by Rev. Eric Elnes, Ph.D.
In this series we have taken the position that homosexuality as a sexual orientation is not a sin that separates one from God, and that there are people for whom same-sex attraction and love is both natural and woven into the goodness of God’s creation. This past week, we received a number of emails from viewers who have found our series helpful, even inspirational. One of these viewers, however, has found our series to be as challenging as it is thought-provoking. This note did not come from a straight person, but from a gay man.
This particular viewer acknowledged that he has always been attracted to men and that he dreams of finding a male life partner one day. However, he has always been taught from an early age that homosexuality is a damnable sin. Fear of rupturing his relationship with God has kept him from ever acting on his attraction. He is finding our series thought-inspiring, but it has also raised a question that literally hits him where he lives: What if we are wrong about our claim that homosexuality really is not a sin? How do we know we are right?
Now, I would not counsel anyone to enter a relationship (or refrain from entering one) on the basis of someone else’s view of what is right and wrong in God’s eyes. Ultimately, our role as Christians is not to affirm homosexual relationships or heterosexual ones. Our role is to affirm only one relationship: a relationship with the God we have come to know through the Spirit of the Living Christ. All other relationships are subservient to this primary one. And one enters (or refrains from entering) all relationships in conversation with, and obedience to, God.
Yet what happens when a person does put their relationship with God above all others and senses God leading them in a direction that is different from the one that either they, or their peers, or wider society feels is appropriate? This question is pertinent not just for gay people in our day, but has been central to anyone involved in pretty much any area of social justice, scientific exploration, or spiritual renewal for a very long time.
Throughout human history God has regularly challenged society’s preconceived notions about life, and how we live as children of God in our world. And why not? God’s awareness is far higher than ours. God’s field of vision is deeper and wider. Therefore, revelations from God tend to shake us up. They alter the course we’re currently taking.
Over the course of this series we have made the claim that Jesus was like a Rock that God tossed into the calm waters of a pond. From a God’s Eye perspective, those ripples of God’s loving embrace have continued to spread over the surface of that pond. But from the vantage point of human beings on the surface of the pond, we tend to experience those “ripples” as tsunamis. They rock our boats! Sometimes, they even overturn them.
Picture Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees found Jesus challenging because he was shaking up their certainties about life and God. Doubtless, many Pharisees found Jesus’ message attractive – which is why they keep showing up to hear Jesus speak, inviting Jesus for dinner, and secretly asking for his advice in the cover of darkness. Yet a great Pharisee worried about the consequences of accepting the new life Jesus was trying to lead them into. What if Jesus was wrong? Would God respond by pushing a cosmic Smite Button?
I believe Jesus told a parable to address this very concern. It offers great wisdom to any of us who recognize that we could be wrong about something in which we fervently believe. The parable goes like this (Matthew 25:14-30):
14“… a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents [Note: A talent was a unit of money worth approx. 16 years’ wages for an average worker], to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Now, the ending of this parable may sound unfair and overly harsh – like God really is waiting with a Smite Button for transgressors. But before you get too caught up in the fact that the parable doesn’t have a warm, fuzzy ending, consider this question: What does the “talent” stand for in Jesus’ parable? Literally, a “talent” is the equivalent of 16 years’ wages for a common laborer (1 talent = 6,000 denari; 1 denarius = a day’s wage). Yet what is its metaphorical meaning in the parable?
Just for grins, consider how your interpretation of the parable would change if a talent is a metaphor for grace. Specifically, how would the ending change?
So here’s this guy who has been given a certain amount of grace, but is too afraid of acting on that grace. When confronted about it, we discover that he doesn’t trust the graciousness of the giver. In fact, he believes the giver is an unforgiving jerk. In the end, the guy finds himself in the “outer darkness,” weeping and gnashing his teeth. Is the servant there because the master truly is an unforgiving jerk, or because the servant is so convinced that he knows the master’s “real” character that he cannot bring himself to accept the Master’s grace and forgiveness, either for himself or others. When Jesus observes that “to those who have, more will be given,” and that “from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” it’s like saying, “Those who receive grace and invest it in others will become more and more graceful human beings over the course of their lives. And those who refuse to accept or offer grace will experience less than nothing of what life is about.”
While I don’t think that “grace” is necessarily the literal equivalent of “talent” in this parable, I do think that grace is deeply connected to any interpretation intended by Jesus. The parable speaks powerfully to any situation where God is calling us to move in a particular direction but where we resist out of fear of making a mistake – fear that God would not be as gracious as God claims to be. Perhaps we feel that what God is telling us is “too good to be true” and therefore could not be from God (as if messages from God are only supposed to be harsh and condemning …). Picture, for instance, a white woman and a black man falling in love with each other and sensing God’s call to marriage at any time in U.S. history before 1967 when interracial marriage was legalized. Given the social and religious bigotry surrounding their relationship, at least one of the voices going through their minds (or at least society’s mind) would be, “Are these feelings of love and God’s blessing of this relationship simply the product of ‘wishful thinking’ that is out of step with God’s will and design?” What gives a person the courage to stand against the flow of social stigma and religious dogma when their hearts are telling them that they are simply responding to the ever expanding ripples of God’s love and grace in the world?
Helen Keller captures the essence of Jesus’ parable in her observation, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Jesus’ parable of the talents – and Helen Keller’s observation – raises the question: What would be the master’s response be to a slave who honestly tries to invest what has been entrusted to him but loses the master’s money in a bad investment? Who would you rather be: this servant, or the one who buried his master’s money in a hole – especially if you knew the master to be generous-spirited and gracious (not the jerk that the servant who buried the money thinks the master is)?
Of course, anyone who does well in investments tends to make a number of investments that don’t do well in the course of making a number of good ones. People who are wealthy tend to be risk-takers, and risk entails loss from time to time. One might assume that the servants who multiplied the master’s money made some bad investments along with the good ones. So the prospect that an investment might not turn out the way one expects seems to be no reason to abstain from taking risks.
I find this principle helpful to remember when it comes to following a particular direction I sense God leading me. It reminds me that I may not always make the right choices, but if I will remain willing to take risks when I sense the Spirit’s call, I will ultimately gain as a result, and so will God’s Realm. It also reminds me that when I “lose” on an investment, it is not the end of the world. In fact, losing here and there comes with the territory. I expect to make mistakes – and God expects it, too. When I do, it’s not the end of the world, either for me or for my relationship with God. I trust that God is even more gracious than God expects me to be.
Finally, I am reminded that when I am truly making a good investment, it will yield an increase of some sort. Experiencing some form of benefit or increase is one of the ways we can be assured that we are following a call from the Spirit rather than a lesser call. This doesn’t mean that anyone who prospers is following God’s will. Rather, it means that when we follow God’s will, God sends us signals that assure us we are headed in the right direction. They may not be the signals we expect, but they always come in one form or another.
This week I received an email from another gay male viewer of our series. In his note, he directed our attention to a blog he posted about a difficult and risky investment he made in himself at the beginning of last year, and the way he has continued to experience the rewards of his investment ever since. I’ll wrap up my reflection with his blog entry:
As a lot of you know, I decided to take this past year off from drinking. It was [New Year’s Eve] 2011, and I was binge drinking with my friends. It became the “normal” thing to do almost every time we hung out. I was sick of it. I didn’t like who I was, or the direction my life was headed. I decided that night I wasn’t going to have one drop of alcohol for an entire year. Best decision I’ve ever made.
Some highlights from the year off of drinking include:
- Attending most all of my brother’s athletic events
- Getting 2 job promotions
- Being named Midtown Crossing’s Employee of the Month
- Being named Prairie Life Fitness’ Member of the Month
- Being featured in Strictly Business 3 times, including River City 6
- Placing 4th in Warrior Dash out of 16,000 people
- Lost 45lbs and got into the best shape of my life
Now, all of those are great and all, but that’s not really why I chose not to drink for a year. I chose not to drink because I didn’t like who I was, or who I was becoming. I wanted to stop myself in my tracks, and completely break myself down to my bare bones. After ending a 5-year relationship with my best friend early on in 2012, I was truly able to dive into my deepest insecurities and issues, and start to build up who I really wanted to become.
Who am I today? First and foremost I am loved. Loved by God, unconditionally. That’s really all that matters, but for the sake of answering the question I will continue. I am also a son, a brother, a grandson, a friend (best to some) and about to be an uncle. I am proud to be all of these. I am also proud to be a gay Christian. Oh no he didn’t.
Now, raise your hand if those two words just made you uncomfortable. It shouldn’t. God loves me just as much as he loves you. Our focus should be on loving and supporting each other through God; no one is perfect. Take Acts 11:9 for example: “But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’” How can any of us honestly say we can be the judge of man? That’s not Biblical in the least bit. God is the final judge, only He knows our true hearts. I am gay, but my focus is on God. I challenge you to think through that.
I have found myself in a state where I am loved, and able to love. I’m not talking about sexually either, but truly loving myself and others. I can’t wait to see what 2013 has to bring.
I can hear God in the background of this man’s story saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with little, I will set you over much. Now, enter the joy of your master.”