January 29, 2012 Isaiah 61:10-62:3 What a great month it has been! We have spent this month wrestling with the ways that our sexuality and spirituality are connected. That journey has taken us to some places that are a little uncomfortable, some places that are a little bit hilarious, and some places that needed healing.
All of these things are continually leading us toward the idea that our sexuality and our spirituality are connected. The more we can allow these two things to remain connected… the more we are able to move toward WHOLENESS and the more we are able to walk into our life of faith with our WHOLE BEING.
I’ve been thinking about these things in light of the fact that today is also a special day where we celebrate confirmation for a number of our young people.
Middle School and early high school are times that many of the things we’ve been talking about are becoming increasingly relevant in our lives. The idea of being able to talk about bringing them together and bringing our WHOLE BEING into our life of faith… made a lot of sense for us to talk about today.
When I was in middle school, I think it’s fair to say that God was not done doing the good work that God would do in me. My body was growing at disproportionate rates and to say that I didn’t date much would be glossing over the reality that I didn’t date AT ALL.
However, I did have a middle school crush, and boy was he cute. Jason Bunch.
When I saw him, when he walked into the room, my heart would race, it would skip a beat and I would be speechless. (Those of you who know me know that this is a small miracle).
Now it’s important to note that Jason Bunch didn’t actually know that I existed. However, there was one moment where we had a brief connection.
It was the 7th grade Christmas dance. It was 1989. I had my hot pink dress with the puffy sleeves and my curled bangs that were stuck permanently in place two inches above my head with half a bottle of hair spray.
I was on the dance floor with my friends. The DJ was playing Young MC’s “Bust a Move.” Just as the song got to the part that said, “They want a man who brings home the bacon,” I looked up and there he was. Jason Bunch, right in front of me… dancing with me. He looked at me and he said, “Hey.”
It lasted for about 5 seconds.
To describe to you the physiological change that came over my 95-pound 7th grade frame would be difficult. I didn’t think it was possible for that much energy and adrenaline to sweep into my body. I had never experienced anything like it before.
Now, you are all laughing because you have all experienced what I’m talking about.
There is this life force that gets awakened at various times in our lives… this energy and capacity within us that is powerful.
It is complicated but it is powerful.
It is a part of this God given gift of sexuality.
At the age of 12, I had no idea what to do with this gift. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I didn’t really know what was happening with my body. So, I didn’t talk about it.
I spent the next three years of my life pining away for Jason Bunch. I dreamed about him, I wrote pretend letters to him, I talked about him for hours on the phone with my friends, but I never spoke to him.
I didn’t know what to do with the life force and the energy that was in me, so for years, I poured it out toward something that did not bear fruit. It didn’t bring light and love into my life.
Not surprisingly, I was really lonely.
I can tell you that I did know that the last place in the world where I would ever talk about what I had experienced was in the church.
Somewhere along the way I was taught (and I think many of you were as well) that there were parts of our life that were just not appropriate to be brought into our relationship with God. There were things we shouldn’t really talk about in public and certainly a good church going girl could never acknowledge feelings of desire and passion and attraction. Those were best kept quiet.
This is one of the reasons why this passage that we read in Isaiah today is such a great place for us to end the month.
The prophet in these first two verses is speaking words of praise – describing what it is like to be in relationship with God.
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels".
I praise God with my whole being.
Not a part of me. Not the part of me that I dress up on Sundays to make others think I have it all together.
I praise God with my whole being.
The prophet is experiencing salvation and connection with God, not as something that covers up and hides part of who they are, but as something that adds to the person they were created to be. All the parts of what make this person a human being are brought into this relationship with God. It means that they bring all the emotions and experiences and that life force within us that connects us to others. All of it.
God is not interested in covering up or hiding who this person is. This person praises God with their WHOLE BEING. All of who they are.
That in itself is freeing, but I love what comes next.
When our WHOLE Being is in relationship with God… the earth brings forth its shoots. The garden grows. Righteousness and praise spring up before all the nations.
When we bring our WHOLE being into relationship with God…
There is fruit. There is new life.
New things grow because of it.
It impacts our lives and it impacts our families’ lives and it impacts our community and it impacts our world.
It’s all connected.
When we stop being afraid to bring that part of ourselves into our walk with God… our relationship with God gets to help us shape how we use that good gift. It gets to help us understand how these feelings and passions and energies can be directed in meaningful relationships and mutual loving connection.
The reverse is true as well. Bringing our sexuality into our life of faith also means that this passion and energy, this life force that I described might produce in us more JOY.
The day after I gave my first sermon on intimacy earlier this month, the week we read Song of Songs 4 in worship, (which is technically the Bible but is also Erotic Love Poetry), Willard Rich was waiting in the office when I arrived.
I thought to myself, “Oh no. I’ve really done it now.”
Willard walked in and said, “Now I’d like to talk to you a bit about the service yesterday.”
I started to sweat.
However, what came out of his mouth was not what I expected.
He said, “Back when I was 22 and engaged to Verlie, I was shipped off to serve in the army for three years. We would write to one another. Now, I’ve got to tell you that when I heard Song of Songs read in church yesterday … it didn’t sound that different from some of the letters that I would write to Verlie during those season. She would write me every day, but one day, one of her letters came to me. I opened it up and I’ve got to tell you… it sounded an awful lot like Song of Songs.”
Then he reached into his wallet and pulled out a small piece of paper. It was obvious that it had been shrunk down multiple times, but it was the letter from Verlie and his response. He pulled it out of his wallet and showed me the first line of one of the letters and then quickly said, “You can’t read any more!”
I thought to myself , “Wow!” Here were these two people who were very much in love, who at the age of 22 and 21 probably put my 7th grade emotions and adrenaline to shame.
Yet, they were pouring out that energy and passion for one another and directing it toward something that would build a lasting connection, toward something that would produce fruit and goodness and righteousness into their lives and into the lives of others in the world. 68 years later, it is still bearing fruit.
This good gift of sexuality is real and it is powerful. We don’t need to be afraid of awakening that part of us, but we do need to integrate it into our whole being so that like all the parts of our life… it brings more love and connection into the world.
It has great capacity to bring joy and life and love into our lives and especially into our lives of faith.
Confirmands, I want to speak directly to you.
You are amazing and wonderful creations of God.
You were made to be in meaningful relationships with people.
I want you to know that you are beautiful and you are loved by God.
I am so thankful that you are here today, that despite the challenges and the things that you are facing in your lives that you have chosen to be here today.
When you step forward today to make the commitment to follow God with your life, I hope you are putting your whole self in.
I hope you are bringing all of your hopes and your dreams, all of your mistakes and imperfections, all of your feelings and emotions, all the questions that you still have, and even that life force that God has put within you that makes extraordinary things possible
We know we won’t always get it right, but when we can bring all of ourselves into our relationship with God, we will learn, we will grow, and extraordinary things are possible. When we bring our whole selves, we find that our lives are blessed and we also become a blessing to the world.