Sermon on Human Sexuality

Sermon on Human Sexuality

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia
Epiphany 4 January 27, 2001
Jeremiah 1:4-10
1 Corinthians 14:12b-20
Luke 4:21-32

Do you remember your first kiss? I do. Some of you may wish to forget it.

I will not say how old I was. Only that I was and I suppose still am a late bloomer. The kiss was with my first serious girl friend and of all things it was while sitting together on her front porch swing while her parents waited inside watching the ten o'clock news. Nothing else about that relationship or the ones to follow fit within a classic romantic cliche.

What I remember about that night and that first true kiss was the overwhelming power of desire. Not like a craving for ice cream or a longing for my own car or a wish for tickets to the World Series, but a yearning to know another person and to be known by her. It was my first experience of my wanting someone and perhaps most important someone desiring me.

Rowan Williams, the bishop of Monmouth, Wales and the former Lady Margaret professor of divinity at Oxford, has written what I find to be a most compelling essay discussing human sexuality entitled The Body's Grace. In the article Williams describes desire this way "I am aroused as a cultural, not just a biological being; I need... to bring my body into the shared world of language. My arousal is not only my business: I need its cause to know about it, to recognize it.

So my desire, if it is going to be sustained and developed, must itself be perceived: it must be perceived as desirable by the other-that is, my... desire must become the cause of someone else's desire."

If Williams is right and I think he is, the power of what I experienced the evening of that first kiss on Johanna's front porch swing was that as much as I longed for her, she wanted me. In her eyes, on that night, in our embrace, I was accepted, nurtured and the source of joy and pleasure for her. As Williams quotes the poet Blake; in our embrace we "admire in each other "the lineaments of gratified desire," and so I am pleased because I am pleasing.

Of course to be pleasing in the eyes of another, to offer myself, as a source of joy to someone else is to put oneself in the position of being rejected by the other. And so to move toward this kind of intimacy with someone always means risk. It means letting go of control of who I think I am. It means letting someone know me as I am without manipulation. It is being vulnerable and open. It is allowing the possibility of being seen as being foolish, of being spontaneous.

Every Tuesday morning during our staff meetings we have a Bible study where one of the preachers for the coming Sunday engages the staff in reflection on the scripture lessons for the week. It is extremely helpful to me and I think to others. This past Tuesday we talked about sex and love and Jesus and God and the bar scene and marriage for lesbians and gays along with hearing what the gospel of Luke and Jeremiah and Paul might have to say to us.

We concluded that the lessons for today do not give us very much on the topic of sexuality. The collective wisdom of the staff offered much.

One theme that emerged for me was how easy it is for people to "hook up" and how difficult it is for two humans to be a source of joy for one another. One person said she saw in her friends this pursuit of physical connection every Saturday night that ends with more loneliness on Monday. There is a void that remains. The philosopher Thomas Nagel argues for a language of sexual immaturity that he calls "asymmetrical" sexual practices. This happens when the persons involved allow a limited awareness of the embodiment of the other. There is no opportunity for a shift in self-awareness through relation to another, or it leaves one person in control of the situation and that one does not need or wait upon the desire of the other.

In every sermon around justice these past few weeks all of them have in some way raised the standard that for Christians what is right or wrong is not so much about morality and law but rooted in relationship, between humans and the relationship between God and us. For in the mutuality of relationship there is the possibility of transformation, of growing into something more than we are.

Entering into the "body's grace" then is risking being changed. It is resisting the human tendency for stasis.

Entering the "body's grace", Williams writes, is moving toward " a sense of oneself beyond the customary imagined barrier between the inner and outer, the private and shared -- we belong with and to each other."

For us to admit this, that we need another person and for us to stand helpless before that other waiting for that one to need us is also to say we need God. And to know what it is like to be the source of joy and pleasure for another person is to begin to experience being the object ourselves of God's love, of God's delight in us. In the same way God tells Jeremiah, the Divine lover says to you and me, "before I formed you in the womb I knew you." How else would the Psalmist's sing, "Lord you have searched me out and known me; for you yourself created my inmost parts -- my body is not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth."

As I learned years ago on a porch swing desire is a powerful thing. Repress it and we withdraw from life and become flat and joyless. Embrace it and we find ourselves exposed lacking control and power but more alive.

For some of us we explore our desire in the complex of commitment to one other in the forming of a union that seeks to be life long. For others it is lived in the single life of searching and waiting for the gift of another.

And still for others there is a life given to God which is not an alternative to the exploration of desire but a choice to see if they can discover themselves in a life dependent upon the "generous delight of God alone."

Whatever your circumstance, whether by choice or fate, what is true is that our desire is good. It draws us into places and relationships where we know joy as well as rejection, where we face our limits and celebrate our unique strengths. For in our desire we rest in the embrace of the One we seek knowing that we have been found.

Thanks be to God.

The Reverend Thomas Morris
Associate Rector for Campus Ministries


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