Verses of Singleness: A Completely Unhelpful and Mildly Trite but Totally Thoughtful Reflection on Singleness.

Genesis 2:18 – It is not good for man to be alone.

In Genesis, we are introduced to a God who creates all things. In chapter two, this God creates the first human, a dude named Adam, from the dust. This God breathes the breath of life in Adam. And this God watches pleasantly as Adam begins a very fulfilling job as an environmental scientist and farmer. But the text says that God looked upon Adam in worry and concern because Adam was alone a lot. In an effort to find Adam a companion, God made a whole bunch of creatures but the text states that no suitable partner was found (Gen. 2:20). Adam couldn’t find a suitable mate. So God put Adam to sleep and created Eve from his rib. And Adam was immediately smitten with her.

And that was that.

His lonely days as a single person were over.

He goes on with a normal life. Just like any typical person, he makes some poor choices but recovers from them. He experiences the joy of having children, the grief of losing a loved one when he buries his son Abel. He leads a generally fulfilling life and his legacy includes the whole human race and, most importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Kudos for him.

He was single for all of what? 12 verses?

I am not sure how long that worked out in actual years but I suspect not long given how fast the plot picks up after he meets Eve.

And that’s exactly the problem with looking to the Bible for advice of navigating singleness. While this story of Adam and Eve is truly beautiful and we cherish it as a community of faith, it is definitely hard to relate to. And in general, the question of singleness in the Bible is a non-question. Generally speaking, mates, partners, companions are just there, finding each other is just the backstory. Adam meeting Eve is the prologue. The real story is inviting sin into the world by eating the forbidden fruit. Abraham meeting Sarah is the back story. The real story is how they produced an heir despite Sarah’s barreness Mary being betrothed to Joseph was the backstory. The real story was that God told her that despite her virginity, she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit (I really hope that was the best or most “divine” orgasm ever by the way).

The reality is that there aren’t a lot of single people walking around in the Bible. I mean there are. Some of the prophets were single. Ruth was single (look out for my reflection on how she navigated her singleness). Hell, Jesus was single. No, fuck Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and whatever nonsense the History Channel is saying these days. Jesus was single. There are tons of single people in the Bible but their singleness was not a major aspect of their lives, or at least the Biblical writers didn’t feel it significant enough to reflect upon.

But presently, the reality for so many of God’s people is the same problem Adam had, a suitable mate has not been found.

Don’t get me wrong, people find mates. People couple up. People get married. People have children. People mate.

But the decline in marriage suggests

But the rise in the divorce rate suggests

The shockingly high numbers of survivors of domestic/ intimate/ relationship violence and abuse suggests

That we have a “suitable mate” problem as a community of faith.

And Genesis 2 tells us that this is a problem that God is deeply concerned about. This is a problem that God feels very compelled to fix. I mean think about it. God didn’t say to Adam

“I see you’re single. Maybe you should use these 12 verses to work on yourself.”

Or

“Adam, have you ever tried online dating?”

Or

“Here’s a book on the 12 steps to navigating the single life and landing the bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh of your dreams.”

No, God had to get actively involved. God had to cut some things open. Rearrange some things. God had to re-create to make this first relationship happen.

And that’s the reality of it all.

Finding a suitable mate is one of the few things that we cannot create for ourselves, give to ourselves, or do for ourselves. God has to do it. And that may be 12 verses or 12 years but it is God’s job to provide a suitable mate.

This reality makes me think that perhaps being single is the first act of faith.

Single people must believe that this God that we worship is just as concerned about us as God was about Adam. This God is still crying out, “it is not good for humans to be alone.” Single people must allow this God to get actively involved. To cut some things open. To rearrange and recreate to make suitable relationships happen.

That means that the answer to singleness is that we have to do the uncomfortable,

The unimaginable,

The unthinkable…

We have to do nothing.

We have to actually to do the command that we are given again and again in the Bible:

We have to actually… you know… like… Wait on the Lord.

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Is the Devil in the Music?

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Is the Devil in the Music

Ezekiel 28: 12-19

Music affects me tremendously. I remember after I broke up with my college boyfriend, I couldn’t listen to music at all.  Because every song reminded me of him. Every song made me cry. So I just sat in silence for a year. Yesterday, I was running errands all day with a friend and she was listening to hip hop on the radio. By the time we returned home in the evening she looked over at me and asked,

“what’s wrong?”

“It’s the music,” I replied. “All the violence. All of the misogyny.  It’s literally making me sick.”

Now hear me out, I like Drake, and Lil’ Wayne, and Nicki Minaj, and Meek Mill (… well Meek Mill not so much) as much as the next millennial. But when you listen to the music for 6, 8, 12 hours it does something to you.  Do you know what I mean?

There are many Christians who will respond that there is a reason for that. They say that hip hop makes me feel this way because hip hop is demonic. There is a popular argument that suggests that the Devil uses music to turn people away from God and there is Biblical evidence to prove it.

My Bible study class and I had a debate one the subject and they insisted that I present our arguments to you today and so here I am. Now I confess, I have played the role of the devil’s advocate (almost literally) but I promised to present a neutral discussion, as the one’s who disagree with me don’t get the opportunity to preach. So here goes:

Is the devil in the music?

Let’s begin with a brief history of music in the Western world. So from about the 1200’s to about the 1700’s music what we call “classical.” It was the music of the Renaissance era, the Romantic era, the Enlightenment era, it was the symphonies of Bach and Beethoven… you know… the music that puts us all to sleep. That’s what music sounded like for a long time in the Western world.

And then in the late 1600’s, early 1700’s there was that peculiar institution that brought African bodies bound for America. And there, deep in the mud and muck of the southern plantations and African slave labor camps was born two new forms of music: the Spirituals and the Blues.

We know the Spirituals, we still sing them today.

“Don’t you let nobody turn you round,'”

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,”

“Wade in the water… God’s gonna’ trouble the water.”

They were songs about God.  They gave rise to the contemporary Gospel that we sing today, the songs that we sang this morning. It all started with the Spirituals.

And then there was the Blues.

It was the music that “ached so good.” It was music that wasn’t about God, it was about life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt when your woman walked out of your life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt to be poor and not have a penny to your name.

I want you to know that even in slavery this debate went on among Christians, the Spirituals were good and the Blues were sinful. But for some reason our ancestors couldn’t let the Blues go. So even after slavery and well into the reconstruction era and beyond, there were places called Juke joints where people would sing, gamble, and grind on each other- places that were called the den of sin, the den of the devil- and then the very they would be up early for church on Sunday. And people began to notice that the same musicians who were performing on Saturday night were the same church musicians on Sunday morning. And everyone loved the music all the same.

As the Blues began to grow and develop it gave rise to Jazz, and rock and roll, and r&b, and finally in the 1980’s, in the mean streets of New York City, something entirely new was born… hip hop.

Hip hop is but poetry with a beat, poetry set to a rhythm.

In defense of hip-hop, it is the music of African American intrepidation and defiance. In a culture that has for centuries attempted to control, imprison, oppress, and kill the black race, hip-hop is the voice of a people who refuse to die. And when the young black boy who hasn’t eaten in three days walks to school with shoes that have holes through and through, as he puts his headphones on and turns Jay-Z up he is saying to the world, “despite it all. I am still here. I am still alive.” That’s what hip-hop is.

On the other hand, hip-hop is marked by it’s negative themes:

Gang violence- the “us vs. them” rhetoric.

Drug use and distribution- getting high and getting rich getting others high.

Sexually explicit content- have you noticed that every rap song lately is about strippers?

If I had the time I could identify for you where in history these elements came from, the rising of gangs in the 80’s, the introduction of crack-cocaine in poor black communities in the late 70’s, the sexual revolution in the 60’s- but I don’t have time to break it down for you… you should have come to Bible study. Suffice it to say, hip hop has some pretty violent imagery and get’s blamed for the ills in the black community:

Hip hop is the reason that teenage girls are getting pregnant at 15.

Hip hop is the reason that the homicide rate is so high in the black community.

Hip hop is the reason that young boys do not mind going to prison.

Hip hop is the reason that drug abuse is ripping families apart.

Hip hop is at fault. Because hip hop is of the devil.

It’s the devil, you see. The devil is using the music to kill, steal, and destroy us. And we have for some time used the Bible to “prove” this argument. We have told this tale about Satan. That he was the head of music in heaven and then he became pretentious and willful and was cast from the sky on to earth. But he still uses his gifts for music to stir us all to sin. And the text we read together this morning is typically used as Biblical evidence for this legend. Ezekiel 28 is the text that is used to back this claim that the devil is in the music:

verse 12, “you were the seal of perfection full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

verse 14, “with an anointed cherub as guardian, I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God.”

Verse 17, “your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.

Verse 19b, “you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever

When we read this text we think that Ezekiel is talking about Satan’s great expulsion from the choir loft in the sky.

But what if I told you that this text is not about Satan at all?

This text and the book of Ezekiel is to and about the kings in and around Israel. This particular text is about the King of Tyre. The prophet is using the ancient rhetoric of the garden of Eden to let the king know that God will expel him from his kingdom in the same way that Adam was expelled from paradise. It’s a political, contextual, specific polemic against a corrupt monarch. It is not about Lucifer at all.

What if I were to tell you that contrary to what we have been saying all this time…what if I said  the devil is not in the music… the devil is in the church.

I said it. The problem is not the music, the problem is the church.

There is no essential power in hip hop music. You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Nicki Minaj talk about her butt all day and there is nothing she could say, no music video she could make that was so compelling that it would make me want to get butt injections.

You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Lil Wayne rap about getting high all day and there is nothing that he could say that would make me want to drink that syrup or whatever it is that makes him crazy as hell.

Why? Because my identity is not formed or shaped by Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. My identity is formed in Christ.

Therein lies the problem. For a whole generation of people, hip hop is providing a sense of identity. Hip hop is providing a sense of hope. Hip hop is offering a world view and perspective…. Hip hop is doing the work of the church.

The problem is that the  Church provides an identity, a world view and a perspective too but it is one that most people do not fit into. At church you are expected to be a “good stand up Christian.” And being a good Christian is a journey, it takes a lifetime. But church members are expected to have it already figured out. And for those who haven’t got it figured out, for those who can’t fake it like they have it figured out, they do not belong at church.

People who are dealing with the mud and muck of life

when things are not right in life.

when life is a mess:

“I love my wife, I do, but I can’t stop cheating on her.” People like that.

“I know I should leave my boyfriend, he hits me. But I love him so deeply.” People like that.

“I want to put the crack pipe down but it’s like fire inside of me. And I hunger for it all of the time.” People like that.”

“I was born a man. But I feel like I was supposed to be a woman.” People like that.

“I can’t find a job so I sell drugs because mamma’s rent still has to get paid.” People like that.

People like that are not welcome in the church.

And so such people just don’t show up to church and  turn to other voices for identity, and hope, and meaning. They turn to hip hop.

And as Christians, as a community of believers, we have to stop blaming the Devil and take a long hard look at our institution. We have the answer. We have the truth. It’s our mission to tell everyone that the provision you are looking for,

the hope that you are looking for,

the love that you have been waiting on,

the answer you have been searching for is not found in Drake,

or Tupac,

or Jay-Z,

the answer is in Jesus.

Jesus is the one you have been waiting on. Jesus is the one who can save you. Jesus is the one who can heal you. Jesus is the one who can free you. It’s not Jay-Z, it’s Jesus.

It is not until we the church stops pointing the finger of blame at the Devil and starts actually being the Church that transformation can ever happen. When we begin to let people who are broken be broken before God in our sanctuaries and find healing with our Lord, transformation will finally happen.

Then teenagers will stop getting pregnant.

Then the homicide rate will go down.

Then drug abuse will stop ripping apart families.

Then we will finally reign in the kingdom of God.

The devil is not in the music, my friends. The devil is in here. And it’s time to exorcise our Christian institution of hatred, of judgement, of exclusion, and intolerance in order to make  room for peace and hope, and healing, and love so that God’s people may finally find exactly what they need.

And what they need is Jesus.

Let’s stop blaming the music, let’s stop blaming the devil, and let’s start changing the world.

Bringing Up the Rear: For Those Troublesome Women Preachers

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I preached this sermon at the North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival. It is part B of a duo preaching presentation in which my sister in Christ, Rev. Kara Slade (coincidentally the coolest Episcopalian Priest you will ever meet in life), gave part A. We followed the Lectionary text for the day and purposefully chose the Pauline Epistle to make the statement that female preachers can and do find liberating and affirming messages in Paul’s writings.

Bringing Up The Rear

I Corinthians 15:1-11

  1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives. (I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG)

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.

There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”

There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.

There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”

And then. And then. And then

There are those troublesome voices who say again and again to women preachers that you do not belong in the pulpit, you do not belong in the episcopacy, you do not belong in leadership in the church. And if you think otherwise then you are are just being troublesome.

That’s why I love this text in I Corinthians 15. Because Paul here is the exemplary model for every preacher but I would argue his words here are an exemplary model for women preachers especially.

why?

For a simple truth, a simple fact that we all know to be true about Paul: Paul was troublesome.

He preached the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. Without license, without approval, without permission. And he was constantly facing resistance from his fellow preachers.

“You little upstart, who do you think you are,” they would declare. “You don’t belong to our good ol’ boy preaching club. You are not an Apostle. Were you there to see Jesus walk on water? Did you see him feed the masses? Where you there when he died on the cross and revealed himself to us in the upper room?”

“Aha!” Paul replies here in this text. “It is just as you say. Jesus presented himself alive  to Peter. To his disciples. To James and to many more.

And then. And then. And then.

he presented himself alive to me! to me! to me!

It was fitting that I bring up the rear (I Corinthians 1:3-9 MSG).”

It was fitting that I, too, join this long legacy of Prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

He goes on to say that it was fitting not because he was so holy. Not because he was so worthy. Not because he had never made any mistakes.  But because God is so gracious. And he says in the text “And I am not about to let his grace go to waste (I Corinthians 10-11 MSG).”

And so he responds I’m sorry if proclaiming the Message is so troublesome to you. I’m sorry if I cause you trouble. But you see, it’s not me it is the troublesome God who is in me. It is the troublesome God who has sent me. It is that troublesome God who presented himself alive to me.

And don’t you see that similar to Paul, a woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

Every time she lifts her voice to preach the Message

she is troubling the still waters of the Church.

She is troubling how things used to be.

She is troubling our understanding of I Timothy and Ephesians.

So it is incumbent upon all female preachers to, like Paul, stand boldly and declare

I know I am a lot of trouble.

But you have to understand that it is not me.

It is the God in me.

It is the God who sent me.

It is the God who presented himself alive to me.

It is exactly as scripture says, Jesus died for our sins.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was buried in the grave.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was raised from the dead.

And it is exactly as scripture says, Jesus revealed himself to Peter,

and James,

and Paul,

And me! And me! And me!

Because it is exactly as scripture says in Joel 2, ” I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28).

And so it is fitting that I bring up the rear.

Not because I am so holy. Not because I am so special. Not because I have never made any mistakes. But because God is so gracious. And I am not about to let that grace go to waste.

And so I admonish you today, you women preachers, to own your space in the long legacy of prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

Do not be afraid to bring up the rear.

What does that mean? Ultimately, that means do not be afraid to be troublesome.

For a woman preacher is a woman in power.

A woman preacher is woman in strength.

A woman preacher is a woman in audacity.

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

Breaking Rank: A woman wrestling with God

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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.

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