Morning Worship: Let loose ‘vanishing texts’ to serve God’s greater good

“I was really interested in Erik Larson’s talk yesterday. He took two years to research the book, Dead Wake, and two more years to write it,” said the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad during the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.

She held up a small black book.

“This is another book written over the centuries; it looks like a book, but it is a different kind of book,” she said.

Lundblad sermon, “Vanishing Texts,” explored Matthew 18:15-20.

“This is the fourth teaching session in Matthew,” she said. “The first was the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is the new Moses, so scholars say there are five sets of teaching in the book. I have a cartoon that shows Jesus talking to a crowd saying, ‘I don’t want four different versions of this going around.’ This fourth teaching session is often called the rule of discipline, but I want to call it the rule of reconciliation.”

The text’s focus, Lundblad said, is how to get people back into the community.

“We want to focus on how to get rid of people,” she said.

But Jesus tells his listeners to go the person with whom you have a problem first, then if the person will not listen, take two or three people with you and talk with the person. If the person still will not listen, then take it to the whole church.

“If the person will not listen to the ecclesia, the church, then let him or her be as a gentile or tax collector,” Lundblad said. “That is nasty talk, and Jesus was always gathering in gentiles and tax collectors.”

In working with the text, Lundblad found that the phrase “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” was first said to Peter alone in Matthew 16. In Chapter 18, this authority is given to the whole church. One scholarly opinion says these are rabbinic terms, and they mean we are free to interpret the former experience of God’s will for what is fitting for now in the church’s experience.

As an example, Lundblad talked about the history of anesthesia. When anesthesia was first developed, doctors debated whether they could give it to women in labor because, in Genesis 3:16, God told Eve that women’s labor pains would be increased as a consequence of the fall. These faithful doctors, she said, debated whether they could ease a woman’s pain in labor. When they realized God was the first anesthetist when he put Adam to sleep and the great commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself, they came to understand that they could relieve pain.

“They loosed the authority of Genesis 3:16 in light of a greater command,” she said.

In another example, she quoted Romans 13, that people should obey the governing authorities because they were in place from God.

“Nelson Mandela was a Christian, and he should have obeyed the authorities, but he loosed those rules to be faithful to a greater good,” Lundblad said. “You probably know where I am going with this. In June, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, and for some people of faith it was a time of hope, wonder and affirmation. For others, it is troubling; it appears that the text of the Bible is vanishing.”

She noted that her own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and other denominations have come to the decision to ordain partnered gay and lesbian people.

“They have loosed one authority in order to be faithful to God’s word to love your neighbor,” Lundblad said. “Not everything goes, we are all governed by the rule of fidelity and mutuality.”

Yet there is backlash through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, where people are calling for exemptions from the Supreme Court ruling.

“We will hear about it in the long campaign season,” she said. “For some, this is political, but some people of faith are deeply troubled, and they say, ‘We will not read the Supreme Court decision, but we will read the Bible.’

“But so do we read the Bible. If you have loosed the prohibitions against homosexuality in order to be faithful to a greater good, you are not giving up to the Bible. You are being faithful to what Jesus said in Matthew 18.

“I want you to know this: You have not given in to the culture or political correctness, but believe what Jesus said in Matthew 18 is true. Many people believe that, when the Bible speaks about sexuality, we should take it literally, and when it speaks about economics we should take it with a grain of salt.”

There was laughter and applause from the congregation.

Jesus knew his followers would need to discern new things, Lundblad said. Nuclear war, heart transplants and anesthesia were not in the Bible.

“We don’t bind and loose for an agenda but by listening to what the Spirit is saying to the church,” she said. “Don’t let them say you are giving up on the Bible in order for gay people to marry. Fidelity and mutuality still apply. We loose a harmful text to affirm what is faithful.”

When Lundblad was researching “binding and loosing” the spell check on her computer put a little red line under loosing.

“I changed it to ‘losing,’ and the line went away. But loosing is not losing. Loosing doesn’t mean losing the text of God; sometimes it is the most faithful thing to do.

“The ecclesia, the church, trusts in a long line of believers,” she said. “The Bible is not a dead letter, but a living word. We do this [loose] in the presence of Jesus, ‘Where every two or three are gathered, there I am.’ I am assuring you that loosing is not losing. You are buoyed up by the constant present of Jesus who calls us to this ministry.”

Pastor Scott Maxwell presided. Claudia Twist, who teaches seventh grade and is a pharmacist in the off-season and sings in the Motet and Chautauqua Choirs, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, sang “Ain’-a That Good News” by William L. Dawson. The prelude was “Le Calme de la Mer” by Tony Aubin and featured Barbara Hois, flute, Debbie Grohman, clarinet and Willie La Favor, piano. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services.

Correction: In the Aug. 6 Morning Worship column, a quote about Go Set a Watchman by Lundblad was misattributed to Isabel Wilkerson.