This morning and next Sunday morning are part of a focus entitled “Christians and Same-Sex Attraction.” The sermons today by me and next Sunday by Eric will provide a Christian perspective on same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships. In addition, we’ll be hearing from Highland’s Dr. Allen Black—Professor of New Testament at Harding School of Theology—and Dr. Sally Gary—Director of Center Peace, a nonprofit that provides support for people who experience same-sex attraction. This Saturday Highland leaders are gathering with Allen and Sally for a session. Next Sunday Allen and Sally will offer an opt-in Sunday School session in the Life Center.
Eric and I will be using two chapters from David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me as our starting points. Kinnaman’s book examines 6 reasons why young people are leaving churches. One of those reasons has to do with their belief that the church is “exclusive”—it rejects people who don’t behave or believe as the church does. Eric will explore that issue in terms of same-sex relationships. Another reason why young people are leaving churches is their belief that the church is “repressive”—it’s teaching on sexuality is narrow-minded. I’ll explore that issue this morning as it relates to same-sex relationships.
A word about our language—we will be using the phrases “same-sex-attraction” and “same-sex-relationships.” Same-sex attraction refers to the desire a person may have for a member of the same gender. Same-sex relationship refers to a person acting on that desire. We’ve chosen these phrases because they are used by many writing about this topic today and because they are descriptive phrases that don’t communicate any certain agenda.
Here’s why we feel called to address this topic now. First, same-sex relationships were brought to the forefront locally when a full-page ad appeared in the Commercial Appeal in late October of last year. The ad claimed to give “The Whole Truth About Homosexuality” and claimed to be from “Memphis churches of Christ and interested individuals.” The ad professed to provide the entire biblical teaching about homosexuality. News Channel 5 and The Commercial Appeal gave me an opportunity to respond to the ad. In my response, I explained that the ad did not come from Memphis Churches of Christ. I explained that were Highland to spend $15,000 on a full-page ad (the reported cost of it), we would have focused on something more positive. And I explained that to get the “whole truth” about this issue, much more conversation would need to take place. My response led to some surprising reactions. One Church of Christ preacher wrote me saying, “You should be ashamed and repent. I hope you do, because I want you to go to Heaven.” (I’ve never had someone tell me that I’m in danger of hell in such a nice way.) We had already made a decision to address same-sex relationships when this ad appeared. But these events strengthened our resolve to provide you an opportunity to explore this issue further.
Second, same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships are significant issues in contemporary media. Legal issues regarding gay marriage are frequently discussed in the media. And, of the 97 TV shows last season, there were 31 regularly appearing gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender characters. This was up from 19 in the prior season. In other words, it’s difficult not to address this issue because it is so prominent in the media.
Finally, there are pastoral reasons for discussing same-sex relationships. A friend of mine in graduate school who was preparing for full-time ministry confessed to me one day that he struggled with same-sex attraction. Some of you may struggle similarly. Many of you have friends or family members who experience with same-sex attraction. Recently a Highland couple sat with Eric and me and shared the story of their son who lives in a same-sex relationship. And thus for pastoral reasons we want to address this.
I’m going to spend the rest of our time unpacking one of the Scriptures that addresses same-sex relationships: Rom. 1:16-32–18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:18-23 ESV).
Oddly, we may thing, Paul begins by writing about creation. And he says in vs. 19 that that creation is a sign that is supposed to lead us to recognize God’s great worth and great works. He writes that God has “shown” things about himself through “the things that have been made.” This is a reference to nature. Paul writes that God’s eternal power—his ability to do great works, and God’s divine nature—God’s great worth, can be “clearly perceived” through nature, “the things that have been made.” Paul writes that the appropriate response to seeing the majesty and beauty of creation is to “honor” God—to recognize God’s great worth, and to “give thanks” to God—to recognize God’s great works.
I just returned from speaking to church leaders in the Northwest. While there, I visited Multnomah Falls. And Paul is saying that one the reasons God created such majestic things like this waterfall is that they point us to the existence of a God who has great worth and a God who does great works. And what God desires more than anything is for us to recognize his great worth and great works.
That is the life we were created to live. We live in order to be in relationship with a God who is more worthy than anything and who uses his power for our good. What matters most is honoring or valuing God and giving thanks to God. Say this out loud: “I prize you God.” Say this out loud: “I thank you God.” That’s the life we were created to live.
But, not everyone lives that life. In fact every one of us has failed at one time or another to live that life. And Paul illustrates what happens when we fail. He shows what happens we decide to value something or someone more than God: 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:21-32 ESV)
Paul writes that our failure to recognize God’s great worth and great works is a step that leads to the not-right-life with God and others. Paul uses the words “righteousness” and “unrighteousness” several times in this text. One way of defining “unrighteousness” is this: a not-right-life with God and with others. One way of defining “righteousness” is this: a right-life with God and with others. Paul believes that humans have been created to relate in a certain way with God and with others. He uses the word “natural” in this text to indicate this way of life. When we live in that way, we are living “righteously.” We are living rightly with God and with others. When we don’t live in that way, we are living “unrighteously.” We are living not-right with God and with others.
And Paul says that when a person makes a conscious or unconscious decision to value something or someone more than God, that decision leads to a not-right life with God and a not-right life with others.
In vv. 26-28 Paul illustrates how that decision leads to a not-right-life of women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another…committing shameless acts with men.” Paul is describing same-sex relationships.
And in vv. 29-32 Paul illustrates how a decision to value something or someone more than God leads to a not-right-life of “evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, invention of evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness.”
What Paul’s doing here is showing how a step away from the right-life God created us to live will lead to a whole host of things we never imagined.
In September of last year, a 25-year-old New Yorker named David Villalobos jumped 17 feet from the Bronx Zoo monorail into a tiger pen—on purpose. A 400-pound Siberian tiger bit into his foot and dragged him around. Villalobos suffered broken ribs, a broken right ankle, a collapsed lung and a broken pelvis. After being rescued, Villalobos confessed “everyone in life makes choices” and his choice was to get close to that tiger. Rom. 1 is a bit like that. Paul is saying, “If you want to live some part of your life apart from God, you are free do to that. But, watch out. Because you may end up with more than you bargained for. You may think you want to jump in the pit and pet a tiger. But you’ll end up with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. You may think you want to prize something or someone more than God. But you’ll end up in a not-right-life that you were not created to live.”
What does this have to do with our topic today? Two things. First, contrary to our culture’s heightened celebration of same-sex relationships, these relationships are actually expressions of a not-right-life. One of the challenges with the way culture handles this issue is that same-sex relationships are not just tolerated, they are celebrated. Individuals are urged to take pride in same-sex relationships.
But Paul indicates that same-sex relationships are part of a not-right life. To use Paul’s words, these relationships are not “natural.” They are contrary to the life we were created to live.
And the Bible is consistent with that message. From Lev. 18, 20 to Rom. 1 to 1 Cor. 6 there is an unchanging view in the Bible toward same-sex relationships. They are contrary to the life God created us to live. They are part of a not-right-life. And if you are living that life you need to understand it’s a life you were not created to live.
That may sound repressive. But it is the truth. And, it is for your best. You will be at your most fulfilled when you live the right-life God created you to live.
But same-sex relationships are not the only expressions of a not-right life. Our culture has a heightened celebration of same-sex relationships. But some churches have a heightened condemnation of same-sex relationships.
Geoff Surratt writes this: “We often quote the truism, ‘Hate the sin, but love the sinner’, but we seldom apply it evenly. Some sins, my sins, I hate just a little bit. Your sin I hate a little more. Other sins, the sins I will never commit, I hate enough that my hate spills out on the sinner, the sinner’s friends and anyone who associates with the sinner.” 
Some of us in churches today hate our sins just a little bit. But the sins we think we will never commit—like same-sex relationships—we hate enough that our hate spills out on the sinner, the sinner’s friends and anyone who associates with the sinner. Somehow we conclude that same-sex relationships are more not-right than anything we are struggling with. But notice that while Paul includes same-sex relationships as part of the not-right-life, he includes about 20 other things as well: evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, invention of evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness. In other words, if we’re willing to take out a full-page ad attacking the same-sex relationships of other people, we better be ready for them to take out a full-age ad attacking things like our boastfulness or our covetousness. Because they are all equally not-right.
Covetousness in v. 29 is the desire for more. The word “boastful” in vs. 30 means “arrogant”—someone who looks down on others and thinks too highly of himself. Paul is saying that contrary to the church’s heightened condemnation of same-sex relationships, things like covetousness and boastfulness are also expressions of this not-right-life. And even though the church may claim it doesn’t struggle with any of these things, it does.
Timothy Keller has written a book entitled Counterfeit Gods in which he identifies modern-day idols which Christians tend to worship. One of those is covetousness (he calls it greed). Keller writes that covetousness, the desire for more, is tolerated within the church. If you and I are honest with ourselves, we’d probably agree. We tolerate a consuming desire for more in our lives. Yet that is part of the not-right life. It is just as much a part of the not-right-life as same-sex relationships. And if you are living that life you need to understand it’s a life you were not created to live.
Consider boastfulness. Paul’s word “boastful” refers to someone who looks down on others and thinks too highly of themselves. I can think of specific situations in which I’ve done that very thing. I’ll bet you can to. Yet boastfulness is part of the not-right-life. It is just as much a part of the not-right-life as same-sex relationships. And if you are living that life you need to understand it’s a life you were not created to live.
It is wrong for culture to have a heightened celebration of same-sex relationships. But it’s also wrong for you or I to have a heightened condemnation of those relationships. Those relationships plus the nearly twenty other things in Paul’s list are all part of the not-right-life.
What then is God’s response? 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17 ESV).
The reality is that every person lives some aspect of a not-right life. You have lived some element of a not-right life. How then, do we get the right-life? That’s where the “good news” comes in—that’s the meaning of the word “gospel.” Here’s the good news: there is a righteousness, a right-life, available from God “by faith.” The phrase “by faith” will be contrasted by Paul later with the phrase “by works.” The good news is that we do not have to work our way back to that right life before God acts on our behalf. God acts when we’re still in the not-right life. And he gives us righteousness, gives us a right-life, when we simply believe in Jesus. What Jesus did on the cross was to take the consequences of our not-right life. And now, through his sacrifice, God renews our relationship with him and with others. He gives us righteousness. And that gift is for all. For you who wrestle with covetousness. For you who wrestle with boastfulness. And for you who wrestle with same-sex attraction. The good news is that God paves the way back to the right-life for all. Through the gospel, God gives the right-life to all rather than forcing them to get there on their own.
Writer Heather King, a recovering alcoholic who has come to faith in Christ, reflected on her initial experience with this gospel: “My first impulse was to think…I don’t want to get sober (or in the case of the church, worship) with THESE nutcases! (or boring people, or people with different politics, taste in music, food, books, or whatever). Nothing shatters our egos like worshipping with people we did not hand-pick …. The humiliation of discovering that we are thrown in with extremely unpromising people!—people who are broken, misguided, wishy-washy, out for themselves. People who are…us. But we don’t come to church to be with people who are like us in the way we want them to be. We come because we have staked our souls on the fact that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the church is the best place, the only place, to be while we all struggle to figure out what that means. We come because we’d be hard pressed to say which is the bigger of the two scandals of God: that he loves us—or that he loves everyone else.”
That’s the scandal of the gospel. That’s the good news of the gospel. Given the many ways in which all of us have devalued God in some aspect of life and thus all of us have come to live the not-right-life, the shock is not that God loves “them”—the them who have the sin we hate the most. The shock is that God loves us. The shock is that God makes the right-life possible for all through faith in Jesus Christ.
The church is simply those who lived the not-right-life now living into the right-life given to them freely in the gospel. The church is not the worst place to be in the heated debate about same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships. It’s supposed the best place. Because it’s the only place where all people are on common ground. It’s the only place where we all admit that we’ve all fallen into the not-right life. And, we’ve all tasted the scandalous grace of the cross. And, we’re all now pursuing what it means to live into that grace, into the right-life that God’s given in Jesus.
A few weeks ago someone wrote to me: I grew up the daughter of two professors at [a Church of Christ university]…however, I stopped attending any church of Christ. I had married a man who was gay, or rather, is gay, and there seemed to be no help from any quarter. No one was unkind to him, but no one had any ideas on what he was to do or how he was to proceed. There being no place for him, there was not really any place for me. And I’d like to say this: there is a place for both of you. And it is not hell. At the cross there is a place for both of you. And in this church there is a place for both of you. Come and take your place and join us as we strive together to live into the right-life we were all created to live.
[CONNECTION ONLY] Communion is a time when this becomes real for us. Each of us no longer looks down on others for their not-right life. Instead, we each remember ways in which we’ve each lived a not-right life. And we celebrate together that common grace which has touched us all and how Jesus’ death on the cross has led us into a new life with God and with others. As you go to the table this morning by yourself or with others, pick up a piece of bread and then silently pray this prayer: Lord, I confess this aspect of my not-right life: _____. Then, pick up some juice and silently pray this prayer: Lord, I celebrate this aspect of the right-life you’ve given me: ____.
 Shimon Prokupecz, Andrew Siff and Chris Glorioso, “Bronx Zoo mauling: man wanted to be ‘one with tiger,’” NBCNewYork.com (9-22-12)
 Adapted from Heather King, “The Better Church,” Shirt of Flame blog (10-23-11)