Ephesians Redux: Sex

Sermon Series: Ephesians Redux: Power, Sex, and Greed

By: Donnell Wyche – May 12, 2019

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

We are back in Ephesians to consider the topics of power, sex, and greed that we couldn’t get to when we started the series in January. Last week, we considered Paul’s invitation to live as children of the light.

8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Living as children of light in the midst of Empire means contending with the powers and naming the invisible tools of control within Empire that hold us in bondage.

A Sex Recession
In a hypersexualized culture where everything is permissible, not everyone is having sex. In 2017, Harvard welcomed a freshman class where 65% of the class hadn’t had sex. The Atlantic magazine had a cover story in its December 2018 edition called, “The Sex Recession.” That’s because researchers are alarmed at recent trends at a time of everything goes sexuality, that people aren’t having as much sex as they previously did. 23% of adults — or nearly 1 in 4 – aren’t having sex. Married couples are having less sex too. This isn’t just happening here in the US, but declines in sexual activity are being reported across the world. Everyone has a theory about what’s happening, whether it’s instant availability of porn, improvements in vibrator technology, Fortnite, or too much Netflix, and not enough chill.

So what do we do with all this research and information? We allow the research to ask us, “What exactly are we seeking?” If intimacy is our goal, then easy-access sex isn’t a means to that end because we will discover that we are caught between our desire for intimacy (to be known) and our desire for autonomy (freedom from control). In a society that has disconnected us, are we merely seeking connection? In a world full of anxiety, are we seeking a release? Are we hoping to exercise ecstasy? Fulfillment? Joy? Purpose, or just pleasure? Or do we just want a better story?

In a Hypersexualized Culture
Often talking about sex and sexual desire scares us, so it feels easier, safer, even, to avoid the conversation all together.

I don’t mind talking about sex, I’m a former youth pastor after all. I spent years developing an approach to youth ministry that attempted to create space for young people to ask honest questions about their developing sexuality and receive honest answers. This got me into a lot of trouble. I’m also a pastor who tries to have real conversations with real people, which means we will eventually talk about sex.

Jesus was sexually fulfilled as a human being, yet Jesus never married. There’s more to being a sexual being than what you do with your sex organs. There’s emotional connection, spiritual connection, intimacy, touch, passion, desire, and vulnerability.

Jesus was a full-fledged, flesh-and-blood human being. Because of the Incarnation, God in Christ now has a Y chromosome, and all of the physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry that is distinctive with being a male. God in Christ went through puberty, he developed body hair, his voice probably dropped, his sexual organs developed, indeed God in Christ has a penis. Hebrews 2 says that he “partook of the same things” as us (v. 14); he was like his brothers and sisters in every respect (v. 17); and he “suffered when tempted” just like us (v18).

I want to develop ways for us to talk about sex and our sexuality in the church without making marriage the goal. I remember as a young person not having sex being lectured by those who were, and I thought their promise that sex in marriage would be great was suspicious at best or undeveloped at worst.

We live in a hypersexualized culture with an underdeveloped theology of the body and sexuality. Everything is sexualized in our culture from our music to marketing to our ice cream and cows. The idea here is a sexy and skinny cow produces better ice cream. I mean, who really wants a sexy cow? Actually, please don’t answer that!

But this advertising campaign gives us insight. The marketers who study the human brain and our emotions know something that many of us ignore or take for granted: we are desiring, sexual beings. That’s why advertisers work so hard to create mini-visual narratives of desire. Their visual narratives appeal to our desire and write themselves on our imagination, which the advertisers hope will transfer into desire for their products. Our response in the church is to ignore desire and instead to try to make a rational intellectual argument to control our desiring sexual beings. We think we can enlist the brain and rational mind to temper our “lesser” parts and to quiet our passion. Look, I spent many years as a youth pastor. And the central question I fielded during my ministry was, “How far is too far?” I would say over and over again, that’s the wrong question. A better question is, “What does Jesus want for you and your sexuality?” How can you be a fully-formed, developing sexual being and still trust God? How can you do what Paul suggests?

Paul lived in a culture that was sexualized too.

17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Sex was traded in the temples in order to commune with the pantheon of gods, or Roman men who fathered legitimate children and heirs with their wives, but satisfied their sexual desires with servants, slaves, mistresses, or others.

Like the ancient world, we have commoditized sex and our sexual encounters. In Everything is Spiritual, Rob Bell states that humans are the only created beings who are both physical and spiritual. We are totally spiritual and totally physical, which is why Paul argues that our very bodies become the dwelling place of God, so we have to be careful with what we do with our bodies.

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19–22)

When we ignore sex as an idol, we can miss that our hearts are hardened, which leads to ignorance, which leads to futile thinking, and finally, we lose our sensitivity, and we are given over to our desires. This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 4. Sex as an idol is a downward spiral of the heart, affecting our actions. This loops back to what Bell says, “Everything is spiritual.” We can’t worship the idols in our life and God. We have to make a choice.

Paul says,

1Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:1-5)

Reveals that We Want Authenticity
The goal cannot be marriage as the answer to our sexuality and the goal cannot be anything goes. We need a sexual ethnic and understanding that values singleness and marriage side-by-side, both beneficial for kingdom living.

In Ephesians, Paul doesn’t offer marriage as an answer or alternative to sexual immorality. Paul doesn’t say “stop being sexually immoral and get married,” he says, “You’re loved, be thankful, not immoral.” So when Ephesians does talk about marriage, the focus for Paul is about mutual submission (Ephesians 6), not a tool for taming sexual immorality.

Paul has already spoken to the “anything goes” attitude of the Greco-Roman culture, when says, “Not so with you.”

20That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24).

When we live in a culture where sex is everywhere. Where we can disconnect sex from intimacy, where we can disconnect sex from human connection, where we can get pornography on any mobile devices in one click, where we can swipe right to find someone who is #DTF, where sexting has been, statistically speaking, normalized, we have to ask questions–not questions with condemning and shaming answers. What are we searching for?

Paul isn’t laying out a fully developed theology of the body and your sexuality. Paul doesn’t have a yet-to-be discovered letter where he sit downs and walks you through what to do with your 14 year-old son and daughter. He doesn’t address sex as a single person (other than to say be like me in 1 Corinthians 7:8) or those who are celibate for the kingdom. He hasn’t published “8 Things to Avoid when Dating and Hooking-up with your New Boo.” He says, “Don’t get married because marriage is a distraction. (1 Corinthians 7:8)” Instead devote yourself to the king.

Because We Are Desiring Sexual Beings
God’s vision for us is centered in human flourishing. But we cannot flourish with a distorted vision of what it means to be human. “The intimate, two-way connection between our bodies and imaginations that directs our hearts and minds means that the habits we develop play an important role in shaping the vision of life that we love and pursue.”  Paul warns us that if we aren’t careful and attentive to who we are in Christ, we will be formed by the culture around us. Therefore, our Christ-life discipleship must focus on re-forming our imaginations, hearts, and minds through integrated formative practices that take into account that we are sexual desiring beings. Our goal is to learn how to become sexual fulfilled human beings like Jesus was.

Some Reflections:
To congregants who are working through sexual dysfunction: Unlearning habits of porn or having multiple sexual partners takes transparency, confession, and something akin to 12 steps.

To the youth: you are not your sexuality. Your identity is rooted in the fact that you are a holy and loved child of God. Don’t try to fulfill your sexual desires through the false intimacy that comes with social media. You don’t have to feel alone in navigating your way through a hyper-sexualized culture. It’s crucial for your overall well-being to be in conversation with safe adults who will receive you with grace, authenticity, and prayer.

To congregants who have been sexually assaulted or abused. We believe you. Sharing your story of abuse takes courage. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. You are not alone. We have deacons and pastors who are available to listen to your story. As your church community and family, let me say that we are sorry that this happened. It shouldn’t have happened to you.

To single people who think they are called to singleness or who are figuring it out.We want to elevate your voice and create more community.Too many people leading this conversations are married pastors.You have much to teach us about being Christ-like and you image the resurrection to us.

To young married people recognize that emotional intimacy often leads and sets the stage for sexual intimacy. You will often need  to work on emotional intimacy through good communication and conflict resolution.

To married parents: It’s worth thinking about how our youth-focused culture is now leaving us behind. Our bodies are softening and gaining some weight.What does it mean that God loves us as we are, not our idealized youth that we feel so much pressured to hold on to?  How do we love our and our partners whole self including our bodies?

To older married / grandparents: “Despite culture telling you that aging is a bad thing, the ancient and tested wisdom which oozes from the book of Proverbs tells a different story. The lands that you will soon fully inhabit, filled with responsibility, commitments and the limitations of mortality are the fields in which God truly shapes you into his vessel. Once you realize that life is not about crafting an all conquering career path, or collating a portfolio of incredible moments, but rather about self denial, loving the unlovable, and living within a web of covenantal relationships, you are ready to be a disciple. Once you realize that you are not going to change the world under your own steam, but that God is interested in changing you in order to change the world, you are ready to be his disciple.”

Prayer Senses

Talk. Just as we don’t talk about our desiring, sexuality in the church, we don’t talk about it with our our closest friends or with God–that leaves that area open for messages of the Empire to fill the space and for us to be enslaved in our own imaginations.

Freedom. There’s freedom for those who are stuck in addiction.

Stuck. People who are struggling with brining their desiring, sexuality before God. There’s an instinct to hide to avoid the feelings of shame.

Spark. Some couples who have lost that spark or never had it. God wants to you have to have a great sex! He wants to offer hope and healing to someone today.

Healing. Healing for those who have been hurt, mistreated, or rejected.

Forgiveness. The Lord wants to deal with shame that people have regarding sexual sin. Whether it was something done to them or done by them.