The Uniting Church in Australia is still racked by the agenda of the gay and lesbian lobby. One Assembly official, Rev Dorothy McRae McMahon announced she lives in a lesbian relationship and defiantly declares she will continue in leadership. General Secretary Gregor Henderson, says "Dorothy is a most fitting person to be a minister of the word and the Director of the Commission For Mission. I see no reason for any disciplinary action." He also announced that all Uniting Churches may celebrate blessing services for homosexual couples.
Rev Harry Herbert wrote to the Government indicating the age of consent for homosexual acts by teenagers should be lowered so that adults having sex with boys would no longer be charged if they were 17 or 18 years old. The Eastside Parish announced they would have a float in the next Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for Uniting Church members. This in total defiance of the surveys reporting 84% of Uniting Church members reject homosexuality as an acceptable Christian life-style and reject the idea of gay Church leaders. This also rejects the written views of over 8,000 members and parishes representing over 50,000 people who wrote to the Assembly declaring their views. The arrogance! The Uniting Church is dying. In the past five years it has lost 25,000 members, the equivalent of closing one church of a hundred members every single week for five years. Loss of people attending would be closer to 50,000. The Commission For Mission headed by Dorothy McRae McMahon has failed. No other Church is dying as rapidly. In the same five years the Anglican Church Sydney Diocese has seen 6% growth in membership and attendance.
The 1996 Church Life Survey shows the Uniting Church has the oldest membership of any denomination and the lowest retention rates of young adults. The Church is also facing acute financial problems. The NSW Synod had to divert half a million dollars this year to keep going. The Assembly heard a funding crisis has hit the Uniting Church and the result could be fatal. The head of a special financial task-force declared "death had taken a grip on the Uniting Church." Yet our leaders persist in alienating our members and seeking to move the Church from its Biblical base! In terms of Church Growth principles - the study of what makes churches grow - the Uniting Church is pig-headedly doing everything that causes churches to die. Our leadership lacks the courage or the will to do what they should. I can only think of the words of Jesus Matt 23:16 "Woe to you, blind guides!"
Wesley Mission church members give about $100,000 annually to Presbytery, Synod and Assembly. At a crowded Elders meeting this week, it was unanimously decided to with-hold all financial support to the Assembly of the Uniting Church while these attitudes remain. In two weeks we host the NATIONAL EVANGELICAL SUMMIT at Vision Valley for leaders of all Uniting Church evangelical groups. They will plan ways in which our denomination can return to its Biblical roots. Yesterday, a crowded conference called by Evangelical Members in the Uniting Church discussed further strategies. The real issue is: is the Uniting Church still under the authority of the Bible, and does it accept the Bible's clear commands as relevant for today? Those who change moral standards, do so because they do not accept the scriptures as authoritative and relevant.
This year we have studied new discoveries about Jesus from papyri and archaeology. We have assessed new teachings some scholars would have us accept about Jesus Christ. To many Jesus was a powerful spiritual man, a Jewish teacher who tried to reform Judaism. To others He was the long awaited Messiah, come to fulfil the prophecies. To others, He is primarily the Lamb of God who came as a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. To others Jesus is the Risen Lord, the Lord of Glory who reigns with God and will return as all conquering King. To others He was a Galilean thinker like the Greek sages who spoke in pithy and memorable sayings.
To others, He was a wandering preacher, going to people with words of comfort and challenge, refusing to be a settled patron in His village. To others He was a radical social reformer speaking of God's new Kingdom and changing the social structures of His day. To others He was a man of the Spirit, in close communion with God empowered by the Holy Spirit. To others a marginalised Messiah, one of the poorest of the poor who identified with the oppressed of society. To others, He was the divine reason of God, the Word made flesh who came and dwelt among us. He is a many sided Jesus.
I once had to cut thin timber into regular shapes and join them together to make a twelve sided plane figure that was called a dodecahedron. No matter what way you turned the sphere, there was always one side directly facing you, many at an angle to you, and some hidden from you. That reminds me of the many sides and aspects of Jesus. Scholars can see one side or aspect of Jesus, and think that is all. But Jesus is much more!
1. JESUS WAS A CHARISMATIC HOLY MAN.
The meaning of "charismatic" according to the Oxford Dictionary definition is: "one who is divinely conferred with power or talent with the capacity to inspire followers with devotion and enthusiasm." Jesus was charismatic in this sense. Everyone, even His enemies agree He possessed extraordinary powers, and could inspire His followers. But the word "charismatic" is Biblical. It also has the special meaning that the powers, talents, capacities and leadership are there, because in a special way, God's Spirit possesses that person. He or she is very close with God, given visions from God and uses God's power both to exorcise demons and to heal people. Jesus is described as a holy man with a unique relationship with God, His life exemplified both by amazing compassion and moral rectitude in living.
One scholar, Marcus Borg, sees Jesus like this. God's power flows in Him to heal and to exorcise evil. Jesus once said Luke 10:18 "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." At baptism, He saw God's spiritual blessing in a new way: Mark 1:10 "As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Yet there are very few references that make Jesus a religious mystic. He was just too involved in life.
2. JESUS WAS ALSO GIFTED TO HEAL AND EXORCISE.
Jesus saw the needs of people: the diseased, the ill, the blind, the leprous, the outcaste and the
physically unclean. He accepted these people. Jesus touched the untouchable, healed the diseased of body or mind and accepted the socially alienated.
People saw Jesus as a healer and exorciser, "the great physician." Matt 4 "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them." There are 30 healings of individuals recorded in the Gospels, but each writer states that Jesus healed many more people than he has recorded.
Jesus also cast out demons which twisted minds and lives. An Australian scholar, Rev Graham Twelftree documented Jesus as a powerful exorcist unlike any other exorcists.(Acts 19:13-19) The defeat of the demons was a sign that in Jesus the Kingdom of God was coming to people in power and victory.
3. JESUS WAS AN HOLY MAN ADVOCATING HOLY LIVING.
Jesus was both an advocate of acceptance and compassion towards all people, and One who demanded personal moral cleanliness and holy living. Some see Jesus too accepting and compassionate to demand a life of moral purity like Paul did. They argue Jesus primarily is interested in being open to all, accepting and loving of all, and any other demand for change or moral cleansing is the later addition of moralists and puritans. That is argued by those in The Uniting Church supporting practising lesbians in leadership and homosexuals among our clergy. They argue Jesus is so full of compassion, understanding and acceptance, He would never, like the Pharisees or some of us, demand a change of life-style or moral cleanliness from His followers.
But examine the words of Jesus in Luke's Gospel, which has more emphasis upon compassion and acceptance than any of the Gospels. Here Jesus calls for moral purity and a changed life-style! Jesus rejects the rituals of cleanliness practised by the Essenes and Pharisees but not the need for moral holiness and purity. Indeed, Jesus expects of His followers higher standards of moral purity than that demanded by the Pharisees. He said Matt 5:20 "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
The gay lobby in the Uniting Church, point to God being like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. They argue the father accepted back into his house and heart, his son who was despised by society for his sexual life, especially his brother who obeyed all the moral laws. They say the father accepts those whom society marginalise and despise because of their sexuality and the church should be as compassionate and accepting of them.
Like many who use the scriptures to excuse their sin, they never quote the whole story. This parable does speak of a welcoming, compassionate father toward the unacceptable child. But the parable is primarily about the child changing, repenting of his sin, turning from his old life-style and returning to his father in contrition, crying Luke 15:21 "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." It was the recognition of his sin that led him out of his old life-style and to return to the father who then accepted him. The acceptance was not the same when the boy was living a life of sexual immorality.
The father describes him at that time as being "lost". It was only after repenting, returning and seeking forgiveness that there was full acceptance and the son was described as being "found." The lesbians who want to lead the church and the practising homosexuals who want to minister without repenting of their immorality, changing their life-style, and returning to the father saying "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son" have pictured Jesus only a Man of compassionate Spirit, but not also as a Holy Man who emphasised moral behaviour. How different this parable would be if Jesus had said the immoral son had returned home only to ask for more money to continue to live in immorality!
There is no such thing as a no-fault religion. Sin and repentance, turning from the old ways and living a life of holiness unto God are central themes in the Christian Gospel. Christians still can be exorcised. Holy living is still a requirement. I checked this in a long private conversation with Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury this week. He assured me my approach was consistent with that of the whole Church, and that gay people need the power of the gospel and to realise that same sex relationships are wrong. There was no hesitancy: the Archbishop said same sex relationships are wrong!
As the dodecahedron turns we see another aspect of the person of Jesus. He is a charismatic, holy man, healing people, accepting people, and exorcising their demons. And He expects people to return to the Father, repent of their sin, and find from Him the power to live holy and righteous lives before God. May we have the humility to return.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
CHRIST THE HEALER F F Bosworth Revell 1994
JESUS THE BAPTISER WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT A Norling 1994
THE JESUS QUEST B Witherington 111 IVP 1995
JESUS THE HEALER S Davies Continium NY 1995
JESUS IN CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARSHIP M Borg Trinity 1994
JESUS THE EXORCIST G Twelftree Mohr 1993
BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW H Shanks 1994 p83-103.
DISCOVERING JESUS G Moyes Albatross, LION, 1984.
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