Friday, December 19, 2014

Chosen Trouble

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
For Sabbath, December 20, 2014

Wednesday morning I left the house early headed for Seattle. It was dark and raining. Headlights and tail lights reflected in the water on the highway. 3.64 miles from my house, heading down a slight hill, I noticed an animal dead on the shoulder of road just outside the white line. A wing was extended and my first thought was, that's an owl.

I sometimes remove dead animals from the road in our neighborhood. It's a sign of respect for the life, of reverence for the beauty of creation. I place the animals in the bushes where the ordinary processes of nature will recycle them. This seems more dignified than being turned into an ugly spot on the pavement. I have a special fascination with big birds. In addition to wanting to show respect by removing them from the ugliness of their highway destiny, I find the allure of getting close too strong to resist. Handling a hawk or duck, touching its feathers and examining its intricate coloring is pure magic. It's illegal to possess the feathers, but I don't think it's illegal to pick up a bird and examine it.

All this ran through my head in a few seconds. A half mile down the highway I turned into a side road. Did a U-turn and headed back to check out my sighting. Drove past the spot, did another U-turn and pulled off on the shoulder with my headlights pointed at the bird. I don't know why I thought it was an owl. In my lights it looked like duck. I went to pick it up, and the duck's head was missing. Then I realized, no, it really was an owl. It was lying on its back. A duck in that position would show off its long neck. An owl on the other hand is so compact, it's just a single lump of feathers. I spotted its beak and could make out the outlines of its face.

I had never touched an owl before. Never seen one up this close. Even though it was dead, there were no marks on it. I picked it up. It was still warm. Instead of putting it in the bushes, I put it in my car figuring I would show it to a few of my bird friends before disposing of it properly. (Carolyn, the church administrator is an officer in the Audubon Society. My friend, Brian, is an insane birder. I figured I'd show it to the kids in the Day Care.)

With the bird lying on its back on the floor on the passenger side of the car, I headed on into Seattle. The traffic was terrible. The trip took twice as long as usual. The sky grew lighter. Somewhere near Southcenter I happened to glance down at my dead bird and was startled to see him standing up. He was a bit wobbly on his feet, but he was clearly not dead!

Now what? I had visions of the headlines: Man attacked by owl. I-5 closed by the resulting accident. I had pictures in my head of massive flapping wings and sharp talons. This was not good! But what could I do, I was in the center lane of I-5. I had to keep driving.

Of course, I now glanced at my bird every few seconds to assess the risk of attack. He appeared to be pretty lethargic. He never lifted his wings. He faced away from me. Once or twice he looked my direction and opened his left eye. Other than that, he just stood there swaying a bit, looking like he might be a little drunk. Which would make sense given the fact I was pretty sure he had been knocked unconscious by a collision with a car wind shield.

Fifteen minutes later, he was still just standing there. I looked at the clock. Maybe Brian would be awake. Even if he weren't, this was important enough, I'd wake him up.

“Brian, I have a problem. I picked up a dead owl. But now it's resurrected itself. It's standing on the floor of my car. I don't know how badly hurt it is. Do you know if there is any place that rescues injured owls?”

Brian didn't know, but he promised to get online, find out and call me back.

Then I began thinking, I need some kind of container to put this bird in. Sooner or later if he doesn't die, he's going to try to get out of the car. He's going to be flapping against the glass. I called Anne, the director of the Day Care. She's an animal lover, maybe she had a dog crate I could borrow.

She did not have a dog crate, but she did have a cat crate. I explained my problem. She said she'd get to the church as soon as she could.

When I pulled up here at the church, Fred was still sitting in the same spot on the floor of my car. When I opened my door and got out, he didn't look, didn't move.

Anne arrived with big leather gloves, a pillow case and a cat crate. She cautiously opened the passenger door, slipped the pillow case over the owl, carried him inside, then transferred him to the cat crate.

I took him around to show the kids at the day care then got busy figuring out my next move.

When I picked up the owl, it was a dead bird. It was a beautiful thing which I was going to own for a few hours until I properly disposed of it. I was in complete control. I could of simply set it back down in the bushes at the edge of the road and left it to the crows and other scavengers. Once I put it in my car, as long as it was dead, I was free to dispose of it any time. It was not a problem.

But now, it was alive. Suddenly I was not in control. A living creature you have taken in suddenly imposes obligations. I was stuck. I couldn't just let it go. I had driven it 35 miles away from its home. I had taken it from the country into the heart of Seattle.

And besides, I couldn't just release it until I knew it could fend for itself.

Carolyn told me about a rescue place in Arlington. That was a long way away, but I called them anyway. At least they could advise me. No answer.

Brian called me back and told me about a rescue place in Kent—South Sound Critter Care. The lady there urged me to bring the bird in as soon as possible. I groaned. It was an hour's drive away. That was going to be two and half hours out of my day.

I began scolding myself. Why did I pick up the stupid bird? I should have just looked at it and put it in the bushes. Let nature take its course. But, I had picked it up. I had brought with me into the heart of the City. And now it was alive. It was my problem.

I remember years ago, I had visited some people who had a huge parrot or macaw. While they were out of the living room I had walked over to the bird, it climbed off its perch and onto my arm. The bird and I were having a pleasant conversation when the people came back into the living room.

I put the bird back on its perch and visited with the people. At the end of our visit they offered me the bird. The man was sick and facing a very uncertain future. “That bird never lets strangers approach him. He's dangerous. He obviously likes you. Would you take him?”

I was flattered. I was even tempted. He was a really cool bird. But I had the presence of mind to say that I should check with my wife before taking another animal into the house. Karin delicately suggested I do a little research on the care required by such birds. Thanks to google, I discovered that birds like that needed four or five hours of contact time daily with their person. FOUR TO FIVE HOURS!!!!!!!!

I told the bird's people thanks but no thanks.

Unfortunately, with this owl, I had not considered the possibility that it would resurrect itself and become a dependent, living creature and rearrange my entire day.

I briefly considered just keeping it in the crate until Thursday. But my schedule Thursday was no more convenient than Wednesday. I could take the bird back to where I found it and release it. But that was as far away as the rescue center.

I was stuck. What an idiot. I glared at the bird which was invisible inside the crate in a dark corner of my office.

I talked with Carolyn, took care of a few urgent phone calls, then carried the cat crate with its bird cargo out to the car and headed for Kent, wondering if the bird would still be alive when I got there, wondering if this whole thing was a waste of time. But what else could I do?

In the Christmas story there are some surprises like my owl who resurrected himself. Joseph falls in love with a young girl named Mary. Only after he is hooked, hopelessly in love, only then does he get the news she is going to have an inconvenient pregnancy.

Jesus is born. The angels sing. Rich men from Persia show up to honor the child.

Then King Herod gets in a snit and the holy family barely escapes slaughter.

Would Mary have agreed to this project if she had known the full extent of tragedy and horror she would confront?

Would Joseph have stuck with Mary if he had known her son was going to expose the whole family to the threat of death?

I like to think he would have. Every time we allow ourselves to love, we are taking a huge risk. We are exposing our hearts to the risk of disappointment and grief. Still, that's what lovers do. They take risks. They dare.

The decision to have a child is always a risky matter. Perhaps if you have your children when you are a teenager, you can avoid the scary awareness of all the things that can go wrong. Commonly, we parents dream our children will be healthy and beautiful and smart and ambitious and righteous. Of course. But especially if we are a little older when we have children, we know we are signing up for a risky adventure. Problems happen. Difficulties arise. Illness and accidents invade our lives. Knowing this, perhaps only vaguely, still we embrace the adventure. It's who we are. We become parents.

Let's take this the next step. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was the Son of God. According the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was the Son of generations of fathers going all the way back to Adam—who was the son of God. While the teenage Mary could not possibly have understood the challenges she was signing up for when she agreed to be the mother of Jesus, God the Father knew full well what was ahead.

The injustice and trauma in Jesus life were expected by God. God proceeded anyway. It's what parents do.

At the heart of our faith is the conviction that God has devoted the best resources of heaven to saving people. God sees the mess people are in and God responds. God neutralizes guilt so that wrong doers can imagine a new life beyond their moral failures. God promises healing to those who are harmed by intention or by accident. God gives special reassurance to those in poverty, those who suffer from mental illness, those whose irregularities have made them pariahs.

Our mess is not just our problem. It's God's problem.

The owl drunk with a head injury, standing unsteadily on the floor of my car, had a problem. Because of the culture I am part of—a culture shaped by the life-affirming values of this church, and the animal-affirming values of our house—I was stuck. Since my dead owl had come back to life, I had a problem.

The owl's problem was my problem. But here is the radical difference between the message of the owl story and the message of the Christmas story.

The owl tricked me into getting involved in his life.

The Christmas story declares emphatically that God gladly, boldly, deliberately got involved in our lives. We are not a dead owl that came to life in God's cosmos, bringing with us unexpected inconvenience.

According to the Christmas story we are the treasured, desired children of God.

According to classic Christianity, God knew the difficulties, the pain, the massive injustice that would arise from the life of human beings. God proceeded anyway. The challenge of saving humanity, of redemption, atonement, peacemaking, restoration—all of that—is not something God is stuck with. God did not pick humanity up from the side of the road, imagining that he was holding in his hands something beautiful and fully in his control only to be astonished when we came to life and disordered the tidy beauty of the universe.

Rather God looked ahead at the creativity and energy of humanity. God saw that we would pervert our freedom. God saw the full range of possibilities, and said, “Let's do it.” I hope this is not being too irreverent, but I imagine God saying, “What would my life be without my children? Safety and unruffled order is nothing compared to the wild adventure of having children.”

Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is redolent with sweetness and charm. Sweet baby Jesus, holy infant, tender and mild. Christmas also declares that our problems, our needs, our tragedies and struggles with injustice—all this is not a problem that has taken God unawares. These are not dead owls that have resurrected themselves in God's car and imposed themselves on God. Rather the heartbreak of humanity, and even the challenge of healing evil and restoring the world—all this has been freely chosen by God because this mess is your life, and you are God's prized son. You are God's precious daughter.

We are all baby Jesus. Loved and treasured.

This is what we mean when we say, Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2014

An Astonishing Mercy

Sermon manuscript for Gig Harbor Adventist Fellowship. (Andreas is preaching at Green Lake Church on December 13)
Sabbath, December 13, 2014

Based on Joshua 9, 2 Samuel 21, Luke 10, and Acts 15

It's one of those tense moments that in the hands of the right movie director make you hold your breath. What's going to happen?

Over here on the right of the screen you see angry argument. An army of rough characters is arguing with their general and a few other chiefs and dignitaries. Over on the left side of scene you can see people cowering, mothers holding their children close. Men standing with crossed arms. Impassive faces, awaiting their fate.

The camera zooms in on the argument. The soldiers are insisting the general give the order to attack. This is going to be a quick slaughter. It's the right thing to do. Just give the order.

The general stands feet planted, his arms on his hips. Listening, but not bending. There is no negotiation. He had already said no. It's not going to happen.

He repeats what he's said dozens of times:

We gave these people our word. We signed a treaty. Yes, they tricked us. Yes, they were dishonest. But we will not sink to their level. We will not go back on our word. We will not violate a treaty. No!

Slowly the commotion subsides. The angry soldiers move back into their groups muttering. The people at risk, the people whose fate was the center of this fierce conflict relax a bit. The crisis eases.

Finally, the general, having quieted his men, turns to talk with the people on the other side of this treaty. He is joined by tribal elders.

What were you thinking?” he demands. “Why did you deceive us? Why did you trick us into signing a treaty by saying you lived nearby?”

They replied, "We did it because we--your servants--were clearly told that the LORD your God commanded his servant Moses to give you this entire land and to destroy all the people living in it. So we feared greatly for our lives because of you. That is why we have done this. (Joshua 9)

Did you get that? These people—they were called Gibeonites—knew that God had ordered the Jewish people to annihilate the residents of Canaan. The Gibeonites had heard about the miraculous triumphs of Israel against the Egyptians, the Amorites and the people of Jericho. They knew they didn't stand a chance militarily, so they decided to try a different stratagem.

They sent a delegation to ask for a peace treaty with the Jewish people. Of course, they knew the Israelites weren't supposed to make treaties with local people in Canaan, so they stole a different identity. The delegation dressed in worn-out clothes, they carried stale bread and old, cracking wine skins. They wore sandals with broken straps.

When the Gibeonite delegation arrived in the Jewish camp, the Jews were suspicious. “Don't you know we're not supposed to make treaties with people from around here?”

(Moses had specifically allowed them to make treaties with distant nations but had forbidden them to make treaties or even any concessions to the local residents of Canaan. The locals were to be exterminated. Moses repeated this command over and over. There was no ambiguity.)

Oh, course, we understand,” the Gibeonites said. “We know you can't make treaties with Canaanites, but we are from way far from here. This stale bread: It was fresh from the oven when we started our trip. These wine skins—their water bottles—they were in pretty good shape when we set out. And our sandals. They were new. It's taken us weeks of travel to get here. But your fame has gone everywhere. That's why our elders sent us to make a treaty with you. You are clearly going to be a great nation. We want to be your allies.”

Joshua and the elders were suspicious, but the bread was stale. The wine skins were cracked. The sandals were worn. It was gratifying that the fame of God's power was so widespread, so sure, why not. Joshua and the elders made a treaty. They pledged protection and non-aggression to the reps of the Gibeonites.

Three days later, the Jews learn they've been had. These people are the Gibeonites, a subdivision of one of the major Canaanite tribes. These are the very people God had told them: Don't make treaties with them. Show no mercy. Exterminate them. Annihilate them. Absolute eradication.

The Israelite army marched to Gibeon.

The rank and file of the army wanted to get busy doing God's work. They wanted to rid the earth of these lying, conniving, scheming pagans. But Joshua stops them.

We gave our word. We took an oath. I don't care what God said. I know what we said. We will not break our word.”

My question to you: Was Joshua right? Or was the army right?

God said destroy these people. Joshua said spare them. The army wanted to do what God said. Joshua refused. Was Joshua right?

For a minute, I'm going to ignore your opinion. Let's look to see if the Bible itself answers this question. In Joshua 9, the chapter that tells this story, it seems evident to me that the writer is making a statement in favor of Joshua, but this is implicit, not explicit. However, in 2 Samuel 21, the Bible is horribly explicit.

There was a famine in the land of Israel during the time of King David. King David has his priests inquire of God regarding the reason for the famine. God says the famine has come as punishment on the nation because of actions taken by the previous king, King Saul. His patriotic zeal had led him to slaughter the Gibeonites. He imagined he was carrying out the will of God. Weren't these Gibeonites part of the Canaanite peoples? Hadn't God spoken through Moses repeatedly ordering the complete extermination of the Gibeonite people?

Now God is requiring King David, the “man after God's own heart” to address this issue. God makes it's clear that Saul's action, the slaughter of the Gibeonites was unjust, immoral.

Acting in accord with the justice system of that ancient culture, David delivered seven descendants of Saul to the Gibeonite elders to be executed as pay back for the slaughter Saul had directed.

After these executions, the famine went away. The land was at peace.

This whole story sounds bizarre to us. But before we dismiss it as an irrelevant, ancient tale, let me ask you, have you ever wondered if you were hopelessly excluded from the favor of God?

I have a friend who frequently tells me he knows he is going to be lost. I don't know for sure where his certainty comes from. As he's gotten older, his connection with God has gotten shakier. According to standard Christian formulas if his faith is shaky, then his salvation is shaky. Because we all know that God says if you don't believe you will be damned, sent to hell, lost.

But is that really so?

What if a person's loss of faith can be traced to dementia? If a person loses his faith because the person has lost mental function, do you imagine that God would really damn such a person? Don't you imagine that Jesus, like the ancient Joshua would step in and say, Hey wait a minute, I gave that person my word.

What about people who are developmentally disabled and are never able to articulate faith? What about people who are forty years old, unable to talk, and still in diapers? Is it still true that we would insist, they can't be saved because they haven't said the necessary words expressing faith?

What about homosexuals? Christians are so sure they are like the Canaanites. God hates them. God excludes them. But what if these folks have seen God's power and presence in this church, and they want to enjoy the grace of God that is specially available here? Will we act like Joshua's army and rehearse the words of condemnation or will we act like Joshua and defend their right to a safe and secure home here among the people of God?

In the famous story of the Good Samaritan, the good conservative religious scholar set up the story by asking who deserves to be included. Jesus answers by asking who is good enough to open the door. In Jesus story, it is the person with defective religion who is celebrate as the truly good person, the person who embodies the intentions of heaven.

What about us? When we read our Bibles do we underline the passages that express divine displeasure or divine welcome?

In Acts 15, the leaders of the early Christian church were debating the rules for including and excluding people from the church. There were devout conservatives who wanted to hold up the standards. They wanted to make sure everyone who joined the church measured up to exalted standards. Peter finally stood up and said, “Look, you know that God included people who had none of the credentials you people are talking about. God astonished us by giving a demonstrable gift of the Holy Spirit to unbaptized, uncircumcised pagans. Are we really supposed to be more particular than God? Then Peter made this fascinating statement: “Why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?”

Note Peter's argument: we have tried the approach of measuring everyone by standards. It doesn't work for us. It didn't work for our ancestors. Why would we impose it on the new people. Leave them alone.

My appeal to us: will we stand with Joshua and protect vulnerable people, even people who have questionable credentials? Or will we stand with Joshua's army and demand that God's harshest judgments be implemented?

Will we stand with the Pharisees and work to keep the church pure or will we stand with Peter and boldly welcome all God calls?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Building Peace

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
For Sabbath, December 6, 2014
This is a preliminary version. Revision likely. Comments welcome.

Isaiah 9: 6-7
Mark 4:35-39

The front page of Wednesday's Seattle Times featured this headline: “Mammoth cleanup ahead for fouled Duwamish River.” The entire page above the centerfold was taken up with an aerial photo of floating cranes and barges and dredging apparatus just upstream of the South Park Bridge. This equipment was engaged in early stages of the mammoth cleanup.

The reason for the headline was the release the day before of the final draft of a plan to clean up the Duwamish River. The project will take nearly twenty years. It will cost 342 million dollars. A million cubic yards of extremely contaminated sediment will be removed. Hundreds of acres of river bottom where the contamination is less will be covered with clean rock and sand to seal the toxins in place.

When the project is completed, the river will be a better place, a sweeter place. Perch and sole and crabs and clams will no longer be contaminated with PCBs and arsenic. People who eat fish from the river will no longer be poisoned by their catch.

The cleanup on the Duwamish will improve the water quality of the entire Puget Sound.

It might seem like a long way from the Duwamish River to the Bethlehem of Christmas fame, but I think I have found a worm hole that connects them.

In the Advent Candle reading this morning, we heard the words of Isaiah 9.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
He will be called:
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
[Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT] 6

This is a prophecy of the work of the Messiah, a description of the mission of Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem.

The priest Zecharias prophesied:

The morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.”
Luke 1:78-79

What is this peace that is mentioned in both these passages? Jesus is the Prince of Peace. His mission is to guide us into the path of peace. What does that mean?

It might be tempting to define peace as merely the absence of violent conflict. But peace is far more fundamental than that. Making peace is far more than stopping war. Making peace means creating opportunities for people to thrive. The first picture of peace making in the Bible comes right at the beginning:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the earth. God stepped into that dark and lifeless void and created light and life. God turned chaos into the Garden of Eden. This is what it means to make peace.

The mission of Jesus was to bring healing and hope and harmony. To end conflict by replacing enmity with community. Making peace means making the world better. The goal of peacemaking is joy, harmony, well-being. This was the mission of the Son of God. When we make this mission our own, when we practice peacemaking, we are acting like the children of God, we are demonstrating our family connection.

Right now, our country is roiled with controversy surrounding killings by the police. In some instances, the details are murky. In others, the evidence is glaringly clear: gross injustice has been done. Whatever the details of this incident or that, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt: Black men and boys suffer disproportionately from police wrong-doing. Whatever the facts in any particular case, as a society we are failing to give equal welcome and equal protection to Black men and boys. This is wrong.

Denouncing the evil is the easy part. The hard question, and the best question is: How do we make peace? Not just, How do we end the egregious miscarriages of justice? but How do we create a society that promotes the well-being of all, includin pg Black men and boys?

We are Christians. Being a Christian means more than saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. Being a Christian means more than going on mission trips to foreign lands. It means more than having a correct opinion about soteriology. (I couldn't help myself. I thought I would toss in a latinate word here to highlight the risk of dressing up irrelevant theorizing with fancy words.) Christians are followers of Christ. At minimum, this means we are called to be peacemakers. We are called to be active in turning chaos into the Garden of Eden. We are called to do all we can to cooperate with Jesus in making peace. Here. Now.

For about a century, people dumped “stuff” in the Duwamish River. Tires and trash. Old trucks. Carcinogenic lubricants and coolants. Sewage. Industrial waste. Some of this dumping was done with clear knowledge of its potential for doing harm. Some of the dumping was done without a realization of the consequences. Some was inadvertent. However it happened and whoever was responsible, for a hundred years human activity turned the Duwamish River into a place like the dark, lifeless void mentioned at the beginning of Genesis. We had created chaos.

Activists, reformers, protesters eventually got our attention. This soiling was wrong. This chaos making was immoral. We had an obligation to do what we could to reverse a hundred years of wreckage and spoilage. It was time to make peace. The restoration is going to take decades and hundreds of millions of dollars, but as a civilization we owe this to the river. We owe this to our children.

Like the mess in the Duwamish, the problems of race and class that confront us have been a long time in the making. Making peace from the chaos we have created will take time and cost money. But as children of the Prince of Peace, do we have any options? Our obligations to our Heavenly Master and to our children require us to make peace. Not just stop the war. Not just end hostilities. We are called to work toward the beauty of the Garden of Eden.

I appeal especially to you who are young. Put your energy, your minds, your education, your advantages to work for peace. Yes, pursue your careers. Yes, dream of a comfortable income and a nice house. But dream higher than that. Ask God to give you a vision higher and nobler than mere survival or comfort. Partner with God in making peace, in turning chaos into the Garden of Eden.

The moral of the Christmas story is that God did not ignore the chaos, the mess. God gave his best to humanity. Any of you who are parents will understand that behind all the complicated theology we have developed over the last two millennia, the core message of the Jesus story is this: God gave his best, his highest, his most treasured to humanity. Making peace is not a hobby for God. It is the very essence of the divine existence.

So when you young people dream big dreams of making the world better, when you take great risks, and attempt heroic feats, you are entering into the very life of God.

The child of Bethlehem and the Duwamish River are connected through the worm hole of a mission to bring about healing and new life. In fact, every effort to bring healing and harmony, to foster life and happiness is a cooperation with the mission of God.

Thursday morning, next to a different Seattle waterway, I caught a glimpse of the power of holy imagination to create peace.

I left the church about 7:30 and ran over to the Ballard Locks. I jogged across the locks and ran down to see if there were any fish moving through the fish ladder. No fish. Back up top, I headed toward the rest room. There was a sign out front: Closed. But inside I could hear a commotion of voices.

I pushed open the door. A worker was standing there. With a big grin on his face, he announced, “We're open. You can come in.”

His speech was not entirely clear but his grin was perfectly understandable.

“You're open?” I asked. “It's okay if I come in?”

Another worker came around the corner, pushing a mop. He saw me and grinned. It was obvious both men had some cognitive impairment. They were simple people.

They were delighted I had come to their restroom. “We keep everything clean,” the first guy declared with obvious pride. His partner, the one with the mop, grinned at his buddy, and repeated, nodding his head. “We keep everything clean.”

“And you're sure it's okay for me to come in now?” I'm watching the guy with the mop continue sweeping back and forth across the floor.

“Yes. We're open. Everything's clean.”

A supervisor stuck his head out of a store room and confirmed that I was welcome to use the facilities.

As I resumed my running, back across the locks and up the streets of Ballard, headed back here to the church I replayed the scene over and over in my head.

The two men with special needs were obviously finding satisfaction in real work. They were building peace, reducing chaos and increasing life-sustaining order in a tiny corner of the world—the restrooms at the Ballard Locks. They were mopping floors, wiping walls and toilets. They were making the world better.

But they could do this only because other people, an entire system, had worked to put them into a place where their disabilities did not keep them from the satisfaction of work. There was an entire system of supervisors and community support that enabled these guys to play their part in the peacemaking of God.

I wondered about their supervisor. What kind of special person does it take to direct the work of people with cognitive difficulties, people who want to work, to contribute, but are not capable of competing in our intense society? I wondered at the geniuses who found a way to connect these two simple men with their big grins and hearts of gold and impaired cognition with meaningful work.

This season as we sing Christmas carols and enjoy Christmas cookies and Christmas gifts, let's ask God to give us a brighter, clearer vision of how we can cooperate with the Prince of Peace in his work of transforming chaos into an idyllic Garden of Eden. Let's work for a community that comes ever closer to the ideals of God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiness Is Like Running

(Column for the Green Lake Church December, 2014, Gazette)

Holiness is like running. No matter how far you go or how fast you run, you dream of running farther, faster. No matter how generous, loyal, merciful, honest, compassionate or hardworking you are, you will dream of more.

Holiness is like running: It is not defined by what you don't do, but what you do. You don't run by avoiding chairs. You don't do holiness by avoiding sin. Running is not “flight from” but “striving toward.”

Holiness is like running: The stories of the superstars are wonderful inspiration. They are destructive if we read them as standards. Let them spur you to your best efforts. Don't allow anyone to use them to disparage you.

Holiness is like running: some people are naturally better at it than others. Genetics gives us our joints, muscles and tendons. Not all bodies are equal. Genetics and personal history shape us. Not all persons are equally capable of holy action.

Holiness is like running: one of the first commandments for marathon runners is run your own race. Run the right pace for you. Holiness does not come in one size fits all. Pursue the goodness God puts in front of you.

Holiness is like running: you learn it best by practice and by spending time with other people who are actually doing it.

Holiness is like running: it offers a unique pleasure available only at significant cost. The cost of holiness is not some toll imposed by God, it is the struggle to transcend moral and relational inertia.

* * *

I was originally enticed into running by my roommate, Bill Shelly, in the second half of my first year of college. He had become my closest friend. I admired him. So when he began urging me to run with him, I eventually yielded and allowed him to drag me out onto the track. At that point I could not run even one a mile without walking. He kept pulling me forward, keeping me company and staying one step ahead of me.

He pulled me through pain of that initial training on the track, then into the hills behind the school. We ran through college and through seminary. We ran in the hills of southern France. It was glorious. Then after seminary, out in the real world, the pressures of life took over. I quit running. Other things to do. Not enough time.

I worked with health educators. I heard them lecture about the importance of exercise for optimal health and nodded my head. Exercise was one of the eight ways to avoid getting sick and dying. I agreed with the lecturers. I knew I should be getting regular exercise, and for me the best exercise is running. Still, I never quite got around to it. Then a few years ago. I read a book that told stories of runners. The book focused on a couple of amazing races, the Leadville 100 and a race with Tarahumaras of Copper Canyon. The people who ran in these races were crazy . . . and having fun chasing impossible dreams. I was enticed back into running.

This is the only way to holiness—enticement. When we catch a glimpse of the happiness of doing good, sometimes it sets our hearts on fire. We remember other times when we practiced holiness and tasted joy, and we decide to pursue it again. We hear a friend mention some adventure in their own pursuit of holiness, and we catch the note of joy in the telling and become aware of the hunger in our own souls for that joy.

I don't think we can scold people into holiness. We cannot berate people into holiness. We cannot push or scare people into holiness. Fear of the end of time or the close of probation or the frown of God will not goad people into holiness. Sermons about the miserable conditions of Laodicea will lift people from their lethargy. But sometimes a clear vision of the joy of holiness will awaken us to once again put on our holy shoes and chase after higher, sweeter goodness. No matter how far or how fast we go, we will still dream of going farther and faster. Still, while dreaming of greater triumphs, we will revel in the joy of the present journey.

The Christmas story is an evocation of the joy of holiness. The angels are happy. The shepherds are happy. The Wise Men are happy enough for a thousand mile camel ride. There are ineluctable costs associated with all this joy. Still, the happiness is so rich, no one thinks of avoiding the cost.

This Christmas season, as you enjoy the music and lights, the food and gifts, I invite you to consider tasting again or more deeply the happiness of the pursuit of holiness.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Apparatus of Joy

Sermon manuscript (preliminary) for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
For Sabbath, November 28, 2014.

KitchenAid Mixer

My daughter, Bonnie, moved to Wyoming this past fall. It was a bit traumatic. How were we going to manage without her? She attempted to mitigate my grief by leaving her KitchenAid mixer.

A KitchenAid mixer is an apparatus of joy. When Bonnie was home, it produced all kinds of amazing stuff: challah and sourdough bread, pumpkin bread.

Now Bonnie is gone. The machine no longer produces the same astonishing array of tantalizing goodies. But it still produces cookies. You dump in eggs and butter and sugar and oatmeal and chocolate chips and a little later you have the world finest chocolate chip cookies. And these cookies are not merely delicious. They are emergency sustenance. When you've gone all day without eating and you have to have something RIGHT NOW, before the rice can cook, before the broccoli gets tender, you can grab one of these cookies and boom, just like that you're able to keep functioning.

I've enjoyed enough goodies from this machine, that merely glancing at it sitting in its corner on the counter, gives me warm feelings. But if all I did was keep it clean off, if I kept the dust off, this apparatus would fail to provide the rich joy it was designed for. For this mixer to function to its full capacity as an apparatus of joy. I have to put it to work. I have to use it to make some tasty food.

Our scripture describes an apparatus of joy.

It was Jesus' final evening with his disciples. Jesus and his associates arrived at a room in Jerusalem, planning to share supper together. When they walked in everything was ready. They found their places around a table. Then curiously, instead of pronouncing the blessing and beginning the meal, Jesus gets up, walks over to a side table, picks up a basin and towel and moves to wash the disciples' feet.

It messed with the disciples' head. Washing feet was common courtesy in a society that wore sandals on dusty roads. But it was done only by women and servants. There were rules governing the relationships between rabbis and their disciples. One of those rules was that a disciple could not be required to wash the rabbi's feet.

Still, Jesus gets up, and begins washing the disciples' feet.

When he got to Peter, Peter protested. “I can't let you wash my feet!”

“You don't understand now, but you will,” Jesus said.

“No way. I will never let you wash my feet.” Peter was intending to honor Jesus in this protest. Peter was intending to express his profound regard for Jesus. Peter had put Jesus on far too high a pedestal for him to imagine ti would be appropriate for Jesus to stoop to washing his feet.

Okay, Jesus said. But if I don't wash your feet, you have no place in my kingdom.”

“Well, why didn't you say so? If that's how it is, don't was just my feet. Wash my head and hands, too.”

Jesus laughed. “No, Peter. It's enough to do your feet. If someone has had a bath, all they need is to get the dust off their feet, and they'll be all clean.”

After Jesus finished was all the disciples' feet, including the feet of Judas, Jesus sat back down and asked, “Do you understand what I've done?”

“I'm your master. If I have washed your feet, you should practice the same among yourselves.”

Then he added this, “If you do this, if you do for each other what I have done for you, you will be happy.”

Washing feet was an apparatus of joy.

If the disciples treasured the memory of Jesus washing their feet, that would add joy to their lives. It would be a sweet, reassuring memory. But this would be the merest taste of joy. It would be like the smell I experienced when I walked into our house Thanksgiving after being outside for a hour. Shelley and Karin were baking. The scent when I walked in was heavenly.

But I would consider myself terribly impoverished if the closet I could get to their cooking was the aroma. Food is meant to be eaten, savored, felt in the stomach.

In the same way the gift Jesus gave that evening with the disciples was meant to be experienced deeply. And the key to the deepest experience of joy is to put the gift to work. We know most of grace, of divine generosity, when we begin practicing sharing it with others.

The great passage in Micah summarizing God's dream for his people is actually a recipe for joy. It is a discription of the apparatus of joy.

He has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you. It is this: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This is a weighty obligation. Sometimes this vision will contradict the allure of a higher income. It may interrupt more convenient plans. But when we order our lives in harmony with this wisdom, when we devote our selves to serving, we will discover it is an apparatus of joy. We will find deep satisfation.

God calls us to be holy, to serve, to ameliorate suffering, to order our world so that the lowly ones have a good chance at doing better and prospering. This is our duty. It is also the path to happiness. It is the apparatus of joy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Daughter-in-law from Heaven.

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
Sabbath, November 22, 2014
(Credit: As usual, I accessed the Bible through Blue Letter

Text: The Book of Ruth

Once upon a time there were two young lovers—Eli (Elimelech) and Naomi. They lived on a farm near the town of Bethlehem. They had two boys, Mahlon and Chilion. Life was good.

But as you already know, from the way this story begins, something bad is going to happen. You don't know what's going to happen, but if the story begins with everything wonderful, you know something bad is going to happen. Because wonderful does not last forever, not in this world.

The boys were still toddlers when the drought started. Crops failed. It became a hungry country. Eli and Naomi had enough stored grain to make it for another year, but then . . .? Well, if rain came, everything would be okay. Otherwise . . .

Eli proposed they sell their surplus, take the money and emigrate to Moab. Eli had heard things were better there.

So Eli and Naomi emptied their storehouses. They sold everthing, and given the elevated prices because of the famine, they made a good profit. They took their cash and headed southeast toward Moab.

In Moab, things were better. Perhaps Eli was a trader, a born salesman? However he made his living, it appears the family prospered. The boys grew up. Life was good.

But you it can't last. It's too early in the story. “Life is good” doesn't last forever, not in this world.

Then the great horror happened. Eli died. The prosperous trader, the head of the household, the pillar of the family died. Naomi was devastated. Eli was the light of her life, her protector, her economic security. Now what? She couldn't just quit living. She was a mother. She had two boys who needed her. She pulled the family together. They continued the family business. The boys were old enough to be real help, to act as the public front of the family. The boys got married. Local girls. Moabite girls, not Jewish girls. But they were good girls. Naomi loved them. They loved her.

Naomi looked forward to a houseful of grandkids. She was beginning to fill the void left by Eli with new joys, new anticipations. Life was good.

But you know what's coming. “Life is good” doesn't last forever. Not in this world.

The boys died. Before either of them had children.

This was the bottom, the bottomless abyss, the black chasm. When Eli died, Naomi still had her sons. They needed her. And she could count on them. They were still a family. And when she looked at her sons, she saw their sons and their daughters. She saw a future worth staying alive for. But now?

Naomi looked at her daughters-in-law and didn't see a family. She did not see a future worth staying alive for. She saw young women who needed husbands and families—something Naomi could never provide. She saw young women who would never have Naomi's grandchildren. Naomi could no longer take care of people she loved. In fact, she was now a burden, an impediment. Whatever chances these girls might have of getting married again—Naomi's existence in their lives would be a problem. What man in his right mind would want to marry a girl who came equipped with an ex-mother-in-law?

It was time to split up. “You girls need to go back home. Maybe your fathers can find you another husband. You are both beautiful and good. I love you. You have been the best daughters-in-law a mother could ever hope for. Now, go back home. And may God be as kind to you as you have been to me.”

She hugged the girls. They all clung to one another crying and crying. This was not the way life was supposed to go. But what could they do?

Orpah was the first to speak. “Naomi, I'm not leaving. You are my home. Who will take care of you you if we leave? You are my mother. I love you. I'm not going to leave you.”

Naomi argued. “Look, I have no more sons. I cannot fix you up with a husband. What are three women going to do? How will we manage? You've got to go back to your father's house. I'm headed back to Bethlehem—back to my father's house, I guess you'd say. You should do the same.”

Orpah cried some more. Protested. Cried. Finally, she gave Naomi a last hug. “Okay. I guess you're right.” She pulled herself away and headed down the road toward her father's house.

Naomi turned to Ruth. “Okay, Orpah went home. It's time now for you to go.”

“Don't even say it,” Ruth said. “I'm not leaving. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!

Naomi knew Ruth. She could see the fierceness in her eyes. Naomi capitulated. What else could she do?

The two women headed down the highway toward Bethlehem.

Imagine for a minute watching this as a scene in a movie. We watch Naomi face the reality that her life is over. She has lost everything—her husband, her sons, her livelihood. Her two daughters-in-law are all that is left of sweetness and light and she cannot allow them to stay. The only way to give any shot at all at a future is to send them home.

Watch her arguing with Orpah. Finally Orpah goes. Now she turns to Ruth. Once Ruth is gone, Naomi is going trudge down the road back toward Bethlehem, going home to die. It is a sadness beyond endurance. We feel the length of the road, the hopelessness, the loneliness.

Then we watch the happy fierceness in Ruth's voice. We realize there's a chance Naomi will not be left alone. We hear the words of Ruth's adamant refusal: Don't even think of asking me to leave you. I'm not going away. Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. In the cemetery, my plot will be right next to yours.

The camera follows as the two women together start down the long road. And the tightness in our gut relaxes just a bit. Ruth is the daughter-in-law from heaven. Naomi is not going home alone. Even without the rest of the book, the story is transformed from abject tragedy into a heroic tale.

19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? 20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? [Ruth 1:19-21 KJV]

Bethlehem was a small town. When the two women showed up, the entire town was abuzz with the news. Naomi is back. And did you hear, Elimelech died. And Mahlon and Chilion, too. Terrible! All she has left is her Moabite daughter-in-law.

The way Naomi saw it, she was the target of some pique in heaven. God had gotten ticked off at her. It was God who soured her fortunes, who turned her blessings upside down and cursed her. Naomi knew this for sure. She was wrong. But still that's what she knew. Hard times were proof God was against her. Naomi believed this with all her heart.

And she was wrong. And we are wrong when we interpret our hard times this way. But it's so natural to do. Why me? We shout at the sky when things go terribly wrong.

God was not mad at Naomi because she was a woman. She and Ruth are the principal characters, the heroes in this book.

God was not mad at her because she had gone to Moab. There is no hint in this book that Eli and Naomi were wrong to move to Moab. To contrary, the grand climax of the book is that God makes Ruth the Moabitess, the great grandmother of David, the archetypal ancestor of the Messiah.

Ruth and Naomi got settled in on the old farmstead. It was barley harvest and within a few days of arriving back in Bethlehem, Ruth proposed that she go and glean. Naomi approved, and Ruth set out.

In the first field she approaches, the foreman welcomes her. She went to work, carefully staying out of the way of the workers.

Sometime during the morning, the property owner came by to check on the progress of the harvest. He noticed the stranger gleaning. Remember this was a small town. Everyone knew everyone. A stranger stood out.

“Who's that?” Boaz asked the foreman. Actually, what Boaz said was, “Who does she belong to?” In that society, every woman belonged to man—either as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a servant.

But Ruth did not belong to a man. And the foreman, honoring that reality answered by telling Boaz who she was instead of who she belonged to.

“Oh, that's Ruth, the Moabite girl who came back with Naomi. She' s been hard at work all morning.

Boaz had heard the story of Ruth's loyalty to Naomi. Loyalty inspires admiration. Boaz went over to talk with her. “Listen,” he said, “I've heard about your kindness to Naomi. Don't go to any other field. Work here near my servant woman. I have commanded the men not to touch you. You'll be safe here. And feel free to help yourself to water from the jars the men have drawn from the well. Don't go to any other field.”

Ruth blushed. She was amazed that an important person like Boaz would take notice of her. I think it's clear already there is chemistry between these two. Sparks. This is love at first sight, supported, of course, by Ruth's reputation, which had already spread through the entire town.

At lunch time, Boaz was back at the field and pointedly gave treats to Naomi.

When Ruth got home that evening, she told Naomi about her day. Naomi's eye's widened. “Boaz is one of our close relatives. He is qualified to redeem our property. You do what he says. You work only in his fields.”

Ruth worked all through the harvest. First the barley harvest, then the wheat harvest. I imagine there were other evenings when Ruth came home with stories about conversations with Boaz.

Near the end of the harvest, Naomi figured it was time for a strategic intervention.

She instructed Ruth, “Tonight, get yourself all dolled up. After sundown, go down to the threshing floor. Wait until Boaz has finished eating and drinking. When he's good and happy and lies down to sleep, sneak over, lie at his feet and ask him to spread his cloak over you.”

Ruth does as Naomi says. Boaz was not just sleepy when Ruth lay down at his feet, he was asleep. Sometime in the night he woke up enough to realize there was someone lying at his feet. He startled and sat up. “Who's there?”

“It's me, Ruth. Spread you cloak over me.” If this were a modern movie, she'd say, “Kiss me.”

“Ruth! Really?” Boaz was flustered. What do you say when a beautiful woman who've been watching all summer suddenly wakes you up in the middle of the night and proposes to you? Boaz goes all formal. “The LORD bless you, my dear girl! You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are an amazing woman.”

There was one possible complication, Boaz said. There was another man, another relative, who had a higher claim on the family property than Boaz. “I'll talk to him.” Boaz said. “If he exercises his right, I'll have to step aside, but if he doesn't I will gladly make you my own.

“Stay here with me tonight. In the morning, I'll send you home before first light. Don't tell anyone you've been here, but you can count on me. If that other guy doesn't exercise his prior claim, I will certainly marry you.”

Ruth stayed with him through the night. I imagine both of them trembling with eagerness and fear. They both wanted this marriage. They were in love. But in that society love did not trump other considerations, like property rights. Ruth belonged to Naomi's property. Whoever owned the property would own Ruth. Ruth wanted to belong to Boaz. Boaz wanted Ruth to be his.

Just as the blackness of the eastern horizon began to touched with light, Ruth headed home. When she got home she bubbled over telling Naomi all about her night. Naomi said, “Don't worry, he will not let any grass grow under his feet. He'll take care of it today.”

And he did.

There was a wedding. Nine months later there was a baby boy.

At the shower after the birth, the women gathered around Naomi who was holding the baby.

Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the LORD, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”

This son was Obed, the grandfather of David, the archetypal king of Israel, the model of Israel's vision of the Messiah. The movie ends with this scene of Naomi cuddling her grandson. In the background, her daughter-in-law from heaven and her new son-in-law.

But did you catch that last line spoken by the women gathered around Naomi and baby Obed? “Ruth, your daughter-in-law is better than seven sons! What a celebration! What an affirmation!

In a society where every women was the property of a man and sons were the names recorded in genealogies, Ruth is declared to be more precious to Naomi than seven sons.

And it was true.

Early in the story, we saw dramatic evidence of Naomi's goodness. Her daughters-in-law, even after their husbands have died, even when it was clear their mother-in-law had absolutely nothing of this world's goods to give them, both Ruth and Orpah clung to her. Naomi must have been the mother-in-law from heaven. What Ruth saw of God in the face and life of Naomi must have been glorious, indeed.

Then the tables turned. Ruth saved Naomi. When Naomi thought all that was left to her was to trudge home and die. Alone. Ruth fiercely refused. I will not leave you. I will go with you.

Then through her family connections Naomi is able to provide for Ruth the husband Naomi had thought it utterly impossible to provide.

And Ruth—the charming, hard-working, winsome lass—won Boaz's affection and now provided Naomi the grandson she knew she would never have, and a home where she will be loved and sustained in her old age.

It was the perfect Thanksgiving scene, a family at peace. Connected across the generations, in spite of the losses and tragedies, in spite of the chaos of life.

Who has been a Naomi in your life? Representing the very face of God? Who has shown you that God is love? Who has given you hope and affection and love?

Who has been a Ruth in your life? Refusing to accept your own capitulation to defeat? Has someone given you back your life when you did not think living was possible?

This week as we approach Thanksgiving, I invite you to search your memory for the people who have blessed your life, people who have been the goodness of God for you. And I invite you to spend some time in prayer, asking God to help you find ways to be the face of God, the goodness of God, for someone else. Complete the circle of beneficence that flows from heaven in blessings and returns in thanksgiving.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Adventist Church and Homosexuals

If I had a magic wand, I would have the Annual Council vote something like this:

God's ideal for humans as portrayed in the first two chapters of Genesis is that every man and every woman find a happy, life-long home in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage that produces good children who will in turn have grandchildren. The church is committed to doing everything we can to support people in pursuit of this ideal.

We recognize that not every person can live this ideal. There are childless couples, people who are single for decades in spite of their preference, divorced people, homosexuals, people who have been married several times. These people are members of our churches. They respond to our evangelism. How should we respond to these non-ideal lives?

Here is what I would require, if I were writing the rules:

  1. Any clergy serving in leadership above the local congregation must be married only once and not divorced. They must be parents and if the majority of their children have rejected the church, this should be seen as a major impediment to continued service in any position above that of a local congregation.
  2. Single persons would not be qualified to serve in leadership at administrative levels above the local congregation.
  3. The church would not ordain homosexuals to the clergy.
  4. Adventist clergy would be prohibited from solemnizing homosexual marriages, just as Adventist clergy already are forbidden to perform marriages in which only one of the persons is Adventist. (And just as there are pastors who quietly disregard the rules regarding “mixed marriages” there would be pastors who would quietly disregard the rules regarding homosexual unions.)
  5. The denomination would forbid use of its churches for forbidden marriages.
  6. The denomination would refrain from promulgating rules for how congregations manage their response to homosexuals and to people who divorce and remarry. Congregations would be allowed to respond on a case-by-case basis to these situations. 

My rationale for the above set of policies.

There is already precedent for allowing exceptions to full agreement with the doctrines of the church.

There is a loud clamor in official church circles these days declaring that belief in 6 days/6000 years is an absolute requirement for being Adventist. Ted Wilson declaims, “If you don't believe in a short chronology you are not Adventist.” But I have personally heard Fernando Canale say that if a scientist believes all the rest of our doctrines and keeps Sabbath and pays tithe, he would baptize such a person into the Adventist Church. Michael Hasel was present and did not demur.

If this doctrine can be set aside in exceptional cases, why can we not, in exceptional cases, set aside our doctrine about the absolute necessity of heterosexual marriage?

This approach requires from homosexuals an acknowledgment of the church's ideal of marriage—which is heterosexual, life-long marriage. Homosexual unions are other than this ideal. This approach requires from traditional members a recognition of the fact that the ideal is not possible for all people and that non-traditional relationships are righteous even if not ideal.

The inhumanity of enforced celibacy.

We rightly lament the damage to persons that flows from the Catholic requirement of celibacy for participation in the ordained ministry. Yet we require life-long celibacy by homosexuals as a requirement for participation in church life. This is inhumane. The inhumanity of this requirement is highlighted by the fact that church officials who vote on the doctrines and policies intended to impose this obedience on homosexuals have themselves typically been active sexually for at least twenty years. Even the homosexuals we promote as advocates of celibacy have had decades of sexual engagement.

But something further needs to be said. The requirement of celibacy is not merely a restriction on genital activity. It requires sexual beings to carefully avoid deep friendships and real intimacy because of the “threat” these kinds of close relationships inevitably create. The Bible declares it is not good for man to be alone. Yet we say to a whole class of men: you must remain alone for your entire life.

If God calls an individual to such a solitary life, let's us support them in that strenuous calling. But it is evil for us to impose this when we know that we ourselves could never bear it.
Jesus said something to the Pharisees about laying burdens on others. It was not a compliment. It is the height of spiritual arrogance to teach others there is an onerous requirement for salvation that they must meet—a requirement which we ourselves have never even contemplated attempting.

Even-handed church law

If we are going to bar practicing homosexuals from our congregations we ought to bar divorced and remarried people from our congregations. Then we ought to bar from being elders and pastors all who come short of Paul's requirement: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him.”

For now.

What I have written is not some final destination. It is a description of a place where we might be able to live together for awhile. I expect that over time the church will follow society in learning to place homosexual relationships within a moral framework analogous to the moral framework for heterosexual relationships. Attentiveness and loyalty will be affirmed. Promiscuity and unfaithfulness will be condemned.
We will come to see the picture in Genesis—a man and woman together in a life-long, happy monogamous marriage that produces children—as an ideal, not a standard. Our rules will be informed by this ideal and by the actual reality of available life.

My sermon on Matthew 19 can be found here:

An article I wrote for my church newsletter that explains the foundation for my theology can be found here: