Love Isn’t Condemned

On June 3, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Love Isn’t Condemned Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension Sunday (2019) Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension story is simply that Jesus Ascended into the […]

Love Isn’t Condemned
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ascension Sunday (2019)

Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension story is simply that Jesus Ascended into the heavens. Like Elijah did, allegedly.
In the early stories of Jesus escaping the fate of Golgotha, Ascension and Resurrection may have been referring to the same event. In time they became two concepts, but for Paul, they may be the same.

He writes: “Paul…set apart for the…gospel about God’s Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grace to you and peace from God and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That is huge.
Paul tells us his life’s purpose is to share good news.
The good news he has to share includes the story of how Jesus became the son of God. Biologically, he’s a descendant of David (Paul says), but in the spirit he is God’s son and that was established when God raised Jesus to everlasting glory and significance.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is declared a son of God at his baptism. Matthew and Luke, in their nativity stories, have Jesus from conception being called God’s child. John suggests that Jesus as the Wisdom, or Logos of God has existed in a cosmic or mystical sense from the beginning of time, but before any of those texts were written, Paul writes that the spirit raised Jesus to life after Golgotha and that was the moment he became God’s son and our Lord.

God raised Jesus to everlasting significance. That’s Paul’s Ascension message.

We see that Paul had his ideas and experiences, as Mark had his and Matthew and Luke had theirs, and so on. If your Christ experience isn’t just like someone else’s or dosesn’t fit some inherited dogma, you’re in good company. The first Christian leaders were all over the map; why shouldn’t we be?

Now, Paul has shared his witness of his experience and understanding of the Risen Christ…God wouldn’t let Golgotha have the last word, and so Jesus was raised beyond the horror of the cross, and in being raised, was made God’s son.

But that affirmation is more than a personal experience. It is also political and it is seditious.

Who were the sons of God in Hebrew history? The kings of Israel.
To call Jesus the son of God is to claim he is the messiah, the anointed leader of the people, God’s chosen one, a king. Of course we are all the children of God, but when ancients used that as a title, it was a royal title.

Paul is saying, even though Jesus was killed, he’s still God’s anointed. He’s the Lord anyway. His camp is in heaven instead of here. You thought that because of the cross Jesus failed? Paul is saying that Jesus still lives, is God’s son and therefore is Messiah and Lord and that means the cross failed. Ha! Caesar will never rule our hearts.
Paul will soon be beheaded.

But wait, there’s more. Caesar was also called son of God. Emperors were often divinized, and then their heirs would be called divine sons. Not only is Paul giving Jesus the title of previous kings, he’s giving him the title of the current big chief. PS, Paul gets beheaded.

Also, the founder of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, was the son of gods (descended, it was said, from Ares and Aphrodite), and when he died, his divine son (Augustus) said that Julius ascended to the heavens to take his place among the gods and watch over Rome forever.
Paul says that Jesus, too, has risen to everlasting glory to watch over and help us…just like Caesar, whose government killed Jesus.

Julius Caesar was a military genius. Jesus was an illiterant peasant from a ghost town called Nazareth who was executed as an insurrectionist. And Paul dares to give him the title of former kings and current emperors. Did I mention Paul gets beheaded?

Crucifixion was brutal, monstrous, inhuman. And Paul, even under house arrest, says, “Guess what Rome? In Jesus’ case, it didn’t work! He lives. He’s Lord. And he wishes us peace.”

But Paul resists the oppressive political system of the day, but he also challenges the religious community to whom he writes. He warns them about the problems with idols.

Anything can be an idol. Money, ideologies, power, preferences, privilege, habits, etc. But idols are usually an attempt to avoid change, an attempt to enshrine the past.

Paul tells us that the gospel, the good news, is the power of god. Idols have no power. They limit us. They keep us stuck.

Paul writes: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be,,,perceived…While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of humans or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity…”

Many of us grew up in churches that told us Romans 1 was a condemnation of same-gender love and attraction. They said the impurity mentioned was us, and that we were perdition bound.

But love is never condemned in the passage. In fact, Romans 1 starts out with a pretty liberal christology by today’s standard, goes on to give a Bronx cheer to the entire Roman imperial system, and then challenges people’s idolatry. But Love is never condemned.

Paul suggests, oddly, that because people succumbed to idolatrous temptations, God punished them by letting them become impure. And the impurities are voluminous. They include:
Being unjust, envious, malicious, violent, deceitful, scheming, slanderous, petty, vindictive, arrogant, and unmerciful. Most people arof our that list at one time or another. And some of those so-called impurities have become the creed, covenant, and sacraments of many churches today.

The point isn’t to pick something on the list and go after people we believe fit the description. The point is that idolatry keeps us from experiencing God fully, and if we have dimmed God’s light in our lives, we won’t be our best.

Making an idol of homophobia, for example, has left people unmerciful, malicious, and unjust. Idolatry gets in the way of spiritual health and growth.

That’s the point. It is not a condemnation of love. As this comes in the midst of an exhortation against idolatry, Paul may be disapproving of pagan rituals that include orgies that would get so out of hand that people would sometimes mutilate themselves. That’s an extreme case of idolatry leading to suffering (or due penalty in their bodies, as Paul says), but what is never condemned is loving, mutual, joyous relationships, or the desire to find one.

Paul writes that he is not ashamed of the Good News, and the Good News is that the bad news is wrong.

Romans 1 was never meant to shame or torment LGBTQ+ people. In fact, the cruelty shown to Queer people is part of the impurity that can arise from idolizing heteronormativity. And when LGBTQ+ people are harassed and hurt in God’s name, God’s name is being used in vain.

Romans 1:
1. Offers one of many understandings of Jesus.
2. Challenges an oppressive, power mad government.
3. And warns us that idolatry is an obstacle to spiritual growth.

But In Romans 1, Love is not condemned. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am not ashamed of the gospel.
It is the power of God.
The gospel, the good news is…
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

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