Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Kissing in Church"

Sermon: "Kissing In Church" (preached 1/25)
Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:18-25
Scripture Lesson: Song of Songs 1:1-17

There are some things that are just taboo. Kristie Hall wrote this story for Parents magazine....My boss and I have 6 yr. old boys in the same kindergarten class. One night our families ran into each other at a local restaurant, and we decided to share a table so that my son, Kobe, and her son could sit together. They were deep in conversation about what cartoon characters were on their underwear, when my son turned to my boss and asked, “So what kind of underpants do you wear?” – Kristie Hall of Texas (June 2006 Parents Magazine)

Some things, even in innocence are hard to talk about, and when someone starts blurting it out people gasp. People’s eyes get big. People call “Foul! You’re out of bounds.” Kinda like putting the word sex on a church sign. When the normal social bounds are breached, it upsets the norm, the safe, the way it always was or the way it should be. So you can rest assured that I did know that I would receive some comments about the series and the church sign. I have to admit I was a little shocked when someone called our house on Friday...FOUR days after changing the sign...I was expecting 2 at the most!

In all seriousness, I thought long and hard about this sermon series. In fact, I’ve been reading commentaries and other books studying for these sermons since November. Starting off I want you to know some things. #1 I take this very seriously. In fact, this is IMHO, one of the more important societal issues that I can preach of, and in light of this, I am aware that the way I speak and preach about it must be very intentional. So I want you to know that I don’t think this is a joke, though I do believe we can have some fun with our uncomfortability with something beautiful and made by God. It’s OK to laugh, I’ll probably laugh some, too, but I do want everyone to know I think this is a big deal.

#2 I’ll be upfront and say this, I believe that the “golden standard,” the Biblical “way”, or simply put it, I believe God created sex to be between one man and one woman who unite their lives for life. I take this from our Genesis reading and the many reflections on marriage within the Biblical text. This belief will shape how I speak of sex, relationships, and love.

#3 Through all of this, I think you’ll find that my emphasis will be on wholeness. A whole and healthy self, whole and healthy relationships with others, and most of all a whole and healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

#4 If you have problems with something I say or do, come see me. And this extends beyond just this topic. Part of being a Christian is offering grace to others. People make each other mad all the time...It’s part of life...However...however, being a Jesus follower means offering grace and forgiveness. So, if I offend you, come talk to me about it. It’s possible the offense is intentional and I’m wanting you to think about something, and that we can agree to disagree...But, maybe, I said something confusing or wrong, and I can then have the opportunity to say I’m sorry.

I just wanted to be clear about these things before we started. I don’t know why because this is such an easy topic, and we should zip right through it....

What & Why
God & Sexuality
The Odd Couple
- At first take, I know it may seem completely out of place to talk about God and human sexuality at the same time...especially in a place of worship. However, this Odd Couple do in fact know each other quite well. From the earliest findings of religious iconography, art, and stories, we find that God and Sex are intimately connected. The earliest statues that we can find of gods and goddesses were in fact what we call Fertility Gods...In other words, these items were used in religious ceremonies to promote fertility of crops...livestock...and yes even humans. Some religions even had temple prostitution as part of the religious ceremony. Unfortunately, this still goes on today in places like India.

What’s interesting is that some religions have found the connection between sex and the sacred as well, except their solution is absolute abstinence. Religions like Buddhism and parts of Hinduism and Christianity promote celebacy, or complete abstinence from sex.

So by either extreme or all in between, religions have wrestled with the connection between God and human sexuality. [Read Sex God by Rob Bell beginning middle p. 13 to p. 15 skipping some parts].

Old Testament Soap Opera - But, that’s all just philosophy of religion, what does the Bible say about it. Well, the Bible is full of the subject of human sexuality. Genesis 2, which we read, and which I read at every wedding I do. Unfortunately, we humans don’t always treat our bodies with such respect, and the OT is very open about this. Women desperate to get pregnant sleep with their fathers, men rape women, men raping men, fathers pawn daughters off as property, and kings with 1000’s of mistresses. In the story of Ruth, I hope you know that “feet” is a Hebrew metaphor...go back and reread the story...You’ll find it a bit more shocking. The OT covers the whole gamut of human existence because it is a human document. Yes, inspired by God, but written by humans in a very human world. So, I would like to point out that the OT is NOT shy about the subject. In fact, some of the more graphic sexual imagery in the Bible relate to the metaphor of God as husband and God’s people as wife. Obviously, God saw the connection, too.

New Testament (Read Carefully) - I know that some of you though have a hard time with the OT and look to the NT, which I might warn is a very dangerous thing, but that’s for another sermon on another day. One person who was critical of my sermon titles said, “I don’t think Jesus would be happy with you talking about these things.” Well, who does Jesus hang with...Fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes...Now let me get this straight: People actually believe that Jesus spent alot of time with prostitutes (and I don’t mean that in any bad way) and sex NEVER came up? Get real. A woman caught in adultery in John 8, and Jesus is right there commenting. Jesus has teachings in all the Gospels about marriage and adultery...and we don’t think Jesus talked about sex? I think you get my drift. But it doesn’t end there, and later on, I’ll use some pretty shocking yet practical statements by St. Paul about marital relations.

Lastly on this point, the metaphor of God’s people, the Church is continued as being the Bride of Christ. And throughout the ages, many, many people have found sacred romance in this relationship. So yes, the Bible does teach that our sexuality is closely related to our understanding and relationship with God because our sexuality is tied so intimately to our own personal wholeness. Let me say that again...the Bible does teach that our sexuality is closely related to our understanding and relationship with God because our sexuality is tied so intimately to our own personal wholeness.

That’s In the Bible!?!
The Song of Songs
“The Most Beautiful Song”
A Timeless Song (of Songs) - Jewish Rabbis have debated the intention of this book for ages. Is it what it appears on the surface? A set of love poetry about two lovers? Or is it an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning telling of God’s love for Israel? There is no clear consensus, and there never has been. What is interesting is that the book, despite which take, was chosen by the Jewish people as Scripture. A famous and ancient rabbi named Akiba once said, “The whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”

Christians struggled with the same issue: Is it allegory or love poetry? Origen, a very early Christian theologian, believed that the Beloved woman was the Church and the Lover was Christ.

On the otherhand, John Donne, famous English poet, statesman, and pastor, wrote many love poems just like this. Were they about his wife or Christ? Were they about human romance or divine?

Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval monk noted for his sermons, wrote 86 distinct sermons on the first 2 chapters of the Song of Songs alone. 86! That’s hard to imagine...but then again he was a monk.

Did you know that the Puritans talked about relationships and sexuality alot. In fact Zig Ziglar says the Puritans “were far more fun-loving than they’ve been accused of being, but they insisted that the pleasures of the flesh be subordinated for and to the greater glory of God. They were not ascetics, and they never even hinted that they wanted to deny or prevent the enjoyment of earthly pleasures.” In fact, he reports that Puritanism was a youthful, highly educated movement. The Puritans revived Cambridge University and founded Harvard only six years after founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans consistently extolled sex within marriage. One Puritan pastor was typical in calling sex “one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage,” to be enjoyed “with goodwill and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” One congregation even excommunicated a man for sexually neglecting his wife, and believe it or not there were even laws about such things. Hardly the stick-in-the-muds that the Victorians paint for us...Ironically, the Victorians are the ones to think for our culture’s obsessive silence regarding the issue. 1880’s women’s psychology was committing women to insane assylums for the very thing you’d find written on the front of Cosmo magazine, so it’s no surprise that this era began the time of silence in the Church...We don’t talk about it, and as far as we know it doesn’t happen. Not surprisingly, the Song of Songs has hardly been preached...and when it has been, poorly.

Is It Getting Hot In Here?
The Song of Songs
It All Started with a Kiss
- In a culture that did not allow public displays of affection, imagine the shock of first time readers when they encounter these words taken literally from the Hebrew: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” Wow, even in our day, that’s a great way to start a book. Right from the beginning the Songs of Songs is a radical document. It starts with the hunger of a lover’s kiss, but it gets better. But, I’d like to pause, and just point out the power of a kiss. One can stop the world in a moment. A kiss cements the vows of a marriage. A kiss is powerful symbol of love. It has power. If you remember the movie, “Pretty Woman” the call girls teach each other, “Don’t kiss on the lips...don’t make it personal.” A kiss can be treacherous...afterall a kiss can and did betray. Too often, I’ve heard “they were just kissing.” Yeah, and I was just lighting sticks of dynamite, too. A kiss has power because in that one intimate moment, we make ourselves completely vulnerable. In a kiss, there are smells and tastes and touch (notice the wording wine, perfume, mouth). In my opinion, we undervalue this act. We say that it’s OK for teens AND adults to kiss without reflecting on what it means or does. Yet, all of our teaching stories say something different...You ask, “what stories?” Snow White is kissed to life by a prince. Sleeping Beauty is kissed awake by a prince. Ariel has to kiss her true love by Sundown, the toad turns into a prince when kissed, the Beast turns into a prince when kissed by the Beauty. Kisses have power, and the ancients knew this well.
In fact, a large study on what makes marriages last pointed out that only ONE thing was in common between all long lasting marriages, religious, non religious and of different ages and cultures...It was an intimate embrace of a hug and kiss before bed. It ALL starts with a kiss. So the first thing we are confronted with is the power of a kiss.

A Romance...a Wild Romance - Winston Churchill was a member of a Master of Ceremonies club. He won every time there was a contest. He could speak on any topic at any time. They thought they had him one day when without notice they gave him the topic, "sex." He rose and said, "Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure," then he sat down.

I'd like to highlight a couple of interesting lines from the poetry today. The Lover says this in verse 9: "You are as exciting, my darling, as a mare among Pharoah's stallions."

Now today, you'd probably get slapped for calling your girlfriend a horse, but there's actually something to this. You see in ancient Egypt, the most prestigious wing of the military was the chariot corps. They were superbly trained. They were often nobility. They had the best technology of bows and chariots. The horses of the chariot corps were some of the best in the ancient world, and to add to the prestige, Pharoah himself often led the chariot corps. It was his to command and lead into battle for he had a special chariot led by the most beautiful white stallions. It was an awesome sight to behold on the battlefield.

So back to the text. She is a mare among Pharoah's stallions? I don't know how many of you have seen a stallion who is anywhere near a mare in heat, but I assure you this: The stallion goes crazy. Case in point: Once a Canaanite king was being attacked by Egypt, but he had no cavalry or chariot corps of his own...and he came up with a brilliant solution. As Pharoah's chariots were starting to approach, the Canaanite king had a mare in heat run across the battlefield. This lit a fuse under the chariot stallions who went berzerk and could not be controlled by their chariot pilots.

So here's what he's saying: "You, my love, are SO sexy that when you walk by, it's like a mare causing stallions to go crazy." We would say it like this, "You drive ALL the boys wild!" He's not shy in praising her...on the contrary, any meaningful romantic relationship must have physical attraction. He is not vulgar; rather, he is playful and complimentary. His words though come at just the right time...

Missing the Trees in the Forest - For just before this she has put herself down. She speaks of herself being "common." Of not being "fair." But his discourse shoots right through this: He is encouraging her: "No my love, you are beautiful. You are exquisite." And yes, "You are sexy."

Ladies no man is worth your time unless he loves you. And, you young ladeis are who I'm really addressing here: Unless he spends time encouraging you and building you up, he's not worth your time. Now words can be cheap, but over time if a man encourages you and tries to do what is best for you, he's a keeper: however, if it's all about him; if it's all about what he wants; if he gets what he wants and the comments end; he's not worth your time.

A man worth your time has a name that is "like perfume." In other words, he has character. Guys, you want to be an attractive man? Be a man of strength and character. Stand for what is right. Do what is right. Treat women with respect. Encourage others in faith and life.

It's easy to miss some of these finer points of the love story, but they are subtle reminders of what makes a romance...of what truly

I Kissed A Girl and I Liked It - Katie Perry (real name Katie Hudson) - Xtian singer, failed, tried the secular industry, partied, experimented, and wrote a hit song, “I Kissed a Girl, and I Liked It.” This subject is important, in a day when divorce is the norm. Single parents struggle to make ends meet. Teen STD’s are at an all time high (with a caveat that if you ask me later I’ll explain). AIDS is a global killer, and the Church itself is struggling with sexuality.

Why We Must Talk About This
Look around...No, Wait, Don’t...
- I intend no offense, but I can’t believe there are people who still believe that the church shouldn’t talk about this. We have to. We’ve tried the silent thing or the “Just don’t do it.” thing for too long. It’s time to wake up and to see humanity and the human experience for all that it is. It’s time to read our Bibles for the first time and see that there is more in there in common with our world than with us, who are in the Church, and that in case you missed it was a slamming indictment. We live in a post-Christian world, and our engagement with culture is needed more than ever. Hiding away not talking about the real world has got the church right where it is today. The quaint Sunday morning social club. It’s time to engage the hard issues, the uncomfortable topics, it’s time to follow Jesus with ALL of our lives...even the private parts of our lives.

Who We Are - I’d like to go back to something that the Song of Songs author and Rob Bell both point out: Our perception of ourselves, our ability to live in our own skin has so very much to do with our sexual lives...and with our relationship with God. I can’t stress this enough. In marriage and in singleness, when we have struggles with relationships and our sexual lives, it’s more about our hearts than anything. And the travesty has been that we can’t talk about things like sex, lust, affairs, pornography, and marital problems...

Bell shares this story...One day his 5 yr. old son asked his wife, “Mom, what does sexy mean?” She thought for a second and then replied, “Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your own body feels right, it feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you.”
You won’t feel right about this conversation, and you won’t ever feel right with God as a part of the conversation until you are OK with who you are.

And here’s the rub, this way the Church has been dealing with sexual issues, aka SILENCE, won’t ever work because it silence doesn’t deal with the issue, it just hides it.

So I guess you might say that along with Justin Timberlake, I’m trying to bring sexy back. My aim is that in the midst of all of misuse of sex, in a culture that abuses the concept of true love, in a world that uses and throws away people, my aim is to bring up an uncomfortable conversation so that we can deal with the stuff in our lives. So that you can love being you...because Jesus loves you...because God made you wonderfully.

Because I don’t know about you, but I want to feel comfortable in my skin...I want to love being me because God made me in God’s image. That’s why we’re talking about kissing in church. We’re bringing sexy back!

No comments: