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Sanctity of Sex
March 4, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EXODUS 20:14; MATTHEW 5:27-28

This is another straightforward sermon, plain talking—the kind of sermon that the 10 commandments gets us into. The 10 Commandments deals with the very basic issues of life. When we read the Bible and let it speak to us, the Bible deals with raw life as we experience it, as we struggle with it. So today, the sermon is about sex. “You shall not commit adultery.” Lest some of you are worried about the children present this morning, let me remind you what children watch on television, what they see in movies, and what they see when they leaf through magazines. And let me say to you that because of the stuff, the junk they see, they know all about sex. They know all about physical love, the expression of physical love and what they see on television and movies is usually outside marriage. It's usually bizarre and unusual. And where are they going to hear the Christian view except in church? I'm glad they are here today because I've got something to say about “You shall not commit adultery.” 

This commandment and Jesus’ reinterpretation of this commandment that was read in the New Testament lesson must be placed against the backdrop of Jesus’ concern for people. Jesus was primarily concerned with people, not commandments, not laws, not principles, not statutes, not government, not society, not culture, but people—individuals, groups of people. And most especially, Jesus was concerned for the mistreated, victimized and exploited. Jesus stood up for them. When the rich assaulted the poor, Jesus attacked the rich with some very strong language. When the woman was found in adultery and was going to be stoned, Jesus protected the woman by challenging her torturers by saying that he without sin should cast the first stone. 

When Jesus was confronted with the persecution and discrimination against the Samaritans— the despised minority of that day— Jesus told his most famous parable and named the Samaritan as the hero. Last week, when looking at the commandment about killing we learned that Jesus reinterpreted the commandment to also mean killing a person's name and a person's reputation. Jesus stood up for such people. Jesus stood up for the victimized. Jesus stood up for the exploited, the assaulted. 

It's against that backdrop that we look at this commandment. I've been impressed in studying these commandments with two words about which all of these commandments deal—respect and freedom. These two words really apply to this commandment. First, respect. The commandments tell us to respect God. The way to live in covenant with God is to respect God and the way to live in covenant with other people is to respect them, respect our families, respect parents, respect children, respect a person's property, respect the truth, respect one's own body as in the fourth commandment. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” involves respecting one's own body, resting that body, taking care of that body. 

And now this commandment deals with respecting other people's bodies. God created persons. Jesus loved persons and Jesus redeemed persons. Therefore, in God's creation, people are to be treated with utmost respect, dignity and worth. To exploit people, to dehumanize people, to degrade people is a very great evil. The real issue of pornography is not the portrayal of physical love. It's not the portrayal of the human body. It's not the depicting of sex that is so bad. It is the dehumanizing and degrading of people by turning them into objects “ its”. Looking at people as our culture does, and we are bombarded on every hand, is treating people as if they are “its”, as if other people are there solely for the satisfaction of our own desires, the satisfaction of our own needs for pleasure,  treating people as bodies and not persons of infinite sacred worth. That is the sin of this commandment. 

Jesus reinterpreted it. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I think Jimmy Carter in the Playboy interview missed the point. Jesus was not denying our sex drives. Jesus was not saying that we are not supposed to be attracted to people, or that we're supposed to subjugate such desires. No, we're healthy human beings and sex is given to us as a beautiful gift of God. A healthy, normal human being will be attracted, and there's nothing wrong in that, that's beautiful. The error lay in turning the attraction into lust, looking at another person as a body, and not as a person, and to dehumanize that person into an “it”, to degrade that person into an object to satisfy one's own physical desire. That's the evil. 

The Good News Bible and the  American Bible Society Translation translates Jesus saying, “Anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her, is guilty of committing adultery with her in his heart.” The evil is to possess someone, to use someone, to exploit someone—that’s the evil. Therefore, the church and the Bible have placed physical love—sex—within the structure of a loving relationship, within the structure of marriage, within the structure of a covenant that two people make with each other that is broader than the physical, where the physical side of love is an expression of intimacy, warmth and tenderness. To only seek the physical is to turn that into an “it”. 

The second word is freedom. This commandment has to do with freedom as do the other commandments. To disobey the commandments is to lose one's freedom. To expose oneself is to be vulnerable to enslavement. This commandment when disobeyed enslaves us. Sexuality is not just a physical need like eating. When we feel hunger in our stomach, we eat something and the hunger is satisfied. Sexuality is not that simple. Sexuality has to do with our self image. Sexuality has to do with our ideas of masculinity and femininity. Sexuality involves the psyche, the mind, the emotions, and you cannot isolate the physical out without affecting all the other dimensions of our lives. 

Therefore, sexual activity unleashes a force in which people get hurt, because it involves the emotions, the heart, loyalty, integrity and love. Freedom is lost. When we are crippled, when we lose control, when we're controlled by events and circumstances that get beyond us, we've lost our freedom. Within that context, adultery is placed. Regardless of what modern marriage says about adultery, it hurts, it harms and it destroys for marriage is built on integrity and loyalty. Adultery is betrayal and hurt because it's not just a physical act; it's an act of the mind, psyche, heart and love and it cannot be so easily isolated. Therefore, this commandment means to treat people as persons, and not as bodies, to treat people as persons who God created for relationship and fellowship— not to be exploited, victimized and used. The whole act of sex and physical love is to be placed within the context of a loving marriage, a covenant between two people where it becomes beautiful, meaningful and healthy. 

This is the first Sunday of Lent and we celebrate Communion. At the end of this time we remember the crucifixion. Jesus died that we may know true fellowship. Jesus died that we may be restored to the original created order of communion with God in relationship with one another. Jesus died that we might know true communion where we live and treat one another as sisters and brothers in the Lord and not as “its”, not as sex objects, and not dehumanizing by calling people studs and broads,  but living in relationship—husband and wife, parent and children, sisters and brothers in the Lord. 

Jesus died that we may know that kind of communion, that kind of fellowship with God in our midst. As we eat the bread today, the bread is broken as Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was spilled. As we dip the bread into the juice, may we sense the Spirit of God for Christ will be present in the act. Christ will be uniquely divinely present in that act to restore us, forgive us, make us new and put us in right relationship with God and with each other. May we sense God’s spirit. May we let the Spirit of Christ move through us as we eat and digest. May his spirit move through us and fill us with God's love that we may treat one another with that kind of love.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris