Something needs to come out of my head and heart.
There was a huge buzz about our church services yesterday. You can see the message online here, and I encourage you to do so; but the point is that our pastor "came out". He made two critical statements in his message:
"Sex is a sacred gift from God only when it exists within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman. All other sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is less than the sacred blessing God had in mind for us."
"To our LGBT friends, I want you to know that God loves you, this church loves you, and I love you as your pastor. I want you to know that you are welcome here. We will embrace you, love you, and do life with you."
On one hand, we took a stand of sorts; PCC will not affirm same-sex marriages, because we cannot see Biblical support for it, or for any sexual intimacy outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
That also means that we don't believe anybody - gay or straight - should be sexually intimate outside of marriage. And we believe God establishes marriage as a covenant between male and female partners.
On the other hand, we affirmed that there are people seeking to know more about God and have a relationship with Jesus who currently attend PCC and are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. There are more who are outside the doors. My pastor looked up and said, "You are welcome here. We love you." He acknowledged the existence of LGBT people in our faith community and affirmed their presence.
This is the crux of who we are as a church: Welcoming broken people, guiding them to follow Jesus.
Lest this sound like all sorts of awesome - well, it's not, not completely. We haven't always done this well. We've lacked clarity. We haven't always loved and accepted gay people who have come through our doors. People have been hurt - not just by Christians as a group, or by political parties or protesters, but specifically by PCC.
How can we do this? On one hand, draw a line around marriage that excludes same-sex couples who believe God is leading them in that direction; on the other, say that LGBT men and women are welcome to live and do church among us. Isn't that messy?
Heck, yeah, it's messy.
It's hard. It's a lot of tears. It's been years of reading and praying and listening and talking. It's fighting and frustration and fear and a lot of prayer and sleepless nights. It's wishing for the easy way, for the freedom to pick one side or the other and fall hard into that camp and feel safe. It's the paradox of scriptural teaching that has endured centuries alongside the very real lives of my uncle, and my cousin, and Rhonda, and Melissa, and Chris, and Ryan, and Carrie, and Rob, and Wendell, and Sarah, and Kim, and Brenn, and Ashley, and Josh, and Judy, and Austin, and Jennifer, and Dawn, and Zach, and Catherine.
It would be so much easier to pick a side, believe we're right - which, by default, makes everybody else wrong - and then comfortably live in our righteousness. And defend it, as needed.
But that's not the direction God is calling us. Quite frankly, it's not at all the example Jesus set as he lived his life (and did that whole death and resurrection thing, where he forgave a criminal and let him into heaven and all that).
Brian ended the message with a powerful challenge that we drop our stones. It resonated - literally, as we dropped heavy stones into trash cans. It was a powerful symbol of Jesus's teaching, of our call to love and rebuild and repair.
But in these 24 hours since the trash cans filled with rocks, I've been thinking a lot about holiness.
See, I can - we all can - easily stand there, surrounded by all the stones we dropped, feeling good about not being judgemental. Standing.Inert.
The text for the message centered on Jesus's encounter with a woman caught in adultery. He blasted the religious folk who wanted to stone her and they all dropped their stones and went away. He told her that he wouldn't condemn her, either. And there they stood, surrounded by stones. Still.
But not for long.
Jesus said, "Go."
He set her feet moving with a command and a challenge. "Go and sin no more."
"Go, and avoid the sins that plague you."
"Go on your way; from now on, don't sin."
"Don't sin anymore."
Here's the thing: We can get all jacked up with shouts of praise and excitement about the power of our tribe refusing to judge. We can affirm our pastor's wisdom. We can get on board with the call to live in the messiness of doing life with broken people. We can declare I LOVE MY CHURCH! for all to hear - and it's all good. It's important. It's meaningful and true.
But if any of us ignores the challenge to 'go and sin no more', we miss half the story.
Drop the stone, for sure.
But pursue holiness. Strive to find God's best for your life. Confess your sins to him, and do what you can to avoid them.
Just as we all have rocks, we all have sins. And the hardest work we do happens inside, in private.
Let's become a holy people, all of us together. Let our stones, piled up, become a symbol of our desire to follow Jesus with all of our soul and mind and strength. Let us do business with God, make our own lives right. Let's forge our identity out of who we are in Christ - and let's figure out how to do that by dealing with our own junk.
My favorite scripture is this: Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2.12
How do you need to do that today? What's his purpose for you?
Drop the stone. And get to work.