This is Part 2 of a 4 week series on Healthy Sexuality
Week 1: Our bodies - God's image
Week 3: Healthy sex: Drawing the line(s)
Speaker: Mark Rupp
Welcome friends. Welcome family. Welcome neighbors and guests. Welcome sisters, brothers, cousins, aunties, tios, and omas. Welcome lovers. Welcome husbands, wives, partners, significant others. Welcome people who are straight. Welcome people who are L-G-B-T-Queer. Welcome people for whom “it’s complicated” best describes their relationships.
Welcome all, to this, our second week of a four-part worship series on healthy sexuality.
I want to thank Joel for naming in his sermon last week the reality that too often these sorts of conversations in the Church have been dominated by straight people talking about the sexualities of queer people, dissecting every detail and treating the lives of real people as if they were nothing more than an “issue” to be resolved.
But we are all sexual people. None of us can distance ourselves from the “issue” any more than we can separate our mind from our heart from our body. We are all in need of good, theological discourse about our bodies, relationships, sex, and desire, because sexuality is about a lot more than just what we do with our genitals. It’s about how we relate to the world around us, how we understand our identities, how we express our desires.
And we are in desperate need of good theological conversations about sexuality because for too long the Church has been one of the chief purveyors of unhealthy, damaging, and even death-dealing notions of sexuality.
So what does a healthy, life-giving conversation about sexuality in the Church sound like?
The High School Sunday School class is doing a series concurrent with this worship series, and as I’ve prepared to teach, I’ve narrowed in on one theological statement for us to consider during each class session, inviting the group to consider what it would mean if we lived as if that statement were fully and completely true.
Last week, our focus statement was: “We are all created in the image of God.”
There are many different directions you can take this theological idea, but I want to invite us to take a moment and imagine what it would mean to believe that statement not just with your mind, but with your entire being. How would your relationship to your body change if you believed it was made in the image of God? What might you do differently if you saw the divine not just in yourself, but in everybody and every body? How would life be different if we stopped trying to beat our bodies into submission but, rather, treated every activity, every movement, every act of embodiment as an expression of gratitude?…(pause)
If you still need some ideas, you can go back and read Joel’s sermon from last week.
We started this series by grounding ourselves in the goodness of the body, and now we move to our second big theological idea: God intends for all people to experience life-giving, intimate relationships that contribute to the good of the whole community.
Or, maybe to narrow it down even further: We are created for intimacy.
Or, perhaps to put it another way: It is not good that a person should be alone.
From the beginning, embedded in the very creation myth of our tradition is an understanding that we are meant to be in relationship. From the climax of the first Creation account where God declares each subsequent thing that is created “good” and “very good”, comes a second account of creation where God pivots and declares “it is NOT good” that this dust-creature should be alone.
We are created for intimacy.
Our society has a bad track record of equating intimacy with the physical act of sex. Physical intimacy through sexual expression, is a beautiful, good, sacred, and holy type of intimacy--which I look forward to Joel talking more about next week--but if we equate intimacy only with sex, we can miss out on the importance of building relationships that are emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually intimate, or intimate in any of the other ways that people connect with one another.
So if we go back to the garden, to those first archetypes for humanity, we can begin to see that it only matters whether they are “Adam and Eve” or “Adam and Steve” if we limit ourselves to understanding intimacy only in terms of sexual intimacy, and even then, the dust creatures are not explicitly gendered until the very end of the story.
It seem to me that the focus and the point of the story is that “it is not good for humans to be alone.” So God creates a companion, a helper, a partner to share life with the first human. Bone of bone, and flesh of flesh, these two first humans share a level of intimacy so deep that they are both naked and not ashamed.
To be intimate with another means to be known and to know, to trust one another through shared vulnerability, to meet the other where they are without needing to change them and accepting this grace from them in return.
We’ve turned the idea of “knowing someone in a biblical sense” into a joke because we think the early writers were too prude to openly say that people had sex, but maybe that says more about our own lack of imagination about what it means to be intimate with one another.
The first two humans are naked in the presence of one another in more than just a physical sense, and it is only later that trust is broken and shame begins to change their relationship not just with one another but with God and with the rest of Creation.
When I was in fourth grade, a new boy moved to our small town and was put in my class. I had always had a hard time making friends because I was more interested in reading and music than the sorts of things most other boys were interested in. But this new kid, let’s call him Brad, showed up and he, too, seemed like the same kind of different as me. It wasn’t long before Brad and I began spending time together on the playground, swinging together or searching for cool looking rocks. We both had a computer game called Kings Quest, and we would spend hours talking through how we had solved various puzzles in the game or helping each other figure out what to do when we got stuck.
Our friendship deepened pretty quickly, and as much as it makes me cringe to remember this, we even had those necklaces where one says “best” and the other says “friend.” So when my older brother started dating Brad’s older sister, I was not-so-secretly overjoyed, imagining all the ways our friendship would be further solidified by the enmeshing of our two families.
That summer, Brad’s family invited our family to join them at their cottage for a day of grilling and tubing on the lake. I was a little nervous because up until this point, Brad and I had not had a lot of interaction outside of school. I was a little nervous because I thought my family was weird and would embarrass me. I was a lot nervous because tubing at the lake would mean swimming which would mean taking off my shirt in front of other people. By fourth grade, my feelings about the goodness of my body had already started to be distorted. Even though I had grown up going to my grandfather’s pool with all my cousins, wearing a swimsuit in front of people who are not my family made me very self-conscious.
But we were “best friends” so I did my best to relax and enjoy myself. Even though my family did still manage to be weird, everyone seemed to have a good time.
I had imagined that spending time together in this way would have deepened our friendship, but when we got back to school, Brad was distant. It wasn’t long before I found out that he was going around laughing and telling people, “Mark has boobs like a girl.” For a self-conscious fourth grader who had never felt like he knew what it meant to be a man, it was probably one of the worst things someone could say about me. In that moment, I had never felt more naked and ashamed.
I’m sorry for all of you out there who were waiting for that story to end with me revealing that Brad is actually my husband, Jeremy, and we lived happily ever after. But I tell this story because, to me, it shows how important it is to have conversations about sexuality that recognize its immense power beyond simply what a person does with their genitals. When I think back about my own journey of sexuality, it is probably this moment--a moment far removed from anything related to physical sex--that most shaped how I understand my identity and how I relate to others. It is this moment that led me toward years of treating my body as an enemy, convinced I would only be worthy of relationships if I looked a certain way; years of struggling to trust anyone enough to allow them to know me beyond a surface level of intimacy.
We are created for intimacy, but intimacy involves risking ourselves for the sake of love. Intimacy in any form that does not maintain appropriate levels of mutuality and commitment to one another’s flourishing becomes destructive and can lead toward shame, hurt, and long-lasting effects on our ability to form good, healthy relationships.
The kind of relationships that we were created for, that reveal the Divine to us most fully are those that share intimacy through shared vulnerability, the kind of relationships that follow the logic of “where you go, I will go” all the way to its end: “where you die, there will I die also.” This declaration of Ruth to Naomi takes no glory in death but shows how intimate relationships must be built around shared commitments to vulnerability, to a solidarity that not only says “where you rejoice, I will rejoice” but also “where you suffer, I will suffer.”
The intimacy between Ruth and Naomi has inspired many wedding readings, yet their relationship shows how intimacy can be found outside of the traditional notions of two people in a marriage. Indeed there is nothing inherent or special about a marriage relationship that automatically or inherently makes it a site of healthy, life-giving intimacy. The relationship between Ruth and Naomi is an example of how intimacy and shared vulnerability in any relationship has the power to transform not just the lives of those involved but the world around them.
The reading for today ended at Ruth’s declaration of commitment to Naomi, but the story continues as the two women live out their commitment to each other’s flourishing, eventually culminating in them finding blessing through new community, new marriage, and new life brought into the world. The intimacy these women shared brought forth blessings that rippled through the generations, from Ruth’s son Obed to Jesse to David and--according to the much later gospel accounts--all the way to Jesus.
We are created for intimacy, created to be in relationship not for its own sake but as a way of loving one another toward putting even more love back into the world. We risk ourselves in love in order to create conditions where others may do the same.
And this inherent intimacy at the soul of who we are created to be flows from the very image of God in us. Jesus, the incarnation of God, the embodiment of the Divine gives us a model of what it means to risk ourselves for love. It is in Jesus that we clearly see that the God we worship is not some distant deity unmoved by the affairs of the world but an intimate God who becomes bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
It’s often said that we rarely ever talk about the greatest miracle Jesus ever did, which was to be in his 30’s and have a group of twelve close friends. It’s a joke that hits close to home because the struggle is real. But in Jesus we see a God who not only maintains intimate friendships but who is greatly disturbed and deeply moved by the death of one of his closest friends.
If you grew up going to Sunday School and memorizing scripture, you could probably tell me right away what the shortest verse in the Bible is. John 11:35 -- “Jesus wept.”
The shortest verse, but perhaps one of the most profound in a world that tends to treat God as simply an all-powerful but aloof character too transcendent to actually be involved in our lives, let alone to be deeply moved.
The crowd sees this display of emotion from Jesus, and they declare to one another, “See how he loved him!”
See how God loves.
We are created for intimacy, but living into intimacy means we risk ourselves to being hurt--hurt by loss, by betrayal, by being made to feel that we are naked and ashamed. It is for this reason that we must take intimacy seriously, not just for ourselves but for those who trust us enough to allow themselves to be known by us.
Perhaps the real tragedy of my story from elementary school is that I continued to be Brad’s friend without ever acknowledging until much later in life the way that relationship had changed me. We were never as close after that incident, but my longing for the intimacy of friendship kept me hanging on. How different would my life have been if someone had assured me that healthy intimate relationships in our lives are meant to be mutually life-giving?
Yet we must also not allow ourselves to fear the risks of intimacy to the point that we are no longer willing to risk ourselves for love. We need intimate relationships of all kinds in order to flourish, to live our fullest human potential. It is through the love we give and receive in our most intimate relationships that we are empowered to create new possibilities for love beyond ourselves.
See how God loves, that we may also love.
So, my wish for us my friends, is:
- That we would take seriously the intimate relationships in our lives, recognizing that we were created for intimacy that can come in many different shapes and sizes.
- That we would invest and nurture those intimate relationships that don’t just build us up but that overflow with goodness into the world around us
- And finally, that in all of the ways that we relate to one another and to the world, we would recognize the imago Dei in this longing for relationship, the very image of the intimate God.