You are hoping for something that better suited for a different forum at a different time.

 Yet, we are here today to here from this pulpit the good news of the Christian faith proclaimed from a reading of God’s word. For, we aren’t a community which is a one issue wonder. We are the community of Christ here in Reston where no particular group is above any other. We are a Baptist community which means all our members have equal responsibility and a voice to be here with no bounds to sexual orientation.

As part of our six weeks this summer spent examining key moments in the life of David, it just so happened that our text for this morning from the Revised Common Lectionary, (a collection of lections studied today by a majority of churches around the globe) is about David’s lament for two men, Saul and Jonathan. It is a passage that speaks about the bonds of love holding together the nation of Israel between its people and its leaders, between Saul and his son Jonathan, and David and Jonathan.

I think it is important for us to begin with an understanding as to why it was that David was lamenting for Saul and Jonathan’s death in the first place. In doing so, we might just have a model of the importance of expressing our love for our fellow human beings, whoever they may be and whatever form the relationship  may take: a model which is not bound by culture, class, marriage laws in our land, or just our own insecurities about expecting anything in return. But, a model of loving which takes its cues from love incarnate, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Beginning in verse one, one of 2 Samuel, we learn that a major shift in the life and history of Israel has taken place. While in battle, the ever present enemy, the Philistines, attack and Jonathan dies in battle along with his father Saul. The king and the heir to the throne are gone.

Knowing the history between David and Saul’s family, you would think that David would have thrown a victory party at this moment. As David’s popularity and military fame grew throughout the land, so did Saul’s jealousy of him. It was a jealousy so great that Saul sent his men on the hunt to take David’s life. Much of the remaining part of scripture from David’s killing of Goliath we studied last week until today’s text is about a game of cat and mouse between the two. Saul wants David dead. Yet, David, being the Lord’s anointed, escapes Saul’s grip on him.

 But, instead of a party or celebratory dance, David begins to write a lament of grief—a special kind of poem in Hebrew, used during special occasions. Speaking words of honor over this enemy, showing respect to this first king in all of Israel’s history, and providing the words of sadness for a nation looking for answers after the death of their leader: this was David’s response to Saul’s death.

 He was showing a different kind of love- a kind of love that Paul writes about when he says, “Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” David’s lament for Saul was most unusual. It was a love of an enemy. It was a love that takes the high road when life’s difficulties could easily lead him down disrespectful paths. It was a love that exceeded the bounds of position. It was love spilled out of honor for the diseased. It was a different kind of love from that found in the tabloids or from culturally-popular ideas about how to how to “make friends”—it was real, it was vulnerable,

 And, then there was Jonathan, Saul’s son, who also died in battle that day. Jonathan was not your typical king’s son climbing the social ladder. Though he had every right to defend the honor of his succession to the throne, he struck up a relationship with his father’s greatest rival, David. Jonathan went out on a limb even to make a covenant of relationship with him, vowing loyalty to David above his father even though he knew this would cost him his life of privilege and power.

 Thus, it only seems natural for David to grieve for his dearest Jonathan, a man who had risked his own life to be in relationship with him. Look with me as to how David lamented over Jonathan in verse 26. David says about Jonathan: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” One translation even says, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan.”

 It is a passage that in fact, gay rights advocates have often upheld as one of their proof text. Saying, “See there are people who were gay in the Bible.”Yes, very interesting. It’s quite strong language used to describe the depth of relationship shared between these two. (I think this was a verse of scripture that was omitted from the cannon of children’s Sunday School curriculum I was taught as a child of the Southern Baptist Church).

 In seeking to understand the way that David chose to lament for Jonathan, I did a lot of reading this week from all perspectives along the spectrum of viewpoints. What I learned in doing so, is that scholarship coming out of some conservative seminaries to the more liberal theologians, the consensus across the board is that the original Hebrew and greater context of the passage does not lead to any conclusive findings. Most Biblical scholars say that sexual relationship between David and Jonathan can “neither be ruled out nor clearly established.”

 But, I despite the lack of certainty, I think we can look at the passage today from an objective point of view and say that it doesn’t matter if we never know the truth. If David and Jonathan were lovers, great. (Though sad because their culture gave them no acceptable place to form a lasting life together)!  If they were like best friends, great . . .  if they were like brothers to each other, great too!

 What is important here is to examine the freedom to which David expressed his love for this man who had played such an important role in his life: a man whose loyalty and care meant to David more than any other. The depth of love between them felt so great that David sought to honor and care for Jonathan even after his death. Not only in proclaiming in this national lament, his love for Jonathan, but also by taking in his surviving son and caring for him as if he was his own.

 As we know from continuing on in David’s life story, he was not a man without faults- many of them in fact, but his willingness to express love without fear and shame was one of his most stellar qualities. David modeled for us through his proclamation of love for Jonathan the different kind of human love we are to be about in this world. This different kind of love David knew and experienced in his life was without fear. It was without the restraints that many of us place around the love we declare from our lips when someone has impacted our lives in a positive way.

 Remember in verse 18 of our text that David ordered for his lament to be recorded. He did not care who heard the cries of his heart. He didn’t care if people thought something was going on with himself and Jonathan. He did not care if people thought he was showing favoritism or making a political statement by displaying his affection for this prince. His love just was what it was. And, that was it.

 Above all, David lived by the words that the Apostle Paul would later write, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” If David’s words of lament were not backed by love (as they easily could have been), the transformative power of his words would have been lost. And, though any healthy relationship has boundaries and lines of respect to abide by, I think we get caught up too much many time on the “rules” of love.

 I believe this is why the most popular modern approach to persons who are gay, lesbian and transgendered persons doesn’t really work. You’ve all heard it before: “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Or, “Don’t ask don’t tell.”

 Words of condolence, words of support, words of affection don’t really work unless they are birthed out of love—a different kind of love that doesn’t ask others to change first before we are willing to do so ourselves.  After all, from his earliest moments this is why David was chosen to be the next king of Israel in the first place. Just as the prophet Samuel was told: “Humankind looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.” It’s a different kind of love that is patient, that is kind, that takes no record of wrongs and looks beyond the outside “qualifiers” that we want to use to describe what love looks like.

This different kind of love that God is calling us to as a community might frankly surprise us.

It is the kind of extravagant love like paying your respects at the funeral of someone who wronged your family and smeared your name at work just because making peace with an enemy is good.

It is the kind of extravagant love like that shown between one partner to another: an airplane flying an “I love you dear” banner near the shoreline on the beach not to propose but just because your feelings can not be kept inside.

It is the kind of extravagant love that is not afraid to write words of appreciation and affection to a friend not because something is wanted, but just because it is truly how you feel.

It is the kind of extravagant love that means including a person struggling with addiction or depression in a special gathering not because their presence will mean ease for everyone, but just because everyone needs somebody to care about them regardless.

It is the kind of extravagant love that Jesus showed us long ago, when he had done nothing wrong but allowed the worse of human deaths to come upon him, because he loved us.

All of this is the different kind of love that Christ longs to go forth from our community of faith.

Where there are prophesies they will cease, where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge, it will pass away. Now these three things remain. Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

The land of peace, oh people of God that God is longing for us to create together, comes from this different kind of love is when gay and straight, white and black, Asian and Hispanic, rich and poor, high class and no class come together and say there is too much at stake in this world to let anything keep us apart and from working together.

Let us be this different kind of love as we covenant together this day to build a land where God’s love is what brings us together. AMEN.