Text: Matthew 19:13 and 14
In order to talk about healthy sexuality we must first address the elephant in the room- the truth that we as a community have been keeping a secret for far too long- and that is for many in this sanctuary, your first sexual encounter was violent, was coerced, was before you were old enough to consent, was before you knew what was happening. Before we can talk about good sex, we must first talk about sexual abuse of children.
Sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor (sometimes between a minor and a minor), forcing, coercing, or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act:
It could be touching, or fondling.
Forcing a child to strip.
or raping a child.
According to the national statistics on rape, 70% of all reported sexual assault occur to children under the age of 17 and in almost half of all reported rape cases, the victim was also a child under the age of 17. These are only the cases that were reported. It is widely known that many instances of sexual abuse go unreported. It is widely known, although rarely discussed, that the incidence of sexual abuse is extraordinarily high particularly in the black community. And this form of sexual violence that people endure has lasting implications on one’s ability to cultivate healthy spiritual or healthy sexual practices. This is an issue in which we must bring to light and bring to Jesus, the light of the world.
In our text this morning, we find Jesus in the thick of his ministry, travelling around preaching and teaching throughout Judea. By now, he has developed a name for himself as a great preacher, miracle worker, and healer. People are coming from all over the place to receive healing from him. We find here in our short pericope that a group of parents or guardians have brought little children so that Jesus could lay his hands on them and pray for them. We read that the disciples rebuke the parents and try to keep them from Jesus. Jesus responds by rebuking the disciples and stating, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mat. 19:14).
Let the children come to me. And do not hinder them.
Sexual abuse hinders the relationship between a child and Jesus. You will hear me say over and over again throughout the next several weeks this fundamental truth: our sexual selves are inextricably bound with our spiritual selves. Therefore, sexual violence is not only traumatic to the mind and the body, but also to the spirit. This sort of trauma can get in the way of truly knowing God. Of knowing God’s goodness. Of knowing God’s grace. And most especially, of knowing God’s love. The people brought the children to Jesus so that Jesus could lay his hands on them- even the imagery of Jesus laying his hands on you can be a stumbling block, can be disturbing, or even violent imagery, if you have been touched inappropriately. Sexual abuse damages a child’s body which is a crime. Sexual abuse keeps a person from their Lord, which is a sin.
Let the Children come to me. And do not hinder them, Jesus said.
We, as a community, need to begin to face this as a reality in our community and address this sin. This is really happening in our families and in our neighborhoods and it needs to stop. We must take seriously the statistics and be vigilant about changing our community so that our children’s first sexual encounter is no longer one of violence, confusion, and deep pain.
The first thing we must do is protect them. Know the statistics and take them seriously. The statistics are that 90% of children who are molested, know their abuser. While it is sometimes an unknown, scary, predator that lurks around the child’s school, it is more often the case that the abuser is a family member, a neighbor, or a close friend of the family. We have to take that seriously. That means that children need to be supervised and protected, even from family. That may mean that a child needs to be supervised by two adults at all times. That may mean that you can’t send your child to grandma’s house for the weekend or the summer if there are a lot of adults living in her house. We need to protect children from live-in predators as well. We have to take seriously that the reality of the situation is that single mothers with live-in partners have the highest risk of having a son or daughter sexually abused. We have to take this fact seriously. And putting aside for a moment the question of what are you doing shacking up in the first place?- just putting that aside, if you chose to do that, know that your child is at risk. Put some measures of safety between your lover and your child. Between your lover’s family and your child. Between your lover’s friends and your child. Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them. In other words, protect them.
Second, we have to believe them. It is a tragic phenomenon that incidence of sexual abuse often goes unreported, not because the child did not inform an adult, but because the adult refused to believe the child or refused to respond to the crisis. I have heard so many horror stories where the child came forward and the parent just would not believe. I know a woman who was molested by her grandmother and she told her mother but her mother simply would not believe her. Her mother continued to drop her off at her grandmother’s house for days and weeks at a time. She would not believe. She would not respond. This had lasting implications on the woman’s mental psyche, her spirituality, and her sexuality. I know another who was molested by her stepfather for many years. When she tried to tell her mother, her mother would simply leave the room. Her mother still lives with her stepfather to this day. This had lasting implications on the woman’s mental psyche, her spirituality, and her sexuality. It is our responsibility to believe and to respond to our children. Respond by talking to children about sex regularly and early on. If the first time you are talking about sex is after a crisis has occurred, you have already responded way too late. It is incumbent upon us to create a culture in our homes and families where open and honest conversation is the norm, where children are not afraid to speak the truth for fear of discipline or rejection, where secrets are not encouraged. This sort of secret festers in communities, it festers in families, and it festers in the hearts and souls of the victims. It causes the collapse of self-esteem, a confusion about wanted and unwanted touch, destructive coping mechanisms like substance abuse, it causes depression, and even causes suicide. Let the children come to me. And do not hinder them. In other words, respond to and believe them.
We can spend all of our time discussing preventative measures to eliminate the presence of sexual abuse in our community but for many people here- men, women, and children- a conversation on prevention is too little and too late.
All of us have been impacted by sexual abuse.
Here, present with us now, are men and women who have been sexually violated as a child.
Here, present with us now, are men and women who have violated a child or minor sexually.
Here, present with us now, are children who have been inappropriately touched.
Here, present with us now, are family members and friends who have witnessed as sexual trauma has stripped our loved ones of their life and their light.
Brothers and sisters, in order to have good sex, healthy sex as God intended- you must first receive God’s healing for the ways in which your body has been violated, you must first receive healing for the way in which you have used your body to violate another’s body. We stand today as a community- of parents, victims, violators, and friends- we stand desperately needing Jesus to lay his hands on us. We stand desperately needing his healing. Therefore, I invite you to allow Jesus to put his hands on you today. I invite you to allow him to place his hands on this area of your life fore only he can fix your broken places and bring light to your dark spaces. Good sex can only arise when you allow Jesus to be the one to touch you. To heal you. To make you whole. Let him lay his hands on you.
So what we will do now is enter a time of healing. There are candles on the altar and I invite you, as you feel led, to light a candle to represent a child that you are bringing to Jesus.
Perhaps that candle represents you, when you were touched before you knew what sex was, before you knew what was happening.
Perhaps that candle represents a son or daughter, niece or nephew, brother or sister.
Perhaps that candle represents a friend who was violated as a child and you have watched as the trauma has taken root in the person’s life, you have watched as his or her life has gone spiraling out of control as a result.
Jesus said, let the children come to me. And do not hinder them. For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Please, bring the children to Jesus.
There were nearly 50 candles on the altar, all were lit. The time of healing ended with a period of testimony. The following are a few testimonies that were rendered:
“Pastor, I thank you for being brave enough to discuss this topic. This is really happening in our communities. I had a brother who, when he was younger, he went to our neighbor’s house to play one day. And that day he changed. He became a different person. He began getting in trouble, going in and out of jail. He eventually committed suicide. My mother believes that something happened to him. She believes that someone touched him. But she didn’t know, we didn’t know how to talk about it. So I encourage everyone to be brave, to talk about this, to speak out. It just may save a life.”
“I have nephews and nieces that have been molested. There are so many that there are not enough candles to light one for each. I knew something was wrong, that something was happening but everything was kept a secret. I pray that God would heal them and heal my family.”
“When I was a little girl, I was molested by a friend of the family. He would touch me and I didn’t know what was going on but I knew it was wrong. I became sexually active at a young age, I think because of that. I was a very young mother. I have never told anyone before today that this happened to me as a child. It was 50 years ago and I didn’t realize until today how much it still impacts my life. But I believe that I have been healed today.”
Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.