Yesterday’s message included . . .
- A title from Olivia Newton-John;
- A responsive reading that I believe belongs in future editions of the United Methodist hymnal;
- A quotation from UM preacher colleague Chris Ritter;
- A bottom line that I feel is especially strong: You only understand the WHY of sex when you obey its WHEN.
Listen, today I not only want to talk to the people of GS about sex, I want the people of GS to . . . wait for it . . . enjoy sex. Yep. I want the people of this church to be the kind of people who have sexual intimacy without regret, without secrecy, without shame. Which, I daresay from what comes in and out of my office, is not the case for many if not most of you. And I think I know the reason behind that; the reason why so many people feel like sex has over-promised and under-delivered, why so many people bear the scars of sexual mistakes, why some are even suffering the consequences of sexual misconduct.
It’s because we have devoted entirely too much attention to the HOW of sexual intimacy and entirely too little to the WHY and the WHEN. And just when for some of you the awkwardness of this talk is becoming overwhelming, I’ve got some really, really good news: this talk will steer well clear of the HOW and devote much more attention to the relationship between WHY and WHEN. That’s right! You can FB out or Tweet out or just tell all your friends that your preacher ALMOST delivered a message on the mechanics of intercourse, but then cooler heads prevailed and he directed his attention elsewhere. Can we all just . . . breathe now? A sigh of relief? Because the WHEN and the WHY? Oh I love spending time with you on that. Because look at the whole subject this way. Once upon a time there was no such thing as sex. And God thought it up. Yup! In the recesses of time, in the annals of history, either just before or just after the Big Bang, sex did not exist. And as the creator and giver of life, what we in the post-Jesus era call abundant life, thought it up. With no help. His idea. The ultimate creating something out of nothing. That concept is so incredible, we’re going to get all liturgical about it. You know what I mean by liturgical, right? A responsive reading. Here goes!
Leader: ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS SEX.
People: AND SO GOD THOUGHT IT UP.
All: THANKS BE TO GOD.
See that?! That’s going in the next version of the UM Hymnal for sure!
Anyway, following this creative moment, God next gives the blueprint for its expression in Genesis 2:24:
For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
Leave, cleave, become one. God’s guidelines for God’s creation are all wrapped up in one memorable, compelling sentence given to the man and the woman as they stood, naked and unashamed, in the Garden of God. The grand simplicity of Gen 2:24 captures so well the WHEN and the WHY.
But wait wait wait. Before we dig too deeply into those words, can I suggest something? All those issues, regrets, and shame that I talked about earlier take place because we have gotten the order of Genesis 2:24 all out of whack. We have inverted God design and because of that we have perverted God’s gift. Because here’s what I know is true . . . a lot of you look back in your rear view mirror (and for some the rear view mirror is last weekend) and you answered the WHEN of sex in a way pretty alien to Genesis 2:24. For a lot of guys the WHEN was like “Now!” Or: “When I find a girl who will.” Others of you, both guys and girls, answered the WHEN with “When I’m in love” or “When I’m mature enough to handle it.” And some of you girls have, sadly, answered the WHEN with “So he will stay with me.” “Or when he asked me to prove that I love him.”
See, in all that, we thought the WHEN cam as soon as possible after we learned all about the HOW and as far as a WHY . . . well, we went all Olivia Newton-John on that one: we want to get physical. The WHY got answered on the level of the physical – “it was exciting, it felt good, others were doing it (or so they said), since it felt natural to me it must be good for me.” Scripture very clearly puts the order as LEAVE – CLEAVE – BECOME ONE . . . meaning, independence followed by lifetime commitment, and the sealed/consummated with physical intercourse. But for so many of us we BECAME ONE (some of us became one and one and one . . . ) before leaving and without ever really cleaving. Given the choice, we opted for Olivia Newton John over Genesis and while she may be lovely indeed, many of us discovered along the way that that choice came w/ hell to pay. Ultimately, we got our WHEN and our WHY all backwards.
Because look at what Paul says in I Corinthians 6:18:
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
See, something is DIFFERENT about inverting the when and they why of sex; something is more painful about sexual sin than, say, lying or greed. Why? Because ONJ was so wrong and sex is so much more than physical. In the way that God has made us, this “becoming one” of Genesis 2 is uniquely ADHESIVE – it creates something that didn’t exist before. Something with enduring power over us and in us. Because we are bearers of the image of God, different from the animals – for whom sex IS merely physical – sex transcends the body and collides with the soiul. You know this, deep down, without me even saying it. You know why?
Because if sex was just physical, then getting over sexual abuse would be like getting over a black eye. Or a bruised knee. But saying that out loud shows the absolute absurdity of that position, not to mention the insensitivity. Of course, it takes years of working and coping and praying to deal with sexual abuse (would never say “get over”) because our sexual self is so deeply tied to our spiritual self. And when our sexual selves get violated, our spiritual selves pay the price. And need the healing. The “conscious uncoupling” of body from soul in how we understand sex is patently ridiculous. Sex is not about getting physical because the God who designed it in the first place (remember our responsive reading!) made us deeply, eternally, relational.
One other way a lot of you know this. You know from experience that introducing sexual intimacy very early into a romantic relationship stunted the relationship. You became sexual quickly and what you discovered is that sex covered up all kinds of relational ill health. Makes me think of the woman who wrote to Dear Abby asking for advice on birth control with her new boyfriend. Abby answered, logically enough, “why don’t you talk to him about it.” “Because,” the reply came, “I don’t feel like I know him well enough.” Early sex camouflages all kinds of relational growth and relational turmoil.
All that to say when Paul says in I Cor 6 – flee sexual immorality! – he is not some kind of ancient kill joy; instead he represents God’s longing for your best sex. For you to have the abundant life that comes from properly exercising this thing that he invented in the first place! Because here’s really what sex is – it’s not about meeting a physical need; it’s about sealing a public promise. Sex is the adhesive act that seals the public promise of marriage. It ratifies that commitment made at the altar! That’s why the order of Genesis 2 is so vital! Here’s what you need to know: You only understand the WHY of sex when you obey its WHEN. Meaning: you will only know the beautifully, pleasurably, spiritually, adhesive nature of sex – FREE OF REGRET AND SHAME AND SECRETS – when you take part of it in the WHEN of marriage. It is an intensely private act that gives adhesion to the prior public commitment.
Now wait wait wait. I know some of you are thinking, “That is SO OLD FASHIONED! People in the bible were repressed; we’re liberated; we’re in a sex-soaked culture; what you’re saying just isn’t practical anymore. Why should I listen to something so OLD FASHIONED.” Oh really? Our world is so different from the bible’s? Listen to this:
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher, lawyer, & orator: If anyone here thinks young men should be forbidden association even with prostitutes . . .he is in disagreement not only with the permissiveness of this century, but even with the custom & indulgence of our ancestors.
Andy Stanley: Prostitutes & slaves were abused sexually as a matter of course . . . what slave owner did with their own slaves sexually was their business. Pedophelia was legal as long as it involved slaves or non-citizens and as long as the Roman male did not play a passive role. Male passivity of any sort was viewed as weakness. Having sex with young boys was not.
Get this: the world in which the bible was produced was MORE SEXUALIZED than ours because it had never been influenced by 1950 years of Xn teaching! Yes – 1950 years because it’s only in the last 60 years or so that we got so much smarter than the people who wrote the bible. But into that oversexed culture of the 1st Century world, Paul and others introduced this beautifully novel concept of REFRAIN. And guess what? People responded! They galloped to it! Why? Because on the one hand they were tired of the hollowness that comes from random, manipulative sex. And on the other hand, as bearers of the image of God, they longed to practice the gift of sex in a way designed by the inventor of sex. Remember our liturgy?! God thunk sex up! So if it is his design, don’t you think he has the right to establish its boundaries? You only understand the WHY of sex when you obey its WHEN.
So: what now? Here’s what. I just want the people of GS to ditch the sexual revolution, abandon the hook up culture, and join what my friend calls the passionate ranks of the sexually restrained. People who obey the WHEN so they might enjoy the full fruits of the WHY: sealing the public promise of marriage in a way that reflects both the glory and the character of God. I’d love for the people of the church to enjoy sexual intimacy, lots of it, in a way that is free of secrecy, shame, and regrets, and full of the image of God and the joy of that first garden. You only understand the WHY of sex when you obey its WHEN.
A word to singles & singles again, first. Regardless of your sexual history, I want to talk about the “from now on.” Not the “happily ever after”; the “from now on.” Your sexual purity is a treasure. Regard it as such. And look for a mate who will protect it. Man, I have thought that if you’re single, while you are preparing yourself (last week’s sermon), this mantra is true: Ladies pray for a guy who will protect your purity & guys pray for a woman who will respect your dignity. Yeah, a guy who will protect purity and a girl who will respect dignity. And please know this, both guys and girls: if you are dating someone who pressures you with “if you love me you will,” that’s how you know, immediately: not for me. Spiritually on a different page. If you want it to rhyme: don’t date the one who won’t wait. The greatest show of love any potential mate could give you is to reserved the WHEN of sex for the WHY of marriage. You only understand the WHY of sex when you obey its WHEN.
For marrieds. I know a lot of you think what you did in the past is in the past, but it’s not. I Cor 6:18! If you had sexual disobedience as part of your past, there are likely on-going consequences that you’re not even aware of. Its time to confess those failures and ask divine help in overcoming them. “We thought we knew better than you when it was your idea to begin with. We lived together THEN and so we’re having a hard time living together NOW.” Invite God into the healing. You aren’t the first couple he’s had to do it with and you won’t be the last. I just want you to be honest enough to acknowledge and not so oblivious you deny. Here’s something you might have already figured out: the reason a lot of couples have a post-marriage decline in sex is because they had a pre-marriage abundance of it. They (you) got your WHENS and WHYS mixed up and you’re in a sense paying the price now.
And when you get that healing in, I want you to join those blessed couples who for a variety of reasons knew and lived out Genesis 2:24. People who obeyed the WHEN and are currently enjoying the blessing of the WHY. Marriages that are sealed – and sealed again and again, as much in your 50s or 60s as in your 20s – with physically, spiritually, adhesive gift of what was God’s idea to begin with. Thanks be to God.