Cris - Introduction
In the Borough of Tower Hamlets there have been little white stickers have been appearing that say God hates gays. The people that have been putting those up, the good news is, on this occasion, it’s not Christians who have been involved with that. But we don’t have to scratch the surface very far to find Christians who feel the same way. [So we’ve invited Andrew here to counter that.]
One of the songs we sang said, I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned, to the one who gave it all.
Arguing about theology doesn’t transform communities. Too many people when it comes to the Christian world like to sit and make sure they have things right. But those lyrics are real life. Real life doesn’t work out and it’s not always pretty. I don’t always get it right but I’m trying.
I want to talk about faithfulness tonight. Your church strapline is ‘explosion of joy’. But what if you go for all that time and the result doesn’t look like an explosion of joy? Wherever Jesus went, He got large crowds crowding around him. He didn’t join crowds of thousands of people. People came to see him. Because he subverted the game of the contemporary rabbis. They stood in the temple courts and expected people to come to them. But Jesus went to the people, their marketplaces, their homes, their synagogues. Whether you believe me I am going to come to you.
Friendship at the margins - book by one of my friends.
The idea of this book is that our friendships should model Jesus and Judas. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and yet he still loved him. Thats commitment. THat’s the whole point of the incarnation and we take that seriously. We are supposed to be here making a difference. It’s so easy being behind a desk and writing and thinking. Being oout there, that’s what transforms communities.
My story - how did I get to the point where I went on a gay pride parade wearing a sorry t-shirt?
I was the biggest Bible-banging homophobe out there. I had a baseball scholarship. While I was playing, there was a headline that wondered if a football player would ever come out while he was still playing.
My best friend at University announced to me that she was a lesbian. I said no you’re not, because we’ve grown up together and you’ve had boyfriends. Then my other best friend came out to me as well. At this point I just lost it and I wondered if I had a sign on my head saying if you’re gay, here’s your best friend. We were so close. I didn’t know what to do, so I tried to pretend it hadn’t happened. Then the third month in succession my third best friend came out to me. I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was joking. I realised very quickly that the church my whole life had been wonderful and given me a theological framework, but they were not so wonderful for providing the framework for the followthrough after the fact. I was like, what am I supposed to do with this?
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t get it. I figured that nobody was going to give me the answer. I figured that I should get new best friends. I cut all ties. No phonecalls, no hanging out, and I figured the Lord would have to tell me something. I wasn’t asking God ‘why did You do this to me?’ I was like ‘What should I do?’ The more I asked, the less I heard His voice. I felt more abandoned, lost and low. And then finally He said ‘Instead of asking me why, maybe you should ask yourself how it felt for your friends to hang out with you for all those years and hear you calling them fag and gay and then knowing that you would cut ties with them.’
So I went back to my friends and said I’m sorry - I don’t know what to make of all this, but what I do know is that I just need to be with you.
I realised that I needed to be the gayest straight guy in America. So I moved into Boys Town with my best friends. It’s the only official 1 mile square district that is officially gay. 89% of its residents are LGBT. At this point in my life I didn’t have any training. I wasn’t too familiar with the Bible. You could have told me about incarnational ministry and I would have no clue about what that meant. All I was doing was following what I felt the Holy Spirit was telling me.
I went to a gay club the first night and I swear everybody turned their heads towards me. They said, you ooze alpha male could you maybe turn it down a bit? Everybody wanted to know why I was there as a self-confessed homophobe. Loads of people started asking me questions and telling me their stories about God and faith and their family and church and how badly they’d been treated. For the first time in my life I realised that their pain was caused exactly by people like me.
Before all that, simply by me doing nothing, I was automatically at the top of the cultural hierarchy. With all the stuff I had came power and privilege. It wasn’t until these 6 guys were sitting there crying to me that I realised their pain came from me. For the first time in my life I was humbled. I was in the newspaper and on tv because I was good at sports. And yet at this moment my heart broke and I realised that something had to be done.
The next thing you know it went from 6 people to 36 people talking about God. I had the owner of the club come up to me and ask us to move on because it was killing the vibe of the club. We started having Bible studies and talking about sexuality and God. The next thing I knew I had 150 people coming along and I hadn’t a clue what the heck I was doing.
Not only did the Lord do something to me but I acted on it. 10 years later I am still there. That’s our neighbourhood now. Amazing things are happening there.
So I want to talk about three types of faithfulness:
1. Faithfulness to calling.
When we talk about this, people say, I don’t know about this. We could go around in circles about how to do God’s will. BUT there is an automatic thing that as a believer, and understanding, a foundation that we are supposed to establish Kingdom. There is a difference between success and Kingdom establishment. God’s version of success is hearts and minds and spirits and communities. It’s about how we are empowered by understanding that success is faithfulness. Sometimes I feel there’s a certain formula and a certain list of things to do. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, does it? And then what happens? Faithfulness happens. Faithfulness is the new evangelism. It was always like that, but we’ve tried to turn it into something else. If we can commit ourselves enough to live in a place of tension, that’s faithfulness. Martin Luther King said that non-violent tension produces faith. We don’t know what constructive tension is. It’s too divisive we think. But constructive tension turns into growth and reconciliation. The growth that he was talking about only comes after a lot of time in uncomfortable places. Anybody can be a cultural commentator. This life here is learning in real time to live in a place of constructive tension. Just because everybody might agree, doesn’t mean it’s right. That’s what a calling is. It’s about a commitment to live within a tension.
My friend Paul Young who wrote the Shack. That guy is like a walking soundbite. He said in God’s eyes everything works out how it’s supposed to. We just look at it through faulty lenses. We need to look at it through God’s perspective.
2. Faithfulness to community.
There is a difference between validation and affirmation. We tend to mix those two things up. If you affirm me, that means you’re on my side. That means we agree on the same stuff. Actually, affirmation means to dignify and legitimise somebody’s story. It doesn’t mean you have to be right or wrong. Those are all secondary issues. We’re not here to make people agree or disagree. Just because Jesus gave us the Great Commission, doesn’t mean it’s going to turn into the Great Reality. There is always going to be an opposite. Somebody who is going to disagree. So what do we do with those people? Too many churches have just let those people be. Saying, when those people want to talk, they’ll want to come to me. But that’s not what Jesus did. We need to go.
So how do you culturally engage with people who have a different understanding? Anybody can validate anybody else’s experience, and that’s how this stuff starts to happen. We stay, we commit, we reconcile and we grow. There’s no timeline, there’s no timetable, there’s no expectation. If you go into a friendship with an expectation of an outcome, that’s a betrayal of that friendship. Why would somebody want to invest their time, energy and faith, and their deepest darkest secrets if when it gets too hard, they’re going to leave? Out of staying the growth will happen retrospectively - when you look back.
There are two types of reconciliation that I can see happen. The cultural version that we see is that you drop what you believe and you come over to my side. Both sides are under the ideal expectation that you will drop what you believe and come over here. But that’s not reality. Instead we need to see what a Biblical reconciliation looks like - Jesus as the hinge bringing God to humanity.
One of my gay friends said to me, don’t you think that if God had really come down that things would have worked out better than they actually did?
If we look at Jesus’ stories in the gospels, His version of reconciliation is the people group most unlike yourself. Like a Roman Centurion and a Jew. Jesus said that a Roman Centurion had more faith than all the Jews. Take a Jew and a Samaritan, also. The person who would make you unclean if you touched them. These stories go on and on. If we take that understanding and place it in a framework of what reconciliation is supposed to look like. We should be actively pursuing the person most unlike ourselves. That will help us really understand what faithfulness is.
3. Faithfulness to God.
Cris your vicar here was raised in a church that taught that humanity and faith began in Gen 3, the fall. But Cris is saying no - it actually begins in Genesis 1. So, just by being human we have dignity and worth because God created us into being. It doesn’t matter where we’ve come from or where we’re going. We inherently have dignity because God has given it to us.
Sexual orientation - such a hot topic. So divisive. But love is our orientation. God’s heart is breaking over and over for us. Not only for those outside but also for the people who bear His name and what they are not doing for the people outside.
One of my favourite books is the book of Jonah. Most people when they talk about this book focus solely on the end. They say that we need to understand that Jonah was wrong to be bitter. But let me go a little deeper into this. A Jewish friend of mine told me that Nineveh was the capital of Assyria which was the controlling empire in the world at that time. They would go into a village and round up all the men, women and children into one bunch. Then they would pull out random people who they’d rape, then skin them, feed their skin to the dogs, then burn them alive. That was how they made neighbouring countries afraid.
And then God tells one little nerdy academic Jewish man to go to them. So Jonah sailed in the exact opposite direction. Then the big fish thing happens and it all went ok and the story ends with “So Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord.’ If by sailing in the opposite direction, you mean obey, then yes, [but that doesn’t sound like obey to me].
So everybody repents and believes and stuff and then Jonah doesn’t make a big speech about how amazing God is. Instead, he asks God to kill him now.
Let me tell you why I think he does this. I wasn’t afraid of the gay community, although Jonah was afraid of the Ninevites. But we were both afraid that God was going to do a miracle among the people we had judged and written off. That’s the point for me of the book of Jonah. How faithful are we going to be to letting the Lord move and do what He does?
President Clinton had a sex scandal. Eveyrbody knows that he lied and got caught and it was really embarrassing and he only got half-impeached and so on. His ratings were plummetting and everything was going bad. So he decided to hold a rally for himself and invite Billy Graham. Both men’s families were sitting together at the top table. And the news media came up to Billy Graham and asked how he justified his presence there with a sinner. He said: “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, it’s God’s job to judge, and it’s my job to love. So that’s what I’m here doing.”
When I read that story I started crying. I realised that I didn’t have enough faith to believe that God would fight the battles for me if all I am is faithful. it’s not my job to do the judging. Do I have faith to love people so much that if they agree or not, at the very least what they will see and what they will know is some strange homeless rabbi called Jesus compels me to be different.
Have any of you seen the movie Evan Almighty? God asks him to build an ark. His wife leaves him and moves back home. His wife and kids are back home making fun of him and Evan is feeling really embarrassed. Those who pray for patience, do you think God is just going to give them patience, or an opportunity to be patient? Those who pray for courage, is God going to give them courage or an opportunity to be courageous? Those who pray to be closer to their family, is God going to just zap them with warm fuzzy feelings or an opportunity to get closer?
When people ask me what does it mean to engage, I say, just pray for an opportunity and be faithful in and through that opportunity. Then your explosion of joy will happen without a doubt.
Cris - Introduction