“intrusive sex,” October 25, 2015

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Our God,
we gather, as always,

to be honest—
to be real—
to acknowledge that it is the fullness of life
that we bring to worship—
seek to sustain in and through worship—
and live as worship.
It is the fullness of life
we want to be informed by our faith—
not bits and pieces we choose.
This we pray in the name of the one
whose living was worship,

Responsive Call to Worship
Sex interrupts and disrupts our lives—intrudes—
from when the hormones first drive us crazy.
Sex interrupts and disrupts—intrudes—
when the strength of the desire threatens
to compromise the integrity of what is desired …
when the struggle to figure out what’s appropriate
and healthy and acceptable and normal and approved
leaves you in a muddle of desire and guilt …
when the fantasy runs into reality …
and then when the reality runs into fantasy …
when the relationship is … complicated …
when the schedules or energy or interest of spouses aren’t in sync …
when the children stay up as late as the parents do ….
when you’re trying to figure out when and how to talk to children …
when the theology of blessing is undermined
in the silence of awkward embarrassment
and disapproval and judgment,
sex interrupts and disrupts our lives—intrudes—
and what we make of that intrusion
will make all the difference.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Genesis 1:28
God blessed them, and God said to them,
‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;
and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the air
and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
I appreciate your prayers leading up to this worship—
appreciate your praying through this worship,
and anticipate the conversation to come.
I trust you know I find more assurance in that ongoing conversation
than in the presumption I have anything definitive to say.

I was watching a TV show the other day—
some cop show.
It was about a bio-terrorist threat—
a deadly pathogen hidden in a busy terminal.
And as the terminal was evacuated—
people being led from the building,
the law enforcement agents were headed into the building.

Well that made me think of those firemen
headed into the twin towers on 9-11,
as they tried to get as many people as possible out of the twin towers.
Made me think of firemen in general—
and law enforcement at its best—
modeling the truth that threats are not to be denied or run from.
They are to be faced.
People are to be saved.
And ultimately people are not saved
by simply getting away from the immediate vicinity of the threat,
but by having the threat neutralized.

So if you have the training—
if it’s your job
(you see, it’s not just anyone’s responsibility),
if you have the training—the experience—
if it’s your job,
you run toward what’s most dangerous,
not from it.

What threats facing our culture and our world
are we as the people of God—
as people of faith—
with our unique training in grace—our experience in loving—
and our calling to live into grace and truth—
what threats are we running toward—to save people?

Given that the sermon title is “intrusive sex”,
given the call to worship,
you might be excused for thinking I was going to suggest
that sex might be one such threat!
And throughout church history, sex has often been deemed threat.
In some circles it still is—in which who’s doing what with whom
is evidently more important than pretty much anything else—
more dangerous to society than pretty much anything else!

But I’d like to suggest a threat facing us today
is really more the idea and the priority of a norm
within conversations about sex.
And when it comes to a “norm,”
I’m talking about what we understand to comprise
the usual, the typical, the standard—
a measure by which all sexual relationships are understood.

So let’s think about some of what we take for granted—
about assumptions we make on the basis of what we perceive as normal.

Were you aware that a heterosexual monogamous relationship
defined as marriage, and a nuclear family defined as two opposite-sex parents
with their own biological children
are actually minority lifestyles in our culture?
And yet they remain the ones we think describe the “norm.”
Last year 49% of all children born in this country were born to single mothers.
36% percent of all children in Maryland (466,000 of them) live in single parent homes.
Last year 4,286 babies born here in Maryland
were born to teenagers (15-19)—and that’s a 30% decrease since 2008

The Bible, in its wisdom and its honesty—
the Bible is actually more reflective of the diversity of sexual relationships—
much more real than any “norm” we’ve derived
from some interpretation of part of it.
Consider Father Abraham!
How many sons? Two.
With how many women? Two.
Sarai, his wife—and his half-sister,
and Hagar, Sarai’s slave.
Well, then there were Keturah’s six sons,
but they’re really not much a part of the story—
which ought to be part of the story!
And Hagar pretty much raised Ishmael as a single parent.
And Abraham’s grandson? Jacob? Father Israel—
twelve sons, one daughter—
with two wives—Rachel and Leah, his cousins—
and Zilpah and Bilhah, their handmaids.
Biblical family values—I’m sorry,
to anyone with more than a passing familiarity of biblical families,
even the idea of biblical family values is more than a little bit of a joke!

And I’d like us to consider one more assumption
we might make on the basis of scripture.
Because the initial scriptural sex command is this:
“Be fruitful and multiply”—
God’s word to Adam and Eve in Genesis (Genesis 1:28)—
repeated to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:7).

But the command that was originally critical for human survival,
is now critical to human survival.

It took all of human history—up until about 1800
to reach a world population of 1 billion.
That doubled in the next 130 years—by 1930.
We added another billion in the next 29 years, by 1959.
The fourth billion took just another 15 years, 1974,
the fifth, 13 more years, in 1987.
The sixth billion in just another 12 years, in 1999.
The seventh billion in another 12 years, in 2011.
The eighth billion is currently projected to be reached in 2024

So Scripture that was once relevant and significantly true
is now irrelevant and dangerously untrue.
Remember Jesus promised
the Spirit would guide us ever into truth (John 16:13)—
not permanently reaffirm what was once true.
A lot of us apparently don’t trust the Spirit—and the living word.

And let’s think too, about some of what we take for granted—
assumptions we make in light of changing societal norms.

In 1950, boys and girls typically experienced puberty
between the ages of 15 and 16.
Since then, it’s been getting earlier and earlier,
and now begins typically between the ages of 12 and 13.
The trajectory is continuing toward the younger
with 9 and 10 year olds not uncommonly going through puberty.

At the same time, in 1950,
the typical couple got married between the ages of 18 and 19.
And today, well, that’s now between the ages of 28 and 29.
To wait two to four years after going through puberty before having sex is one thing.
To wait 20 years is not just unrealistic
(according to the statistics, 85% of all people,
have had sex by the age of 21)—
it’s not just unrealistic to think people would wait 20 years,
it’s also an invitation to dysfunction!

So do we tell our young men and women
not to do what most of them will do
and pretend we’re relevant?
Or do we figure out whether we have anything to say
that will actually make a difference?
And I’m not talking about children—
though pregnant twelve year olds are not as uncommon as we would wish or think.
I’m not even so much talking about youth—
though half of all youth age 15-19 will have sex
(which also means, let us not forget, that half won’t).

We encourage waiting—recommend it—
we can expect it. We do expect it,
but only within the context of careful education and honest conversation
and always always always the assurance of love.
Otherwise we are old fogeys, out of touch with our own memories,
choosing rules over relationships.

For if Paul, who really believed it was better not to get married—
that not getting married was best for focusing on God—
if Paul could recognize—acknowledge the strength of sexual desire
and say, “Well, if you have to have sex, then get married—
even if it’s not what I believe is best (1 Corinthians 7:1-10),
then so too, can we believe it’s best to have sex within a marriage,
but recognize—acknowledge the strength of sexual desire
and say, “If you have to have sex, be safe. Be careful.
And never treat sex as simply a physical itch to scratch—
a hunger to feed.”
It’s a balance, isn’t it?
between what we clearly think is best,
and the freedom in which someone else will make their own choices
and we will deal with consequences together—
or it’s not what’s best we’re invested in.

And again, if we’re honest, most of us can remember
being 16 or 17—with that special someone—alone,
and it wasn’t what was best we were thinking about—
or maybe that was just me!

Finally, let’s think about some of what we take for granted—
some of what we assume—taking science into consideration.

Most of us, thinking about gender, think of male and female,
And if you’ve had a bit of genetics,
you might know that’s a matter of two chromosomes.
Most women are XX and most men are XY.

But it’s one gene on the Y chromosome that codifies a protein
the presence or absence of which dictates
the development of tissue into a clitoris or a penis—
the same tissue—isn’t that amazing?
While the mesothelial layer of the peritoneum
develops into either testicles or ovaries.
But this differentiation doesn’t happen until the tenth week
No one is conceived either male or female.

And there are chromosomal, gonadal, and hormonal
opportunities for … differences.
And some individuals are born with a single sex chromosome—
just X or just Y,
and some with three or more sex chromosomes:
Some males are born XX
with a tiny section of the sex-determining region of the Y chromosome;
some females are born XY due to mutations in the Y chromosome

In our country, every day,
five children are born what’s called intersexed
(that’s a new term I recently learned).
“Intersex is defined as a congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system”
That’s close to 2,000 children a year,
many of whom are surgically assigned a gender.

Now while we can indubitably fix some things that are wrong at birth,
sometimes we’re just changing what’s different.
We make it more familiar.
We make us more comfortable.
And sometimes that means making people located all along a spectrum
fit just two points on the spectrum.

So that cop show I was watching?
No one sees it, right?
Everyone’s being evacuated—running from the threat.
No one’s there to see the work being done—
by the few, the trained, the called, the responsible,
sealing away the pathogen—
risking infection themselves
for the hope of a future uninfected.

Let me suggest
it’s our job—it’s our responsibility—it’s our calling
to identify and seal away the toxins of misunderstanding, rejection, and hate—
risking infection—
risking being misunderstood, rejected, and hated
for the hope of a future uninfected.
And while part of that entails confronting what’s toxic—
exposing—rejecting—containing that,
more of it—most of it—involves
loving children—
affirming children—all children.

I think with sadness—I think with grief—of all the children—
the children who have been told implicitly and explicitly,
“Our rules are more important than you are,”
or who have been told implicitly and explicitly,
“there’s something wrong with you.
You need to change … or we need to change you.”
Children in such pain—
such isolation—
experiencing such rejection—
and so often in the very name of Jesus.

It’s really no surprise—should come as no surprise
that the suicide rate of lgbtq youth in our culture
is comparatively high—
not to mention incidents of bullying—
not to mention experiences of hate—
not to mention rates of teen pregnancy
(in denial—in efforts to fit in).

As long as we treat different as threat—
as long as we don’t acknowledge different—
don’t respect and appreciate different,
we hinder the gospel; we undermine the gospel;
we elevate perspective over prospective,
and we cheapen the idea of God as creator.

What if, instead, it had been the church—
what if it were yet to be the church—
leading the way?—
saying to each child—every child,
“You are wondrously made.
You are blessed.
You are loved.
You may not be like a lot of people.
That makes you special.
It also means that things might be hard,
but I promise we’ll be with you through what’s hard.
We will love you,
and we will always work with you for the richest options available to you.
Yes, we set expectations based on what we feel is healthiest and best,
but you are always more important than the rules we make to protect you,
and we will ever hold out for you, as we think God does for us,
the deepest love and the highest hopes and expectations.

Within our great freedom,
we hold onto great responsibility
for health—for integrity—for possibility.

Within the mystery—the mystery of what it means to be human,
we hold on to and honor God as creator
and all of us as creation.

And make no mistake, this is so very important theologically—
so very important for our thinking about God.
For if we think of God as creator,
are we seriously thinking of diversity as a mistake,
or some part of “fallen” nature—something for us to fix?
Or are we thinking of diversity as something to be honored?
And, if so, then we can’t think of majority as that which determines
a norm into which everyone then needs to fit—
or be made to fit.

Today, in the normal course of a lectionary year,
we would celebrate Reformation Sunday—
remembering Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses
in protest on the church doors.
Did you see the one exhortation
“nailed” to all our entrance doors this morning?
“Above all, love each other deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins”
1 Peter 4:8 (NIV).
How many times have we failed our world
and our calling and each other
in deciding we had something more important to do than love?
Talk about taking God’s name in vain.

Threats are not to be denied or run from.
They are to be faced.
People are to be saved.
So if you have the training—
if it’s your job,
you run toward what’s most dangerous,
not from it.

And within threats comprised of ideological norms
and ideological rules and violence and divisiveness—
rejection—hate—small mindedness—
and fear—so much fear
saturating our culture and flooding our world,
are we as the people of God—
as people of faith—
with our training in transformation
and our calling to grace,
are we brave enough—
are we committed enough—
do we love well enough—completely enough—
to run toward people suffering—
to run toward people suffering injustice—
to run toward people suffering exploitation—
to run toward people suffering exclusion?

Time and time again,
the critical problem—
the threat—that contaminates our present
and overshadows our future—
is not who is different,
but who is not loved.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
has named this “Let’s Talk” month.
We should take that as both calling and invitation,
and let’s talk within the context of faith and worship—
about what’s really going on—
not what we wish were—
not what once was—
not about what would make us more comfortable.
So amidst all that’s toxic in our culture,
for God’s sake, and each other’s, let’s be real.
Let’s be honest.
Let’s risk vulnerability.
Let’s risk real conversation.
And let’s love.
Above all else, let’s love.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Jeremiah 29:11
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.


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