The sign at the corner of Gillam Avenue and Bellevue always announces the week’s sermon title, so this week it proclaims, “The Sex Thing.” Since sex sells, I wonder if that will be enough to get some curiosity seekers into worship this Sunday. They probably will be disappointed if they come. In fact, the sermon title is a bit of false advertizing. A more accurate title might have been “The Marriage Thing,” but then the curiosity seeker might have come expecting some gay-bashing or a seven-steps-to-a-happy-home seminar, neither of which will be offered on Sunday.
Though it wouldn’t fit on the signboard, the topic for Sunday’s sermon is “how Jesus’ righteous expectations for sex and marriage far exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees in these matters, and, yes, get real, he thinks they are realistic standards for Twenty-first Century Christians.”
And the fact of the matter is that I am anxious about Sunday’s sermon.
Our series in the Sermon on the Mount is taking us to two of the examples Jesus offers to illustrate what he means by a new kind of righteousness that exceeds the check-list, know all 613 explicit commands in the Torah by heart, righteousness of the Pharisees – a stifling legalism that suffocated spiritual life for the sake of rote obedience.
We are going to listen to what Jesus has to say about lust and divorce: sex and marriage. And then we will take some initial steps at applying Jesus’ words to our situation. This is a dangerous task. It is sure to offend some, maybe many.
Our own Presbyterian Confession of 1967 declares that the “perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day.” The aggravation has not diminished in the 44 years since those words were written.
The keepers of statistics tell us that 23% of Presbyterians have been divorced. I have no reason to believe that LPC’s numbers are much different. Divorce is not an easy subject to discuss among friends, each with his or her own story. Jesus speaks with non-compromising words. How are we to understand them?
In the sermon I will say that Jesus abhors divorce. To say otherwise would be to be dishonest about what the Bible says. But I will also say, “We are not called to be a church with a no divorce policy, but willing to sell certificates of annulment after three kids. We are not called to be a church with a single provable exception clause and scarlet letters to be worn for life or secrets to be kept in a closet of shame.”
The sermon is a law and grace sermon and both law and grace must be heard. To hear only law is to become a Pharisee. To hear only grace is, in Bonhoeffer’s words, to make it cheap grace.
We will also hear what Jesus says about lust. There are no certificates or decrees given to the lustful as there are to the divorced, no boxes to check on bureaucratic forms. No one keeps statistics on lust because by Jesus’ standard the guilty rate is 100%.
If divorce is difficult to talk about among friends, lust is not talked about at all – and for some very appropriate reasons. But there are other reasons that demand that it be talked about.
Knowing that we would be hearing Jesus’ words about lust, a member of the LPC family was brave enough to send me what he call his “True 180.” I will share part of what he wrote in the sermon. The entire 180 is available here along with some practical advice and a generous offer of help and support.
I will conclude the sermon with these words, “Langhorne Presbyterian Church is not so much an anti-divorce church, though we must abhor divorce, as we are a pro-marriage church. Langhorne Presbyterian Church is not so much an anti-sin church, though we will not deny our own guilt, as we are a pro-grace church, no cheap grace that applies a creamy salve of feeling good about ourselves to the festering wound of sin, but the grace that takes that festering wound upon itself and heals it on the cross. We are called be a church of amazing grace.”
The Sermon on the Mount was not directed to the curiosity seekers who listened in as Jesus spoke. It was directed to the disciples, those serious about living life in anticipation of the coming Kingdom. Indeed, our perennial confusion about the meaning of sex (and marriage) has been aggravated in our day. Jesus speaks into that confusion if we are willing to listen.
Maybe that sign at the corner of Gillam and Bellevue will cause some curiosity seekers to visit us on Sunday. I hope they do. But these words are mainly for us.
If you are unable to be with us in worship Sunday or are a distant reader of the E-pistle, the audio of Sunday’s sermon will be here on Monday.