Crossroads Guitar Festival
Prisoner of Azkaban

The Sex Sermon

Here's the sermon I preached on Sunday, entitled "Trinity, Eros, and Good News."

Recently I was up at CD World in Addison, that famous abode of music snobs. Not Harry Wooten -type music snobs but, rather, Blake Vickrey -type music snobs. There I became acquainted with the music of Patty Griffin and her new album Impossible Dream. One of the songs that I really like is entitled, “When It Don’t Come Easy”:

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re ever gonna get home tonight

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

This is a song about love, about love in those moments when it isn’t easy. This is uttered by a person in the process of being transformed by love, but still not there. And it expresses a basic human need that all of us have felt at one time or another.


Our text today, Psalm 8, is a song about love when it makes sense. Look at Psalm 8. Here is a psalm of creation that praises the glory and authority of humankind, yet in the context of the praise and glory that all creation gives to God. It is ultimately God who is sovereign, who is majestic. Yet even we lowly humans are crowned with glory and honor. We are in God’s image. We receive some of God’s authority; we have become co-creators with God. So, we humans are called to live up to this ideal of which God is the standard, a glory based upon intimate, loving relationship.

Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament scholar, categorizes Psalm 8 as a Psalm of Orientation, specifically a Song of Creation. About the Songs of Creation, he writes:

The most foundational experience of orientation is the daily experience of life’s regularities, which are experienced as reliable, equitable, and generous. The psalmic community readily affirmed that this experience is ordained and sustained by God. A proper response is one of gratitude. The world is God’s way of bestowing blessing upon us. Our times are ordered by God according to the seasons of the year, according to the seasons of life, according to the needs of the day. In all of these processes, we find ourselves to be safe and free; we know that out of no great religious insight, but because that is the way life comes to us.

We sing our praises to this Creator God because we have experienced that God to be “reliable and trustworthy.” These hymns come from happy people who thank God for a well-ordered world. In these psalms “Life is experienced as protected space.” In fact, as they are taken up into worship the songs themselves become world-making. “These psalms become a means whereby the creator is in fact creating the world.”

Now Brueggemann warns that not everyone experiences an orderly world where each is prosperous enough to be generous. For those folk, these psalms hold an eschatological hope – they anticipate a world not yet experienced. He writes, “There moves in these psalms a deep conviction that God’s purpose for the world is resilient. That purpose will not yield until creation is brought to fullness.”


Central to the Christian message is our doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine is, itself, an attempt to create order by explaining our experience. This complicated doctrine was developed based on people’s experiences. They had experienced God in a variety of ways. They had worshipped the creator in the temple. They had lived with Jesus, eating, drinking, dancing, sleeping, walking. Many had experienced the risen Christ. “And they experienced the Holy Spirit in Pentecost. They had heard the wind. Seen the tongues. And then observed themselves being transformed” [quoted from David Breckenridge]. Yet they had experienced divine unity in all these different experiences. So, the doctrine was an attempt to come to terms with and to explain those experiences. It was the effort to make a mystery more understandable.

At root it is a mystery about the goodness of the cosmos. Here is a God who appears as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. In Genesis it says that God looked out on his creation and pronounced the blessing, “it is very good.” And this Creator God continued to transform as he brought goodness out of people. At the end the Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.” The redeeming God takes those situations that are bad and redeems them for goodness. The sustaining God provides the “stuff that one needs to carry on, to persevere.” God provides the hope that we so desperately need. As Brueggemann writes, “The most foundational experience of orientation is the daily experience of life’s regularities,” and we have experienced God acting in and through these regularities.

As we have sung today, God comes to us in multiple images. Our experiences of God are diverse. Yet, we sense a unity, an order, some common rhythm echoing through all these. We can sing these psalms of praise because at the root of our experience of God is goodness. God is reliable and trustworthy. God is love.

We have experienced and proclaimed that “God is love.” We know this to be the case because we have seen the love that is internal to God – that love between the members of the Trinity. This was part of the point of the ancient names of Father and Son. Or as Ruth Duck writes in one of the hymns we sang, “Mother, Brother, holy Partner, Father, Spirit, Only Son.” As Jurgen Moltmann says, “the triune God is a social God, rich in internal and external relationships. It is only from the perspective of the trinitarian God that we can claim that “God is Love,” because love is never alone.”

How thrilling to know that central to the divine being is relationship, community, and love. This is the reason that the doctrine of the Trinity is important. Because it reminds us that God’s self is the basis for our own human efforts at relationship, community, and love. Through the very God we worship, we Christians have announced that loving community is central to our new and radical way of life. As Miroslav Volf writes, “In a sense, this ‘bringing down’ is the goal of the whole history of salvation: God came into the world so as to make human beings, created in the image of God, live with one another and with God in the kind of communion in which divine persons live with one another.”

The doctrine of the Trinity reveals that God wants to transform those moment when love doesn’t make sense into those moment when love makes perfect sense.


According to James McClendon, the leading baptist theologian of the age, our relationship with God begins at the level of “creatures, embodied selves in an environment, [where] we respond to our Creator.” This often confusing, mysterious doctrine of the Trinity arises out of our experience and, in return, speaks most strongly to our most basic experiences. Just as Brueggmann says that Psalm 8 arises from our experience of daily regularities to praise and glorification of God, it to speaks back to us in our most basic human experiences.

At our most basic, we are creatures seeking relationship. We seek the intimate community and the love revealed within the Trinitarian God. McClendon understood that community and relationships are of primary importance to our Christian theology. Therefore, when he wrote his three volume systematic theology, he bucked centuries of tradition and wrote the first volume on ethics. The book deals with community, forgiveness, politics, being the church in the world. But it begins with discussions of the body, sex, and erotic love. Why? Because McClendon realized these are of supreme importance to our human life.

Is there a more dominant daily experience or life regularity? Is there anything more central to who we are as individuals? Our sexuality is our ultimate mode of experiencing love, relationship, and community. McClendon writes,

Love is a gift. . . . It is God’s gift, the gift that is ever present, breaking down our so carefully enacted barriers of race and class and caste, melting our resistance to the ongoing of the generations, overcoming our destructive and self-destructive urges, welding us together in a unity that (if God’s love be true) death itself cannot destroy. As a gift it returns to the giver; God is love, and to the extent that we love (who would narrow the sense of the term here?), to that extent we abide in God, and he in us.


Our sexuality connects us to God in a number of ways.

First, it connects us to other people. Eros is our desire for communion, our desire to be intimate with an other. Our desire is to be loved and to love. Our desire is to build a relationship. And this is a Godly desire, based upon the centrality of relationship to the being of God’s own self.

Secondly, in our sexuality we experience God. In our love for another, we are drawn outside of ourselves. We learn to care for another as much as we care for ourselves. We learn to take that other’s interests as central to our own. To paraphrase Frederick Buechner, love teaches us that our happiness is bound up with the happiness of others. And we learn that lesson most forcefully in our relationship with our beloved. So, as we draw more intimately toward another, we learn to step outside ourselves, to see God in others, and to, thereby, draw more intimately toward God.

A third way in which our sexuality connects us to God is that it teaches us about God’s kingdom. How? Because in our most intimate of loves, we must learn the importance of mutuality and inclusiveness. These are central virtues in God’s kingdom. The better we learn them in our personal lives, the more likely we are to live them in our corporate lives.

Finally, our erotic love transforms us and brings us newness, just like the Gospel transforms us and the Resurrection brings new life. To quote from McClendon again,

The resurrection may seem to some the least likely prospect for analogical guidance toward Christian eros. It turns out, on the contrary, to be indispensable. While the romantic myth moves from love to death, the Christian master story moves (through death) to newfound life – life in the body. The risen Christ conveys hope that transforms our present life, and erotic love at its best will turn upon episodes of transformation.

Our sexuality is not an evil. It is not part of our baser nature. It is not something that our Christian conversation or even our Christian worship should avoid. No. Our sexuality is elemental to who we are. It is a beautiful part of who we are, not an enemy to be controlled. It is the source of great pleasure. It is a gift of God. And it connects us to God, ultimately by transforming us. The best love relationships make us new people. We experience them as a “protected space.” They save us and heal us. They call us outside ourselves to care intimately for another. They give us new life. This is “good news.”


The nature of God, the Trinity, may be a mystery to us. Yet, it connects with the aspect of our personhood with which we are most intimate. Through our sexuality, through our love of another, through sex, we are reminded of the glory of God – a God whose very being is love and relationship.

Today on Trinity Sunday we are reminded that all creation declares the glory of God. From our regular, daily experiences arise our praises for God. And the richness of our experiences of God teach us how to live in our regular, daily experiences.

The Christian God is “good news.” O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.!”

Comments

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Jennifer

Let me say that I really enjoyed this sermon. I am so glad that you posted it online so Matthew can read it - since he had to take Jackson home.

I am always so pleased when I see that you are preaching. I can't wait to hear what you have to tell us next.

kara deAnn

it was such a good sermon! i enjoyed it alot! i'm glad that i got to be there for it!

natalie

thank you for posting your sermon. I wasn't there to hear it, but Mary Casey told me about it Sunday night, she said she enjoyed it, so I've been curious as to what all went down. I guess I'm also grateful for what you said and how you said it. This has been somewhat the belief I've had for a while, but I've never been able to present it in a comprehendable way. To read it in someone else's writing is quite the reassurance.

Susan

I missed the sermon! I wish that I had not! We talked about Psalm 8 in Sunday School, but about man's dominion over the earth and what that really meant. I think that it is like seniors in high school - you don't make the school policy, or have ultimate control, but you run the school in that you are the oldest, looked up to, and know how all of it should be done. So, Tex said that the Psalm should read, according to my interpretation, Thou shalt be BMOC!

greg

Great job, Scott. And McClendon, Buechner, Brueggemann...wow...how could you go wrong with that trinity? Thanks for posting it.

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