June 30, 2019
Those who are familiar with the passages of scripture used to condemn the LGBTQ community will recognize that later verses in this same chapter of Romans are often used as some of the most condemning of the “clobber passages” against our community.
Many of us though, know that Paul’s epistles to the church at Rome were a lot more nuanced than most of the more conservative church folks will admit, and the words they say are a condemnation of homosexual behavior are really about something truly sinister, NOT loving relationships.
Here at Bluegrass, we believe that all scripture is given in a cultural, doctrinal, historical, linguistic, literary and religious context. And all of those factors must be a part of our thinking as we seek to understand scripture.
I wanted to get that out of the way, because many in the LGBTQ community, and many of the community’s allies still grapple with words that we’ve heard all our lives, and they are often spoken out of genuine concern, but also out of ignorance.
But today, we are taking a quick moment to hear Paul’s heart, his argument that that small and narrow understanding of God is an invention of a small and narrow religion that does not consider God’s personality as an endearing, caring parent who longs to love us and hold us and be our friend and our confidant.
I’ll also pause here to mention that a few weeks back, we hosted a seminar here on how those clobber passages of the scripture should be properly understood. We’ve posted the video of that session on our website, and I’d encourage you to take a look when you can.
So, about pride…
Another preamble here… If there are any aspiring preachers in the room, some advice… do NOT back yourself into a corner by announcing that you are going to preach a sermon on something that the Bible does NOT support!
Friends, the Bible does not have a lot of good things to say about pride. Not gay pride… just pride.
Heck, it’s actually listed as ONE OF THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS right alongside lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath and envy.
There are loads of thoughts in the bible about pride, and nearly every one of them are agin’ it!
Most of them are in Proverbs, which, truth be told, is really a collection of wise sayings that are just good practice to live by, not necessarily something to build doctrine on, but mostly good advice if you want to be a good person with healthy relationships and a happier life.
But still, when you read things like:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
And then there’s Proverbs 16:
The Lord detests all the proud of heart, Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit will fall.
None of those things make you think very well of being proud.
But the pride we usually hear about in the bible isn’t really the kind of pride I want to encourage in us today.
Both of my parents grew up in poor homes. What’s the old saying? “We grew up so poor we couldn’t even afford to pay attention.”
I tell people sometimes that my grandparents were so poor, they couldn’t afford to give their children middle names! Seriously, neither of my parents have a middle name. Now that’s poor!
But poor as they were, they were also proud. “Too proud for a handout,” is something I used to hear the people of my grandparent’s generation say.
They wanted to work and contribute and be productive and earn their keep. It’s just that the circumstances or the time and place sometimes made it nearly impossible to do. If they did accept help from a neighbor or a family member or even a stranger, they had enough pride in them to offer something in return, even if it was something small from their meager means.
There was something noble about that kind of pride. Something that says I may be poor, but I’m not insignificant and without worth.
In today’s scripture we are, as we like to say around here, taking a peek at one of the letters that Paul sent to the church in Rome.
It’s important for us to understand that a lot of what the Christian church has built centuries of sometimes very specific doctrine around is what was really just intended to be private correspondence between the Apostle Paul and the churches he was trying to nurture in the earliest days of Christianity.
It was never really intended to be anything more than a letter to a specific group of people living in a certain place at a certain time dealing with certain and often very local and specific issues.
In this letter that we’ve peeked in on today, Paul is talking about the “outreach” work he is doing among the “heathen,” the Romans, the Greeks.
He wants the Jews in Rome who have come to follow Jesus to understand that he loves them, adores them, and is certainly one of them, but his heart is telling him that this understanding of God that he now has is much bigger than one group of people should enjoy.
The God that he’s fallen in love with has room for more than just one small population.
God has room for them and for others, some of whom they even considered to be their enemies.
The Jews and the Greeks weren’t always the best of friends, and they often found themselves on opposite sides of not just theology, but life and culture and politics too.
It took some bravado for Paul to say out loud that God longs to be in relationship with people the converted Christian Jews didn’t necessarily care for. It took some kahunas to tell these people who wanted to keep Jesus all to themselves that they were going to have to make room for people they didn’t necessarily like.
Listen friends, I’ve said it so many times, this gospel, this grace, it either works for everyone or it works for no one.
That’s why Paul said, I am not ashamed of the gospel: it’s God’s salvation plan for ALL who have faith in God. Of course to the Jew, but ALSO to the Greek.
If you want to piss off a group of hunkered down Christians, show up and announce who you are and who you love and tell them that God has invited you to join their party.
It’s almost a guarantee that they will tell you why that’s not going to happen. But what they can’t do – and I really want you to hear this – what they CANNOT do is be proud of the gospel AND keep you out of God’s love at the same time.
THAT is the kind of pride the scriptures condemn over and over and over again.
It is the “wicked” person who tells you that God has no room for you, and it is for that person that it is written in the Psalms, “In their pride the wicked person does not seek God; in all their thoughts there is no room for God.”
It is for those people that this same man, Paul said to another church in another letter that we also hijacked, “Love is patient and it is kind and it does not envy and it does not boast and it IS NOT PROUD.”
The kind of pride that the bible makes no room for is not the kind that says, “I am proud to live as God made me to be, and I am proud to walk as God guides me to walk, and I am proud to love as God created me to love, and I am proud to serve as God leads me to serve.
The kind of pride that that the Bible condemns over and over again is the kind that is too proud to learn, too proud to serve, too proud listen, too proud to follow, too proud to make room, too proud kneel, and too proud to accept that God can love someone who whose skin and dialect and religion and desires don’t look just like theirs.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that I am proud. I am proud to be in this place with a room full of beautiful people whose desire is to fling these doors open and invite everyone in.
I am proud. I am proud to be able to walk with a God that reminds me over and over of my place as a flawed but fabulous child of the most high.
I am proud. I am proud that I get to tell this story, and I am proud to hold hands with you and sing with you and walk with you and learn with you and fall down with you and get back up with you and do it all over again and probably again and again.
It’s true that most of the scriptures we read about pride are pretty condemning of it. But there are a few that recognize the value of the kind of pride we’re encouraging today.
The writer of the book of James puts this pride thing in perspective probably better than anyone else.
Basically, the writer says that if we want to be arrogant and proud and exclusive and demeaning, we can do that, but we can expect nothing good to come of it.
But if we love and show care and concern and serve and offer ourselves in humility, God will lift us up to do more love and more care and more service and more good work.
And that is something we can and should be very, very proud of.
Romans 1: 16-17 CEB
I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, “The righteous person will live by faith.”