Sexual Purity in a Pornified Culture

July 28, 2019 ()

Bible Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 |

Sexual Purity in a Pornified Culture | 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Del Fehsenfeld III | July 28, 2019

Good morning, friends! It’s good to see you. My impulse is to jump down on the floor with you like old times, but this is heavy, so I guess we’ll refrain. It’s so good to see you this morning.

If you’ve looked at the bulletin, I’ve chosen a light topic this morning, "Sexual purity in a pornified culture." I’d like to take the advantage of being a guest speaker to do stuff that sometimes--I don’t know, Brian probably wouldn’t be afraid to do this either, but I can hit and run here. It’s a topic that I really think we need to discuss compassionately, I think we need to do it in a real way, we need to do it openly.

This is not going to be a sermon on, “Your porn use is bad; just stop it,” although that wouldn’t be bad advice. I want to come at it from an angle that our porn use actually has a purpose in our lives, and that until we really understand what it is and kind of unpack it, it’ll be an obstacle to our healing.

I also just want to name the elephant in the living room here, which is that we are living in a culture that is hypersexualized beyond description. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that, but you can’t even go through the checkout counter without some level of scandal, and the fact is, we’re not scandalized anymore, which is also part of the issue, because it’s so pervasive.

We have 42 million pornographic websites online. Numbers of years ago, when I first started to think through some of these issues, I remember reading a stat that there were more adult bookstores than McDonalds, and I thought that was a lot. Then came the Internet, right, and now we have 42 million in our pockets. So this is an amazing device; it’s anything but a toy. We carry that around with us.

Thirty-five per cent of the entire Internet (all of its downloads, its traffic) is related to pornographic use. That just gives you somewhat of the scope of this. [There are] 2.5 billion emails daily sent with pornographic content.

Probably, maybe even more destructively, sex has become a commodity. If you haven’t noticed, we use it to sell everything, and so bodies, sexuality itself, have become objectified. They actually have a price tag, and certainly in the way that we use that commercially with our advertising, all the way to the revenue that’s generated through hardcore pornography. So we’re looking at a hundred billion dollar industry here, worldwide. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the NFL, MBA, and major league baseball combined. It’s more traffic, to put it into perspective, than Netflix, Instagram, and Amazon combined.

So, all of us--men, women, and children--have been profoundly affected, whether you use porn actively or not. The reason I chose the title “The Pornified Culture” is that the expectations, the narrative of pornography itself has now become mainstream, so what that means is it’s the water we swim in. It sets the expectations.

I’m very keenly aware of this with three teenage daughters, so even with the lengths that you go to try to protect your household, the fact is, their standard of comparison about themselves, the way they shape their own sense of their identity, who they are and how they value themselves, all of that (you see what I’m saying?) is affected by the larger culture, which has become pornified.

So, you know, women and children, who are the greatest commodities in all of this (certainly not exclusively), deal with the weight of this at the level of just--you don’t have to be looking at pornography in order to be profoundly affected by it, because it’s in the air we breathe and it becomes the frame of reference (you follow what I’m saying?) to decide even the most basic things of who I am and what my identity is; those kinds of things.

So it has to be talked about. That’s why I’m throwing it out here on Sunday morning; if this talk spurs conversation, you know, I’ll have accomplished my goal. I hope it does more than that.

But I think we should recognize and also agree just the weight of all of this on all of us. Ninety-four per cent of children now see porn by the age of 14; so again, this is not something, even when you’re trying to be careful, it has to be talked about, because it’s impossible to escape, virtually. So 94 per cent of our kids will be exposed to that, not only be exposed but be exposed at a very early age. You know, the average early age of first exposure is down to around seven or eight, so again, this is profound.

I do need to say, too, just in the introduction here, that this is not a man’s issue only. That’s the stereotype, particularly in religious settings. Eighty-seven per cent of Christian woman have watched porn (they’ve at least seen it and know what I’m talking about here). Thirty per cent of the downloads overall, of all that traffic that I talked to you about, are by women.

The reason I want to bring this out is that this is a double shame, it’s a shame in the church. We don’t talk about it, it’s unspoken; and then if you’re a woman caught in this, on either side of it, it’s like a double whammy, right, because the stereotype is that this is just for the guys. I just want to say, it’s completely not true, and the data does not back that up. So the words that I speak this morning are for all of us.

Now, I want to say before I get into this that God is for sex. I want to say this at the outset, because I’m going to be dealing with the perversion. This deserves an entire teaching in itself, but let’s just stop to think for a minute about the inventor of sex. God made sex, it was his idea, he has a plan for it, he’s not afraid of it. In the Christian tradition, sex is something to be celebrated within the context of covenant, and again, these things all deserve their own space, which I’m not going to give them here. But I do want to say that if you construe this talk as me or God or anything related to the Christian faith being anti-sex (this might be an idea in the popular culture), nothing could be further from the truth. So God is for this, this is a good thing; and I’ll let Brian clean up that later, when he gets back!

Now, as unequivocally as we can say that God is for sex, we can say this, that God is against its perversion, which in the Scripture we might just call that placeholder lust. I could take you to so many places in this; rather than overloading you, let me just show it to you in one place. We’re going to be in 1 Thessalonians 4, a few verses there. This is the NIV here.

“God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.” We have this idea that is mentioned that God is for sex, but he is against its perversion, he’s against lust. The text here just talks about all kinds of sexual sin. God wants us to be warned against this perversion.

You might be thinking to yourself (I certainly get this in a lot of conversations with folks), “Why does God care?” Is he sitting up in heaven preoccupied with the titillation of human beings? Is he scandalized in some way? Why does he care, and why should you care? Why should you care about this topic?

A lot of folks that I talk to say, “Hey, you know, I know it’s a little dark, I know it’s not the favorite thing about myself, but after all, this is a pretty private thing, it’s in my head or whatever; so why the big deal? If anything, I’m probably just hurting myself, certainly not intending to hurt anybody else.” So, why does God care, and why should you care?

Let me just give you three or four reasons why you should care; this is certainly not exhaustive, but it’s just very apparent from the research; if you want to delve into it, you would discover this as well.

(1) Porn harms the vulnerable.

So, 88 per cent of the top 50 porn movies in recent years, if you were to do a content analysis on them, have extreme forms of aggression as part of it. The trajectory, for whatever reason, of porn, once you get past one level, it’s also incorporated with themes of power and aggression and violence.

Porn consumption, not surprisingly then, is correlated, as it gets into advanced stages, with rape and assault. This is not my opinion, this is a matter of data. So, you know, witnessing, fantasizing about aggressive things, not surprising that leads to aggressive behavior.

Western porn consumption--again, think about this: 100-billion-dollar market--provides the market forces for sexual exploitation around the world. You have to stop and ask yourself, “Who are making these movies? Who’s appearing in them?” At one level, we have one level of bling, where people are being paid vast amounts of money for this and would defend the right to do it and would say, “This is good for me.” I’m not going to challenge that, although I think there’s some data long-term associated with that that you could challenge. Let’s just give that.

When you dive one level deeper (and I’ll talk about why porn always dives one level deeper in a second here), the women and children, primarily, that are involved in this industry, most of them are not involved by choice. This is either economic coercion at one level, or worse. We know a lot (not enough) about sex trafficking all over the world, about how many millions of women and children are caught up in this, and boys. It’s just very difficult, with a clear mind, to start diving into the fact that you realize that there is no market for this without--this industry would not exist without a market. So all of our involvement in it, it’s hard to feel not complicit. Do you follow what I’m saying? Porn harms the vulnerable.

Because of the law of diminishing returns, as I’ll talk about in a second, as porn has proliferated, so has more extreme forms of it, including child pornography, which is up 5,000 per cent in the last decade. That’s more porn users, more porn traffic. This is blatantly victimizing. I would just say to you, why should you care? Porn harms the vulnerable.

(2) Porn also disrupts intimacy in committed relationships.

It’s correlated over and over; high porn use is correlated with the inability to bond emotionally, to express love. If you’re objectifying on a regular basis, it’s hard to do this in person with your whole self. So it’s correlated with that.

It’s correlated with negative attitudes toward marriage and child-rearing, it’s correlated with extramarital affairs. If you pull up divorce data (of course, I know this is an antagonistic setting), 25 per cent of those cases are going to explicitly mention pornography in the dissolution of the marriage.

It’s correlated with sexless marriages. I’m getting a lot of this now, as a counselor. I’ll talk about why this is in a minute, but porn users become less interested in normal sex with real partners.

(3) Ironically (the third reason here), porn disrupts intimacy.

Porn reshapes your brain. If you’re interested in this, you really ought to look at some of this research. ThisIsYourBrainonPorn.org is one place where you can find this, but lots of neurological data coming out now. Turns out that when you map the brain of a porn user, it doesn’t look like a normal brain, because it looks a lot like an addict’s brain, because the same chemical release patterns that you get in any other kind of addiction are being released in porn use. High dopamine release, which is our reward and pleasure centers.

One binge on porn, you know, like a heavy-duty binge on porn, a user will see more hypersexualized images than probably a person a hundred years ago would have seen in a lifetime, even the most scandalous of us. Our brains are not wired biologically to handle this, as it turns out. There are a lot of people in the secular world, an entire industry in fact, with helping people get off porn because they don’t want to be a dopamine addict. So I could just argue even from a purely biological reason here why this is harmful, because it’s doing things to your brain.

The good news in this (and I don’t have time to develop this in full) is that God has also hardwired into our brains this idea of plasticity. So while your brain can be deformed, praise God, with concentrated effort, it can be reformed. You are not determined in this. It’s very hopeful, hopeful in this research, that if you find yourself caught in this, to whatever degree, that’s not the end of the story. We’re going to spend the majority of time on hope here. I just want you to be listening! Are you listening? Okay. I want you to be listening.

This I didn’t know until I became a counselor: the irony of porn is actually that it destroys sex. Did you know that? This is the law of diminishing returns. The way that your body is wired to work chemically is that the level of scintillation and response does not remain static, so you have to go further in order to get the same reward. If you just play that out over time, what ends up happening is that you become more and more isolated in your own head. Your ability to relate again to the real world becomes more diminished, and in so doing, the end of really heavy porn use actually is impotency. Did you know that? The ultimate irony of something that you’ve turned to for scintillation is actually that it robs it.

We could make the argument that God cares about this because he wants you to make a great sex life. I would never make that argument on a Sunday morning in church, but you could. So, if you’re interested in great sex, you should be interested in this.

Now, you should be asking the question at this point, “Is there a path to freedom?” A lot of the folks that I talk to--let’s just be honest, alright. The stats show that seven out of ten of us are dealing with this immediately, and the other three of us are dealing with the other seven, right? We’re all in this.

So, we need to be asking the question, Is there a legitimate path to freedom? I’m going to say that the word of God is full of the path to freedom, centered in the person of Jesus Christ and his gospel, but God--I have to be careful; this is getting really long. I just want to say that the Christian faith is not a set of moral standards, like a list of rules, that primarily tell us what we should not do.

The heart of the Christian faith is a person in Jesus Christ, who has come to give a living connection to your maker that begins now and lasts forever, and he provides you resources and power to become fully who he created you to be, which means fully alive, with all of your capacity, for joy, satisfaction, and peace; and he will stop at nothing, including the death of his own Son, to make it true for you. This is the answer of, “Is there hope?” Can we just say, yes! Amazing hope, and hope in real time, in your body, in this life.

So let me just start to unpack this, then. I want to return to our text, okay. Again, I’m going to do it all from this text. It’s God’s will that you should be sanctified. We read it in a translation that said holy. It’s God’s will that you should be sanctified, “that you should avoid sexual immorality, that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans who do not know God, and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of his brother or his sister.” I want to give you three aspects of this path to freedom, found in this text.

I. Abstain

The first--I don’t want you to freak out on me here, because I’m going to explain this in a minute--but the first is I want you to see here that we’re to abstain from sexual immorality. Now, this is not Saturday night live sketch, with the psychologist where the guy comes in and he tells him his problem and the guy just says, “Just stop it.” He tells him a little bit more, and he says, “Well, just stop it.” You know, “Why can’t you just stop it?” That’s not the heart of this abstinence.

I want to contextualize this with two other texts. Colossians 3:5, “Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.”

Then this text from Romans 13:14, “Make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lust.”

What I want to say here is that the abstinence that the Scripture is talking about is organizing our lives realistically, honestly, and humbly, where we look at the sources of our habitual sin, the context of them, and we start doing war, as this text tells us to do, with seriousness and intentionality, not with the temptation itself, but with the things that feed it. You follow what I’m saying?

Now, I want to illustrate this by this simple point, a thought experiment for you. I’ve been doing talks like this for a long time. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen anybody looking at porn on their cell phone in the middle of the church service. It may have happened, in the balcony or somewhere, you know; but I’ve never seen it. Why is that? Because even the most addicted porn user knows a lot about context, right? Until you’re completely out of control, there are places where you don’t use them.

So, part of the abstinence process here, the wisdom, is that we have to deal honestly and seriously about the context in which we do. It’s sort of like the person who wants to lose weight or stay on their diet and loads their freezer with ice cream, and then waits till the moment of temptation and tries really, really hard not do what? Eat ice cream.

Well, a lot of our battle with sexual immorality is like that, where we wait till the moment of temptation and then we try really, really hard not to do it; and yet, we have paid very little attention to the context of it. So, I don’t have time to develop this fully, but I want to say to you as a thought experiment, and if you’re serious about this you can follow what I’m saying. We need to back up our battle earlier in the process, and we need to stop feeding the things that are killing us. You can make the argument, according to this text, that every habitual sin that we engage in, there would be no way to do it if we were not making provision for it.

So, people come and say, “Well, I really want to stop.” Well, part of the question is, how bad? How willing are you to reorganize your life, and how willing are you to give up the sources of where you’re feeding?

Listen: flip phones are going to come back, I’m telling you. For all kinds of reasons. This is not a toy, right? This is not a toy. Not all of us at all points of time, in all seasons of our lives, should have one of these. And, if you have no plan for this and you’ve had no conversations about it...you know, I would just have to question honestly, intellectually, how serious you are to freedom. Is that really your goal? It may be something you aspire to, but is that actually your intention?

So, when I say abstain, this is what I’m talking about. A battle plan related to the things that are feeding your porn, which means the context and the sources. If you’re not willing to turn that over, to submit to some buddies and the Holy Spirit in that, probably the rest of what I’m going to say is going to be bumpy, you’re going to have the back door wide open. So we have to learn to abstain.

II. Learn

Let me focus now mainly on the second part of this text, that we need to learn how to come to self-control over our own bodies and live with honor. I want to spend most of our talk here on the learning. What do we need to learn?

Note, if you need to learn something, what does it presuppose? That you don’t come hardwired with it! Correct? So can we just all agree in humility and generosity that we did not come hardwired with the self-control to handle the sexual revolution and the Internet revolution? We didn’t come hardwired to handle hypersexualization of all things and 42 millions websites in our pockets. Anybody come hardwired with that?

The text is telling us, what do we have to do here? We have some learning to do. This is a learning community. Your marriage is a learning relationship, your small group is a learning relationship. This is why we have to talk about this, because we have a lot to learn.

Here’s the first thing I want to say from the research that I think we need to learn. Your deepest craving actually isn’t sex! People say, “Wow, these desires are just unbelievably uncontrollable.” Well, as a human being, we have a hierarchy of needs, and actually, sex isn’t the top of it. Newsflash: you actually could live without sex! Some of you about dropped over dead. No, I’m serious; we actually could live without it. In a hierarchy of needs, just intellectually right here, it’s not our deepest craving.

Being aware of that is important, because, as Sean McDowell said in one of his blogs, “As beings made in the image of God, we are meant to be in healthy relationships with God and other people. If those relational needs are not met by our family, friends, and God, then a relational counterfeit will step in and take its place. These counterfeits include drugs, alcohol, sex, eating disorders, overworking, success, materialism, and of course, pornography. We are raising a generation of people whose common denominator is really loneliness and relational disconnection. Their relational hole must be filled with something, and pornography is arguably the most powerful and accessible counterfeit.”

I don’t think that needs a lot of commentary. The point here is that you were made by love for love, your deepest craving is love. I’ll show how this is in a minute, but the deepest hole that your heart actually has is for connection and relationality, and a generation that’s producing isolation (which, ironically, by the way, porn and all the stuff does) runs in the opposite direction to your healing. Do you follow what I’m saying? You are not an island. Your heart must be filled. That’s not a question. The question is, how will it be filled? You’re vulnerable, particularly to addictions, to whatever degree there is deficit. So there’s counterfeiting of that God-given need.

Secondly, there’s this idea of escape that you’re craving. Pornography says to men and to women, “Give me all your shame, your humiliation, your futility, and I will give you a world where it all goes away.” Isn’t that the coolest thing about addiction, in the short-term? I told you they have a purpose. They’re horrible long-term strategies, but in the short-term, they’re reliable means of feelings going away.

I want to say this on the side: this is true of women as well, but men are culturalized to have basically two acceptable feelings: anger and sexual conquest. That’s how we’re socialized. So men tend to run all of their emotional worlds through--they overload anger, they overload sexuality, because all of their emotions are fitting through it. So, “Give me all your shame, your humiliation, your futility, and I will give you a world where it all goes away.” That’s a powerful concoction.

Your deepest craving is not simply biological, it’s not sex; it’s peace, it’s affirmation, all these things. It’s accomplishment. So comfort and affirmation are a major piece of the porn narrative. Some of the attraction of pornography--this is Jay Stringer, by the way, in a really interesting book, Unwanted. “Some of the attraction of pornography is that it claims to meet our deeper needs for acceptance while avoiding the potential of being hurt. Porn offers sex without risk and vulnerability. Porn puts the user in control, which is intensely alluring, especially when real-world relationships can be painful and unpredictable.” Note this. “Pornography offers a surrogate experience of care.”

If you’re in here this morning trying to understand, “I just don’t understand how he does that. I just don’t get it at all. It feels so personal.” It is personal. Part of what’s happening here is not just sexual needs. This is an emotional means of getting really deep, fundamental needs met. Follow what I’m saying?

In fact, this book from Jay Stringer, I actually took the quote out because I think it’s a little too heavy for this morning, but he actually did research where he looked at people’s porn footprint, thousands of them, and he actually could categorize them, as a psychologist, according to early childhood experiences, personality profiles and needs. So I’m not making an excuse for this, I’m just saying this is--we have to be more sophisticated. I told you your porn has a purpose. If you’ll start to listen to it, it will become incredibly enlightening. That’s actually where we’re going next.

Your lusts actually are trying to tell you something. The problem in a religious context is because we shame out so quickly (I’m going to deal with this in a second) we just push away from and we fail to listen. What I want to argue here is that we’re to learn to self-control. Part of learning is becoming a student of our hearts. Right? So what is our porn use actually trying to tell us? Next quote.

“Sexual fantasies are messengers. You may not like the news they bring, but they will knock on the door of your life until you listen to what they need to tell you. When we find ourselves depressed, angry, bored, or lonely, we will often seek out a particular type of pornography apropos to our situation. If we want to outgrow our need for porn, we need to gain a sense of what it symbolizes for us.” Next quote.

“The irony of sexual fantasy is that it will be the most honest portion of your life until you begin to address your past wounds in the madness of your present life.”

So, what Jay Stringer is saying here, and what I think the text is saying here when it tells us that we need to learn self-control, is that instead of just looking at the porn use as the most shameful part of your life, as a thing to be most avoided, it actually needs to be the context of your spiritual direction, of your counseling and coaching, of your small groups. You follow what I’m saying? Not show-and-tell, obviously, but I’m saying the heart pieces of this needs to be a part. Prayer needs to be a part of conversations between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. You see what I’m saying? This is the pastoring of our hearts, because God wants to fill all these things relationally with him and with each other in beautiful ways. These needs are not to be thrown out with the bathwater, right? They’re to be filled in beautiful ways, which is why this is a perversion, because it’s not--it’s not an anathema, it’s a perversion of what your heart is actually trying to tell you. Okay?

Thirdly here, what we need to learn is to take our struggles to Jesus versus wishing they would go away. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who spend probably half the session with them wanting a pill or just shamed out, almost not even wanting to live anymore kind of thing, because the shame is overwhelming them, and what they want is it to go away, right? They just want it to go away! They’re even questioning God’s existence, like, “I’ve prayed a thousand times that it would” what? “That it would just go away.” Right?

Now, let me ask you a question. If the goal of God is to create sin-free people, then it would make sense for him just to wave a wand over people and take away their sin. But what if he actually wanted more than that? What if he wanted fully living, blazing glories who were his friends and who actually knew how to opt into glory? Would he just wave wands and take away our sufferings? No, he would want us to bring the actual brutality of the thing itself, right, to him, to learn from him how to be satisfied. Follow what I’m saying?

So the energy that’s just going, “God, take it away,” is misdirected, and what we need to be doing is bringing the whole thing, the mess itself. We need to be coming.

Now, this is going to end. I can see some of you are starting to overload on me. It’s alright. It’s going to be good.

Here’s the fourth thing. Here’s what we need to learn. Love is actually the antidote to shame. If at the core of all this is you were made by love for love, love is the antidote. The sexual perversion is the departure. So, think about the very shape of pornography. It’s objectified. It’s one step removed. It’s often done in secret. It’s shrouded in shame. What is the trajectory of that kind of movement? Is that towards or away from? It’s away from, right? It’s away from love, it’s away from the core.

The healing is exactly what you would expect. It’s the other direction, which is why shame as a means of dealing with this never works. How many of us have prayed prayers and commitments, then we get accountability, then we start lying to them. Why? Because how many times can a person be forgiven? How many times can you bring--? So we go on and on in the shame cocktail, when what we actually need is love that is bigger than that.

This is a beautiful church. I don’t think I went into this this far here, because Brian preaches the gospel every week. Let me tell you what the gospel is not. The gospel is not, “Get your act together, get pure, because God hates sexual sin.” So, “I have to get pure, and then maybe the God who is holy, not that, will love me, he’ll accept me, he’ll give me a place at his table, he’ll pour out grace on me, like the religious people at the church that also will love me.” See what I’m saying? That’s not the gospel.

The gospel is that while we were still sinners, while we were still in the middle of the muck, that’s when God made his move towards us. He knew that we weren’t going to get it cleaned up, so he came. He took it on himself. See what I’m saying? God is what? Love is what? The antidote. God is the antidote. Love is the antidote. We have to run with our shame and our brokenness and our mess to the source, and he walks with us through the--you know, it’s hard. I’m not saying this is going to be easy--the hard process of the rewiring of our bodies and our brains. We learn self-control. That’s a big sentence. We learn it.

So we bring the brokenness to the God of the gospel, to Jesus Christ himself, to the community of those who know him. Now listen. I realize that there’s so much pain associated with all of this that not all of us at all times are going to be able to be present in grace to this kind of brokenness. I get that. But are there some of us? Is this a place where someone in here could say, “Here’s the truth about my inner world, and I don’t even know how to make sense out of it,” and find that love is the antidote? See, until we find the God of the gospel, until we become the people like this, there is no healing, right? We cannot do this alone, we need each other. The gospel provides the foundation, love is the antidote. This is what we need to learn as the people of God.

III. Love People, Use Things

Here’s the final thing. I said abstain, learn, and here we are. Number three, we need to love people, and we need to use things. Pornography, obviously, reverses that, uses the person as a thing.

We’re all in the process of learning to love. We’re children of love, we’re learning to love. We need to learn how to love people and use things. That’s why I think the text actually says, “Don’t defraud your brother or sister in this way.” Do you see how the whole trajectory of it was, “...because you make me sick and I want to vomit!” No, it’s because when you do this, ultimately, what are you sinning against? Your brother or your sister. See what I’m saying?

The whole context of it is learning to value the people in our lives more, not to abhor the dirtiness or whatever that would be less. It’s all about we live for the person next to us; it’s for each other. So how do you receive this kind of love, that actually meets the deepest needs of heart? You become the kind of person that doesn’t go around seeking that. You just give it. You give it away, and as everybody’s giving it away, guess what? There’s enough to go around. In the family of God, there’s enough to satisfy as we enter the rhythm of this. This is what we must learn.

The heart of the issue is always relational. To avoid unhealthy relationships, we need to cultivate love. What do we need? To avoid the unhealthy ones, what do we need? We need to cultivate the healthy ones. So if a person comes and says to me, “I’m knee-deep in this,” part of what they’re telling me is their craving is so much deeper than that. They’re still learning how to give and receive love. They’re learning to open their heart, not close it. They’re learning to move into community, not isolation.

All these things need to be part of the grace that we extend, and what often happens is the exact opposite, right? Because we’re looking at a different grid, we start to slam the door on these things, which puts the person farther away from grace, even though he may “repent” and walk an aisle and cry or make a pledge. Ultimately, those things don’t heal us. Love does, so we must connect.

Now, I’m done. I’m probably way over time. You took the clock down! So many improvements.

So, let me tell you one story in closing. It’s 11:40; I think we can get out of here by 12. Brian’s told this many times here, but you know Homer’s Odyssey, the Ulysses character, adventurer? Traveled the world, conquered all things.

There’s a story of his journey where he comes up against the dangers of the sirens. You guys know what a siren is? They’re these mythological creatures that would appear to these sailors after they’d been away a long time. They were beautiful and sexualized and they would sing these alluring songs. So strong and powerful were their songs that the sailors would almost lose their mind in desire and dive over the side and swim toward the apparition of their desire, only to find that they were not beautiful creatures, they were devouring monsters.

Ulysses had heard of this and wanted to make it safely around the cape, so he came up with a strategy. He decided to stop up all of his men’s ears so they couldn’t hear the song and to blindfold them so that they would be immune to these apparitions. On threat of death, you know, he said, “No one take them off.”

But Ulysses wanted to have the full experience, so, knowing that his men were all like this, he had himself tied to the mast, with instructions, “No matter how much I scream or yell or give contrary orders, under no circumstances let me out.”

Sure enough, Ulysses, despite his extraordinary nature, lost his mind, wanted to jump overboard, began to yell and curse at his men to let him go. They held course and he survived, giving us one model of what it might look like to avoid temptation.

But his friend Jason, a companion, maybe not as heroic but maybe smarter, decided on another strategy. He went out and procured the services of the world’s most beautiful vocalist, whose song was so captivating and so sweet that it would enrapture the hearts of all who listened, and when they went around the cape he simply had her sing, and the sailors, so enraptured by the beauty of the song, were not tempted in the same way by the sirens, and they all survived, untied, all of their sense fully operating, fully alive.

In the path of Jesus, we actually have the two ways. The way of religion will stop your ears and close your eyes, strap you to a mast, will take you kicking and screaming where somehow, deep in your heart, you realize at a profound level you never really wanted to go.

The way of Jesus offers a path of love and relationship whereby the sweetness of true connection, true heart intimacy, true needs, can be met in a thing called community (that is, church), where we become open, not closed; where we become more fully alive, not more rigid; where we’re able to deal with the ups and downs of culture, including the hypersexualization of all things, and find more and more with the help of our friends and the Holy Spirit who lives in us that there is in fact hope all the way home. My goal for this morning was to remind you of the gospel, to remind you of the strength of the Holy Spirit who lives in you, to have you look at the strength of your friends and to know that there is a way home. Let’s pray.

Lord, I thank you for the opportunity to do something like this, which I could not do almost anywhere else. Thank you for the friendship in this room, thank you for Pastor Brian and his faithfulness to you. I pray that my words would have--I wanted to be compassionate, I wanted to be real, I wanted to be open. I hope that no one walks away from this feeling more isolated and in pain, but more invited to you, as we’re going to come to your table in a minute, arms open wide, the antidote to shame. Thank you that you are Love that heals the deepest needs of our heart. So help us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.