Sermon Series: Christianity Without Easy Answers
“What about Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll?”
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Galatians 5: 13-26
Let’s start with a quiz. Here’s the question: What was Kevin Bacon’s best role ever? What was the best role Kevin Bacon ever played? I’d like everyone to think of a Kevin Bacon movie that you think was his best role. Everybody have one?
Here’s the correct answer: Kevin Bacon’s best role ever was Ren McCormack in Footloose. Anybody get it right?
everybody seen Footloose? Kevin
Bacon is a super-cool kid from
enforcer of the ban against rock ‘n roll and dancing is a minister played by
a pinch-faced John Lithgow. Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow do battle and Kevin
Bacon wins, bringing rock ‘n roll and dancing to small town
So this is the image Christianity often has…a sort of protector of society’s personal morality, or depending on how you look at it, a sort of killjoy or buzzkill. To many people’s minds, Christianity’s job is to suppress sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.
This is interesting because the Bible is pretty frank and open when it comes to sex.
There is the book of the Bible, The Song of Solomon, which is about King Solomon romancing one of his 700 wives. The book is entirely about two lovers’ desire for each other. It is very sensual. The word God is never once mentioned in the entire book. It is all about human love. This is what Solomon says to the one he desires:
How beautiful you are, my love,
how very beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a
flock of goats, moving down the slopes of
Much of the imagery in Song of Solomon still works (well, maybe not the goats). But it is vivid and sensual and sexy.
Even the Apostle Paul, who did not understand homosexuality and who can seem to be a bit of an extremist, is quite frank and realistic about the power of our sexuality in a guy sort of way. Because he is so focused on ministry and wants others to be totally focused on ministry, he advises single people to stay single if they can, but then he adds that if you are having a hard time “practicing self-control,” it is better, he says, “to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (I Cor. 7: 8) He recognizes that the sex drive can be very powerful and, if we try to repress it, we can become consumed by it, so it is better to have a committed relationship than to try to suppress our sexuality. That’s Paul’s practical advice.
He also advised partners not to withhold sex from one another. “Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer,” he writes, “and then come together again…” (I Cor 7: 5) Although I would advise you to be very careful about the circumstances in which you quote that verse to your partner.
If you are looking for a G-rated book, you will not find the Bible to be one. The Bible is a pretty frank and realistic book when it comes to sexuality. There are aspects of sexuality biblical writers do not understand; who did? But the Bible is clearly not anti-sex.
What about drugs? Well, let’s talk about what a native American Methodist friend of mine calls the Methodist drug of choice. He says the Methodist drug of choice is alcohol. However, I know wide stretches of Methodism where I would argue the Methodist drugs of choice are sugar and butter, but let’s talk about alcohol. Lots about alcohol in the Bible.
There is a passage of scripture that those of us who run churches have tried to hide from you. It is about what you should do with your tithe if you are too far away from the temple to give your tithe to the temple. Has anybody ever heard of the scripture?
Here is the scripture: Deuteronomy 14: 22-26:
Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, beer [some translations say “strong drink”] or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
If there is no place to give your tithe to close enough to get it there, you are supposed to buy food and wine and beer and have a party with it. You understand why we haven’t wanted you to know that it says this in the Bible?
Jesus’ first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John is to turn water into wine at a wedding reception, after people had already been drinking so much that they had run out of wine.
People called Jesus a glutton and drunkard and he himself allows that “the Son of Man came eating and drinking.” (Matt. 11:19)
The Apostle Paul who served as a mentor to the young preacher Timothy is interesting in his letter to Timothy about eating and drinking. He criticizes a group of Christians who had committed themselves to celibacy and a restricted diet; some people think the diet was vegetarian. He says to Timothy about this group: “They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving…For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.” (I Timothy 4: 3-5)
Later in Paul’s letter he advises Timothy to stop drinking only water. He tells Timothy: “Take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (I Timothy 5: 23)
The Bible is not anti-alcohol.
So why is Christianity so often identified in people’s minds as being against sex, alcohol and rock ‘n roll, or what people think of as “good times”?
I think here’s why: Because sex and alcohol are prime examples of ways our lives can get wildly out of control…and therefore they scare us. They fascinate us and scare us and, in both cases, for good reason.
While the Bible insists sex and alcohol are good gifts of God for us, they have the potential to possess us rather than us possessing them. They are not the only examples of this, of course.
In this morning’s scripture lesson there is a long list of things that can get way out of control in our lives. (Galatians 5: 19-21) The list includes fornication, sex without intimacy, and drunkenness, alcohol use out of control.
But it also includes jealousy, anger, strife, quarrels, dissensions and factions, idolatry, which Colossians 3:5 associates with greed. Paul lists 15 examples of ways our lives can get wildly out of control and sex and alcohol are only two of them, but they are two powerful examples. Many of the others have to do with habitual patterns of negativity or divisiveness or possessiveness that destroy relationships and community.
These are all examples of things that can come to drive our lives rather than us managing them. They can come to possess us rather than us possessing them. They can come to control our lives rather than us having control over our own selves.
I would venture to say that there are none of us who do not wrestle with some aspect or aspects of our lives getting out of control, taking us over, driving us, taking us where we really don’t want to go, possessing us. It might be sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, but it might also be anger, rage, negativity, jealousy, hate, greed, anxiety, compulsions, defensiveness, or irrationality.
So the Bible has no difficulty with sexuality and alcohol, but it does recognize that these are examples of ways that our lives can spiral out of control.
So what does Christianity have to say to us when we lose control of our own lives or feel we are in danger of losing control? When sex or alcohol or a bitter spirit or contentiousness begins to consume us?
In the Gospels, people whose lives were out of control were drawn to Jesus. Mary Magdalene, who was probably closer to Jesus than anyone, had seven demons before she met Jesus. (Luke 8: 2) Seven is the number of completeness. Seven demons meant her life was totally out of control.
We tend to think of demons the way the movie the Exorcist portrayed them, but demons are simply those things that possess us and take over control of our lives in destructive ways. We all have our demons we wrestle with.
One of the most famous persons whose life was out of control was the Gerasene man called Legion because his life was totally out of control. As soon as Jesus entered town, the man ran to him. As a result of his encounter, the Gospel says, he was restored to his “right mind,” but the word we translate “right mind” actually means “sober.” Jesus helped the man find sobriety. (Mark 5:1-20)
People whose lives were out of control were drawn to Jesus. I believe it is because he was not judgmental. In the Gospels, women who are considered “sinners” are drawn to Jesus. One washes his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair and he tells her she is forgiven much because she has loved much. (Luke 7: 36-50)
Hans Kung says that one thing that no exegete, no biblical scholar no matter how critical and skeptical, has been able to dispute is that Jesus ate and drank with sinners – that Jesus was drawn to those at the fringe of society –“dubious, obscure, abandoned, hopeless types” – and they were drawn to him.[i]
I think they were drawn to him because there was not an ounce of judgment in Jesus toward them. And I think the reason there was not an ounce of judgment is because they did not make him anxious.
Sex makes many of us anxious. It makes us anxious because we are insecure about being in control of our own sexuality. This is partly why discussions about homosexuality make so many church people anxious. People are not secure about their own sexuality. They are afraid of what they might have the capacity to do. This creates great anxiety which gets acted out as homophobia. Psychiatrists call it reaction formation. Reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are defended against by substituting for them the opposite feelings.[ii] The feelings are automatic and exaggerated and intense.
The Gospel portrays a Jesus who had no anxiety around people who made others anxious. Jesus was not judgmental because he was not anxious.
Our goal as Christians is to be so in touch with our own desires and impulses that we are threatened by no one and able to love everyone. This is much of the meaning of prayer. To become so in touch with our own deepest desires and impulses that we are threatened by nothing in the world around us.
Decades ago a psychiatrist named Thomas Harris used to teach classes here at Foundry. He is best known for the title of a book he wrote which is made fun of by many people, especially preachers, who probably never read the book. The title of the book was I’m OK, You’re OK. It was actually an excellent book.
Thomas Harris was a student of a school of psychiatry called Transactional Analysis begun by Eric Berne, author of the book The Games People Play, which was also an excellent book.
Part of the theory of transactional analysis is the concept of life scripts. I think it is a very biblical concept. The theory says that at some point early in our lives we tend to adopt a script for our lives. There are an endless variety of scripts but they tend to fall into three categories: loveless or no love scripts, mindless or no mind scripts, and joyless or no joy scripts.[iii]
Most of us, the theory says, tend to live out a script in one of these three categories. Those of us with no love scripts tend to live with feelings of being unloved or unlovable and we organize our lives to verify those feelings. Those of us with no mind scripts live with feelings of helplessness, not being capable, unable to cope and we organize our lives in such a way as to live out that script. Those of us whose script is joyless will cut ourselves off from our feelings and our bodies.
No love scripts tend toward lives of sadness and depression. No mind scripts tend toward lives without self-esteem. No joy scripts tend toward lives of addiction.
The theory says that most of us flip-flop between our scripts and their counter-scripts. No love scripts may flip-flop with times of great passion. No mind scripts may flip-flop with times of great risk taking. No joy scripts may flip-flop with times of stark sobriety and Puritanism.
The goal of life, according to the theory, is not to be in bondage to our script or our counter-script but to live script-free lives. I think this is very biblical. This is the goal of Christianity…to live script-free lives…to be free to love…to be free to think and to act…to be free to feel sadness and joy.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sister,” Paul writes. (Galatians 5: 13) “For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5: 1)
All that we do here within Christianity is aimed to set us free so that we will be under no compulsion, so that nothing will possess us or drive us other than the love of Christ.
We can be so intimidated by sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll that we live rigid lives of self-restraint and repression and judgmentalism and condemnation. We can be so seduced by sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll that we become enslaved and addicted and alienated from others.
Christ offers us freedom. Christ says: “You are ok.” You are lovable. You are smart. You are made for joy. It doesn’t matter what paths your life has taken to get you to where you are today. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or failed to do. You are lovable. You are smart. You are made for joy.
Our goal is to find ourselves, the self beneath the scripts and the counter-scripts we live out in life.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5: 22-3) That’s who you are: Someone in whom the Spirit of God dwells. Someone whose life is meant for love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, and self-control. That’s the excellent life. That’s the very best. That’s the good life.
God wants for us to have life and life more abundant...life in all its fullness. God wants us to be free. Free to love, free to think and do, free to have joy.