Breaking Rank: A woman wrestling with God

jesus-centurion

Matt 8:5-13

I am a flawed preacher.

I know when you read that you think I’m referring to me- my personhood- I am a preacher who has flaws. While this is absolutely true and we will discuss that but no, what I mean is

I am a flawed preacher

in that

my preaching is flawed.

I’m not the worst preacher in the world. I’m a good story teller which is a hallmark of good preaching. I can describe the Biblical stories in such detail that you can almost smell the three fish and five loaves of bread being passed around to the masses. And I can make your mouth water, I can make you hunger for the miracles that Jesus can perform.

Or I can capture for you the temptation of Christ- when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I can make you see the red of the stone. When we think about a wilderness, we think of a forest but in the wilderness where Jesus was tempted there was red rock and nothing. No grass. No life. No trees. No place to hide. There was only red rock. And there was Satan. Standing there staring into his eyes. And I could describe for you the red of his eyes, red with the flames of hell’s fire that burned where his soul ought to be. I could describe the heat of his hatred toward Jesus as he attempted to compel Jesus to turn away from God. I could make you feel that heat on the back of your neck because he hates you too. The enemy hates everyone who is loved by God.

I’m a good storyteller but that isn’t what makes a great preacher.

And I am decent at discussing Biblical and cultural concepts, which is important for good preaching. I can contribute sociological, philosophical, and political polemics. If you listen to me Sunday after Sunday you can hear what I think. What I think about homosexuality, educational equity in public schools, the Justice system. If you listen to me Sunday after Sunday you can hear where I stand on the issues of this country, of this world. But that isn’t what makes a great preacher.

You see, what makes a great preacher – if you were to head over to my minister of music, Dr. Phillip’s church and listen to him preach or if you were to attend Myers Park and listen to Dr. Howell for several Sundays or if you were to listen to some of the historical greats

Gardner C. Taylor

Howard Thurman

Martin Luther King, Jr. – and I don’t mean his speeches, I mean his sermons. If you were to listen to him preach in that over heated and over crowded congregation at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia- you would hear not a good but a great preacher. And what made him a great preacher was his ability to reveal himself. If you were to listen to him, Sunday after Sunday, you would hear about his family. You would hear about his children, how he got along with Coretta. You would see the man that smoked cigarettes way too much and loved women way too much.

You would see the man, the human, the fallible, the breakable man- you would get a glimpse of the man he was. The man that he was becoming. The man who was wrestling with God.

That is the mark of a great preacher.

I don’t do that.

I have a terrible habit of hiding behind the Biblical text. I can talk to you about the Bible all day. I can talk to you about Christian ethics all day but it is very difficult for me to talk about myself, to reveal myself. Of course, there is a reason for that. The first reason is that I began preaching when I was 15 years old. I didn’t have a great deal of life experiences to reflect on or reveal at that time. I wasn’t pulling from a deep well of wisdom and knowledge.

And The second reason is that I became a preacher when I was 15 years old. My first sermon was on obedience. Think about that for a moment. If you have a 15 year old in the household or if you can remember being 15, then you know that 15 years old is the height, the peak of teenage rebellion and here I was talking about obedience. Talking about the importance of submitting yourself to God, to your church, to your parents, to the authority of this world and when I punctuated my last period. And I closed my mouth. And I lowered the microphone. The congregation went crazy. And something happened. Something happened that changed the way that people perceived and interacted with me from that moment on- I became a preacher.

When you become a preacher, especially in the Black church, you become different. There is a great hope for your life fore all of the greatest black leaders were produced by the Black Church so you are held to a different standard. You are faced with higher expectations. You are put on a pedestal. You are important. When you become a preacher, especially in the Black church, you become an important person.

Importance and perfection go hand in hand. You are an important person, you are not allowed to make mistakes. There is no room for failure- which is why I had a 4.3 gpa in high school, a 4.0 gpa in college. Because you can’t fail. You can’t fall, dust yourself off and learn from your bad choices- to begin to add to a well of knowledge and wisdom. No. to be important is to be stuck in suspended animation and arrested development. To be important is to be incapable of revealing your bad choices. Your mistakes. Your failures. Your weaknesses. To be important is to be perceived as perfect.

But I don’t desire to be important. I desire to be a great preacher. And so I desire for you to get a glimpse of the woman- the fallible, the breakable woman- the woman that I am. The woman that I am becoming. The woman who is wrestling with God.

So allow me to reveal my first bucket of wisdom from my well of knowledge: attempting to be perfect does not in fact make you perfect. You can attempt to do everything right and still get it all wrong. There are moments in life when what is right is clashing up against what is right. Even and especially with Christianity your ethics will begin to collide with one another.

Your Christian ethics call for you to be a good Christian leader. You can go to church, Sunday school, Bible study, prison ministry, soup kitchens, read your bible, witness to your friends and your coworkers.

Then your Christian ethics call for you to be a good wife and mother or to work your hardest to realize those roles in your life. Because no matter how important you are, no matter how many feminist classes you took,  our Christian ethics still suggest that a woman’s value is placed squarely in her relation to a man and her relation to a child.

Then your Christian ethics call for you to get into the habit of submitting and being obedient to the man who is to be your husband, the head of your household, the father of your children. When your opinions clash

and you say “we are Christians. We have to wait.”

and he says “No. We. Don’t.”

your Christian ethics say defer, submit. obey. OBEY.  Your Christian ethics tell you to stop being the controlling black shrew, the overbearing black woman who attempts to call all of the shots in everything, to stop being the reason why black women can’t keep black men around, to stop being the reason that black women can’t keep black men from leaving.

Isn’t that what they teach you?

Isn’t it true

that no matter how important you are, you are only the stereotypes that are wrapped around you?

And your kind?

Think about it, President Obama is the Leader of the free world, he is in fact, the most important man in the world but to so many he is simply just another nigger.

No matter how hard he attempts to get it right, he will still get it wrong.

So what do you do?

What do you do when no matter how hard you try to get it right, you get it all wrong? What do you do when despite your best efforts everything still goes to hell?

Take a glimpse at the woman that I am, the woman that I am becoming. The woman who is wrestling with God.

What do you do? I think about Job. I think about the text that describes the moment in his life when everything is taken from him. When he lost his children. His health. His wife. His everything. And I always wondered why the next verse wasn’t “so he went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of whiskey and drank until he couldn’t remember what it felt like to hold his children in his arms when they were born.

and drank until he couldn’t remember how it felt when he was informed that they had died.

and drank until he couldn’t remember the look in his wife’s face when she said to curse God and die. That would have made it more realistic. Because that’s what people do.

What do you do? I think about Joseph. I think about how he was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, lied on a by a girl he wasn’t even checkin’ for, and thrown into prison unduly. I wonder why the next verse isn’t that he went to the drug dealer and got high. Got high until he couldn’t remember what it felt like to be thrown into a pit and watch his brothers, his own flesh and blood, walk away. Why the next verse isn’t that he watched porn until he couldn’t remember his dreams or the promises of God. That would have been so much more realistic. Because that’s what people do. what do you do?

That’s the paradox of the human condition. We respond to the pain and destructiveness of this world by doing painful and destructive things to ourselves. We respond to the brokenness of the world by breaking ourselves. And It gets to the point that we cannot identify the brokenness on the outside from the brokenness on the inside. It gets to the point that we cannot separate brokenness from brokenness. It’s the compulsion to hurt ourselves when we are hurting that we need healing from. It’s the reason that we need Jesus.

We need his power.

We need his healing.

We need his deliverance.

So that’s what we do at Church. We continuously get down on our knees to beg Jesus for his power, his healing, his deliverance.

But when you are an important person, trapped in a facade of perfection, it becomes difficult to get on your knees.

In our text today we find an important person, a centurion, who had the audacity to get on his knees.

He was a roman soldier seeking help for his servant. He was not just a regular foot soldier but someone important. He had soldiers under his authority. He had servants. He was a soldier of value. He was a man who had a future. He probably had a career path to rank up even higher than he was. If you have ever seen the movie Gladiator you know that a good soldier could even be recommended to become Caesar one day. He must have had a large  sword and a large shield (the bigger they are, the more important the soldier). Imagine, then, the spectacle when this man of high honor, of high value, of high importance breaking rank- throwing down his sword and shield- to bow down to an Israelite, to a nobody, to Jesus. Imagine for a moment how the masses of people would turn and look. And whisper. And speculate, pointing and staring and saying

“Look at that important person bowing down before Jesus.”

But he didn’t care what people said about him because he knew that only Jesus could help him. He was audacious and unapologetic.

He wasn’t afraid of speculation.

He wasn’t afraid of judgement.

He wasn’t afraid to break rank.

Because he needed help. He needed Jesus.

I can identify with this soldier. I feel like this soldier. So many have said to me that you cannot submit yourself  in this way. You have too many speaking engagements, you have too great of a career ahead of you, you who can one day be Bishop, don’t do this. You are too important.

But I can identify with this soldier, audacious and unapologetic. Unafraid of speculation or judgement, unafraid to drop my sword and shield and break rank.

Because I need Jesus. Because he is the only one who can help me.

My second bucket of wisdom from my well of knowledge is this (I only have two buckets by the way. The well is still not very deep):

It doesn’t  matter how big your title is, being a Bishop can’t save you.

It doesn’t matter how big your church is, being a mega-pastor can’t save you.

It doesn’t matter if you have a book that is on the New York Time’s Best seller’s list. Being a prolific writer can’t save you.

It doesn’t matter where you get your doctoral degree, your degrees can’t save you.

The only one who can save you is Jesus.

Take a glimpse at the woman that I am. The woman that I am becoming. The woman who is wrestling with God.

And so I will always break rank. And get on my knees publicly, before anyone and everyone. I am not too important to beg for his power, for his deliverance, for his healing.

And I could really get excited about the power of Jesus. His healing power. I could put him on the cross and whoop and holler until I punctuate my last period. But I am not ready for the conclusion yet.

Because I have neglected to mention the last component that makes for a good preacher. And that is prophetic witness. And I have prophetic power in spades.

I can speak up when something is awry.

The Church, the institution, is awry.

The Church is supposed to be the place where people should be able to come to throw down their sword and their shields and receive Jesus’ healing. The Church should be the soldier running to Jesus crying out “my servant is sick, please help!” Instead, too often, the servants are yelled at and ridiculed

“How dare you be sick! Don’t you know that you are my servant! You are the servant of importance, indeed, the servant of the Roman empire?!”

And the servants of the church, the leaders of the church, the members of the church, so often are not prayed for, lifted up, advocated for, but are instead broken even more.

I was raised by the church. I was produced for the church. I work for the church. I am the church. And I have been deeply wounded and harmed by the church. And so I stand in prophetic witness. I stand by, I stand with, I stand for anyone who has ever been hurt by the church. who has ever been burned by the sacred spaces where they should have found healing but only found more brokenness.

Take a glimpse of the woman who I am. The woman who I am becoming. The woman wrestling with God.

That’s why my peers do not come to church. That is why churches are closing down by the thousands. It’s not because of the music (believe it or not we like the songs our grandmothers sang to us). It is not because of the lack of technology (we have enough technology in our phones to satisfy us for a lifetime). It’s because the church is not a safe space to be broken.

That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous is a Christian organization that operates outside of the church. What do people do there? All they do is get healing. They get deliverance. Why is it that it is separate from the work of the church? Why is it that it is anonymous? Because The church doesn’t allow you to ache. to hurt. To be broken. Because if you can’t fake perfection here, you are not welcome here.

The simple answer is, like so many other disillusioned Christians, to just leave. That’s what millennials do, after all. When something is hard, or painful, or difficult, we quit. We press delete. That’s our modus operandi. To leave the Church and never look back. 

But me…

I want you to see me. I am a woman who, like Jacob, is wrestling with God. And I won’t let go.

I won’t let go until you protect my family.

I won’t let go until you touch my congregation.

I won’t let go until you restore the Church universal.

I won’t let go until you bless me.

Me. I won’t let go until you bless me.

It is me. It is me. It is me

it is me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

In the need of power.

In the need of deliverance.

In the need of healing.

Take a glimpse of me.

Of the Woman that I am. The woman that I am becoming.

The woman who is wrestling with God.

The Gospel According to Caitlyn Jenner

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I went to a carnival yesterday. My boyfriend and I were running errands in Matthew, NC and ran into a street fair. Every road was blocked off so we decided to just park and join in on the festivities.  As we walked toward the fair, there was someone standing on the corner protesting. One of those Christians, you know? He had a sign that said something to the effect of “America is going to hell because of science and homosexuals!!!” You all know me, I wanted to go up and talk to the man. But I was promptly told “you are not at work right now” so as I waited at the light to cross the street, using all the energy I had to hold my tongue, I witnessed a sad encounter between the man and a young woman. The woman, in great earnestness and with sincerity in her eyes, she said,

“You know, It’s not that I don’t believe in Jesus, I do not deny his existence. I just really want to know why are Christians so hateful? I have a really good friend, he’s transgender. Why, why do you hate him? You don’t even know him and you hate him!”

The man spouted off some trite tirade about sin and damnation and then the light changed and it was time to cross the street. I regret walking away from that conversation. It kept me up all night. I wanted so badly to tell the woman, “Listen, honey, the Christians who are yelling the loudest are not the best representatives of our faith, they are just the only ones we hear. I love Jesus. Jesus loves your friend.  And it is his great desire for me to love your friend as well. I don’t even know him… and I love him.”

It kept me up all night. Her poignant question rings as clear as a bell,

“Why are Christians so hateful?” 

It’s a good question. A question I pondered when I watched on the news, the story on repeat of Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk who refused to distribute marriage licenses to same sex couples.  I watched as the Christian community called her a martyr, which is an insult to the legacy of Christian martyrdom. She is a martyr only of her own ignorance and hatred.

The questions rings as clear as a bell. It keeps me up at night:

Why are Christians so hateful?

Being a Christian today, it’s discouraging. It’s disconcerting. Honestly, it’s embarrassing.

It’s embarrassing to be affiliated with people like the man at the carnival- yelling at the top of his lungs that homosexuals were bound for hell.

It’s embarrassing to be affiliated with Kim Davis, refusing to sanction two people who are in love.

It’s so embarrassing to go to church, to go to church conferences, and  listen to the archaic, uninformed, unimpressive conversations about homosexuality. As an institution, we the Church are so behind in our understanding of sexuality, homosexuality, in particular.

It is so exhausting to hear this tired conversation again and again, repeating this sames 3 or five verses condemning homosexuality.

We love to read these verses at the top of our lungs while not realizing that  in the same chapter we regretfully do not acknowledge the fact that

we also love  red lobster, that abominable shrimp is too good to pass up.

We also love our polyester blend, who really cares if we wear mixed fabric or not?

We also love our pig skin football. When God said “don’t eat pork, don’t even touch it” (Deuteronomy 14:8), surely he wasn’t talking about the Carolina Panther’s pig skin!”

The conversation about homosexuality is hypocritical, it’s uninformed, and it’s old. Ok. I said it. It’s so old. We have been having the same conversation for  the last 50 years, at least. The world has changed. The understanding of sexuality has completely changed.

I don’t know if you spend any time with teenagers but their understanding of sexuality, the sexual self, is completely different from our own formation. Whenever a teenager wanders into my office I say “how is your boyfriend… or girlfriend?” Who knows what is going on with them! A teen is crying about his girlfriend one moment and introducing his boyfriend to you the next.  There is a generation of people coming of age whose sexuality is so fluid. Things are different now.

And as quiet as it’s kept… that generation is not the only one. As much as we like to keep it a secret, sexuality is pretty fluid among our generation and our parent’s generation as well.

I mean you are as straight as they come… except that one time when you had too much tequila and woke up next to a man.

Or you love your husband and children so you don’t think about the three months in college when you had a girlfriend… it was only a phase after all…

We want homosexuality to be a clear cut, it’s a black and white issue. It’s a sin, being heterosexual is not a sin. We have the texts to prove it. But it isn’t black and white. It’s complex. It’s intricate. And as the Church, we don’t even have the language to even understand the different complexities of sexuality in society. That ends today. In this church we will, at the very least, consider the different fibers of sexuality.  so let’s begin:

First, there is sex. Sex refers to a person’s biological makeup. Sexual organs. Things like gonads, reproductive organs, and chromosomes. Are you born XX or XY? Sex seems clear cut but not even sex is not black and white like we want to make it. Many children are born with both sexual organs. Or not enough. Or neither. Doctors and parents make the decision about the sex of a child more often than you think. It happens all of the time. You probably didn’t know that because the thing about sex is that

it is none of you business.

People are always asking “is that a boy or a girl?,” but really it is none of your concern. What is going on underneath my robe- unless you want to buy me a house, a car, and put a ring on my finger- it is none of  your business.  And neither is anyone else’s sex.

Second, there is gender. Gender refers to the ways that we act out behaviors associated with our sex. Gender is the performance of being male or female. My gender is the reason why I am currently wearing heels too high to walk in. Gender is the way that girls try to sway their hips when they become preteens. Gender is what makes little boys puff out their chest to make them look tough even though crocodile tears are flowing down their cheeks. Gender is boys in blue and girls in pink. Gender is behavior. Gender is a verb.

Then there is gender conforming and gender nonconforming. Gender conforming or gender normativity is when a person identifies with their own biological sex and behaves accordingly. The princesses who loved pink, grew up to love pink, and raised their own princesses. The boys who loved dirt, football, and burps and grew up to raise boys who love dirt, football, and burps. That is gender conforming.

Then there is gender nonconforming. Gender non-conformity is when a person’s sense of self is incongruous with their biological sex. You have seen them throughout your life. When I was little, I had two older brothers. I dressed and played, and acted like them. I despised dresses. I wanted nothing more to run and jump and get dirty on my dirt bike with my brothers. We call that being a tomboy. It’s called being gender nonconforming. We all know gender nonconformists. Little girls who hate dresses. Little boys who rather be cheerleaders than football players. We have seen it. Why are they not welcome at the Church?

And then there are those who are gender non-conforming and find that they so completely identify with the opposite sex that they totally disassociate with their own gender-transgender individuals,- or totally disassociate with their own sex- transsexuals. Caitlyn Jenner is transgender. She was born a man, became a famous Olympian but then realized that the person that she is on the inside is female and not male. So she began to dress, behave, and assume the identity of the woman that believed she was born to be. Why is she not welcome at the Church?

Then there is sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is external rather than internal. It is not about your body like sex, it’s not about your identity like gender, it is about your affinity. It is about who you are attracted to.

Heterosexuals are who we all pretend to be (I said it). Heterosexuals are those who are attracted to the opposite sex. When a man loves a woman, when a woman loves a man.

Homosexuals are those who are attracted to the same sex. When a man loves a man. When a woman loves a woman.

Bisexuals are those who are attracted to both men and women. Bisexuals get no love from either heterosexuals or homosexuals. We all think they need to pick a team.

There are asexuals, those who do not perceive any sexual attraction to either males or females.

Sexual orientation is complex. We want to make it a black and white issue but it is not. Are people born gay or do they decide to be gay? The answer is yes. We all have the nephew who we knew he was gay when he was three years old at the family reunion when he wanted to dance with the girls instead of play with the boys. We knew when he was three, before he had any idea what sex was so of course we weren’t surprised when he brought his boyfriend home for thanksgiving, how could be we be? Come on you know you had that nephew!  Are homosexuals born gay? We all know that the answer is yes.

Do people decide to be gay? The answer is yes.  If a little girl was habitually raped by her stepfather from the time that she was 6 until the time that she is 16 and does not find safety or intimacy in the arms of a man is she wrong for deciding to find love in the arms of a woman? Of course you have your opinion but who are you tell her how to give or receive love? Is homosexuality a decision? yes.

It is not black and white. It is complex. You can be a male, gender non-conforming heterosexual. You can be a female, gender-conforming homosexual. You can be a female, transgender, asexual or anything in between and no matter who you are or how you identify you should be welcome at the Church but such people typically are not welcome.

Why? because…

Christians are not welcoming.

Christians are not hospitable.

Christians are hypocritical.

Christians are hateful

to those who are not cis gender heterosexuals. And

it’s discouraging. It’s disconcerting. Honestly, it’s embarrassing.

And the only reason that I do not leave this institution is because I am a company woman. And I believe in the product of my company. I believe in our product.  And our product is salvation. And we are selling our product at a very reasonable price. We are giving it away for free. I believe that the Church has something to give. serenity. and peace. and hope. and eternal life. We have the best product there is and his name is Jesus.

But we Christians, we the followers of Christ, We have lost our heritage. We have lost our identity entirely. We are the children of God. And God is love. How is it that we are marked by and known for our hate?

We have to reclaim our identity. We have to figure out again what does it actually mean to be Christian?

Paul, in the book of Galatians, asked the same question, “what does it really mean to be a Christian?”

Paul was preaching during a time when the Christian church was going through a major identity crisis.  The first Christians were a group of rag-tag Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.  They believed that in order to accept Jesus you had to convert to the Jewish identity which included circumcision, a strict diet, and all sorts of rules that made a Jew a Jew.

To them, Christians shouldn’t eat shrimp (Which means No Red Lobster)

To them, Christians shouldn’t wear mixed fabric (Which means say good-bye to your favorite t-shirt because it is most assuredly 50% cotton and 50% polyester.)

To them Christians should not touch pork (Which means football season is canceled indefinitely).

Circumcision, eating shrimp, touching pork, these things don’t mean anything to you but to first century Christians, it meant everything. Being Jewish was everything. And they were so adamant about Jewish culture that it got in the way of spreading the Gospel because they came off as

not welcoming

and inhospitable.

and hypocritical

and hateful.

Paul says in Galatians that we must reclaim and hold fast to our identity. Our identity is not our customs, it is not our ancient beliefs, our identity is in Christ. And whatever we need to do to get this message of Christ to the rest of the world, that is what we must do. Even if that means changing the thoughts that we held dear, whether it be about shrimp or sexuality, it simply doesn’t matter. Even if it means letting go of the things that we think are the most important, whether that is circumcision or homosexual marriage, it doesn’t matter.

His words ring as clear as a bell:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God though faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,

nor is there male or female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29).  

He says so clearly that it doesn’t matter if you are Jew or gentile. It doesn’t matter your race or ethnicity, it doesn’t matter your gender, sex, or sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter if you are

heterosexual

or homosexual

or bisexual

or asexual

we are all one in Christ.

It is time for us to heed the words of Paul and to put down our heritage of hatred and reclaim our heritage in the love of Jesus Christ. It is time for us to receive the Caitlyn Jenners of the world with welcoming, hospitable, sympathetic, and loving arms. For this is the Church. This is their home. We are all home here.

In Christ.

Amen.

To Smash or To Pass?

I Corinthians 7:1-10

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For some reason the Christian tradition looks almost exclusively to Paul’s writing for the basis of Christian sexual ethics. A particularly favorite text in talking about appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity is I Corinthians 7. When we look at I Corinthians 7:1-10 we find Paul not overly excited about the institution of marriage. He states that he would prefer that no one get married but if there are married people that is ok. He offers advice about sexual engagement inside the sanctity of marriage, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband” (Corinth 7:3). He advises the unmarried to remain unmarried but concedes that celibacy is a spiritual gift (Corinthians 7:7) and if one finds abstinence too hard then “they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (Corinthians 7:9).  It’s important to note that Paul isn’t excited about marriage because he believed that Christ was about to return at any moment. And he believed that Christians should be less concerned with settling down and getting married and more concerned with reigning in the kingdom of God.

With that being said, I am not exactly sure why his ideas about marriage and sex are the foundation for Christian ethics but so it is.  The Christian Tradition capitalizes on Paul’s words to clearly and explicitly state that sex should only happen within the confines of marriage. The Tradition states that any sexual encounter outside the Holy Covenant of marriage is a sin. We have used the word “fornication” to describe a sexual act outside of marriage and we believe that is it sexually immoral, sinful, and wrong.

Now, I could trouble this argument if I wanted to. I could begin by pointing out that by his own admission, celibacy is a spiritual gift that not all are gifted with (I Corinth 7:7). But I am not going to do that. Or I could point out that outside of Paul’s reflections on sex and sexual immorality, the Bible is full of sexual encounters that are beautiful, that are prescriptive even- that do not take place within the confines of marriage. But I am not going to do that.  I could show, if I had time to teach you all ancient Greek, that  the word “fornication” does not mean “sex outside of marriage” – that is a very lazy and uncritical definition of the word. But no, I’m not going to do that.  Or I could show how our present, Western, modern understanding of marriage today looks absolutely nothing like marriage as it is depicted in the Bible and so perhaps our sexual ethics should evolve just as our understanding of marriage has evolved. But no, no, I am not going to do any of those things. It is not my intention nor my end today to argue with the Tradition. So as the Pastor, as the guarantor of our tradition and the mantle holder of our faith, it is incumbent upon me to stand flat-footed and proclaim these words:

Sex outside of marriage is a sin.  

There. I said it. And if the Bishop comes by asking you how I feel about sex outside of marriage, I want you to be able to clearly state these words. Say it with me, “Sex outside of marriage is a sin.”

Now, I could speak for 20 minutes about how bad it is to engage in any sexual practice outside of marriage, use my words to cut and convict you- make you cry and run to the alter full of shame and remorse but I am not going to do that today either. I am not going to do that because I am not stating anything that you do not already know- everyone was taught from a young age that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But the reality is

The masses of men and women are having sex. Married. Single. Divorced. Widowed.

People are having sex. And the church has only two responses to that reality, the Church either says nothing at all or the church says “wait until you are married.” It is clear that this “wait until you are married” rhetoric is anachronistic and unhelpful for the masses of Christians for several reasons:

First, generally speaking, many if not most Americans have their first sexual encounter – they are faced with the opportunity to engage in sex or some sexual activity, before the legal marrying age. Teenagers, Sometimes even younger, are experiencing, exploring, and experimenting with their sexuality and because of that reality it is unusual- although not unheard of- but unusual for one to be a virgin at the point of marriage. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject.

Second, generally speaking, marriage happens a lot later today than it ever has before. 60 years ago, the average American entered marital bliss around the age of 18. Now it is not uncommon for marriage to take place almost ten years later. Or 12. Or 15. or 30. Many people are choosing to get married later on in life and are cultivating sexual ethics outside the lens of marriage. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject.

Third, marriage, today, has a pesky tendency to end. The divorce rate is rising higher than the marriage rate. And there are many Christians who have tried marriage, hated it, and find themselves unmarried trying to figure out what their sexual habits should be now that they are single again. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject. What’s more, there are those who have had long, happy, prosperous marriages but their spouses have died. There are many widows and widowers who are no longer in the “married” category but may not be ready to just “get married again” as Paul recommends in I Corinthians 7, but who nevertheless have sexual desires and sexual needs and are wondering what they should and should not do. The Church should have something to say about this. But we are silent on the subject.

Congregations today are filled with people who are not married. They are not of marrying age yet and they are having sex. They are single, never married. And they are having sex. They are single, divorced. And they are having sex. They are single, widowed. And they are having sex. The masses of men and women are having sex.  And the church’s archaic, underdeveloped, unsympathetic conversation about healthy sexual ethics for all regardless of marital status or worse yet, the Church’s total silence on the issue has left the Christian community, especially the Black Christian community,  in crisis.

People who are unmarried are desperate for some guide, some advice, some tools to navigate living a sexual life. They are so desperate for the water that the Church chooses not to provide that they will drink the sand. That’s how it is possible for a man like Steve Harvey to write best seller called “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” Steve Harvey, a 6 time divorcee and professional entertainer SHOULD NOT be the spokesman and expert on Black women’s sexuality. But the Church will not speak and the masses are desperate for anyone to stand and provides some ethics, some rules to live by. Your sexual ethics should not come from Love & Hip Hop, or Oprah, or Iyanla Vanzant, or the locker room, or the barber shop, or the beauty shop. Your sexual ethics should be grounded and shaped right here in your community of faith.

That means that we will have to do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the abominable… We are going to have to start offering practical sexual advice for the unwed at church. Because “just don’t have sex” isn’t helping anyone. So today I am going to offer practical sexual ethics for those who are not married. In order  guide this conversation, we are going to play a little game that I have named “Smash or Pass?”

I will offer five scenarios and you will have to determine whether it is appropriate to smash (engage in sexual intercourse) or Pass (Choose not to engage in sexual intercourse).

Let’s Play:

  1. You are 15 years old. And you have been talking to your little girlfriend for a couple of months now. Or your little boyfriend gets your nails done. He buys you whole meals from McDonald’s not just the dollar menu (I’m not just talking to teenagers, I know some of you older women think like this too… don’t lie) and you really like him. Or her.  Do you smash or pass?

PASS! 

Yes, pass. Christians must begin to make mature and thoughtful sexual decisions at a young age. You will be faced with sexual encounters, you will be faced with the decision on what to do with your body and with whom from now until forever. And instead of bouncing from sexual encounter to sexual encounter until you figure out what is going on, you should pass. Sex is a complicated thing, to do it in a healthy way you must be able to do some very difficult things, like talk openly about expectations, safety, hopes, fears- it takes a certain maturity that you simply do not have right now. And if you can say now “I am mature enough to know that I am not mature enough to do this” and begin to make clear sexual boundaries now, the easier it will be to create healthy sexual habits later on in life.” Anyone under 18, just pass. (I am not saying that at 18 you should have sex like rabbits, that is not the point)

Now mind you, I said ANYONE under 18. We have a problem in our community in that we give young boys a license for sexual freedom and yet we want to control the sexuality of young girls. Who do you think they are having sex with? We turn a blind eye or say it is ok for a young man to stick his ding-a-ling into everything and then wonder why 15 year old’s keep getting pregnant. It’s time to change the culture of the sexual environment. Teach the young girls AND the young boys about maturity, and control, and restraint. If both young men and young women can get in the habit of learning when to say yes and when to say no, things will be different in our community.

2.  You have recently met someone. You met her at a club and got her number and you two have been texting heavy. Or you met him because he’s your brother’s baby’s mamma’s cousin’s friend. You two have been texting heavy. And you decide to hang out so you agree to meet up to “watch Netflix and chill.” The movie sucks but the conversation is on point and honestly you know you didn’t come to watch a movie anyway. Things begin to steam up really fast.

You are ready. He is ready.

You are ready. She is ready.

But you reach in your pocket and realize you do not have a condom. You ask,

“Are you on birth control?”

she says, “yea and don’t worry I’m safe.”

or he asks you and you are on birth control, and he seems safe, and he’s so hot. In the heat of the moment do you pass or smash?

PASS!

You all are a mess! You said pass when all the children running around here were conceived in that particular scenario! This moment will happen again and again. The goal to fostering healthy and safe sexual practices is to be able to slow down the moment enough to consider what it is you are about to do. Slow down long enough to ask yourself “Should I smash or should I pass?” And begin to practice passing when you know it is not a good idea. Self control is not intuitive, it is a muscle that must be exercised. So many get into this situation or similar situations and they quite literally do not know to stop. Men and women alike, they cannot stop themselves, they cannot stop the moment, they cannot stop their partner. You must learn to practice restraint- for the sake of your soul (remember, this is sin we are talking about) but also for the sake of your health. Chlamydia is charging through Charlotte, NC like wildfire. The average rate of infection is higher here than the NC average, it’s higher here than the national average! And that is just chlamydia, we all know that if you do not learn self control you can mess around and get something that antibiotics won’t get rid of. So remember ask yourself “should I smash or should I pass” or in other words “What am I doing?”

3.  You have been in a relationship for several months now. And you think this one is the one. You are taking her home to meet your mother at thanksgiving and that is a very big deal. You have gotten to the point where you can’t imagine life without him and you have never felt that way before. You are both in it for the long haul. Do you smash or do you pass?

SMASH!

OK so here is the thing, sex outside of marriage is a sin, remember. But for whatever reason, in today’s society sexual compatibility is a major part of selecting a life partner. A man asks himself:

  1. Does she get along with my mother?
  2. Can she cook?
  3. Is she a lady in the street and a freak in the bed?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, then we can’t get married.

A woman similarly asks herself:

  1. Does he have a job?
  2. Is he faithful and honest?
  3. Can he lay it down at night?

If the answer is no to any of these questions then I cannot marry him.

Sexual compatibility is a big part of how Americans choose their spouses. It has not always been that way but for whatever reason it is so now. Again, marriage, how we do it and how we choose it, has changed. In order to have healthy sexual habits you must be intentional. It should matter to you who you choose to take as a sexual partner. And sexual intimacy should be meaningful and purposeful. It should lead somewhere. To marriage. You know, so you get out of sin… remember? So in asking yourself “do I smash or pass?’ ask yourself “who am I having sex with?”

4. Your wife of ten years won her battle against cancer and went on to be with the Lord a few years ago. At first the grief was unbearable and while it still hurts every single day, its more of a quiet pain, rather than an earth quaking terror. It helps that you have met someone. She held you while you cried over another woman and laughed with you as you shared cherished memories. She has been there for you in a time when you have desperately needed someone. Do you smash or do you pass?

SMASH! 

The conversation about Christian sexuality  is so narrow that is often leaves out those who have been married before. Marriage ends sometimes. Death occurs. The spouse may die or the marriage itself may die, ending in divorce. But one thing that does not die is a person’s need for love, companionship, and intimacy.

5. Last one, you finally broke it off with that no account, low down, broke ass negro (I said it) and you have sworn off men and are focused on getting your life together. Only problem is that you are so. damn. lonely. There is a guy who you invited over just to have someone around. You don’t like this guy. He isn’t your type. You don’t find him attractive. You have nothing in common. But, again, you are so. damn.  lonely. He leans in and kisses you.  Do you smash or do you pass?

PASS!

People have sex for all sorts of reasons. Because they are lonely. Because they feel unwanted. Because they need to feel a sense of power or control. Because they want to feel desired. Because they are depressed. People have sex for all sorts of reasons. These are all really bad reasons to have sex. Sex is a beautiful thing, it is a gift from God and it should a profound expression of love. If your sex is an outpouring of tremendous unspeakable care, adoration, and passion for your partner, then by all means, smash away (It’s a sin though, just warning you) but if it is not, If you are just bored. Lonely. Sad. Depressed. Drunk. Pass, just pass.

Friends, beginning at youth and throughout the rest of your life you will find yourself in encounters where the occasion to have sex will arise. In order to have healthy, safe sexual practices you must take the time to ask yourself

What am I doing?

Who am I doing it with?

Why am I doing it?

In other words “Do I smash or do I pass?”

Learn to answer this question with honesty and integrity and you are well on your way to abandoning a life of sin.

As your pastor, as the great guarantor of the tradition and the mantle holder of our faith, I must state boldly that

sex outside of marriage is a sin.

Really, that is all I am allowed to say. You are a sinner in the hands of an angry God. And then I am supposed to remain silent.

I am supposed to remain silent as 15 year olds keep getting pregnant.

I am supposed to remain silent as HIV/AIDS continues to slaughter  our community.

I am supposed to remain silent while men keep trying to find confidence and power in women’s panties, only to wake up each morning still feeling out of control and powerless.

I am supposed to remain silent as women keep looking for the love they never received as a child in the arms of this man, and that man, and that man over there, only to wake up each morning with absolutely no understanding of true love.

I am supposed to be silent. But no. I am not going to do that today. Today I am coming down from my lofty, high, holy, hypocritical seat in order to look you eye to eye and meet you exactly where you are.

I am going rogue today.

But I am not the first to go rogue, I come from a long legacy of prophets who have gone rogue. One such prophet left his lofty, high, holy seat in heaven in order to walk the streets and teach, looking at his children directly in their eyes. Jesus met people right where they were. Without condemnation. Without degradation. Rather, he met the masses of men and women with sympathy, and compassion, and with a great understanding of the human condition.

And the human condition is thus:

The masses of men and women are having sex. Married. Single. Divorced. Widowed.

So take a moment and ask yourself, “do I smash or do I pass?”

Amen.

I will not have sex with you: Reflections on Coming of Age in a Culture of Rape

I went to a college that had extremely close ties with Bill Cosby. I spent nearly all four years studying and learning in a building that was named for him because of his generous endowment to my institution. My school has recently decided to cut all ties with him. Upon reading the report of their separation with Cosby, I have been reflection on how painful, and shocking, and deeply disturbing it is to hear the many testimonies against him, accusing him of sexual violence of all sorts.

I have been equally pained, shocked, and deeply disturbed by hearing the rhetoric that has been pouring out in support of Cosby:

What would Bill Cosby want with those hoes?

He didn’t rape them, they wanted it.

Why would they come to his house/hotel if they didn’t know what was about to go down?

And on and on, I have heard men and women alike repeat the age-old tactic of apologizing for the perpetrator and faulting the victim. In each conversation I have had around the issue my first instinct was to use reason- to explain how it makes no sense to blame a victim for sexual violence. The if-she-was-raped-it’s-her-fault narrative is so ingrained in so many that that argument usually falls on deaf ears. And then I get angry and start yelling, which is my usual response to stupidity and injustice. And then I become resigned telling myself- this is just what it means to live in a rape culture. My sense of resignation is the most painful, and shocking, and disturbing aspect of this story.

We live in a culture of rape- it just is what it is.

No woman is exempt from sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence in America. We have learned to accept the fact that we live in a culture of rape and navigate the dangers as safely as possible. I recently broke up with my boyfriend (a long story and not for mass consumption) and I decided to hang out with a guy that I dated briefly but remained friends with. It was a rainy afternoon so we decided instead of going out we would order in and watch Netflix. Before I went to his house, I had THE text conversation that I have learned, due to our culture of rape, is essential to have before meeting with a man privately:

Me: Before I come over I need you to be alert to the fact that I will not have sex with you.
Him: Ok, that’s fine.
Me: Give me your word that you will not be sexually aggressive or coercive in any way.
Him: You have my word.

I have had to learn how to be explicit about physical and sexual boundaries. I have had to learn to get into the continuous exercise of stating out loud what I will and will not allow, what I do and do not want to happen to my body. I have had to learn this because I am a woman who has come of age in a culture of rape.

But many women know all too well that explicit refusal does not necessarily protect one from sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence.

My best friend called me recently and said, “My friend keeps finding herself in situations in which she almost gets raped. It’s happened a couple of times in the last couple of months. She asked my advice and so I am asking your advice. First, have you ever been in a situation before where you were almost raped?”

I replied, “Yes, I have.”

She exclaimed, “really?! Tell me about it.”

“Well the first time, I was in college and…”

She cut me off and said, “wait, the first time?”

I stated, “yes, It’s happened more than once”

And I began to tell her the story of a guy that I was dating in college. We were heading to the movies but we could not agree on a movie or a time, and as we sat on my couch in the living room chatting and disagreeing about movies when he began to playfully grab my arm. It was funny at first and I giggled and played along. But within a moment the harmless flirtation turned dangerous and he began to pin me down. He had a look in his eyes, vicious and animalistic- he was no longer the person I had been dating, he was someone else entirely, a creature that I could not recognize. As he began to unbutton his pants he whispered coolly, “this is your fault. You are too pretty.” I began to say No again and again and again. I looked him in the eyes and said,

“This is no. The official no. The next-time-I-see-you-it-will-be-in-court-No.”

After a few moments something changed inside of him- the vicious look went away- he recollected himself, I suppose and he let me go. He tried to laugh it off with,

“girl you know I am just playing with you,” to which I responded by promptly cussing him out and kicking him out of my house. I don’t know what it was that made him change his mind. I was just lucky. There are many women who have been in the same situation who were not so lucky.

My friend replied, “That is the same situation that my friend keeps getting into. My question is, aren’t you sort of asking for it if you let someone come into your house or if you are over at the person’s house?”
“No!” I exclaimed. “I was sitting on my couch in my living room, fully dressed in the middle of the afternoon. I was not asking for it. But even if I were in my underwear, in my bedroom in the middle of the night, a woman is never asking for it, unless she is actually asking for it!”
It’s the myth that if a woman is alone with a man privately than she should expect to be sexually accosted, “If you are alone with a man then you are asking for it”- It’s that sort of resignation that is the most painful, and shocking, and disturbing part of the story.

“Furthermore,” I told my friend, “girls get sexually violated everywhere not just in their homes.”

And then I began to tell her about the time that I was running on the neighborhood track one morning, this summer. I was in my own world entirely, riding the high of music, wind, and endorphin when I looked up and stopped just in time to see that I was approaching a white van that had pulled all the way up to the track, blocking the gate’s one exit, a man inside staring at me with the same vicious animalistic stare that I had seen before. I stared him down and carefully backed away as one does a leash-less dog that is about to attack. After a few seconds, something changed inside of him. He recollected himself, I suppose. And started the engine, backed up and drove away. I was just lucky. There are many women who have been in the same situation who were not so lucky.

I remember how angry my friends and loved ones were at me, “What is wrong with you! I don’t care if it is morning or not. Stop going to work out by yourself. Girls get abducted every day! You could have been killed!” The message was clear: if something were to happen to you while you were working out, it would be your fault because this is how our world works and you should know better. It’s this sort of resignation that is the most painful, and shocking, and disturbing part of the story.

I told my friend about the time that I was sitting in my pastor’s study early one Sunday morning, finishing my sermon (by finishing read starting and finishing). I am typically the first to arrive at church on Sundays, and I was in the habit of unlocking the side door so that I wouldn’t have to go to the door when the ushers begin to arrive an hour later. This particular morning a man, a stranger, wandered into the church. I went to see who had come so unreasonably early and finding this man poking around, I politely asked how I could help him.

He replied, “Yes. I just got out of prison. And I need clothes and shoes and food and a place to stay.”

I replied “You have come to the right place. We can help you with all of these things but I need you to come back in about an hour. The church isn’t open yet but we will be more than happy to assist you during our office hours.”

He responded, “Ok well, I need help now. Can I please speak with the pastor?”

I responded, “You are speaking with the pastor.”

He looked at me incredulously, “You are the pastor?”

“Yes, sir. And again, I and my team would love to help you, I just you need you to come back in about an hour.”

“Ok, I’ll leave. But can I at least have some water first?”

“Sure,” I replied and I pointed him to the direction of the water fountain while I remained by the door. After a few minutes he still hadn’t returned and I peeked around the corner to find that he had gone into my office. At this moment, I realized I had a problem because he was in my office and my phone, keys, wallet-everything was also in my office.

I declared in a menacing tone that I wanted him to leave before I called the police. And then he approached me as if to attack saying,

“Come here girl let me see what is underneath that dress.”

I pushed him away and yelled directly in his face,

“Get the hell out of my church!” He looked at me for a second and something happened. He recollected himself, I suppose. Because he turned and walked out of the building. I was just lucky. There are tons of female ministers and females in churches who have not been so lucky.

I called my trustees and called the police and the police came to take the report. The man had left the building but not the property. They searched him and found a knife on him. My trustees were so angry, “You could have been lying on the ground of your own church bleeding to death! You can’t be by yourself in the church anymore. We will just have to make sure that someone is here early for when you arrive.” The message was clear: We live in a world where not even sacred spaces are safe from sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence. It just is what it is. It is that sort of resignation that is the most painful, and shocking, and disturbing part of the story.

We live in a culture of rape and violence. A culture deeply reminiscent of another culture that people have been talking about as much as Bill Cosby- the culture of Sodom and Gomorrah. With the recent passing of the Supreme Court case legalizing gay marriage, Christians have been comparing America to Sodom and Gomorrah with great intensity. But what many do not realize is that Sodom and Gomorrah is not a story about homosexuality, it is a story about a community where sexual violence and the threat of violence was normative, it was standard, it was expected.
Let’s look at the text:

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. (Gen. 19:1-3a)

In the text, Lot pleaded with them not risk staying in the square because there was such a keen threat of violence. You can almost hear his plea, “It is not safe for you here. You should know better than to risk subjecting yourself to violence.”

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” (Gen. 19:4-5)

The men came looking for the angels almost as if on que, verifying Lot’s concern for their safety and their lives. Lot knew that this would happen because he knew that sexual violence of this sort was an intrinsic part of the culture that he lived in.
Lot goes on to say,

“No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”(Gen. 19:7-8)

He says to the men, “here, rape my daughters instead. You are going to rape somebody, it is what it is, just take them” It is this resignation that is the most painful, shocking, and disturbing part of the story.

And we are guilty of this same resignation. When we cry out strongly against homosexuality, attempting to unfairly and unjustly control and constrain, demean and disrupt the sexual habits of homosexual consenting adults and yet we remain silent about the sexual violence girls of all ages are experiencing in their nurseries, their dormitories, their homes, and even their churches- we are making the same public statement of resignation, “Here, rape my daughters instead.”
If the Christian community could be even half as angry about Bill Cosby and his victims of sexual violence as they were about the Supreme Court decision, then things would be different in this county. If the Christian community could cry out even half as loud about the prevalence of rape and sexual violence against women as they unfairly and unjustly cry out against the homosexual community, then things would be different in this country.

America is just like Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is.

But not because of the homosexual community. It is like Sodom and Gomorrah because of the complete and unquestioned acceptance of sexual violence that is a foundational part of our culture.

And I can see God’s clouds of judgement, I can smell sulfur burning in the air whenever I hear someone say,

“She wanted it.”

“She was asking for it”

“She should have known what was about to go down”

Or in other words, “here, rape my daughters instead.

It is time for the Christian community to support and stand with each victim who has bravely come forward with their story of enduring sexual violence at the hands of Bill Cosby. And it is time for the Christian community to support and stand with each and every woman who has ever texted, stated, or screamed,
I will not have sex with You.

Fixing Her Hair: Sexual Exploitation, Domestic Violence, And Jesus

My friend and colleague Sarah Howell is the lead Pastor of this awesome worship service called Roots Revival. For lent, this worship community is reflecting on Matthew 25:31-46, each week hearing a sermon about the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, etc and each week they are reflecting on how to realize in everyday life Jesus’ call to be compassionate to “the least of these.” I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the sermon series, my verse was “Matthew 25:36 “When I was naked and you clothed me:

Fixing Her Hair

Matthew 25:36a

I was naked and you clothed me.

When Sara, her team, and I began to think about the naked, we were inspired by Ani DiFranco’s song “Fixing Her Hair,” you will be lead in worship to this song at the conclusion of my message but I’d like for you to hear the words now, especially the last stanza:

She is still playing the martyr I am still praying for revolution
And she still doesn’t have what she deserves
But she wakes up smiling every day, she never really expected more
That’s just not the way we are raised
And I say to her, You know, there’s plenty of really great men out there
But she doesn’t hear me, she’s looking in the mirror
She’s fixing her hair.

The song is about a person talking about her friend who is in an abusive relationship. The song addresses the way that violence toward women is rationalized,

“she has a way to rationalize, says he don’t mean what he does,”

and normalized,

“she never really expected more, That’s just not the way we were raised.”

And the song discusses the feelings of frustration and helplessness and hope of a person attempting to be present to a woman in a violent situation,

“I am still praying for revolution, And she still doesn’t have what she deserves.”

This song made us think about Matthew 25:36 when Jesus said, “I was naked, and you clothed me.”

When I think of naked bodies, I think of Genesis 2 when God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, and walked with them in the cool of the evening and the Bible says “they were naked and not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). But nakedness has become a symbol of feelings of shame, and pain, and violence. It was ancient practice to strip prisoners, and slaves, and debtors of their clothing to inspire shame and to strip them of their dignity. Jesus preached these words during a time when it would not have been unusual to see a such a naked person in public. Although today it would be considered quite unusual to see a naked person out in the community, we yet live in a time where many people’s naked bodies are bound, inextricably bound to shame, and violence, and pain.

All over the world, naked bodies are being abused and violated. And worse still, in many cases it is a normal and accepted part of life.

In Burma, a country in South East Asia, a little village girl is sold by her parents to a brothel in the city at the age of 7. The brothel sells her virginity to the highest bidder and because she is so young they can get away with selling her virginity again and again throughout the day. When the little girl is asked how she feels about the selling of her virginity, she articulates a source of pride because that day her virginity was sold for the highest price of all the prostitutes in the place. When the man is asked why he paid a record high price to have sex with this girl, and why he chose this girl out of all the other women in the brothel, the man responds, “because she looks like a child.”* Violence of this sort is rationalized and normalized in many parts of the world.

Burma is on the other side of the world, but the issue of sexual violence and exploitation hits much closer to home.

Here in the US 1 in 4 female students have been the victims of rape or attempted rape on college campuses. A startling 25% of female college students will experience violence and abuse to their naked bodies before they graduate.**

This issue hits even closer to home:

Here in North Carolina, the Department of Homeland Security has named NC a hotbed of human trafficking because the international airport in Charlotte in conjunction with all the different interstates that cross NC, it is easy to bring in women from all over the world and maneuver them to different parts of the country undetected.***

This issue hits even closer to home:

In our churches, in our families, we all know a mother, a sister, a friend, a coworker who is enduring life in a domestically violent relationship. Her naked body bespeaks the beatings, and battering, and bruising inflected on her by her romantic partner.

All over the world, in our nation, in our state, in our churches, in our communities, in our homes naked bodies are being abused. And this text suggests that Jesus can be found in these bodies.

Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can be found in the 7 year old girl who will sell her virginity to the highest bidder 7 times today.

Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can found in the college student who will begin her night at a frat party and end her night with a rape kit.

Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can be found in the woman from Brazil, Thailand, East Africa who, moments ago, just arrived to the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport and is about to head up Highway 77 to meet her fate as a slave in a prostitution ring.

Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can be found in our sister, our friend, our neighbor who is fixing her hair in an attempt to hide the black eye, the swollen lip, the red cheek of violence.

Theirs are the naked bodies in which Jesus can be found and if we listen we can hear Jesus whispering to us, “When I was naked, you clothed me.”

But the question that you have been asking every week is How? And we ask today, how can we clothe the naked?

There are three ways: we can Fight, we can Face, and we can Befriend.

First, we can support organizations  that are on battlefields fighting the presence of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation in the world. They need our resources and our support. Here are just three organizations nearby that you can support:

  1. Triad Ladder of Hope- it’s a NC based organization that works to eradicate human enslavement and human trafficking locally and abroad.
  2. The Winston-Salem Family Services Shelter- it is a shelter that helps women and their children to escape violent and abusive living conditions.
  3. RAIIN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)- it is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization.

We clothe the naked by helping to fight these systems of shame, violence and abuse.

Second, we must face it. We must face the ways in which we participate in and rationalize a worldview that supports and even promotes violence, especially violence toward women. For example, the ways in which we blame the victims of violence.

I hear it all the time when a woman says that her mate hit her, the first question is almost always, “well what did you do to make him do that?” I’m sure you all remember the Ray Rice incident when he attacked his then fiancé in an elevator, it was all over the news, all over ESPN. And I am sure you heard the loud rationalization in response to the violence, “women need to learn to stop provoking these men.”

We can clothe the naked when we ask ourselves what are the ways in which we are participating in this structure of violence and abuse?

We have to face the ways that we participate in and rationalize a worldview that supports and even promotes the sale of sex and sexual violence. How are we perpetuating the sex industry? When you think about supporting the sex industry and purchasing sex you may think of strip clubs, porn, buying prostitutes but there are more subtle ways that we support the multi-billion dollar sex-industry:

We support it in the music we listen to.

We support it in the books we read.

We support it in the movies we watch (I almost entitled this message, “Why I will never watch 50 Shades of Grey”).

We clothe the naked by facing the ways that we support and promote the sale of sex and sexual violence.

Finally, we clothe the naked by befriending the victims. The interesting thing in the Matthew text is that Jesus said “you fed me, you clothed me, you visited” he never said, “you saved me.” Jesus is not calling us to be saviors but calling us to be present to “the least of these” in profound and transforming ways.

Jesus says “when I was naked, you clothed me” it sounds to me like a call to get near enough, to draw near enough to the naked body without reflexing in terror, in horror, in shame. Be present. Befriend.

In my line of work, I have met prostitutes and even call friends people who have been prostitutes at some point in their lives. The stories that they tell could make you weep. I have a friend who still to this day participates in prostitution because she feels it is the only way to provide resources to her children. And as I sit with her, holding her hand as she cries, Ani DriFranco’s song rings true,

“I am still praying for revolution, And she still doesn’t have what she deserves”

I am still praying for a time when she believes that she has more to offer the world than what’s in between her legs.

I am still praying for a time when we do not live in a world where women are excluded from the distribution of resources in such an extreme way that they have to take such extreme measures in order to have the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter.

I am still praying for a revolution. But in meantime, I call her friend.

We clothe the naked by befriending the victims of sexual violence and exploitation.

I knew of a woman who once worked at a church and she noticed that around the corner from the church there was a community of prostitutes being sold by their pimps. She decided one day to go over there. She started visiting everyday. She got to know the prostitutes. She would check on them, check in with them and she began to distribute condoms and clean needles to them. She said that was her ministry to them, passing out condoms and clean needles. She did it for years before she died.

And you know, they say that in all of the years that she hung out on this corner, getting to know the prostitutes and passing out condoms, only a handful of women ever asked her to assist them to get out of the situation. Only a handful ever told her “I am done. Please help me to get out of this.” She overwhelmingly did not clean up the streets of prostitution. But I believe with great conviction that when she faces Jesus on that promised Day of Judgment he will say to her,

“I was naked and you clothed me.”

She will likely respond, “When Jesus, when were you naked and I clothed you?”

And Jesus will look at her, with the light of heaven in his eyes, and say to her,

“I was a prostitute, and you gave me a condom.”

Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done to me.

Amen.

* Because She Looks Like a Child.
Bales, Kevin. “Because She Looks like a Child.”Global Woman. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2002. 207-29. Print.

Tails Tails Tails: A Young Clergy’s Reflection on Clergy Burnout

“You know what I think you should do?” he asked, “Just flip a coin. Heads you leave. Tails you stay.”

“ok.” I said, “I’ll get a coin.” I flipped. “Tails.”

“Flip it again. Best two out of three.”

“Alright, here goes…. Tails.”

“Flip it one more time.”

“Why?” I asked, “that was two out of three!”

He answered “I’m your older brother, I said flip the coin.”

“Ok ok… Tails… what do you think that means?”

“I guess it means you should stay,” He said in wonder.

“I guess it means God is still calling me,” I said in awe.

Clergy burnout is real and it knows no bounds.  It is not reserved for those boasting 10, 15, 35 years in pastoral ministry, it can happen to any person of the cloth at any time. I experienced clergy burnout for the first time before I stepped foot in my senior pastor’s study, before my name could be placed onto the marquee, I experienced clergy burnout before I was even a pastor.

I, like many young clergy, came of age in church leadership. We are the ones who typically had responsibilities in church leadership at a young age, heading children’s ministries, supervising at youth lock-ins, running and jumping and singing as Christian camp counselors. Young clergy, even before they have the title clergy, were doing it all, especially the stuff that senior pastors were too busy to be bothered with (What senior pastors are too busy to be bothered with and shirk off to the young, untrained, and inexperienced is a conversation for another time.) From the time that I was 15, I had been doing it all.

When I went to college, I was fully immersed into the life of the church and could clearly articulate my vocational call to ministry. I fully participated in campus ministries, in the college chapel ministries, and in a local church where I was being trained as a professional minister. Young minister, yes, but I was also a young girl hell-bent on having the college experience. I would party with my friends on Saturday night, walk into my apartment early Sunday morning just in time to wash the running eye-liner off, change clothes and head to church. I was also a student who attended a college where excellence was the requirement. And it was hard. Juggling church, activities, a sorority, a wayward boyfriend, and a 3.9 gpa at a prestigious institution was more than a notion. I graduated with many accolades for my commitment to academic excellence and my commitment to the community of faith. But it was hard. And When I graduated college, I was tired.

College ended in May, Grad school began in August. The graduate institution I attended had a very rigorous curriculum and was competitive. The temptation was to spend in the library every day, every night, and every morning- even Sunday morning. I remember having to make the decision, with tears in my eyes, whether to go to church on Sunday or join my peers in the library to study for our massive finals. I chose church. I chose church time and again, stubbornly maintaining active involvement in a local church saying to myself, “I don’t care how hard this is. I can’t take three years off of working in a church to get prepared to work in a church.” By my final year in Seminary, I was an assistant pastor in a Baptist church, slowly making the transition into the Methodist movement by volunteering regularly at a Methodist Church, and a ministerial leader for a campus ministry at NC State University. By the time I had reached graduation, I had been preaching nearly every week since spring semester my first year of Seminary. It was hard. And when I graduated divinity school, I was tired.

While my story may sound a bit more active than the typical young clergy, my story is indeed typical in that many young clergy start their professional ministry tired. The biggest misconception about young clergy is that they begin their professions in the church scrubbed red and ready with an apple and new shoes like a kindergartener on the first day of school. Rarely do we start off bursting with energy, idealism and superman cape in tow, ready to save the Church. Rather, more typically:

We start off in a massive amount of debt, wondering how we are ever going to crawl out of this financial hole.

We start off malnourished from student-poverty, living on a diet of black coffee and potato chips.

We start off sleep deprived from years of greeting the sunrise from behind our laptops or buried in a used copy of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

We start off in a Vitamin D deficiency induced depression from all of the imitation light in the library.

By the time we start our professional lives as clergy, we are tired.

But we are loyal.

After four years of running the race of professional ministry, my family began to get concerned. I had a long conversation with my eldest brother Adrian Thomas who recommended that I take a break from the Church.

“I talked to mom” Adrian began, “she is worried about you. She thinks you should come home, we all do.”

“Come home and do what?” I asked.

“Come home and just relax for a couple of years. You have done great things as a pastor. Great job. You did it. But if your heart isn’t in it, if you don’t want to do it anymore, if it doesn’t make you happy then maybe you should quit and do something that will make you happy.”

I explained to my brother that these questions

Is your heart in it?

Do you want to do it?

Does it make you happy?

Are born in the “do whatever makes you happy” pop culture wisdom that accounts for the lack of commitment among our generation. I informed my brother that it is very common to only do things as long as it makes us happy.

“But what is happiness anyway, brother?” I asked. “It is such a here today, gone tomorrow emotion. Why would I spend my life and my profession chasing something so fleeting?”

I informed him that I made a lifetime commitment to God and to the service of God’s church, whatever that may look like. I told him that this pop culture wisdom that he was reciting to me makes our generation incapable of even conceiving of a lifetime commitment. That’s why so many marriages end in divorce, I told him, because we don’t know how to commit to something through the ups and downs of life,  I said.

“Adrian, when you are committed to something for a lifetime, you are committed to it. Committed to it even when it isn’t easy. Committed even when your wandering heart isn’t in it. Committed even when you don’t want to do it. Committed even when it doesn’t make you happy. Yes, even then. My commitment to my calling is beyond even my own satisfaction. That’s a lifetime commitment.”

Clergy burnout happens. To all of us. It’s best if we stop pretending that it is something that can be avoided. The role of the pastor is so great- great as in a lofty image that is hard to carry and great as in a pastor is called to do so many things- that there will undeniably come a time when a minister will look at the difficulty, the obstacles, the pain and ask “am I really up for this anymore?”

And it is then that you have to reflect upon everything that you have ever said, everything that you have ever believed about God’s calling on your life. You have to know that you didn’t just decide to become a pastor but that you were called into it.

Adrian responded to me by saying,

“You know what I think you should do?” he asked, “Just flip a coin. Heads you leave. Tails you stay.”

“ok.” I said, “I’ll get a coin.” I flipped. “Tails.”

“Flip it again. Best two out of three.”

“Alright, here goes…. Tails”

“Flip it one more time.”

“Why?” I asked, “that was two out of three!”

He answered, “I’m the older brother, I said flip the coin.”

“ok ok… Tails… what do you think that means?”

“I guess it means you should stay,” He said in wonder

“I guess it means God is still calling me,” I said in awe.

Ministry is difficult. No matter how old you are, no matter how young. It isn’t easy. As a minister, I have experienced some unfathomable pain. I have lost some things that I will miss forever. But God is so faithful. And that is why I am so faithful. Perhaps not always energized, perhaps not always excited, perhaps not always happy, but always faithful. I believe that God has called me and I stand on that belief when the fires rage and even when the fire burns out. I believe that God has called me. That God is still calling me. God is alluring me, guiding me, and leading me down a path that God has specifically and purposefully made just for me. And my “yes” to God has to keep getting bigger to accommodate God’s call.  Even in the darkness. Even in the bad times. Even in the burnout God still calls. So when I have the temptation to run away and try to bargain with coin in my sweaty and weary hand,

“Ok God. Heads I leave. Tails I stay.”

It’s always

Tails.

Tails.

Tails.

Shouting From the Front: Reflections of a Disorderly Woman Pastor

I began preaching at the age of 15. For much of my life, I was affectionately called “girl preacher,” girl to signify how odd it was for a preacher to be female and to be young. Thanks to the painful and arduous labor of the first generation female ministers who paved the way for me, my call to ministry was affirmed and celebrated from the moment I stood behind a microphone and shouted “he rose!” I was formed and shaped by one such female ministry pioneer, my mentor Rev. Portia Lee, senior Pastor of Trinity Tabernacle Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m pretty sure she is the one who gave me the name “girl preacher.” And she taught me how to lead, to serve , to preach, all while allowing me to retain my “girlish” (read young and female) ways. Sometimes I sat in the pulpit in a skirt that was entirely too short. Pastor Portia would smile and say, “well, she’s got nice legs.” Sometimes, I would show up to preach with a hickey on my neck and she would shake her head and say, “I see ministry hasn’t robbed your life of fun.”  She allowed me to explore and cultivate all of the things that makes a pastor a pastor and all of the things that makes a person a person- my professional identity, my femininity,  my sexuality, my voice, my vision, my ministry. I am blessed to have her in my life. I was trained to be a female pastor by a female pastor. I was formed and shaped in a community where female Christian leadership was normative.

Lately, I’ve matured from “girl preacher” to “woman pastor” and I have a girl preacher of my own, Racquel Gill, to form and shape and teach about the intersection of pastor-hood and person-hood. I am blessed to have Rockie in my life. This little upstart can preach circles around me. I have to constantly tell her “look here, youngin’, this church is not looking for a new pastor. Quit preaching like this pulpit is vacant!” She’s got it all, all the gifts that a person needs to lead a church.  She once texted me from a young ministers conference where she was the keynote speaker. She texted me to tell me that she walked out of a session for women in ministry because of a conversation that centered around the belief that women are not called to pastor. She said,

” I walked out because you told me to stop arguing with people.” I was so thrilled that she actually listens to me that I didn’t force her to go back and take part in the conversation. It seems astonishing for women who regularly preach to say that women are not called to pastor but there are so many scriptures to contend with:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak… it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.  – I Corinthians 14:34

Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man, she must be quiet – I Timothy 2:11

Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. -Ephesians 5:22-23

And on and on it goes in the Pauline Epistles about women, submission, and silence. Any person who takes the Bible seriously must also take these texts seriously, girl preachers included.  I was a minister for 12 years and a senior pastor for two years before I ever really seriously considered these texts.

It’s not as though I didn’t know that these texts were in the Bible. I had an excellent theological education, studying religion in very prestigious undergraduate and graduate institutions. I was taught to know the Bible like the Back of my hand.  But I went to an all girls liberal arts college, emphasis on liberal. We were encouraged, required even, to look upon with suspicion any Biblical text that was demeaning, unjust, or offensive to women. We were taught to declare with boldness, “it may be in the Bible but that is not of God!” We all but cut these texts out of the Bible with scissors.  In my graduate school, in an effort to get along with each other, we almost entirely avoided issues of racism and sexism in the church and in the Bible. The theological pathos was that of proper southerners at a white-glove tea party, “shhh. That’s impolite. Stick to your health and the weather.” And that’s exactly what we did.

It is not as though no one had ever told me I should’t be a pastor because I am female. I had a boyfriend once who told me that in order to be with him I had to promise never to be a pastor. He was going to be the pastor and I was to be his first lady because “women are not called to pastor that is out of God’s divine order.” But I didn’t respond by giving him a great apology for women in ministry. I said something really unprofound and unpoetic, something like “kiss my ass. We’re done.”

I even had an incident recently at the church in which a woman told me how out of line I was for being a female pastor. She had been stalking one of my members, claiming to all who would listen that he had married her in secret but would not claim her publicly. It had become quite a spectacle and threatened on becoming violent so I intervened and asked her to leave. She responded by getting in my face and screaming at the top of her lungs, “YOU AREN’T EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE A PASTOR! YOU ARE SINFUL! WOMEN ARE SUPPOSED TO SUBMIT TO MEN!” Again missing my moment to be the champion for women in ministry, I said, ” women are supposed to submit to men, huh? How’s that working out for you? Get off my property before I call the police.”

No, it was not my education or anything that anyone ever said to me that made me question being female and being a pastor, it was in pastoring itself that the question finally rose to my consciousness, “Am I out of God’s order?”

The question arose within me when I found myself preaching and teaching patriarchy. Patriarchy is a bad word in the ivory towers of the academy, but in broken black communities it has a different meaning entirely. I was the pastor in a community where men were almost altogether absent. I mean they were there but they weren’t there. Out of my window from the pastor’s study, I could see the neighborhood hangout spot where most of the men in my community sat from morning until evening drinking, joking and smoking cigarettes. They were there but they weren’t there. I was pastor to a community where the concept of family was acutely underdeveloped. Nearly every household was a single-parent household (By single parent, I mean single mother). There were men, there were women, and there were children but there were very few families. The concept of marriage was as fantastical as Santa Clause. I found myself teaching the dire need for strong black male leadership in black communities. I began to proclaim that they had to show up and be there! I began teaching about what family should look like, how men should provide and protect their mates and offspring. I began encouraging and teaching about marriage and devotion and family planning. I preached flat-footed that God calls men to step up for their households, for their communities, that they have the responsibility to be the head- not to oppress women and children but to care for women and children. And I was using as my Biblical authority, the very same scriptures that were supposed to keep me silent in the back. Imagine my personal and pastoral dissonance. “If this is true,” I said to myself, “then maybe I shouldn’t be a pastor. Maybe I am out of order.”

There are all sorts of arguments for the justification of women in pastoral ministry:

Mary Magdalene was the first person to shout “I have seen the Lord!” making her the first Christian preacher (John 20: 18).

If God can use an ass to declare God’s word, surely God can use a woman (Numbers 22:28)

We live in a world where it is conceivable for women to be CEOs, doctors, lawyers, and presidents, why not pastors too?

There are many books written that expound on the topic at length, some great some not so great. But you know what I think?

I think it is out of order for a woman to be a pastor.

There. I said it. It is entirely out of order for a woman to head the institution of the church. It goes against everything that we believe and affirm about the ideal distribution of power. As a female pastor, I am out of order.

But you know what? I worship a God who is out of order. We worship a God who constantly disrupts our boundaries of what is normal, correct, ideal.

A God who constantly confused all by favoring the younger son over the elder son. That’s out of order God, that’s  disrupts everything that we understand about power.

A God who calls out that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That’s out of order God, That disrupts everything that we understand about place.

A God who used a woman to birth a child though she was a virgin. That’s out of order God, that disrupts everything that we understand about life.

A God who rose from the grave. That’s out of order God, that disrupts everything that we understand about death.

We worship and celebrate a God of disorder.

so yea, I’m a girl preacher turned woman pastor. Truthfully, I’ve still retained a few of my girlish (read young and female) ways. Sometimes you will still find me in the pulpit with a skirt that is entirely too short. I’m really working on that… but, hey… I still have nice legs (I work at that too). And on occasion, if you look close enough you will see that I am wearing a lot of foundation on my neck (note to my boyfriend… STOP DOING THAT!). Come to the corner of South Tryon and Remount road and you will find a girl, I mean a woman, standing in her feminine identity,

you will find a woman standing in her sexual identity.

you will find a woman standing in her ministerial identity.

You will find a woman, a woman pastor. Not sitting silently in the back but shouting about Jesus in the front. And being completely, 100 percent, out of order.

And my God, my disorderly God, couldn’t be more pleased.

Dreams, Visions, And Visitations: My Night with Maya Angelou

mayaandme

Last night, I had a dream. A dream about Maya Angelou. Anyone who knows me knows that Maya Angelou was a model of inspiration to me. I have been deeply influenced by her poetry, her prose, her life. One of the hardest moments of this year for me and for the world was when she passed away. I only met her once in my life and it was a life changing encounter, one that I count as a very precious memory. Well no, I am mistaken. I have only met her once in her life because last night she came to visit me.

In my dream, I was sitting in a room waiting for something. I was feeling very anxious, worried, and stressed -feelings, I confess, that have been my close companions lately. She walked into the room and she sat down next to me. I was so excited to see her.  I wanted to tell her about my writing that she had inspired. I wanted to tell her how I have memorized all of her poetry, all of her words. Interestingly, I never got the opportunity because she did all the talking. And she didn’t say anything extraordinarily profound either. She just chatted with me, showed me little trinkets and valuables that she always carried with her in her purse. She just spent time with me, talking of nothing and everything the way that old friends do.

When I woke up this morning, I knew that something divine had happened. The Christmas story is one that I have been reading, and telling, and preaching again and again this season. This story is marked by the dreams, visions, and visitations of angels to Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the Wise Men. I ask myself, why do we not hear of this anymore? Did God stop sending angels to visit us after the Bible was bound and disseminated to the masses? Certainly not. History is full of believers who share accounts of angels appearing to them, speaking to them, and visiting with them. Anthony the Great, the father of all Monks, reportedly had visitations from angels and demons with regularity. He said that sometimes the angels were hideous and scary (perhaps that’s why in Bible whenever someone saw an angel they were said to be terrified)  and the demons were attractive and alluring. He was asked how he could discern, then, from the angels and the demons. He replied, “You can only know the difference between an angel and a demon by how you feel after they have left you.” I woke up this morning feeling, for the first time in a very busy and hectic season, entirely at peace. I woke up this morning free from anxiety. I woke up this morning certain that I had been visited by an angel.

When I was a child, I once frightened my mother when I told her about my memories of my grandmother.

“You don’t have any memories of you grandmother,” she said, “Your grandmother died before you were born.”

“She has spent time with me. She came to me.” I replied, completely unmoved by her comment because I was still too young to understand the implications of death. I began to describe her in great detail and my mother was quite shaken by my account. I was certain that I had been visited by an angel.

It isn’t unusual for children to say such things, reality and fantasy are still fluid in their young minds. Or maybe children experience divine moments or what the Celtics call “thin places” because they are so receptive to the world around them, all of its mysteries and curiosities. Perhaps children experience divine moments because they are always paying such close attention. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said,

“Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 18:2).

Perhaps it is a call for us to be receptive to the many many many ways that God is trying to catch our attention, communicate, and comfort us. Or perhaps I am just a minister slipping into mysticism or better yet… insanity. But I stand in good company with Mary, Joseph, a couple of Shepherd boys watching their flock by night, and a whole host of other holy weirdos when I say, “an angel of the Lord has visited me.” And in 2015, I vow to be more receptive to the curiosities, the mysteries, the awesomeness of God. I’m going to pay close attention. I’m going to walk in thin places, getting near unto the Kingdom… just like a child.

Good Sex Part 3: Driver Roll Up the Partition, Please! And other Good Sex.

Song of Solomon 1:1-16

 

Sisters and Brothers, this is a manifesto, a treatise, a great opus to that glorious activity that we like to call

Knocking boots 

Slapping skins

Getting it on

Having Relations

Doing the Nasty

Scoring!

That glorious act that we call sex. 

This sermon begins, as all great sermons do, with a personal narrative. The other day, I had. 

A conversation with my friend about Beyoncé (gotcha!). My friend said that she didn’t listen to Beyoncé, especially not her latest album, because it was explicit, provocative, encouraging of promiscuity, and ultimately unchristian. Firstly, I don’t let anyone talk about Beyoncé in front of me like that. But secondly, I realized that the real problem was not what she thought of Beyoncé, the real problem was what she thought about the Christian view on sex.

“Yes,” I replied to her. “Her music is, especially of late, absolutely explicit. And since you don’t listen to her music, let me tell you about one of the most explicit songs on the album. It’s called Partition.” I began to tell her about the song in which Beyoncé is singing to her driver to raise the partition between the driver and her and her lover because she is having sex in the back of a limo. She sings about how her lover has smeared her lipstick and torn her blouse. She sings about the handprints and footprints on the glass. And on and on it goes.

The song is nasty.

It’s provocative.

It’s deeply deeply sexual.

And it’s deeply deeply Christian.

I realized that the Puritanical aversion to sexuality- based on the Puritan’s theological belief of a dualism between the soul and the body that really bordered on heresy- still has its choke-hold on American Christianity and our views on sex and intimacy. This aversion is exacerbated in the Black Church because the narrative of the black bodies of the slaves was that their bodies were hyper-sexual and over-sexed, a narrative that still lingers today. As a reaction to this narrative, the Black Church tried to completely divorce itself from all notions of sexuality, creating a stark dichotomy between holiness and sexuality- they become absolutely mutually exclusive.[1] As a result, Christians – black Christians in particular- have a tendency to believe that sex is bad.

Talking about sex is bad.

Having it is bad. 

Wanting to have it is bad.

When in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sex is good. Like all things in the cosmos, God created sex and called it good. Moreover, there is a strong connection between the soul and the sexual self. This connection is most beautifully illustrated in the Song of Solomon. If you put the lyrics of Beyoncé’s song Partition next to the text, you would think that Beyoncé is plagiarizing because there are so many similarities and allusions. Take a look at Chapter 1:

Verse 1- Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth- for your love is more delightful than wine.

Verse 4- Take me away with you- let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his bed chambers.

Verse 13- My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts. 

This sounds pretty provocative to me.

Look at verse 9- I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses. Here is a quick lesson on history and horses. A mare is a female horse. The Pharaoh’s chariots were not pulled by mares, they were pulled by stallions- uncastrated male horses. Once when Pharaoh was battling the King of Quidash, the enemy put a mare in heat among the chariots and the chariot horses went crazy (brilliant tactical move on their part).[2] The text here is saying this: you make me feel wild, crazy, like how a stallion feels around a mare in heat.

That sounds pretty provocative to me.

Look how the lover responds in verse 16- How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant. Verdant means rich, lush, like a vibrant and beautiful forest. In other words, what is going on in the bedroom is vibrant and lush. 

This sounds pretty provocative to me.

Traditionally, we believe that the Song of Solomon is the wedding song of God and God’s beloved, Israel. This text is about God’s ardent, passionate longing and eternal love for Israel, for the Church, and for us. This song shows us that our response to God’s love should be passionate as well. This text is about God. But if we are too quick to over-spiritualize the text, we may miss a few things. We may miss the very fact that this deeply sexual manuscript can be used as the truest metaphor for God’s ardent love exemplifies how great sex is in the mind of God. If we are too quick to over-spiritualize this text, we may miss the great celebration of human sexuality that is plainly present before us. It states clearly that sex is beautiful. That is a theological assertion that the text is making- sex is beautiful. Therefore, the beauty and goodness of sex fits squarely into our faith and Christian understanding: 

Sex is nasty.

It’s provocative.

It makes your pulse race.

It raises your blood pressure.

It makes you sweat.

It ruins your hair.

It’s nasty.

It’s provocative.

And it’s beautiful. Sex is good.

 Friends, there is such a thing as good sex. Today we are going to allow the Bible to teach us the three defining characteristics of good sex.

1. Good sex is creative. I don’t mean here that good sex requires new and interesting ways of performance (although there are many relationship counselors who would argue that creativity in the bedroom is key to maintaining healthy relationships. We will discuss this more later), I mean good sex is creative in that good sex creates. Good sex is productive, it produces. We find this illustrated for us in Genesis chapter 1. In verse 27 God creates humankind in God’s image. In verse 28, the first, the very first thing that God says to the humans God made was “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). In other words, “Go! Have sex!” Sex is (typically) the prerequisite for child creation. The awe, the wonder, even the miracle of sex is that two bodies can join together in the sexual act and create another body. Creating life, creative and productive sex is one of the most beautiful things you can do with your body.

My end in this sermon series is to give you practical sexual ethics that you can use in your life so here is the first one: only have sex with someone you are willing to procreate with. If you cannot see yourself raising a child with this person- If you think to yourself “this person would be a horrible mother. Or this person would be an awful father!” then keep your underwear on. Baby’s momma/ baby’s daddy drama usually stems from choosing sex partners that you would not choose as family partners. But family is the product of sex. Therefore, it is impossible to call a child a mistake or to call a pregnancy an accident, a failure of birth control or contraception. Because the child is the natural and normal consequence of sex. The mistake was not the pregnancy, the mistake was the sex itself. Good sex does not need contraception (I’m not saying that contraception is bad, I’m saying it doesn’t NEED it). Think of it like this: if you get pregnant and the first thing you think when seeing the positive sign is, “Oh no. Now what am I going to do?” or “How am I going to raise this child alone?” then you are not having good sex. Or if you receive that fateful text message that says “I’m pregnant” and your first response is “are you sure that it’s mine?” or “so uhhhh what are you going to do about that?” You are not having good sex. Good sex is productive. Only have sex with someone you would be willing to produce with. Of course, that assumes that you know your partner well enough to determine whether s/he would be a good reproductive partner. Which brings me to my next point-

 2. Good sex is selective. Do you see my shoes? Aren’t they nice? You don’t have to tell me they are nice, I know they are nice. I bought them. I didn’t spend a lot of money on them but I’m very particular about my shoes. I don’t wear just anyone’s shoe. I don’t wear just any kind of shoe. I’m particular. I’m a particular person. I have all sorts of particularities. On everything. Even toothpaste. You see my teeth? This bright smile is brought to you, not by just any toothpaste, this is Crest Extra Whitening at work here. I’m particular and you are too. How many of you are particular about the food you eat? About cereal? How many of you don’t eat “fun flakes” but you eat Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes? I don’t care how rich or poor you are, 28 years of working in a soup kitchens has taught me that no one is too poor to be particular. I don’t care if you haven’t eaten in three days, if I put a bowl of slop in front of you, you would have some questions for me. You would say “what is this? I don’t eat this!” You’re particular. If I sat down with each of you, I could find out your particularities all the way down to your shoe-strings, many of you. And it makes no sense, brothers and sisters, -it is a vast incongruency- to be particular about the kind of clothes you wear, to be particular about the kind of food you eat, to be particular about the kind of car you will drive or be seen in, to be particular even down to the thread-count in your sheets and then to invite just any ole person to lay on those satin sheets with you! It makes no sense, it is a vast incongruency, to only stay in 4 or 5 star hotels and then to invite just any person to spend the night with you in that expensive hotel room. Be particular. Be selective. Be discriminating. Not everyone deserves what you’ve got. Just because he likes you doesn’t mean he deserves your sex. Just because she is willing doesn’t mean she deserves your sex. Be selective. What you’ve got between your legs is a gift and it’s a gift not for the masses. Jesus said. “Do not throw what is sacred to the dogs, your pearls to the swine (Mat. 7:6). Be particular. Be discriminating. Be selective.

We are about to cross a threshold here. Are you ready? Good sex is not just selective. Good sex is ultimately selective. What does that mean? Good sex takes place in the confines of a marriage. In Beyoncé’s Partition, she wasn’t singing about a man she met last night in the club. She wasn’t singing about her on-again off-again boyfriend. She wasn’t singing about the guy she just talks to during cuffing season. She was singing about her husband. That is what makes the song so very Christian. In the beginning f the song she entreats the audience to call her “Hey Mrs. Carter,” she is establishing her marital status. Good sex happens in marriage.

We have a deep misunderstanding about sex because we have a deep misunderstanding about marriage. The problem is that single people have a habit of mimicking in singleness what they think marriage is. And then marriage becomes a caricature of itself. People think “Oh, we live together. We have a couple of kids. We are relatively faithful to one another. We have been together forever. We are basically married.” No. You’re. Not.

Marriage is more than living together.

Marriage is more than having children with each other.

Marriage is more than being exclusive to one another.

Marriage is a covenantal vow between two people and their God. In Genesis we see marriage defined for us (Gen. 2:15-25). God creates Adam. And though God gives Adam everything. Plentiful food. An honorable vocation as a gardener. And all the animals as companions, yet Adam was alone. So God took from Adam’s rib and fashioned Eve. Adam takes one look at her and says, “Finally bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The text goes on to say, “This is why a person leaves their family and cleaves to their spouse (Gen. 2:24). That’s what marriage is. It is a lifetime commitment to take two hearts, two minds with different thoughts, two souls with different experiences and vowing, working, cleaving to become one. It is a vow to give all of yourself to another and to receive all of the other in return. Listen to the vows that two people say when exchanging rings in a United Methodist Wedding:

“I give you this ring

As a sign of my vow

With all the I am

And all that I have

I honor you.” [3]

Marriage is a vow to give everything to each other, all that you are and all that you have.

And when your bodies join together in sex, in the sweat, and the passion, and the heat of the moment, you make these vows again. And again. And again.

That’s good sex.

Sex that happens in a bond of commitment and trust. Sex that is

Unafraid of abandonment.

Unprotected- it doesn’t fear disease or fatal illness.

It is without pain.

It is without shame.

That’s good sex. It’s not something you can have with just anyone. Nor should you want to.

Ok, good sex happens within the confines of marriage but I’ve been brushing up on my formal logic lately so hear me carefully: Good sex happens within the confines of marriage but just because you are married doesn’t mean you are having good sex. I hear people say all the time, “we got married because we were tired of living in sin.” And then surprise, surprise, they bring their sexual sin into the union. Recall the sexual sins that we discussed last week: Sex that is violent- spouses coercing sex from each other. It’s a sin. Prostitution- using sex as a means to an end. “We can only have sex if you do what I say” or using sex as a way to manipulate or control your spouse. It’s a sin. Lust- the root of adultery and addiction that breaks up the union. It’s a sin. So I am not suggesting that sex gets simple or easy once people get married. Good sex is something that you have to work at with your spouse. Which brings me to my final point:

3. Good sex is verdant. It’s lively, it’s lush and plentiful. I hear married people say all the time “Oh, we don’t really have sex anymore.” To which I respond, “That is a sin. And a shame.” If you are married, you should be having sex. A lot. With great regularity. All of the time. In I Corinthians 7:16 Paul tells married couples that they should be having sex. He recommends that they abstain for short periods of time only for the purpose of prayer and fasting, again only for short periods and only if both partners agree (I Corinthians 7:1-6). Sex shouldn’t just happen on birthdays, anniversaries, or vacations, it should happen all of the time. The problem is that when you have been told that you should be ashamed of your sexuality from the time you learn what sex is, then it is quite possible to arrive to the marriage bed and still hear the voices repeating in your head, “Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad.” But friends here me clearly, sex is not bad. Sex is good! When you are married you have the privilege, you have the right, nay the responsibility

To slap skins and knock boots!

To get it on and have relations!

To run, shoot, and score!

Go and have sex that is creative and Productive.

Selective and particular.

Have sex that is bound up in covenant.

Have sex that is sweaty and nasty.

Sex that is explicit and provocative.

The kind of sex that makes you yell from the back of a limo, “Driver, Roll up the partition! Please!

Have Nasty

And X-rated

And Holy

And righteous

And good

And good

And good.

Have Good Sex!

Amen.

[1] For more information on this check out Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglass.

[2] Davis, Ellen. Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2001.

[3] United Methodist Book of Worship

Good Sex Part 2: Bound to the Bedposts

Leviticus 18:1-30

Today we will continue our discussion on Christian sexuality and intimacy. The premise of this sermon series is that there is such a thing as good, healthy, and holy sex. Sex is not innately bad nor sinful. While sex is not innately sinful, sexual sin does exist and it is quite dangerous and destructive to the mind, body, and spirit. In order to identify what good sex is, we must first identify what good sex is not. In order to have good sex, we must have a deeply developed understanding and a commitment to refrain from the behaviors that get in the way of good sex, the sexual behaviors that destroy one’s body or the bodies of others, or the sexual behaviors that God has called sin. Leviticus is the common place to begin a conversation on sexual sin.

Our pericope, Leviticus 18, at first glance seems pretty straight forward, primarily emphasizing healthy non-sexual boundaries between family members. But there is more happening here. Let’s take a closer look:

Vs. 7- Don’t have sex with your parents.

7s. 8- Don’t have sex with your step-parents.

Vs. 9- Don’t have sex with your siblings, your full siblings or your half-siblings.

Vs. 10- Don’t have sex with your siblings’ children, nieces or nephews.

Vs. 11- Don’t have sex with your stepsiblings. Have you ever seen the 1995 movie Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone? In the end, the protagonist fell in love with her stepbrother… yea, don’t do that.

Vs. 12, 13, 14 – Don’t have sex with your aunts or uncles.

Vs. 15,16- Don’t have sex with your in-laws, sister-in-law, father-in-law… As if anyone gets along with their in-laws long enough to even conceive of the idea!

Vs. 17a- Don’t have sex with a person and the person’s child. (“I’m leaving you for your daughter!” Or “I’ve been sleeping with your father!” And all the other episodes on Jerry Springer, don’t do that).

Vs. 17b- Don’t have sex with your grandchildren.

Vs. 18- Don’t have sex with two sisters concurrently or two brothers concurrently.

Vs. 19- Don’t have sex while on your period or have sex with someone who is on her period.

Vs. 20- Don’t have sex with a neighbor’s spouse. Think of it like this: Don’t have sex with your neighbor’s partner, your friend’s partner, and your partner’s friends. I call this the “don’t smash the homies” rule.

Vs. 21- Don’t sacrifice children to Molech. This one is interesting. It may seem out of place but it isn’t. Molech was a pagan God. It was common at this time for people to sacrifice a first born child to Molech in hopes of greater fertility in the future, both fertility in the body (more children) and fertility in the land (plentiful harvest). We will come back to this.

Vs. 22- The infamous Leveticus 18.22 or don’t engage in sex with one of the same sex.

Vs. 23- Don’t have sex with an animal.

It is understandable to wonder about the utility of stating many, if not most, of these rules. It is understandable to think that this chapter is not particularly helpful in our quest to determine how to have good sex. You may be thinking, “Of course I know not to have sex with my mother, that’s gross!” But given our conversation on sexual abuse of children and the disturbing prevalence of incest and sexual violence that takes place within families, we realize that these non-sexual boundaries between family members really cannot be overstated. Moreover, when we understand what is happening in this chapter we will find that the sexual ethics presented here are quite relevant and practical tools to guide us in cultivating healthy sexual practices.

In this chapter, God is creating a culture of sexual and spiritual holiness that is different from the culture that the Israelites were heading to (Canaan culture) and different from the culture that the Israelites were leaving (Egyptian culture). The book of Leviticus is set in the wilderness. God has just freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and is now leading them to the land that God promised to give to their ancestors, Sarah and Abraham. In the midst of this journey from Egypt to Canaan, God establishes a Holy Covenant with the Israelites. He vows to overwhelm them with God’s power, provision, and steadfast love and in response to God’s commitment to them, they would become a peculiar people- different from the rest of the world in their living and different from the rest of the world in their worship. The rules listed above were sexual and worship practices that the world, especially Egypt and Canaan, considered absolutely normal but God considered sin.

In God’s covenant, God vowed to have a special relationship with the Israelites, the Israelites would be the children of God (Duet 14:1). But this special relationship to the Divine did not permit them to have sex with one another. In Egypt, the Pharaoh also believed that he had a special relationship to the divine, he was considered the son of Ra, the Egyptian God of the Sun. The royal family were descendants of the Sun God, considered divine themselves, and therefore only primarily produced with one another to keep their divine lineage. The Israelites were leaving a place where it was considered completely normal, therefore, to have sex with a sister or close relative. But God is saying in this chapter that what the world considers normal, God considers sin.

God’s covenant also required a peculiarity in worship. Not only did God require the Israelites to worship only the God of Israel but God was greatly interested in how the Israelites worshiped the God of Israel. They were headed to Canaan where the Canaanites venerated various deities like Molech, Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth, etc. The Canaanites worshiped these deities by engaging in child sacrifice (Lev 18:21) and in mass sexual orgies. The orgies included everyone and everything, it was a big sexual mess. Verses 21-23 is addressing this sort of worship practice. God is telling the Israelites not only to refrain from worshipping the Canaanite deities but also refrain from worshipping the God of Israel in the same manner that the Canaanites worship the Canaanite deities. They are going to a place where it was considered normal to have these sexual orgies as a part of worship and ritual but what the world considered normal, God considered sin.

They were coming from a place and they were going to a place where certain sexual practices were considered normal but what the world considered normal, God called it sin.

This refrain rings true in the ancient world of the Israelites and it still rings true for Christians today.

What the world considers normal, God calls it sin. Today

It’s totally normal to begin having sex at 13, 14, or 15.

It’s totally normal to meet someone at a club, bar, party. Sleep with them and not remember their name the next morning.

It’s totally normal to have had so many sexual partners that you have lost count. Can’t remember names or faces.

But what the world considers normal, God calls it sin.

It’s quite normal to have multiple partners at one time. In or out of marriage. Normal to sleep with your wife. And your girlfriend. And your side piece. And that girl you met at the mall yesterday. Oh, it’s normal to sleep with your hubby, your boo, that dude you met at a Casino on your girls weekend to Vegas, and the ex who texts you every 6 months with “hey stranger.”

It’s normal to have sex for money.

It’s normal to have sex for drugs.

It’s normal to have sex to get your rent or utilities paid.

But what the world considers normal, God calls it sin.

It’s totally normal to tell a woman that you really like her, even love her. To tell her you want to be with her. To tell her how beautiful she is. To sleep with her. And then never call her again.

It’s normal to watch porn all day. And all night.

It’s normal to be confused about the reverence owed to a female pastor in a pulpit because the only time you see a woman on an elevated platform is when she is on stage at a strip club.

But what the world considers normal. God considers it sin.

And this too, my friends, is about worship. Our sexuality is wrapped up with and through our spiritual selves. You tell me what is going on in your sex life and I can tell you what is going on with your soul. Your heart, you mind, and soul are inextricably bound to what you are doing sexually. And God really cares about it. Even if you don’t. God cares.

God cares about what you are doing with your body.

God cares about what you are doing to your body.

God cares about what you are doing with other people’s bodies.

God cares about what you are doing to other people’s bodies.

It is clear from Leviticus 18 that in order to have good sex one must refrain from sexual sin. Using Leviticus 18 as a point of reference and considering the vast conversation on sex in the Bible, we find that there are three fundamental sexual behaviors that we must refrain from in order to have good sex.

  1. Sex in violence is a sin. Sex that is wrapped around aggression, oppression, the desire to conquer or control another’s body is a sin. We find this clearly illustrated in the Book of Judges, chapter 19. In this text, we find a Levite who is seeking to reconcile with his concubine who has run away to her father’s house. He goes to her father’s house to try to encourage her to come home with him. A group of men from the neighborhood then come pounding at the door demanding that they father hand over the Levite so that the group can rape him. The Levite instead pushes his concubine outside and the text says that the group, “raped and abused her all night long” (Judges 19:25). This sounds unspeakable but the truth is that gang rape happens all the time. It happens in parties and night clubs. In college dorm rooms and frat houses. It happens in prisons and detention centers. It happens to women and children in war-torn countries who cannot get away from the soldiers fast enough. It happens all the time. And it’s a sin.

One-on-one coercive sexual violence is also a sin. I am talking to men and women here. Women, too, pressure and force men into sexual acts. Have a look at Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39. There we find Joseph living with his slave master Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife takes a-liking to Joseph and tries to seduce, compel, and finally coerce him to have sex with her. Sex that wrapped around an attempt to control someone else’s body is violent and sexual violence is a sin.

Sexual behavior that violates your own body is a sin as well. Sometimes people rape themselves. Sometimes a person will consent to a sexual behavior that s/he really doesn’t want to perform. If s/he would just stop and listen s/he could hear the inner voice that is crying “please, I don’t want to do this.” Committing a sexual act against your own will is self-inflicted violence. And it is a sin.

2. Prostitution is a sin. It is sinful to trade sex for money. It is sinful to barter sex for goods and resources like clothes, shoes, a new cell phone, tickets to a Beyoncé concert, dinner and a rent-free place to stay at your baby’s momma’s house. Your sex should not be for sale. Your sex is not a Visa or a MasterCard.

Not only is it sinful to trade your sex for material gain, it is sinful to trade your sex for immaterial gain as well. To hand over sex in order to feel loved or desirable for a little while. To trade sex to feel powerful and in control for a while. To give sex in order to feel less lonely or isolated for an evening. Sex for the sole purpose of intangible goods – “I just don’t want to be alone tonight.” Or “I need to feel like The Man” is a sin.

It is sinful to use sex as a way to change situations and circumstances that you may find yourself in. This is illustrated in Genesis 38 with Tamar and Judah. This is a complicated story but suffice it to say that Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. According to custom, Judah was supposed to give Tamar to his youngest son after the first two sons died. But Judah never did it. So she hid her identity, had sex with Judah, got pregnant, all as a response to the fact that Judah did not give her to his third son. She wielded her sexuality in an attempt to control her situation. When you use your sex as way to manipulate your circumstances, control your environment or control the actions of other people, it’s called prostitution. And it’s a sin.

3. Finally, lust is a sin. Constantly chasing after your many, and ever changing, sexual impulses is a sin. We see this exemplified in the life of David, in II Samuel 11. David sent his army out to war and in a very un-kingly fashion, he stayed back to hang out in the palace while his soldiers fought for his kingdom. One day he looked out and saw Bathsheba, the wife of one of his chief soldiers, bathing in the sun. David took one look at her and he just had to have her. It didn’t matter that he was married. It didn’t matter that she was married. It didn’t matter that she was married to one of his chief soldiers who was in real-time fighting for David’s life. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that he saw Bathsheba. And he had to have what he saw. So he took what he saw. The consequences of this act of lust were devastating to everyone involved, it led to the break-up of marriage and the ending of lives. And that is what lust does. It destroys relationships. It destroys lives. It’s a sin that keeps on sinning.

We are sexual beings and we have sexual desires but it’s exhausting and destructive to be constantly subject to all of your sexual impulses. If you don’t get in control of lust you will find yourself constantly chasing your tail, running nonstop after the things that you think that you want. But the reality is that you do not know what you want.

Listen closely, I said you don’t know what you want. I’m not saying that you don’t know how you like it. I’m sure you know how you like it. You like it stripped down. And beat up. You like it licked. Stroked. Flipped. And reversed. You know how you like it but you don’t know what you want.

Because if you knew what you wanted, you wouldn’t wake up next to a man one morning and next to a woman the next.

If you knew what you wanted, you wouldn’t change your sex partners like you change your underwear.

If you knew what you wanted, you would not be bound to the bedposts of your bedrooms by your impulses, desires, addictions, and angst.

That constant temptation to chase and chase and chase after our perceived wants is the result of the human condition. It is the incurvatus- it’s a brokenness in the spirit, a sickness in the soul.

But the good news is that there is a God who knows what we want. And more importantly, there is a God who knows what we need. What we need is freedom. What we need is liberation from the sins of violence, prostitution and lust that keep us bound up to our bedposts. What we need is healing for our tattered, bruised and bleeding souls.

The good news, brothers and sisters, is that there is a bandage for the tatters. There is an ointment for the bruises. There is a salve for our bleeding. There is a balm. There is a balm in Gilead to heal our sin-sick souls. There is a balm in Gilead and his name is Jesus.

Jesus who looked at the woman accused of adultery (John 8:4-11).

A woman whose name we do not know.

A woman whose story we do not know.

We don’t know if she was a prisoner to violence. We don’t know if she was just trying to feed her children. We don’t know if she was high on the opiate of lust. All we know is that she stood before her Lord and savior, caught in the act.

Like her, we stand today in the presence of our Lord, caught in the act. None of us free from the temptations of violence, prostitution, and lust.

Jesus looks at her in her eyes. And then he looks into the eyes of her accusers and said, “You who is without sin, you cast the first stone” (John 8:7). You who have never been tempted by the thrill of violence. You who have never been tugged by the promised reward of prostitution. You who have never been seduced by the tantalizing voice of lust. You cast the first stone.

And the Bible says that one by one,

From oldest to the youngest. They laid down their stones.

“Have none of your accusers condemned you?” Jesus asked.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11)

We stand today in the overflow of the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ.

Who has not condemned us but delivered us.

Who has not condemned us but liberated us.

Who has not condemned us but freed us.

Good sex occurs when we put down the sin of sexual violence, prostitution, and lust.

Brothers and sisters Go. And sin no more.