Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Romans 1:18-32: Looking at some of the specific examples of wickedness in Romans 1:18-32

Paul gives as examples of the sinful, torn-up condition of humanity the following (this is the condition that humans end up in when God has "given them up" to their desires):

"they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened." v. 21

"claiming to be wise, they became fools." v. 22

"exchanging the glory of God for images resembling humans or beasts." v. 23

"to the degrading of their bodies among themselves." v. 24

"their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another . . . " v. 26-27

"filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God'haters, insolent, haughty . . . rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless." vv. 29-31

"they not only do these evil deeds but applaud others who practice such evil as well." v. 32

This is the kind of list a Jew might have come up with in those days to describe how depraved the Gentiles were. So, in terms of where we are in the letter, the Jews/Jewish Christians might be saying: "amen, aren't those gentiles immoral and nasty sinners!!" Of course, as you will see as you start chapter 2, if the Jews/Jewish Christians reading are thinking that, then Paul pulls the rug out from under their feet in chapter 2!

But, I want to linger a bit with the language Paul uses to describe a sinful life. It is a traditional description of bad people and bad living. But, one part of the traditional list of evils probably takes many of us back in our time. And, that is the part of this list that focuses on women having intercourse with women and men having intercourse with men. This is clearly a reference to homosexual acts. Some commentators think Paul is really attacking the custom of "men with boys," that was accepted among many Roman citizens, though not among Jews. Robin Scroggs, a Biblical Scholar, has written a book to explain how this passage is misused in the contemporary church that pronounces God's judgment on all homosexual practice. But, to make his argument, Scroggs has to convince us that Paul really does not mean what he seems to mean.

I think it is better to acknowledge that 1st century Judaism did not accept homosexual practice in any way, shape, form or fashion. They also did not accept women as Rabbis either. The early church clearly found its leaders from among the males, and shared most of the Roman Empires thoughts about the subordination of women to men in both society and in the religious community. The early church and Judaism of the 1st century also show acceptance or at least, non-resistance, to the institution of slavery. Now, if we are going to take every custom of that time and require obedience to it whenever it is reflected in an ethical stance in scripture - well, then, we should go ahead and admit that we are in for some real trouble in coming up with any kind of consistent moral tradition in the church.

Now, in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., we all agree that the acceptance of slavery is not God's will, though it clearly is condoned in the New Testament, and in parts of the Old Testament as well. We all agree that women can be ordained as Pastors and that women are not to be subordinated to male authority, even though parts of the New Testament forbid a vocal leadership role for women in worship, and though other parts of the New Testament urge women to be subordinated to the authority of men. So, we have reached a consensus in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. that some of these ethical rules in scripture are not in accordance with what God would have us do in our time.

Now, as we move to consider homosexuality, our denomination is divided. Because, as some argue: "the practice of homosexuality is defined as sin - that type of conduct is defined as sin." With women, it was simply as status that was at issue, not conduct. With slaves, it was status that was at issue, not conduct. But, this argument falls apart once we acknowledge that the terrible evil of slaveholding was condoned in scripture (i.e., what was accepted as proper behavior, we agree is rebellion against God's will!). With Jesus, we see women being treated in a new way; we see women leaders beginning to rise up in the church in Paul's mission; we see the lame and the children being welcomed into the holy assembly by Jesus; we see eunuchs received into worship for the first time with Jesus, and through the mission described in Acts. So, walls are beginning to fall as the Gospel is a living power of God on earth.

But, not all walls fell in the first few decades of the church. What we see in scripture is the powerful movement of God's reconciling, redeeming love, that was bringing change and new life to human beings on earth. In our denomination, we think this is what happened with the abolition of slavery, and with equality movements both as to gender and to race. But, many of us think that this same movement of freedom in Christ is breaking down barriers between gay and straight, and removing the stigma and dehumanizing experience from gay people in the experience of the way of Christ on earth. I am one of those who believes God is speaking a new and liberating word into this troubled area of church and social life. My children's generation is hearing it loudly and clearly - to the extent that acceptance and dignity for a person, whether they are gay or straight is a given for so many of the young - that they are ready to deal with other problems and whether these young people are gay or straight, ready to work together to deconstruct the evil web of hatred towards homosexual people.

In Paul's letters, we see that Paul had experienced the freedom of Christ as he writes to the Galatians: "In Christ, there is no male or female, no slave or free, no Jew or Greek." Galatians 3:28. This experience of freedom in Christ is transforming heart and mind and church and culture. Paul was the leader on the front of breaking down barriers between Jews and non-Jews (gentiles), and the casting aside of traditional barriers is a disorienting experience for many. But, for those who undergo this disorientation in faith, it is discovered: "If anyone is in Christ, that one is a new creation - the old things have passed away."

If people gather to worship God in the Spirit of Christ, then a new thing comes to be; old things pass away. It causes some disorientation as we are trying to make out what the new community is to look like, how we are to understand sexuality in this new spirit, how we are understand the claim of God on us whether we are gay or straight or somewhere in between or off to the side. But, if we can first gather together and listen for God's living Word to us, and second bring ourselves humbly before this Word, we might receive a new understanding of human sexuality that might be good news and redemptive to a world so much in need of a new word in this area of life. A God-centered community has the chance to hear new things, experience new things from God, and become the good news of God in a world which needs some good news.

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