A Sermon about Sexuality, Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, July 2, 1995
First Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA for Pentecost IV
July 2, 1995
Texts: Second Sam. 11:26-12:10, 13-15.Psalm 32 Gal. 2:11-21. Luke 7: 36-50.
The lessons this morning are quite powerful. In the words of the Sun Mountain Fiddler, who played hoe-downs that could raise the roof, “If someone has a pace-maker, they probably shouldn’t even be in the room.” (The Sun Mountain Fiddler is Dick Solberg, a Norwegian who plays Irish jigs that make the people go right through the roof.
We have to speak about power because we are hearing about sexuality this morning. And sexuality is a power that can sweep us right off our feet. It can disrupt lives and hurt people, like it did with Bathsheba and David, or it gets harnessed in order to sell us all kinds of products we do not want. A beautiful model is always placed right beside a new car. And last minute, they take her away and all you get is the car. Truthfully, beyond this, in our world, sexuality is basically a battle-ground, and we get glimpses alone of sexual peace as the consummate expression of God’s love. How amazing that God would give us such a gift, such lovely bodies, and, at the same time, the forgiveness of all the many sins even of our sexuality, so that like this woman, Mary Magdalene, because we have been forgiven much, we respond by loving much.
To use St. Paul’s formula, so powerful a master as sexuality is, our Lord Jesus Christ is stronger still, and Christ is the way to prevail, and our sexuality will become wonderfully integrated into the newness of life in Christ. Because sexuality can be so destructive and disruptive, (look how it even made such a faithful person as David murderous), we fear it greatly and we tend to slap the law down on it hard. That’s why we want the heavy brackets of marriage around it to protect it and us. We tend to see our salvation from sexuality in the law. But this approach does not hear St. Paul.
We tend to see the Law in the Old Testament, and Gospel in the New. But this is not the case. David remained God’s darling, (because the name itself means, “darling,”) even after his murderous affair with Bathsheba. And God washed him “thoroughly from his sin,” Psalm 51, because the blood of Christ was also shed for him, and he remained within the promises of God. And in some ways David does resemble Mary Magdalene. David also danced naked in front of the procession bringing the Arc of the Covenant to its new location. His wife saw him and detested him, and that ended their relationship. But David was forgiven much, and also loved much.
But it is not by the law that we can be saved from the destructive power of our sexuality. Like Paul, we need to fix our eyes of faith upon Jesus Christ, and this faith can make us whole. Faith in Jesus Christ, gives us the power to accept our sexuality and integrate it into the wholeness, newness, and joy of the marvelous love of God.
Jesus is certainly a wonder to behold! Who else but God in human form could have remained loving in the ordeal this woman put him through. I don’t think Jesus had a judgmental bone in his body. (The circle of Pharisees around him only had bones to pick, and their whole skeletal system projected judgment.) In such a circle what human being would not have succumbed to the piercing eyes of the “holy,” and cave in under the weight of “What will the others think!” But Jesus changes the possibility of complete embarrassment and rejection into an experience of love. Even in the sight of all these negative looks, Jesus celebrates the holy expression of God’s love given us in the gift of our bodies, and the joy that God intended that they give us.
Often we read our Bibles with rather Puritanical eyes, and therefore the whole picture does not get through to us. Jesus the Rabbi, did not reject the unabashed loving touch of a “sinful” woman. And that in a much more repressive society than we can even conceive of today. Women were not seen, and they may have been veiled. For religious men to see women meant that their thoughts were turned from prayer to women as sex-objects. I questioned my Jewish barber in Brooklyn: “Why do you have the women worship on one side of the aisle and the men on the other. Or even force the women to worship in back?”
“You can’t look at a woman and still be able to pray!” he answered.
What an outrageous problem that fixes upon the women. And among the so-called “religious,” they could not be touched by a woman or they would be unclean. How dehumanizing to women! How terrible for religious people to not be able to relate with women as persons. Because they hated the “impure” thoughts their sexuality drove them too, they hated women, and engendered misogyny, hating the object who stirred those feelings in them. They equated women with sex, and because they could not integrate sexuality into their lives, they rejected both, women and sexuality, but of course not in reality. In reality they hypocritically split the women of the society into Virgin Marys , who could not be sexual, and Mary Magdalenes, who were “sinful” women.
At the Pharisee’s house, we must not think that they ate in our way with their feet under a table. They ate in the Roman fashion, at the three-tabled triclinium, laying around the tables to eat on cots. Suddenly a woman comes in with wonderfully smelling perfumed ointment. Perhaps it was Mary Magdalene. She goes to where Jesus is lying, and begins to cry over his feet, wetting them with her tears, then drying them with her hair, all the while kissing them and caressing them tenderly, while anointing them with her ointment. That was a little like getting a message. Perhaps you know the secret already – the feet can be filled with all our tension, and all our feelings. And very powerful feelings must have swept through Jesus while this woman showed him all this love – right in the place where it was religiously rejected. And in any case how did the Pharisee know she was a sinner? He might have visited her many a time. Or even if he didn’t, his heart could have been filled with lust for her.
There is a story of two monks who arrived at a stream, finding a woman who could not cross without getting all her skirts wet. One monk helped her by picking her up and carrying her across the stream. The other was furious and did not speak with his colleague for three miles. Finally he blurted out: “You touched a woman. And you even carried her on your back.”
“That’s true,” he answered, Abut I put her down on the other side, but you have continued carrying her these last three miles.”
Perhaps some in the circle of Pharisees had to reject women and sex, and perhaps they tried to exclude sexuality from their lives. But then it grew in power, banked up within them as it were, until it became like a beast against them, and then in the proverbial expression, with a monkey on their back, they would go to the brothel again, in the secret of the dark. And the brothel was kept in the city to keep the house-holds hypocritical, as if no sex took place in them, as if their lives did not include sex.
So even if you are in the midst of your struggle with sexuality, look to Christ. Your faith in Christ will make the healing power of sexuality prevail in love that fulfills the law. Or perhaps you are at the beginning of your struggle with sexuality, and you don’t know how to control it. Fix your eyes on Christ, who makes friends with it and changes it from your enemy into your friend and help. Or perhaps you are one of those who look back and feel grateful or wistful that these powerful drives in your life have somewhat abated, and you are no longer at their mercy. No matter what place in life you find yourself, know that you can look to Christ, who helps you integrate these powerful feelings into your human expression of love. Here there needs to be much forgiveness, and there, there needs to be a lot of love.
Note that Jesus places the so-called “sinful” woman before the so-called “righteous” and tells them they need to take her as an example. Christ is integrating the intensity of her love into our new lives. Not only does Jesus not say, “Don’t touch me!” But he allows her to touch him in a very sensitive area of his body, and to kiss him tenderly there. Thus sensuality comes over into the new life, stolen away from the powers of death and destruction, and invited into the alliance with life, and the love of life among men, women and children.
Look at our worship. Now we share the peace. We see much embracing amongst us. That was not always that way. In my ministry in Brooklyn it developed. And then going out the door, people would usually seal the handshake with a kiss and a hug. That is the holy expression of love that Jesus invited into the new life.
In this scene Jesus also speaks directly to this women, and not in the third person about her as if she wasn’t even there. “You are forgiven. Your faith has made you whole. Go in peace!”
And this same faith in Christ will also convert our sexuality from the disruption of our lives, as in the case of David and Bathsheba, to part of its fulfillment, when Christ the Lord becomes the object of our faith and love. Just think! God’s heavenly body is revealed and given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. The body of Christ is given to us. And because we are here forgiven much, we are set free to love much, as part and parcel of the abundant life.
In this sermon there is really too much to say. Perhaps just one more note of warning. There should not be a smug circle of self-righteousness in this area. Jesus dismantles this attitude in the circle of Pharisees pointing to a friendliness toward sexuality. A real nasty bit of fighting goes on in our society, using sex as revenge and as part of the struggle for power, and knocking people out of it. Jesus would not go along with this attitude. One of the forms it takes is sexual blackmail, which is a wicked underside of our social relation. Roll over the rock and these nasty things come creeping out. And this ugly weapon is used in all the corridors of power. It is rampant in this country, has been used from in the campaign against the president of the United States, to the election of a bishop of our ELCA, even to the lowliest gay person, who is still in the closet, and is being blackmailed by those who know his real orientation.
Jesus bid Mary Magdalene go in peace. In this peace let us stop the fighting that makes sexuality into a battle-ground. Let us stop using sex as a weapon. Let us all share sexual reconciliation with one another. Let us be kind to one another even sexually, and share sexual forgiveness. The loving actions of Mary Magdalene to Jesus illustrate the sensual and sexual kindness that lets us go in peace. Amen.
Pastor Peter D.S. Krey