Hot Buttons: Week Three "Being Human" A Sermon on Sexuality

In the first installment of the sermon series that I am currently preaching, entitled "Hot Button: Grace-Filled Responses To the Things That Divide Us," I preached on Abortion.

I was fairly certain that it was the most difficult and challenging sermon that I had ever preached.

Until this one.

The official title of this sermon is: "Being Human: A Grace-Filled Response to Issues of Sexuality."  I should have renamed it: "What the (Bleep) was I Thinking?"   Seriously.  Who preaches on sexuality?  Willingly.

Christians usually don't talk about these issues on Sunday morning---or at all.  Unless, of course, they are condemning someone for sexual sin or protesting too much over their proclivity of choice so that no one will ever wonder whether they themselves are sinning up a storm.

We need to talk about sexuality, though.  And we need to do it in church regardless of how difficult it is to do so.  You see, if we can't learn to find grace-filled responses to the many sexual issues that divide us, we will never find a way to reach out in love to people conflicted over their sexuality, who are steering clear of church because they fear the judgement of its members.

Straight up, though.  This will probably be a PG sermon.  So parents, if you are concerned that you might get too many questions on your ride home---you may just want to stay put and keep junior right next to you.  You need those questions, my friend, and you need to answer them.  I'll do my best to help you, but you have to be willing to listen.

First, I have a question for everyone out there...   Who Are You?

If you were only given one sentence to describe yourself, what would you write?

Here's mine: Reverend Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveller and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected.  He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. 

You might also add to that:  HUGE Denver Broncos fan and Florida State Seminole, by the grace and to the glory of God.

What we use to define ourselves tells others a great deal about what we value, what we believe to be important for them to know.  We use descriptives like items of clothing, piling them on layer after layer until it's hard to see what's underneath them.  Our identity is so wrapped up in these descriptives, so completely covered in them that they risk smothering it to death.

And here's something really interesting.  Sometimes the way we define ourselves also tells other people how we feel about God.

I have conversations with people sometimes who are quick to make sure that I know they used to go to church until the church and/or church people did something so egregious that they stopped going.

Or they used to believe in God until they prayed for their sick and dying relative and they died anyway.

Or they used to believe in the Bible, until it started to clash with the way they wanted to live their life.

The words used to loom large for these people when they are describing who they are, and what matters to them.

What's becoming more and more common in our culture is a desire by some people to use their sexuality as a way of describing themselves.  While some might actually wear their sexuality "on their sleeve" for everyone to see, most people choose to find more subtle ways to display it.  Either way, more of us are wrapping our identities in sexuality---using it as a means of answering that question we all struggle to answer:  "Who am I?"

Are we really defined by any of these descriptives that we choose?

And, for the purposes of our current discussion, are we truly defined by our sexuality?   It would certainly seem so, based on the way our culture lifts it up as such, but I think there are two things that those of us who call ourselves Christians need to understand.

1) We don't understand what sex is really all about.
2) For the Christian, our identity is not defined by how we describe ourselves but in how we are redefined in Christ.

Indulge me for a moment...

The word "sex," according to some linguists, comes from the Latin word secare which means to sever, amputate or disconnect.

I love what Rob Bell says about this concept.  He asserts that our sexuality has two facets to it.  First, our sexuality is an awareness that we are profoundly severed, cut off and disconnected.  Second, our sexuality is all of the ways we go about trying to reconnect.*

Did you know that 1 in 4 hits on the Internet is someone searching for pornography?  I'm not a mathematician, but that's a lot of searching.  And the deep connection and intimacy that people are truly searching for will never be found in the places they are looking, but they keep looking in those wrong places because that's what human beings do, we return again and again to the tree we're not supposed to eat from, hoping that this time the outcome will be different.

Most people don't worship God with their bodies, do they?  Our stewardship of the bodies we have been given tends to swing from one extreme to another---from abuse to idolization.

I offer Hooters as an illustration.

Hooters is an establishment that sells chicken wings and beer.  It is not, however, known for the quality of it's chicken wings and beer, it is known for the scantily clad waitresses that serve the chicken wings and beer.  So here is a place where people can go to indulge their appetite for fattening food and drink, and add to their girth by debasing themselves with the unhealthy consumption of fried food and beer, all the while ogling attractive women who are lifted up as ideals of sexualized femininity, and turned into objects of fantasy.

And despite this obvious evidence of slavery to sexual idolatry, if anyone stands up from the crowd and declares our culture's so-called sexual "freedom" a lie, they are typically shouted down, ridiculed and thought to be backward or puritanical in their thinking.

A prude.

Have you ever heard someone ridicule the idea of teaching abstinence in schools?  I have on more than one occasion.  Abstinence is laughed at and mocked because it's premise is one that defies what most people determine as inevitable:  that young people are just going to have sex.  "You can't stop them," they might say.  "Maybe you shouldn't stop them.  After all, we don't want to return to the sexually repressed culture of the 1950's do we?"

So, we shouldn't tell kids that it's okay to decide not to have sex until they get married because they'll probably just have sex anyway?

That's not very hopeful is it?

The fact of the matter is that we are all sexually broken.

I mean it.  If you are sitting at home prowling the Internet for porn, or downing pitchers of beer and staring at Hooters waitresses, you are sexually broken.  If you are mocking someone's desire to remain celibate until they are married, you are sexually broken.  If you are vowing to never have sex with another human being until you are married, you are sexually broken.  Whether you are homosexual, heterosexual or asexual, you are sexually broken.

We are all sexually broken.

And our desire to be identified by our sexuality is our attempt to reconnect the brokenness on our own.

The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in his letter to the church at Corinth.

Corinth was Vegas before there was Vegas.  The massive temple of Aphrodite dominated the city's commerce, tourism, religious life and much more.  There were 1,000 prostitutes at the temple of the goddess of love and fertility.

There was even a phrase that was used in the ancient world connected to Corinth.  To "Corinthianize" meant to give in one's sexual desires or proclivities.

The influence of this culture made its way into the Corinthian Christian community, and Paul realized that they were allowing their sexuality (among other things) to define them when their identity lay elsewhere---with Christ himself.

Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-20

Here's a quick verse by verse exposition on what Paul was saying:

Verse 9:  He refers to sexual sin as porneo which essentially means anything that doesn't belong in God's kingdom.
Verse 12:  He says "Everything is permissible... but not everything is beneficial."  Paul is basically saying, "Sure you can do whatever you want, but there are consequences."
Verse 13: Here Paul quotes a cultural idiom of the day, "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food."  What this means simply is that if you're hungry, you eat.  If you want sex, you indulge that appetite, too.  Don't deny yourself.
Verse 15:  Here Paul asserts that as Christians we are members of Christ himself, and then asks, "would you unite Christ with a prostitute?"
Verse 16:  Paul then suggests his main argument:  Sex is more than just sex.  It's more than simple indulgence of an appetite.
Verse 17: Then Paul declares that if you unite yourself with the Lord, you are united in spirit, and the connection that you desire so desperately that you might be seeking in sex can be found in Him.
Verse 18:  Paul's answer to sexual temptation is to run from it.  "FLEE!" he exhorts his readers.  Which literally means "FLEE!"
Verse 19:  Your body is "a temple of the Holy Spirit," Paul declares.  A place of worship where God himself hangs out.  There are inside/outside ramifications to our sexuality.  When we seek to define ourselves by our sexuality we run the risk of not only hurting someone else, but doing serious damage to our connection with God in us.
Verse 20:  "You are not your own... you were bought with a price..."  Literally this is the language of the slave trade of the day.  Paul says, "you were on the block being sold into slavery, and Jesus paid for your freedom."  If you choose to live your life any way you want, to define yourself outside of Christ, you diminish and cheapen the grace it took to redeem you.

Here's the thing:  Every time Christians read this passage of Scripture, they always assume it's about someone else, and never about them.

So if we are going to find a way forward through this great morass of sexual confusion and idolatry we need to abandon the whole "either/or" thing.  I think that's a great campaign slogan, actually:  "No More Either/Or!"  Here are some things that I think are important for us to consider if we are going to toss the dichotomies out the window:

1. Sex is so much more than skin on skin... so much more than physical.  It's about unity.  And if you'll excuse a Reformed Christian pastor here for a moment, it's about the unity that we have with the Trinity and the Trinity with us.        We need to de-secularize our ideas of sex.  It's totally spiritual.

2.  Because of the spiritual nature of sex we can say this: It's a lie that our sexual urges are uncontrollable.  Regardless what a few jaded and joyless scientists might assert, we are not merely animals.  When was the last time you encountered a dog that sat around contemplating his existence, or his purpose in the Universe?  Never, is the answer you are looking for.  Dogs are awesome, but if left to their own devices, they will eat cat poop, and chew your shoes to shreds.

And here's something people need to hear:  Some of the sexiest people are celibate.*  All of their energies are focused on the purpose they believe God has given them.  Some of them are waiting for the right person to marry.  Others understand that they very well may be called to a life of celibacy as a spiritual discipline and to serve a greater purpose and example.  They're not laughable, they are admirable.

3.  You are not just a collection of urges and needs, but a being whom God resides in.  You are a temple, my friend.  Those words that Paul used were so pointed.  The temple of Aphrodite was full of hookers and people indulging their appetites in a blind and never-ending search for meaning and connection to something greater.  The temple in Jerusalem was where the Divine Presence lived, moved and was worshipped.  Paul essentially offers us a contrast:  For the Christian, their body becomes the very temple where the Divine Presence dwells.  

Here's a real world image to help us with this using our old friend Hooters:

This is the difference between the way that someone might act when they attend a worship service in a church, as opposed to the way they might act if they were eating lunch at Hooters.  One is considered a "House of God," and the other a "House of...Something Else."  Would you post up in your church with a pitcher of beer, and a plate of wings, and ogle the ushers as they took up the offering?

Maybe that's not such a good analogy.  I think you get the picture, though.  Why would you treat the House of God like Hooters?  You wouldn't.  So why would you want to debase your body, which is the House of God?  You're better than that.

I want to share three very brief stories that will help us understand how our abandonment of either/or might help us be filled with grace as we address issues of sexuality.

I remember a young girl in one of my youth groups of yesteryear, who was pretty, vivacious and prone to date the wrong sort of guy.  When I met her, she dressed in flattering clothes, sometimes wearing skirts or shorts that teetered on the edge of "short-short" without going over.  Then she met this guy.  I remember the day that we suspected she might be having sex with him.  She came to youth group that night dressed in baggy clothes, sweatshirt and sweatpants, no makeup and with her hair pulled back severely.  She spent the evening sort of hugging herself and looking troubled.  Our suspicions were later confirmed by a friend of hers, who told another friend, who told another friend who told us.  Her innocence was gone.

I read part of an interview with Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy.  He said that he grew up in a very religious, God-fearing family.  They never talked about sexuality, however, and he grew up repressed and conflicted.  When he got the chance to live his life as he desired, and to define himself by his sexuality, he literally "changed the world," according to him.

Recently a very popular Christian author, blogger and speaker was publicly outed by a gay Christian activist, with whom he had an encounter.  The guy who outed him grew angry at the way this popular Christian author had some pretty hard and public things to say about homosexuality, so he decided to spill the beans.  There are people angry and hurt on both side of this.  There is enough hypocrisy to go around on both side of this.  And there is brokenness in all of it.

These three stories have some things in common:  They all are connected back to the Church, and they all might have had different outcomes had grace and openness been a part of the conversation from the beginning.  What if the three things I mentioned as part of our way forward had been brought to bear?

What if these people had truly known that sex is so much more than sex?
What if they knew that celibacy is sexy and not laughable or impossible?
What if they really knew what it meant that their body is the very House of God?

Might that have changed the way they defined themselves in those moments?

Which brings us back to our original question:  Who are you?

Let me help you...
You have been set free.  You are no longer a slave.  Your freedom was costly, but it has no strings attached to it.  God desires you to be connected with Him, and that same desire is imbedded deep into your chest.

It doesn't matter what you've done in the past, or what has been done to you.  We are all of us sexually broken and desperate for a connection that can only be fulfilled in Jesus.

Listen to me, your identity humbled himself, came to this world where he suffered, died, was buried and rose from the dead to proclaim victory over all of your failed attempts to connect to God on you own.

You don't have to live the same old way any more.  Your identity is in Jesus.

Live into this grace, this good news, this hope eternal.

Be free to be who you really are.

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