I preached this homily at our midweek Eucharist in response to the decision by the United Methodist Church to affirm traditional teachings on homosexuality and tighten restrictions on congregations desiring to surround LGBT couples in marriage.  The text from Leviticus was the assigned daily lectionary. I dedicate this sermon to, and offer my prayers for, all LGBT persons in the UMC and for their friends, families, and advocates who mourn this decision by their church.

Wednesday Homily + February 27, 2019
Trinity, Worcester
Text: Leviticus 5:1-13

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

We continue tonight asking the same questions of this text we’ve asked of the texts the previous several Wednesdays.  The four questions:  “What is the trouble in the text? What is the grace in the text? What is the trouble in the world? What is the grace in the world?

What is the trouble in the text?

The trouble, is what these texts say that sin is. There are at least four sins described in this passage.  Here are the sins described in this passage:

  1. If you are able to testify about a crime, but refuse to testify.
  2. If you touch a dead animal.
  3. If you touch a human determined to be unclean.
  4. If you make a promise for either a good or bad reason.

So to recap, here are the sins: making a promise, touching an unclean human, touching a dead animal, and refusing to testify.

Further trouble in the text, is what we are called to do about those sins. According to this text, if you have ever made a promise, or touched an unclean human, or touched a dead animal, or failed to testify, than you must:

  1. First, confess your sin. That makes sense. Every Sunday at the font we begin our liturgy by making confession of our sins.  Confession is good and right.  But that’s not all you need do.
  2. Next, you shall bring to the LORD, a female sheep or goat from your flock as an offering for the sin. That sheep or goat will then be presented as a sin offering and burnt offering to the Lord.
  3. But, if you cannot afford a sheep or goat, don’t worry, you can present two turtledoves or two pigeons.  The birds will be killed, with the blood of one sprinkled as a sin offering, and the other one presented to the Lord as a burnt offering.
  4. But, if you cannot afford two turtle doves or pigeons, then you shall present 1/10th of an ephah of flour (I’m not sure what an ephah is), so that atonement of sin can be made on your behalf.

That is what tonight’s reading from Leviticus says.  If you’ve ever made a promise, if you’ve ever touched an unclean human, if you’ve ever touched a dead animal, if you’e ever refused to testify, then you must atone for your sins by making a confession, and then bring me either a female sheep or goat to me as your sin offering.  If you cannot bring a sheep or goat, then bring two birds, and if you cannot afford two birds, then bring me some flour.  I, as your priest, will then make atonement for your sin.

This whole scenario is trouble.  The trouble in the text is what it says that sin is.  The trouble in the text is what it says we need to do about sin.

What is the trouble in the world?

The trouble in the world, is that some Christians today still read these this passage literally. No, actually, I don’t believe that’s true. I’m not aware of any Christians who read this text literally and are offering sheep, or goats, or turtledoves, or pigeons, or flour to their pastor or priest as an atonement for their sins.  Christians celebrate that in Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins.  In his death and resurrection we are reconciled to God.

But yet, there are some Christians who choose to read other parts of Leviticus literally! While Leviticus Chapter 5 is correctly contextualized in the liberating light of Christ, other parts of Leviticus, specifically, those parts that prohibit sex among people of the same gender, are read literally.

The trouble in the world, is that because some choose to read other parts of Leviticus literally, the United Methodist Church, meeting in St. Louis this week, voted to strengthen its ban on gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriages, and to double down on the current church policy which states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

But, what about Leviticus 5:1-13?

  • Will the United Methodist Church now require the offerings of sheep and goats as atonement for sin, or turtledoves or pigeons, or flour? It’s right here in the Bible!
  • Will pastors of the United Methodist Church now be required to sprinkle blood of animals as a sin offering and make burnt offerings to the Lord? It’s right here in the Bible!

  • Will United Methodist Church pastors now be required to make atonement on behalf of the people? It’s right here in the Bible!

The trouble in the world tonight, is that people pick and choose scriptures according to their own purposes, to fit their own agendas, to reinforce their own prejudices even as that choice crucifies and persecutes others. Those favoring LGBT acceptance have long been accused of doing just that. But what about those who, on the one hand, no longer believe that making a promise, or touching an unclean human, or touching a dead animal are sin, and there is now no longer any reason to present sin offerings of goats, sheep, birds, or flour, as an atonement for sins, but then, on the other hand, claim that God remains against same-sex relationships because of other prohibitions in Leviticus?  They themselves are picking and choosing which scriptures to stand on more blatantly and obviously than anyone else!

What is the grace in the text?

 The grace in the text tonight is seen like a light shining behind a closed door. You don’t see it directly, you see it around the door in the space between the door and the frame. The grace in the text is the general concept of forgiveness.

One might imagine grace in the way in which accommodations are made. Those not able to provide or purchase a goat or sheep to pay for their sins, can offer pigeons or turtledoves. Those not able to provide or purchase pigeons or turtledoves, can offer flour for their sins. A generous read of the text, might be the way in which this structure offers opportunities, paths, flexibility in which sinners can receive forgiveness.

If we want pure grace, then we need to read the Gospel reading assigned for today. Luke 17:3-4. Jesus said: “If there is repentance, you must forgive.  And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

The grace in tonight’s text, is the living grace of Jesus Christ.  The living grace that prizes reconciled relationship above all else – relationship with God and relationship with each other.  Think of it, at its core, repentance by one and the extension of forgiveness by another, is the reestablishment of relationship.

The grace in the text tonight, is the grace of Jesus, commanding forgiveness in order to restore that which has been broken by sin.

What is the grace in the world?

 The grace in the world is the grace of the living Jesus Christ, the Word of God, alive in restored, renewed, and reconciled relationships. The grace in the world is the grace of Jesus Christ speaking life, affirmation, and love in all of its manifestations in human relationships.

The grace is the Word of God, speaking in Jesus Christ, through faithful pastors, professors, and congregations, including a large number in the United Methodist Church,  who continue to faithfully and courageously affirm same-sex relationships as an expression of love that honors, serves, edifies, builds up, and gives life.

This congregation of Trinity, this church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, have both made clear statements of affirmation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons as an expression of faithfulness to the love of God revealed in Christ.  These statements have not been a departure from the commands of Jesus, but have been directly in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to love, forgive and live in relationship with one another.

The grace in the world, is the grace of the living Christ breathing life into relationships and communities of life, love, and wholeness.

That grace is offered freely here tonight in bread and cup for all who desire it.

Fed, strengthened, and with our sins forgiven in the mercy of Christ, may the grace in the world tonight be found in us! May God’s grace be found in the world in us, as we forgive others, and as we honor, celebrate, defend and affirm love that exists in all of its various and wondrous manifestations.

Indeed may it be so.