(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Bible and Sexuality
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-23, Leviticus 12:1-5
Ancient Near Eastern cultures valued men more than women. Israelite women could not be left family lands; widows had no legal status (cf. the book of Ruth). It is no shock, then, that the laws in Leviticus 12 said women were “unclean” after giving birth—and unclean twice as long after a girl’s birth as after a boy’s! It’s far more surprising that in the Hebrew creation stories God made male AND female in God’s image, and the woman was man’s helper and partner, not his servant.
Luke 10:38-42, Galatians 3:23-28
Jesus treated women as—well, people. Most other rabbis thought women couldn’t learn, and were not worth time or attention. But when Martha grumbled that her sister wasn’t filling the typical “woman’s” role, Jesus said it was good for Mary to learn from him. Paul followed Jesus. Though his rabbinic training may have peeked through at times, he boldly wrote that, in Christ, the old distinctions between the value of male and female no longer applied.
Genesis 2:24-25, Song of Solomon 1:15–2:4, 8:5-7, Genesis 29:31-30:24
The Hebrew Bible was much more open about human sexuality (for good and ill) than many church people tend to be. Both the Genesis story of creation and the poetry of Song of Solomon celebrated physical intimacy as a good gift from God. But Jacob’s story (and many others) showed how sexuality separated from love and commitment made life tangled and painful, and fostered jealousy, rivalry and selfishness.
Matthew 19:3-8, 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:2
Once again, Jesus’ enemies quoted “Bible” to him (this time Deuteronomy 24:1). Jesus said, in effect, “that was the best Moses could do,” but the Creation story showed God’s ideal more clearly. To people living in the wildly immoral Greek and Roman societies, the apostle Paul too upheld that ideal: one partner, one unchanging love commitment (except in the case of choices so bad they destroy the relationship beyond repair).
Matthew 9:9-13, James 2:8-13
Through the ages, various groups have been outcasts unwelcome in “religious” inner circles (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:1-2 banned eunuchs and illegitimate children). To Pharisees amazed that he would eat with “tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus said his kingdom was different and all were welcome. In his short letter, Jesus’ brother James underscored the same idea. His words about breaking even one commandment were not meant to discourage. Instead, they put us all in the same boat. All of us must trust that, with God, “mercy overrules judgment.”
The accusers in this sad scene weren’t satisfied with shaming the woman. They wanted to stone her to death, quoting verses like Deuteronomy 22:22. Jesus valued the Bible, but did not blindly follow every word in it. So once again, mercy overruled judgment as Jesus said, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” The accusers left, and Jesus, who WAS sinless, didn’t want to throw stones. Over the centuries, Christians have wrestled with many tough issues that couldn’t be settled by just quoting a few Bible verses. We have to trust the Holy Spirit to continue guiding us in discerning and living into the spirit of Jesus.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.
Lord, we have been given the gift your forgiveness and your life-changing grace, while others sit in darkness, mistakenly thinking that you have forgotten and abandoned them. Soften our hearts and use us as your disciples to sincerely extend a hand of love and mercy to those who so desperately need to hear the message of your grace and salvation. Amen.
In what ways has society changed since you were young? What changes bother you most? What changes seems to be for the better? In what positive ways can we influence society?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-23, Leviticus 12:1-5. Ancient cultures valued men more than women. How did the creation stories seem to value women? How are our 21st century values regarding women different than ancient cultures? Are those values universally accepted in the world? In the United States? From an American legal viewpoint, how are women to be regarded? Do you believe this differs from a Christian viewpoint about women? Why or why not?
- Read Luke 10:38-42, Galatians 3:23-28. How did Jesus treat women? Was this typical of the time? What would Jesus say about current attitudes and actions that treat women as second-class citizens? In what settings do these “second-class” attitudes seem to crop up today? Although, in addressing certain situations, Paul may have said some things that seem anti-female, what does he say in the verses in Galatians in regard to women? Do you, personally, accept this direction from Paul as the correct view about women and men? Many people still believe there are situations in which, as a general statement, women would seem to be better equipped to handle some things than men and vice versa. Does recognizing differences between men and women violate the principle of Galatians 3:28? Why or why not?
- Read Genesis 2:24-25, Song of Solomon 1:15–2:4, 8:5-7, Genesis 29:31-30:24. Would you agree that these verses link love and human sexuality? In the story of Jacob’s family, what emotions did the women display? Was there a separation of love and sexuality? How would you describe the family dynamics that were probably going on? In what ways does our society separate love and sex? When that separation occurs, how can pain and dysfunction arise?
- Read Matthew 19:3-8, 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:2. Sexual immorality was rampant in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus and Paul’s time. In today’s world, what justifies divorce? What might Jesus say about that? Does the marriage commitment carry the weight it should today? Paul stressed that faithfulness to God includes purity of the body. Are those attributes stressed today? Should they be? Paul said the marriage union was spiritual, not just physical. Is that still true? How does the concept of honoring God with your body run counter to much thinking today? How does one avoid sexual immorality?
- Read Matthew 9:9-13, James 2:8-13. How would you describe Jesus’ intent when he said, “I desire mercy…”? Have Christian churches always been merciful in welcoming in those they judged as “sinners”? If we are perfectly honest, do you feel less in need of God’s forgiveness and mercy than anyone else who’s sins are different from your areas of struggle? If we are able to substitute mercy for judgment, how might that affect us and others? How might society be affected? Going beyond individual, one-on-one relationships, is some measure of “societal judgmentalism” required to maintain societal integrity? When Jesus and James spoke of mercy, do you believe that is the same as what we mean by “permissive”? Does mercy actually encourage sinful behaviors, or not?
- Read John 8:2-11. What sins make you most upset with the people who commit them? In our modern, day-to-day lives, in what ways might we, in effect, “cast stones” at individuals who we consider to be outside our norms of righteousness? How would Jesus tell us to handle these situations?
From last week: Did you carefully consider questions the creation vs. evolution debate raises for you? Did you think about how these questions affect your relationship with God? Were you able to clarify what you believe? How was your week affected?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, September 9, 2012:
(Note: because of space, we can’t include all of Pastor Hamilton’s Biblical study from this important sermon. If you did not hear the sermon, or wish to hear it again, you can do so at www.cor.org/sermon.)
In Acts 10 Peter has a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven with animals the Bible forbids eating. He had followed this rule all his life. He hears the voice of the Lord say to him, “take and eat.” He says, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” But the Lord replies, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happens three times.
What a strange vision–God declaring clean an act the Bible, in multiple places in the Old Testament, says is unclean. About that time there comes a knock, and there are servants of a Roman soldier named Cornelius who has sent for Peter. Cornelius wants to hear the good news of Jesus. Peter goes to Cornelius’ home, enters, and eats with Cornelius and his friends, all uncircumcised Gentiles. This was scandalous—Jewish Law forbade eating with “unclean” people. Peter preached the gospel and, to his surprise, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his friends. Peter baptized those uncircumcised Gentiles into the Christian faith.
Clearly God was doing a new thing, shattering views of what was permissible and impermissible, clean and unclean, even countering the law itself. When Peter shared what had happened with other Jewish Christians they struggled with this. It was unnerving to think that what they thought was God’s will–refraining from eating with Gentiles—was not God’s will….At times we find things in the Bible that made sense at the time to the authors, but may not make sense or apply to us today. For Peter that was about what was clean and unclean. For us this will have something to do with slavery, and the role of women, and sexuality.
Let’s consider slavery. Today we see slavery as unjust and immoral. We believe God sees slavery as unjust and immoral. Yet there are 326 verses in the Bible that reference slaves and slavery. Here’s one of the laws Moses said God gave him to govern the treatment of slaves, in Exodus 21:20-21: “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” If we’re going to take the Bible seriously, we have to ask, “Does this represent God’s timeless will, or does it represent the culture in which the Bible was written?”
We would like to say this is just in the Old Testament. There’s more light in the New Testament–slave traders are identified as evil, and Paul notes that in the gospel there is neither slave nor free. But both Paul and Peter are clear that slaves were to submit to their masters, even those who were cruel. They were to obey their masters with “fear and trembling” (Titus 2:9, 1 Peter 2:18, Ephesians 6:5). There were slave owners in the church and they were not told to set their slaves free, but to treat them justly.
These passages were used to uphold the slave trade in America. Yet there came a time when Wilberforce, Wesley and others began to condemn the practice on the basis of a broader message of scripture–that all human beings were created in the image of God, and that the buying and selling and owning of human beings was incompatible with justice. They came to recognize, like Peter and Cornelius, that what was written in the law was not necessarily God’s timeless will for humanity….
We’ve seen in the case of slavery, the role of women, and sexuality that understandings change over time. Some of what is written in the Bible does not reflect God’s timeless will. In previous weeks we’ve seen the same with violence in the God’s name.
Realizing that scripture contains both God’s timeless will and the time-bound cultural presuppositions of its authors led me to ask, “Might the passages about homosexuality in the Bible fall in the same category as those related to these other subjects?”
First, let’s recognize this is an issue about which we as Christians, and we as a nation, are hugely divided. In the latest Gallup poll 50% of Americans favored the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, and 48% did not. 2% were not sure. In the church there is great division over this issue. Denominations are dividing, Christians leaving one church and heading to another over this issue. In the UnitedMethodistChurch we are divided. Here at Church of the Resurrection we do not all see this issue the same–our pastoral staff have different opinions, our leadership have differing opinions and you as lay people have differing opinions.
This issue is often said to be about biblical authority. I don’t think that is accurate. I think it is about biblical interpretation. Most Christians on either side of this issue believe in the Bible’s authority. I read my Bible every morning. I study it 10-15 hours a week. I strive, like Wesley, to be a man of one book. No book has a greater impact upon my life. Its words reflect my highest ambitions and my deepest desires for what I might be. I pray the scripture and pray that I might live the scripture. It is not a question of authority, but of interpretation—of understanding that some scriptures do not capture God’s heart and will for all eternity….
The question is, Do these five verses that seem to speak of same sex activity convey the timeless will of God, so that we must teach and preach that people with same sex attraction must seek therapy to try to change their attraction, or not act upon it; that they cannot marry and share their life with someone intimately? Or are these passages like the 326 that speak of slavery, or the hundred that see women as of less value than men, or the dozens that command violence in the name of God?…
I believe God created us male and female and that this was normative–our reproductive organs, the wiring of 95% of the population point in this direction. But for the 5% of population that don’t fit that norm, I think God sees them with compassion and love for his gay and lesbian children and that, like any of you if your children were gay, he welcomes them into his family.
We are a church divided. Here’s what we’ve committed to: we’ve committed as a church to welcome people on either side of this issue provided we disagree with love. We have agreed that the issue is biblical interpretation, not authority. We have agreed that our congregation will welcome and love gay and lesbian people regardless of how we read these scriptures. And we’ve committed to continue to seek to know God’s will.
“Be right or be married”
You can be right, or you can be married; take your pick. I can’t remember who told me that, but I do remember that they were only half-joking. The other half, the serious half, is exceedingly important. This is why.
When it comes to winning and losing, I think there are three kinds of marriages. In the first kind of marriage, both spouses are competing to win, and it’s a duel to the death. Husbands and wives are armed with a vast arsenal, ranging from fists, to words, to silence. These are the marriages that destroy. Spouses destroy each other, and, in the process, they destroy the peace of their children. In fact, the destruction is so complete that research tells us it is better for children to have divorced parents than warring parents. These marriages account for most of the fifty percent of marriages that fail, and then some.
The second kind of marriage is ripe with winning and losing, but the roles are set, and the loser is always the same spouse. These are the truly abusive marriages, the ones in which one spouse dominates, the other submits, and in the process, both husband and wife are stripped of their dignity. These are the marriages of addicts and enablers, tyrants and slaves, and they may be the saddest marriages of all.
But there is a third kind of marriage. The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other. These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful.
And they are revolutionary, in the purest sense of the word.
This week examine any judgmental attitudes you might have about others. As you go through your week at home and at work, make every effort to discard those judgments and see those people as you might see yourself, giving them every bit of positive, uplifting and supportive attitude you can muster. Next week, share your experience with the group.