Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sermon on sex

1 Corinthians 7-9
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 15 8-20

Brothers and sisters todays sermon is going to be difficult and uncomfortable for many of us – you have heard the readings and can probably guess the subject matter; love and sex. It has been God will that I give sermons on the day to day issues Christians face and which cause us to struggle and there is not greater issue of contention then sex and sexuality. So today we walk with God into this troubled land, hopefully to walk out whole again. 
This sermon will explore the bible teaching, church practice and modern approaches to sex concluding as always in the promise of forgiveness. 

As I hope you gained from the bible passages, the bible does talk of sexual relations, Paul especially. It is at the first reading 1st Corinthians 7-9 where we start, with the ideal. Chastity! It is almost laughably out of touch, but we should not be so quick to dismiss it, it was so central to the early church that it joined people in chased marriages (people of the same sex and not). So why is an idea so at odd with human nature the ideal? 
I think it is twofold. It is twofold; firstly it is the life Christ led. Christ represented and hopefully still represents the ideal human life for all God’s children therefore anything he did we should aspire to. Secondly it epitomizes the command to love one another without reward. If we love everyone equally, marriage is an exclusive type of love which leads to unequal love (you love your wife and children far more than your neighbor . So when the disciples ask Jesus who he favors  you could see it as who he loved more but Christ refused this debate by reaming chased.  In short Christ led a life of love without sex and this is the ideal to which the early church clung and to which we are still called. 

I stand before you as a virgin and I tell your brothers and sisters love without sex is not that hard, do we not have such relationships with are relatives and are friends, are we not called to give without receiving? It may seem very distant and alien but a live of love is a reward in itself.

I am not so foolish and inhuman to suggest this is for all. Even Paul concedes that God formed the institution of marriage. It is marriage to which  most Christians aspire and believe is the ideal. It is in the familiar passages in Matthew 19-6 which itself an echo is of is an echo of genesis 2-12 where we find marriage expounded most fully and I say fully half sarcastically. There is no great explanation here. Apart from god made man and women and they need, I assume. To become one in the flesh and once they are joined together (an act pre-ordained by God) no one can tear them asunder. 

Paul may have been idealistic about the sexual part of human nature but God was not, he understood that part of being male or female was a need to procreate and join with another. He knew also that this life was hard and had its troubles and beyond physical sustenance we would also need emotional sustenance. In order to fulfil human need scripture tell us that God created a partner for each of us and sealed us together in a bond that cannot be broken. 

Some may think it is to ignore reality to speak like this but in this sermon I am talking often of the ideal. We live in a time where some people seem to practice easy marriage but we Christians cling to the ideal of marriage. That God made for each of us a partner for life and joined us until death parted us. God knew in order to trust someone enough to join wholly with them that union must be irrevocable. The gospels are quite strict on what can dissolve this union, some say nothing and some say adultery but the point is we still believe I hope in the ideal, that when we marry we marry for life. 

I do not mean to argue that divorce is some terrible sin, though myself I am cautious in rejoicing in it. I am merely saying that marriage is ordained by God and the ideal (there is that word again) is a full marriage not one only about sex but one that fulfills the needs we have both emotional and physical. If a marriage fails, this need does not end so people must once more join but  simply because we accept that human reality often falls short of the ideals God sets before us does not mean we should indulge in hasty marriage or marriages of convince. The end of a marriage is to be lamented and the pain and the hurt cared for pastorally but the ideal is a worthy one ordained by God for us.  

I am sure there are still some out there who think of me as you must of Paul, out of touch, overly judgmental preacher who knows nothing about sexual lust and real human experience. Well there is truth in that but I am not without use quite yet. 

I know that a great many people today will not marry as virgins and they are not ashamed of this. They see sex as both recreation and a tool for deepening human relationships; sex is in this view the key to creating a solid framework on which a marriage can stand. I call this view sex within a loving relationship. 

Again we have move from the ideal, first from love without sex, then to love and sex within marriage and now to love and sex. I am not here to alter the law (as Christ said), you have heard the scriptures and you know the law but I am not here to condemn either. If we seek marriage to be a true union of people then maybe we will have to learn to live with sex within a loving relationship. 

As we move from an age where people looked to the church for the framing of their life, to one where they look all over, we can either accept that some don’t feel the need for a formal union but still “burn with passion” in the words of Paul or alienate more and more people. As I have said this is not the ideal but what I found great comfort in, is the second reading Romans 13:8-14, which reminds us that are first duty is to love on another and love does not do harm and I can think of little good in lecturing good Christians that their lives are commend or un-saveable due to sexual sin. 

As I showed the children we cannot love someone and child them at the same time. I am not asking us to abandon are ideals but to accept that there is a gulf between them and human reality and it the command of God to fill this gulf with mercy and acceptance, hoping that God will lead them from sin to full reconciliation with him. 
There is one change in the accepted views on sex, however, brothers and sisters that I wish warn against and this is sex only as entertainment. Our final reading Matthew 15 8-20 warns against the corrupting nature of sexual sin, it remains us that a corrupt heart is the result and will be the cause of such actions. Sex is not a toy; yes it may be enjoyable but its purpose is emotional as much as it is physical. If you run around sleeping with anyone, merely for the joy of it how are you living for the life immortal? What are you putting away in the kingdom to enjoy when you are called? God gave us scripture to improve us, he sent Christ to lift us, he set the ideal to aspire. See how far you have fallen from the ideal – love without sex and now sex without love! This is too far, this is too much.

Those who live like this pursue only the now; they have no sight on the eternal. Now often they believe they can only get emotional succor by trading sexual favor and that is partly are fault. They have found that others only want sex of them and act accordingly. They have no seen or felt close to the high ideals we preach about so often. Well we must show them, we must if we are in a relationship with them make a commitment, break the cycle and we must return to the very ideal we must show them love without sex is possible and is available here and now. 

On that final point I would equally like to rebuke the church. The church has far too often remained silent on the reality of sex and human relationships. On sexual sins it has created inhumane “human laws” which have been sauce of much misery and suffering. The church has treated sexual sin as unforgivable an equally scriptural indefinable position as sex without love. It has not preached as it should or acted in a loving way. Just as sex without love is indefensible so is rebuking without compassion. 

When I think of struggling single parent, divorce, overly burdened families all whom we have let down. We have set the ideal set forth in scripture as icons and sacrificed these people to them. When they need aid and forgiveness, we gave them dogma and judgment. We have confused the ideal way of life with the only way of life acceptable to god and we have punished continually those who have not lived up to it. 
Paul reminds us that love does no harm so why we must ask has the churches often unhealthy obsession with sex been so harmful. Often because it has been based on human morality, on wanting to control people rather than save and heal them. We have a chance to get ahead of the game as they say and be the church God calls us to be a church for sinners, for the single parent, for the sexually overly active for those made ill through sexual illness and the church for the prostitute. It is not random chance that these are exactly the people Christ eat with for he knew it was the people seen as unforgivable that needed God the most.

So where are we now, we have the ideal, we have “church life” and we have “Human life” which goes all the way to the ideal to the none ideal, in short we have gulfs. Gulfs between what people think is ideal, is okay, is acceptable, gulfs between the church and people and gulfs between the ideal and us. So what is the correct reaction? Is it to entrance and section of these gulfs; is it to turn these gulfs into moats?  Or is it to bridge these gulfs, to fill them with mercy and acceptance? I think we should think of what God did; God saw the gulf between him and his creation, he tried filling it with mercy and forgiveness but still the gulf existed. So he brigaded it, not with words but with deeds, not with an single outstretched finger but with two outstretched arms on the cross, that is the sort of bridged we need. 

This to me seems the obvious conclusion that the church and Christian approach to sex should neither be permissive (merely tolerating or glorifying whatever society thinks is okay) nor should it be lawful, moralistic and unrealistic. In the end we cannot reconcile with one another while we try and tell them off (chastise them), in the end we must tell people the good news. That God walks with us, that God understand the messy complex lives we lead and that his ideals are to lift us up not to keep us down. 

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