Thursday, January 21, 2010

Desperate Households: Intimacy

Genesis 2:18-25
I am glad to preach this Desperate Households series. But I want to let you know that this is not just a series for married folks with children at home. We’re going to talk about… Intimacy, Marriage, Parenting, Divorce, and Lifetime Love.

The church does not talk enough about these topics. So the fact that we’re going to talk about them isn’t meant to exclude anyone. All of us, whether we ever choose marriage or not, whether we ever contemplate divorce or not, all of us need to know the biblical and spiritual basics of these issues. All of us need to build a foundation of understanding, for it is on that foundation that we are able to keep our footing through many circumstances. So if you are single, or long past your parenting years, widowed, divorced or empty nesters, these messages over the next few weeks are for you as well. There is a message God has for all of us on these topics, and it is a very different message than the one we get from watching TV or listening to the cultural influences around us.

Am I crazy? Intimacy? It’s a topic the church has been reluctant to speak about publically over the years. So right here, in the midst of our worship experience, we are going to talk about God’s gift of intimacy.

Parents of children and youth, I just want you to know this morning that I have chosen my words carefully, so I do not want you to worry about that. But I will tell you that I am guessing that my message may generate further questions, and that is a good thing. May this be the start of a fruitful discussion with your children.

So, my friend Rhea, was a youth minister while she and I attended the same seminary. She took her youth group on a retreat where the topic was sexuality. When she came home, she relayed the message of the main speaker. This speaker took out a flowering plant. She used this beautiful flowering plant to describe the gift of sexuality that God gave each of us. This beautiful, pure gift is just that, a gift from God. When our sexuality is lived into in the ways that God intended, it causes the gift to flower, to grow, to become more beautiful. Up to this point of her description, Rhea did not have a problem. Nor do I. Intimacy and sexuality is truly a gift from God. As it comes to us, it is not something evil or wrong or sordid.

Then the main speaker began to describe what happens when teenagers participate in sexual activity before marriage. Perhaps she was unaware of something that did not escape Rhea. Rhea knew she had brought with her at least a few youth who were already sexually active. Statistics show that 60% of youth will have a sexual encounter before they graduate from high school. But Rhea wasn’t dealing in statistics. She knew the stories of some of the youth of her youth group. She had walked as pastor with some of her youth through their far too early experiences of sexuality. Whatever the speaker would say next, Rhea was listening carefully.

But it wasn’t so much the words that came from the speaker, although Rhea would never forget them. It was the visual demonstration that went along with the words. As the speaker plucked flowering blossoms off the plant, she described the destruction done to the gifts of sexuality and intimacy when one participates in pre-marital sex. She continued until the beautiful flowering plant was a stem without any beauty to it all, destroyed, damaged and ruined. No matter what her words said from there, the visual image for the youth in the room was that if they participate in pre-marital sex, their beautiful gift will be forever ruined.

It was here that Rhea grieved for her youth, and worked with them for the rest of the weekend. The youth were left with the idea that it was all over, they were beyond hope, that nothing could restore for them the really beautiful way they had been created by God. Grace, Rhea repeated, over and over and over again. Grace is the gift of God for this and so many other situations where we fall short.

In the second chapter of Genesis, we get one of the stories of God’s creation of humanity. From this particular story, we learn a couple really important things:

Humanity is created as partners and companions for one another. When the first man was alone, God thought it was not good. Alone is not good. We should be in community, together. So God made more than the first man. God made a helper and a companion for the man. And that is how God has designed us. We desire to be in partnership, companionship with one another.

Secondly, we learn that intimacy is naturally the way in which God created us. I think that’s what the story of the rib gets at. The helper, partner, and companion comes from the first man. There is a very literally sense that we come from one another. That is intimate and beautiful. “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” says the man. That is oneness, closeness, intimacy.

We also learn that partnership and intimacy is something for which we need not feel ashamed. We are called to recreate the intimacy in God’s design and plan for us. Though two people are just that, two distinct people, God gives us this intimate way to be one again. We leave the families in which we learned about relationships, and we experience this deep intimacy by becoming one with our partner, companion and helper. And in that deep intimacy, when it is as God intended it, we are not ashamed.

God created us for intimacy with another human being, but there are boundaries for that intimacy: boundaries that are designed for our benefit, boundaries that allow us to be naked and unashamed. The scriptures tell us that this intimacy is designed for people who “leave their father and mother.” In the culture in which the creation story was told and recorded, one did not leave the home of their parents until it was time to be married, when an emotional separation from the family of origin was possible. Intimacy is designed for two people who can give themselves to one another fully, be completely vulnerable before one another. This giving of ourselves happens by God’s design within the commitment of marriage. Before we can ever be vulnerable with another, there has to be an unconditional commitment. Before we can be vulnerable enough to be before another naked and not ashamed, there has to be a person who will say to you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Vulnerability comes when a commitment is made to be with another person through all the messiness of life, the weight gain, the moodiness, the job losses, the confusions, the financial struggles , the health diagnosis. There can never be true intimacy without the unconditional commitment that comes through the covenant of marriage.

What one has in a sexual relationship outside of the commitment of marriage is not intimacy. I am not naïve enough to think that we are a room full of people who do not know what I mean by that. Sexual relationships outside of the commitment of marriage, whether that is pre-marital or extra-marital sexual encounters, cannot know the intimacy and vulnerability God intends. The person you are with has not made a commitment to you, nor have you made a commitment to them. And while for the moment it may feel wonderful, and you may mistake the good feelings as intimacy, it is not the intimacy God intends when it is outside of the commitment of marriage.

I have not seen the movie, nor do I recommend it, but I am told of a scene in Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz’s Vanilla Sky that brings this point home. Cameron’s character was stalking Tom’s character after a sexual encounter. Her character says to Tom’s, “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not.” What Cameron’s character understands is that the deep intimacy in a sexual relationship is supposed to be attached to a promise to never leave one another. Pre-marital or extramarital sex does not have this deep promise attached to it. So when we are involved in these kinds of encounters, we are torn within us. We have been naked, but indeed, we are ashamed. We have been intimate without experiencing the intimacy that God intends as a gift to us. We have literally become one flesh, but only temporarily so in a body designed for this kind of oneness to be for a lifetime.

Ok, so I think I have said that clearly enough. God designed us to experience intimacy with someone with whom we have made a lifelong commitment and promise.

I can only imagine that there are some here today who have experienced a sexual encounter outside of the commitment of marriage. My goal this morning is not to bring guilt or shame or pain into your lives through my words. I wholeheartedly believe these kinds of encounters are outside of God’s plan for our lives. They can create a brokenness in who God created us to be. But unlike the beautiful flowering plant whose blooms are gone and not coming back, God makes a way for us to be restored. God’s desire is for us to be whole. God’s purpose is to bring healing to your brokenness. God’s plan is to bring restoration for you so that you can experience the gift of true intimacy. And that is possible as we turn our lives toward God. That is possible as we accept the grace and forgiveness that God offers. Friends, all of us have failed in one way or another, and all of us stand in need of God’s grace, if not in this area of our lives, than in another. The restoration happens when we accept the forgiveness that God offers to us.

Today, if you are so moved, I have written a prayer for us to pray silently in the moments ahead. It is a prayer of commitment to the kind of intimacy that God gives as a gift to us. I invite you now, in the silence of hearts, to pray either this prayer or to pray as you are lead. May God bless our desire to be whole and well.

Let us pray…

Dear God, I want to practice appropriate intimacy from this day forward, to do my best to remain pure in thought, word and deed. Give me the strength to be pure in what I say, what I do, what I wear and what I think about. Help me to avoid things that tempt. Assist me in refraining from all sexual activity that destroys the gift of intimacy you have given me.

In the case that I am not pure in these things and I stand in need of Your grace, I pray for the courage to accept Your gift of grace in my life, for this, and all things. May it be so, as I make this commitment to you and to the one with whom I will experience true intimacy as you intend. Amen.

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