Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hidden With Christ

Colossians 3: 1-4
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011
Flat Rock –Zion Baptist Partnership

A woman named Mary has a four-year old daughter, named Elena.  As Easter approached she struggled to get through to four-year old Elena the meaning of Easter. It went something like this:
"Mommy, will the Easter bunny bring me purple jelly beans?"
I am sure he will bring you jelly beans, Elena. But, remember, Easter isn't about the bunny. It's about Jesus.
"But will they be purple?"
Yes, honey, I am sure there will be some purple ones in there. Honey, the important thing about Easter isn't the bunny. Easter is about how much Jesus loves you and me and the whole world.
"Mommy, HOW MANY purple jelly beans will the Easter Bunny bring me?"
Elena, I think he will probably bring plenty of purple jellybeans. Do you know how much Jesus loves you?
"Mommy..."
Yes Elena?
"Will he bring me tootsie rolls too?"
For a four-year old, Easter bunnies and purple jelly beans and tootsie rolls are way more interesting than JESUS.   They are what makes Easter fun. And fun is, for a four old, enough!
Showing up in worship on Easter is just what we do.  Even for many adults just to come to church to hear some nice “candy-coated clich├ęs” at Easter is good enough.   But others of us will need more.  We want to know more about Easter than “bunnies and jelly beans.” 
Perhaps the reason we want to know more is because we have finally come to realize that life is not always “fun”, sweet, joyful or exciting.   Sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, we will all encounter the dark night of heart wrenching grief, devastating disappointment, smothering guilt, or wearisome failure.   Meeting dark side of life head on, we will come to understand we need Easter to be MORE than just bunnies and jelly beans.
When will the moment of realization come to Elena?
·         Will it be when she's bullied at school and feels like there's no one to turn to?
·         Will it be when she's betrayed by a so-called "best friend" or has her heart broken by the person around whom she's built her whole life?
·         Or perhaps one day she'll look in the mirror and admit to herself that she has been the bully or the betrayer or the heartbreaker and knowing she can never undo the damage she's done will make it hard to keep looking at that face staring back at her.
·         Maybe she'll be on a mission trip and meet people who own none of the things that make her happy, yet they possess a joy she has never known, and she will feel the darkness of an empty soul.
·         Maybe she will be waiting at the airport to greet a relative's flag-covered coffin as it arrives back in the States, and a frightening anger will blanket her soul in a dangerous kind of darkness.
·         Maybe it will be the day she's told by the doctor it's not just a cold after all.
·         Maybe she will be spoon-feeding the frail beloved mommy who once fed her and whose strong body once gave her piggyback rides, and a sense of powerlessness will overtake her.
·         Or will it be the day when her life's work ends with a memo and a deadline for cleaning out her office?

·         Or will it be in the middle of a night of family crisis when she's looking into the desperate eyes of her own child and realizes she doesn't really know him and worse yet--he doesn't want her to?
·         Maybe it will be when she encounters some insidious expression of human cruelty will astonish and paralyze her, so that she will need more than bunnies and jellybeans to gain any hope at all.

Mary Chapin Carpenter's song, “This Is Love”  has lyrics which describe life when:  It seems so black outside that you can't remember  Light ever shone on you or the ones you love in this or another lifetime.” 
And that's when we really need to know what Easter is all about.

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song, “This is Love” describes life when:  “It seems so black outside that you can’t remember light ever shone on you or the ones you love”.  

Maybe that’s how Mary Magdalene felt that first Easter morning.   John’s gospel  (20: 11) describes how Easter began for her:  “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb….”    When you read something like this, you’ve moved far beyond “bunnies and jelly beans.”   It was so dark outside; fear and grief hung like a dark cloud over her life, because her “light” had been extinguished on a Roman cross.   It was not only dark early that morning, but it was dark in her soul.   Where there had once been a glimmer of hope, there was only despair.  But it was also right there; while it was still dark, while the light was nowhere to be see, that even when looking into the tomb she was surprised by the “light” of Easter.

Today we live 2000 on the other side of that first Easter.   How can we connect with a story that has been told over and over again?   How do we move in to see something more than “bunnies and jelly beans?”   

Paul, writing to the Colossians, has something for us to unwrap.  It’s not a piece of candy, but there is a wonderful nugget of truth for our souls.     It’s the big “if” of Easter.   You really can’t “connect” with the truth about Easter unless the truth of Easter has connected with you.   Listen again to how Paul begins his words to the Colossians:  “So if you have been raised with Christ,…. !   Can you decipher his big “if”.  Easter means more to us “if”, or “when” we have “already” been raised with Christ.   The great, hopeful light of Easter is not just that you will go to heaven when you die.  The great truth of Easter does not have to await the coming day of Resurrection.   Resurrection happens now!   Easter is about life, but it is a “life” that “shines in the darkness”, right now!   Having life in Christ now, experiencing resurrection now, is where we all can connect!   The resurrection is about having Christ’s power for life in us now.  

Paul even tells the Colossians, and us, how we can focus on that “power of life” now, when he gives us this imperative for living:  “SEEK THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE ABOVE, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (3.1)… “SET YOUR EYES ON THINGS THAT ARE ABOVE, not on things that are on earth”(3.2). 

WHAT IS THIS “HIGHER” VISION OF LIFE, PAUL IS TALKING ABOUT?  

Think about this:  Did you know that scientists have studied the mineral and chemical composition of the human body?  That's right. The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils calculated the chemical and mineral composition of the human body, which breaks down as follows:  65%  Oxygen, 18%  Carbon 10%  Hydrogen, 3%    Nitrogen,  1.5% Calcium, 1%    Phosphorous, and less than 1 % of Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine, Magnesium, Iron, and Iodine.  Oh, and the trace quantities of fluorine, silicon, manganese, zinc, copper, aluminum, and arsenic are also found in the human body. 
If we took all those parts and sold them on the common market, it would be worth less than $1.  Now our skin is our most valuable physical asset; it's worth about $3.50, I'm told.  So, added all up, you're worth less than $5!   But take a moment now to place your hand on your wrist or on your lower neck on either side of your windpipe; go ahead. Let's all be quiet and still together for a moment.  What do you feel?  You FEEL YOUR PULSE. You FEEL the mystery of BIOLOGICAL LIFE beating through your $5 worth of chemicals and minerals.  

Do you understand how that works?  Do you understand how $5 worth of chemicals and minerals adds up to YOU?  Or  what about the person sitting next to you?  If you only look at things as they seem, as they only relate to the physical world around us, nothing adds up to very much.  But if you “look above”, and to the “spiritual” side of life, and if you put your focus on things, higher, nobler, and bigger than yourself, you’ll can find that life can be much, much more.   When you look “above”, even worthless elements, can become “priceless”!

EASTER IS ABOUT THE POWER AND THE VALUE OF LIFE!   Did you know that?   Listen to what Paul told the Corinthians when talking about the meaning of resurrection:  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our message has been in vain, and your faith has been in vain….If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins….  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15.12-19).  Paul was really too conservative with his words.  If there is no hope for life beyond this life, there is no real hope for any meaning or purpose in life--whatsoever.    Easter is not just a message for people at church---it is for a message of life for all people.

For all people,  life in this broken world ultimately ends going nowhere and meaning nothing.   The greatest Philosophers, like Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sarte, have stated that we “human beings live in the constant dilemma of being people who look for meaning in a world where life is absurd; “meaningless.”   This is not just how life can feel, this is how the greatest human minds have described it.  Life is meaningless.  This is what the “mind” says, but surprisingly, our “hearts” won’t let us believe this, without a fight.    On the Today show last Wednesday, two women were reunited in friendship after they went their separate ways.  Suddenly, a lost card in the mail was uncovered, which was written many years ago and now it has brought them back together.   One of the ladies affirmed her belief: “Everything happens for a reason.”  “I don’t think this is an accident”.  “It was meant to be.”   That’s what we hear people saying all the time.  We all crave meaning, purpose, connection and hope.   Even in this meaningless world, where everything seems to come to an end in death, if this is “all there is”, then even the most beautiful things in life are nothing, and we are, as Paul said, “people to be pitied.”   Unless we can come to believe that life ends with life, and that life has overcome death, life remains “pitiful.”

HOW DO WE SEE BEYOND PITIFUL?   Whether we are have realized we are not “children” anymore, or whether we have faced the ‘darkness’ so black” or whether we have wondered “what’s it all about” or what’s my life worth,” Paul gives us a key to unlock hope and meaning in his very next words to the Corinthians: “BUT IN FACT, CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD, AND IS THE FIRST FRUITS OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED….”  (1 Cor. 15: 20).   Here in today’s text in Colossians, Paul speaks more about  Easter, but speaks less about Easter then,  because he wants us to know the meaning of Easter now!  Paul can’t write about Easter to the Colossians, without talking about their “own” resurrection.   We too can connect with that same power of which is beyond “Bunnies and Jelly Beans,” when we connect with Christ’s power in our own lives, here and now.   When we find ourselves “seeking the things that are above” and when we “set our minds on things that are above” we find our true selves, as God would have us be.   Resurrection can’t be fully known in Christ, until it is also known in us.    Listen to how the apostle puts it in verse 3-4:  “For you have died, and YOUR LIFE IS HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

What Paul says here is true:  The glory of our lives can’t be “revealed “ without Christ.   Until you “have died” and been raised in him, having your life “hidden with Christ in God”, you can’t know who you are nor what life is.  No matter how rich you are, how smart you are, how talented you are, or how lucky you are, nor how old you are, your life can’t fully be “revealed in this world”.    The meaning of our lives remains “hidden” with Christ, until it is one day finally and fully “revealed.”   

I realize this might seem confusing or “strange” language which Paul uses, to say that the meaning and purpose of our all our lives is “hidden with Christ in God”, but let me explain.     You need to know that your life is more mysterious than you might realize.   Let me ask you again: “Who are you?”  You might realize you are worth more than $5 dollars worth of earthly chemicals, but what are you beyond this? 

In the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line” sixteen young dancer audition for eight places to be cast in a show.  They sing and dance their hearts out, desperate for work and for approval.  At one point, the dancers stand in a line with their resumes and portfolio photographs covering their faces, as a tenor sings these words:   “Who am I anyway?  Am I a resume?   That is a picture of a person I don’t know.”   (I Hope I Get It," from A Chorus Line, lyrics by Edward Kleban, 1975).

Most all of us know that when people put their “best face on”; whether on a resume, or for a photograph, that this is not really who they are?  But who are we?  Is your life reduced to a list of the things you accomplished, the positions you’ve obtained, the work you’ve done or can do?    Is your education, your training, your wisdom or your responsibilities all you are?   Are you only the report card your teacher gave you?  Are you the results of your latest medical examination?   Is your life merely about your height, you weight, your pulse, your blood pressure, your cholesterol numbers, your EKG, or Your PSA, your white cell count:  Does this adequately describe the person that you are?    Are you reduced to your SAT,  GRE, Miller Analogy or IQ score?  Blessed are those who have no idea, what I’m talking about at all. 

Who are you?  Are you a certain salary, your income, your stock portfolio, your real estate?  Are you your job title, your place in the company hierarchy?  Are you what you did before your retire or are you the pictures of you that your family have on the wall to decorate their home?   Are you who society tells you?  Are you working the status system to try to locate yourself as close to the top as you can come?  

When my friend Gary’s daughter, Bethany, lost all her memory to a virus that attack her brain, she had start learning all over where she was, who she was and what she was supposed to do with her life.  She depended on her family to tell her, but the truth was, that she could remember nothing much at all.  She even had to be told what the ocean was or what was her favorite food,  or who her friends were supposed to be.   She tells in her testimony, that if it wasn’t for her family being close to her, she would have spent the rest of her life, not knowing who she really was.  Even today, she has very little memory, she has lived most of her life relearning “who” she is.  

What tells you who you are---your memory?  What happens when your memory goes?   What happens when you are still alive in a body, like many people, who get lost in life, even when they have no physical memory loss at all, but they still don’t know “who” they are?   What in this life will define your life with meaning and with hope?  This is what PAUL WANTS THE COLOSSIANS TO DISCOVER.    He wants them to know:  You are only somebody---your life will only matter--- you can only find have hope in both life and death, when “YOUR LIFE IS HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD.”   

MYSTERY IS THE ONLY REAL
This “mysterious” word requires thought.  Nothing that has meaning  is instant nor automatic. 
 So much of what defines who we are and what life is, is never fully revealed before our eyes.   We only seen hints of what matters most, in the sign of the bread and the cup, in the water of baptism, in the moments of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, which like the wind, is uncontrollable by us, but goes where and when it will.   So much of life is still mysterious like the clouds and the wind and we can’t simply stop and look in a mirror and understand or know everything about ourselves.  For example, I’ve had my back with me all my life, but if I turn around you can see it better than I can.   Everything I am, or you are is not yet plain to any of us.    John writes:  “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1Jo 3:2 NRS).  Paul says the same thing here, but also in another place where he writes:  “6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Phi 1:6 NRS).    

We do not yet see everything.  We can’t even know ourselves fully.   We are a work in progress.  God is not finished with us yet.   What God has in store for us, we are not capable of seeing fully, even with our own eyes.    We have hints, but even with the best of human knowledge, we can’t calculate all that God has in store.   Maybe the best “hint” we get of what is now “hidden” is spoken at the Presbyterian Baptism service.   As you know, Presbyterians baptized infants, and the child knows nothing about what all this means and they are either screaming or sleeping through the whole thing.  But listen to these words they say to the child, to the parents and to everyone who is listening.  They do have something good to say.   Here are the words:
“For you Christ came into the world;
for you he lived and showed God’s love;
for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary
and cried at the last, "It is accomplished";
for you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life;
for you he ascended to reign at God’s right hand.
All this he did for you, though you do not know it yet.
And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled:
"We love because God first loved us."  
("Order for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism for a Child," Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland, (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1994), 89-90. The Scots borrowed this declaration from the liturgy of the French Reformed Church.)

In this world we can’t understand it all, but what we can know for sure, is not found in the facts we think we already know for sure, but hope, peace, life and light can only be found in the faith we believe.   In the words of faith: “He did all this for us, and you really can’t know it all, at least not yet, but you must keep they final truth hidden as mystery and meaning in the depth of your soul as your live is still ”hidden with Christ in God.”  

Whether we are baptized as infants, as some do it, or we are baptized as adults, which we try to do, but still most of us get baptized as children too, the truth is: none of us “know” fully what this means, but we spend our whole lives coming to understand it.   And this coming to terms with….being raised with Christ… seeking the things above….setting our mind things above, beyond the things of earth…., this how we connect with the same power that resurrected Jesus and will one day, raise up our dead bodies to new hope and new life.   Only then, raised in him, will we “fully know, as we are now fully known” by Christ.

In the film "Tender Mercies," Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge, a down on his luck country singer who manages to climb out of a bottle long enough to find a new life for himself as husband to a young widow and step-father to her young son. All this happens, the film leads us to believe, through "tender mercies," the "tender mercies" of God.   Because that is the case, one Sunday morning Mac and his stepson are baptized in the Baptist church of the small East Texas town where they live.  On the way home, their hair still wet, they talk about what has happened to them. The boy seems pleased enough that he has been baptized but perhaps a little confused that the high drama of his baptism has had so little apparent effect on him.
                "I don’t feel any different," he says, "at least not yet.... How about you, Mac, you feel any different?"
                "No," Mac says, "I don’t feel any different. Not yet."
                "Not yet," he says and those words "not yet" tense with promise and expectation.  (As told by Patrick Wilson @ goodpreacher.com, which gave shape to this sermon).

Not yet, perhaps, but we shall, for there is a power at work within us, the power of resurrection. Resurrection didn’t just happen back there, back then, two thousand years ago in a garden.  Resurrection can burst into our lives right now, and we can discover who and whose we are.   

So, my final word to you is this:  Don’t just hide your Easter eggs, but hide your life with Christ!   In other words: God never meant for there to be only one resurrection but many resurrections, resurrections enough to bring all of God’s people alive with the kind of life Christ has and the kind of “hope” only Christ gives.   Only when "Your life is hidden with Christ in God” can you find meaning for your life.  But you can’t know all of that know;  but “if you have been raised with Christ” one day you will.”  “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory."    That just could be the greatest Easter promise of all.   Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Misunderstood Sin

A sermon based upon John 4: 27-38
By Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
April 10, 2011
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Have you heard about the MOVIE ENTITLED, “SUPER-SIZE ME?”  It’s a movie that shows America’s obsession with “sizing-up” fast food meals from French Fries, to Biggie Fires; from Large soft drinks, to Huge Gulp Drinks; from a single Hamburger to a Double, or Even Triple Burger, with of course the options of Cheese and Bacon.   The movie makes the point THAT IF AMERICANS CONTINUE TO MAKE POOR CHOICES in their diet, they will be one of the first countries in the western, industrialized, world to SEE LIFE EXPECTANCY DECLINE.

I.   GLUTTONY: WHAT EXACTLY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?  

This is NOT A POPULAR SIN to talk about.  When was the last time you heard a pastor preach a sin on Gluttony?  The Alabama State Baptist paper recently found ONLY ONE PASTOR IN THE WHOLE STATE OF ALABAMA who had preached on this subject.

Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t talk about Gluttony is because it is SUCH A MISUNDERSTOOD SIN.  While we may think of it as the sin that shows up on our WAIST LINE; IT MAY OR MAY NOT.  While we prosperous American DO NEED TO CONSIDER WHAT IS A HEALTHY DIET as part of our Christian walk; the sin of gluttony is more about WHAT IS HAPPENING IN OUR HEART than to our waistline. 

In order to help us put Gluttony into a broader context, consider A COUPLE OF BIBLICAL TEXTS that point to the kinds of problems humans can have with their physical appetites.   Remember HOW ADAM AND EVE’S SIN IN THE GARDEN INVOLVED EATING.  But it really WASN’T ABOUT EATING TOO MUCH, was it?  Who ever thought that Adam and Eve wanted the forbidden fruit because they just wanted to eat?    It was just about eating, but it was about GIVING INTO WHAT THEIR DESIRES WITHOUT CONSIDERING THE LIMITS and boundaries God placed upon humanity.

We learn a lot about what is involved in the sin of Gluttony in the original sin.  Like Adam and Eve’s own sin, Gluttony is a SIN AGAINST GOD, not just our waistline.  It is a sin about letting our desires and APPETITES GET OUT OF CONTROL.  It is about giving in to temptation and living on LESSER LEVEL OF LIFE, and just like the original sin SEPARATES HUMANS FROM a healthy, stable and growing RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD; gluttony too, can separate us from having a deepening and growing relationship with the divine.  WHEN WE GET STUCK ON FEEDING OUR STOMACHS, we can forget that might not just be our body, but our SOUL THAT IS HAVING THE HUNGER pains.  

We often think that this is the SIN THAT VISIBLY SHOWS UP ONLY IN THE BODY of the person who’s over-eating.  IF WE ARE SKINNY or underweight, then we also might mistakenly THINK we have NEVER BEEN GLUTTONOUS.  Here we must take care with our assumptions.  Being overweight may have to more to do with METABOLISM, MEDICAL OR GENETIC ISSUES, not gluttony.  INCREASING OBESITY RATES, especially in children, is a major problem that needs to be addressed at church as well as by the world, but overindulgence or POOR EATING HABITS IS NOT NECESSARILY GLUTTONY. 

          Surprisingly, YOU CAN BE A GLUTTON AND EAT TOO LITTLE, just as much as you can be a glutton and eat too much.   Do you REMEMBER KAREN CARPENTER?  She was a female singer with one of the most beautiful MONEY VOICES in human history.  Yet, Karen Carpenter had some serious problems with food and her self image.  She became OBSESSED WITH HER WEIGHT and eventually developed anorexia nervosa.  She was not overweight, but she thought she was.  She continued to lose weight and eat so little that her heart no longer had enough nourishment and it stopped.

You might not think that Karen Carpenter was a glutton.  She was not A PERSON WHO ATE TOO MUCH, but she still had a PROBLEM WITH HER APPETITE and she was a person struggling with her sense of self and identity.  She was so CAUGHT UP IN SUCCESS that she became OBSESSED WITH LOSING WEIGHT and her idea of what it meant to be a healthy person became warped by the Hollywood images around her.  Karen Carpenter did not over eat, but she was a GLUTTON OF A DIFFERENT SORT.  You’ve heard the phrase, “he or she is a glutton for punishment”, which means a person must LIKE PAIN in a crazy, ABNORMAL, ADDICTIVE AND UNHEALTHY kind of way.  Karen Carpenter was a “glutton” for being skinny as she allowed the world TO WARP HER SENSE of what it meant to be LOVED, ACCEPTED and healthy.     
   
II.  THE SIN AGAINST YOUR BEST SELF.  

Let’s take this thought a little further.  Gluttony can be AN OBSESSION WITH ANYTHING THAT DOES HARM to our humanity and TAKES US AWAY FROM OUR BEST SELF and our high calling and purpose.  This definition reminds us that Gluttony is A DIFFERENT KIND OF SIN, say than pride, anger, greed or lust.  With all the other seven deadly sins, someone else gets hurt immediately.  But the sin of gluttony is PRIMARILY A SIN AGAINST YOURSELF.  This is why the church has most often categorized gluttony as A “WARM SIN; with is to differentiate from the colder, more aggressive sins anger, greed, pride and envy which are more aggressive and cold-hearted.

But while Gluttony might be considered a “warm-hearted” sin, the Bible doesn’t see much warmth in it.  Let me take you to couple of places in the Bible where the word “Gluttony” or at least the idea of gluttony appears.
the appearance of “gluttony” in the New Testament is most interesting.  Gluttony is one of the sins Jesus was accused of.  Of course, we know that Jesus was not a glutton, but he was accused of it because he liked to eat with sinners.  He never turned down a chance to go to a dinner party when sinners were there.

The accusation against Jesus reminds us again, that Gluttony is not simply about food.  Jesus was not considered a glutton because of how much he ate, but he was considered a glutton because of who he ate with.  The Pharisees saw Jesus as both a “drunkard and a glutton” because he ate with sinners; with people who where not consider clean by the religious establishment.  This reminds us that Gluttony has not just a bad food choice, but is also about our moral choices in life; about whether or not we are living the best life we can live.  The Pharisees thought Jesus was not living the best life, because he ate with sinners.  While they were wrong about Jesus, not understanding what Jesus was doing, they were right about the nature of gluttony.  Gluttony is mostly about the kind of person we are and about what we choose to do with our lives. 

Let’s look at another text that speaks of Gluttony.  As I mentioned before, Gluttony often shows up in a list of sins other sins, which includes drunkenness and sloth, or laziness.   The wise man in Proverbs says: “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” (Proverbs 23:31).   We all know what it means to be an alcoholic?  An alcoholic is much more than just a person who drinks too much?   An alcoholic is a person who abuses alcohol.  What the alcoholic does is become dependent upon a drug, either as a wrong way to gain pleasure in life or as wrong way to deal with the pains and problems of life.   The alcoholic does the same wrong thing a glutton does.  Both the glutton and the drunkard forget their and limits and become dependant upon that which hurts them more than it helps.

There are all kinds of addictions in our times.  Some have even labeled us “a nation of  addicts.”   In our society with so much to come between us and God, we can get addicted to so many things; to drugs, tobacco, to sex, to money, to power, to fast food, and a host of other unhealthy “things” which we allow to possess us.   You can even be a glutton by becoming addicted to good things like exercise, sports, clothing, work and even religion.  Even good things can hurt us if we become possessed by them.  

The core problem with any kind of addictive behavior is not so much the evil or goodness of the substance being abused, as much as it is the question of why you are abusing it.  When you become addicted, negative things happen to you that hurt you; that lessen you and keep you from being the person you can be.  Perhaps the most tragic element in the sin of gluttony is that while we might give in to what we thing we need, at the same time we need it, and it give us what we want, it is also taking life from us.  This sin of gluttony, may just be the sin that does more to steal the joy of life than any other.   When we get addicted, we spend most of our time doing one thing, when there are others things in life that also need our attention.


III.  FILLING UP YOUR HEART SO YOU DON’T FEEL EMPTY?

As we understand that gluttony is a mostly a warm, non-aggressive sin, that keeps us from being at our best self, don’t think for one moment that gluttony is never destructive toward others.  In fact, one of the most powerfully negative images of a human being in all the Bible is the image of a Rich Man, who was so much a glutton, so obsessed with feeding his own needs, wants and pleasures, that he neglected the basic needs of another person---his own neighbor, who was starving to death right under his nose.

You do remember that powerful biblical story in Luke 16 where a rich man is pictured as one who “fairs sumptuously” every day, while the poor man, who sits right outside his gate, is needy, hurting and hungry.   What is important for us to see in this story is not just the contrast between rich and poor, but the contrast that is taking place within the rich man’s own life.  He is not just a rich man, but he is a man who stays rich at everyone else’s expense.  He is a person so obsessed with meeting his own needs and taking care of himself, that he neglects the needs of a hurting person who is right in front of him.  This is what made the rich man a glutton.  It was not the amount of food, but the kind of person he became when he only had time to take care of himself and had no time for others.

I’ll never forget something Dr. Fred Craddock said, after he had returned to Atlanta having visited a very poor country.  He was driving down the Interstate outside of Atlanta and saw a sign which said, “All You Can Eat”, $6.95.   Craddock said after being in a country where people were starving, even entertaining the idea in your own mind that you would want to “eat all you want”, when others had nothing, was the worse sin imaginable.  I felt the same way, when I was traveling with my family and my parents several years ago, and we wanted to find a seafood restaurant near Williamsburg, VA.  We entered into a restaurant, like I had never known or seen.  For a cost of $24 per person, you could eat your hearts delight from a tremendously large and tempting seafood buffet.  Since, we were strangers in town and did not know our way around town, I paid for all of us too eat.  But the whole time we were all eating, I felt like something was wrong.  It was not wrong because we all ate too much.  What was wrong was that we had so much too eat and couldn’t eat our money’s worth, even if we wanted too.  That’s the same kind of thing that happens when we become addicted to food or anything else.  We eat, we partake, but don’t feel like we’re had enough.  We can’t be satisfied.   

Throughout Scripture, there is a danger and a warning about giving into the “desires of the flesh”, the “lesser self”, or the “lower person.”  The Bible understands that we humans have physical needs, hungers and we have physical bodies that need care and nourishment.  And the Bible also tells us that we should care for our bodies, which are temples, temples of the Holy Spirit.  When we allow things, possessions, and even good things like food, to control us, and when we don’t maintaining spiritual control over them, too the extent that we only take care of our needs and we overlook the needs of others around us, then we are in dangerous, destructive territory.

So, finally, how do we refocus and maintain control over our physical appetites; which get out of balance in our lives.   If gluttony is more than how much we eat, but why we eat, how we eat, and who we are when we eat; and if gluttony is a that hurts us because we become obsessed with lesser things in life---things that can possess and lead to destructive obsessions which cause us to neglect our own health and to neglect the needs of others?  If this is what gluttony is, then how can we overcome the negative obsessions that do sometimes overcome us and set our lives off balance?

We need to look only at two more Scriptures.  Matthew 4 shows our Lord being tempted by the devil as we all are tempted.  While Jesus is preparing himself for his life mission and trying to prove he had spiritual control of his physical body---we see that the devil comes to him with temptation of food.  “Turn these stones into Bread”.  The Devil tempts Jesus, not to eat too much, but to stop and eat when he had something more important to do.  If Jesus had given into the devil in that moment; if he had turned those stones into bread, setting down to eat a good meal; if he had made food and his physical appetite the priority when there were so many other spiritual priorities pressing him at the moment, he would have given into gluttony.

          Jesus did not give into his stomach, because he had a very full heart.  He told the devil: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (4:4).  This is the same kind of thing we see taking place in our text from John 4.  When the disciples are trying to get Jesus to stop and eat, he tells them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” (4: 32)  Then he tells them: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (4:34).

Of course, there in normally nothing wrong with meeting your physical needs; except when this is all you live for.  If there is nothing more than living, eating, drinking, and satisfying yourself, then what is the point to life?   Life has to be more than about feeding our appetites.  Life is also about God.  Life is about Love.  Life is about disciplining yourself and not taking shortcuts around what is most important.  Life is sometimes about enjoying yourself, but it is also about denying yourself.  As Jesus shows us, life is about having priorities which are much more than feeding our stomachs or our physical appetites.  A life that is aimed only at pleasure, only as satisfying yourself, only at looking after your own needs, is a life rob of the greatest joy and is a life that.  You can’t fill your heart , no matter how much you fill you stomach.

Jesus shows us only way out of our human addictions, when he turned to the devil and said: “Man shall not live by bread alone.  Only when we realize that life is bigger than our own needs; that life has reasons we can’t know only through physical pleasures; and until we accept that life has an ultimate purpose that will only be realized through pain, not avoiding it, and until we can focus on God’s purposes that are bigger than our own pleasures, you can likely get trapped by gluttony and other addictions.

When we can finally say that we all need a higher power to help overcome our physical weaknesses and addictions.   Having a full heart is the only way the sin gluttony is overcome.  When we commit ourselves to God’s purpose, it is then that the lesser and lower appetites have less control us.  They don’t control for the same reason they didn’t control Jesus when he told his disciples, “that he had meat to eat that the world did not yet know of.”   When we feed our greater spiritual hungers; our hunger for love, our hunger for community; our hunger for truth; our hunger for grace; and most of all our hunger for God.; when we fill these greater hungers, we will be so full that the all our other hunger pains will lessen and we can eat to live, not just live to eat.  Amen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Sin That Can't Wait

A Sermon based upon 2 Samuel 13: 1-22
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
April 3, 2011


About 25 years ago, not long before the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government experienced a deep embarrassment at the hands of a nineteen-year-old German youth.   This German youth FLEW HIS SINGLE ENGINE CESSNA Skyhawk airplane HUNDREDS OF MILES OVER RUSSIAN TERRITORY completely undetected, landing SAFELY IN THE MIDDLE of Red Square!  While the WORLD WAS AMAZED by such a feat, the Communist government reacted by immediately arresting the young man and tossing him into prison.  Apparently, the young man was SO WRAPPED UP IN THE CHALLENGE of accomplishing this feat that he had SCANT REGARD for any of the possible CONSEQUENCES.
LUST IS A LOT LIKE THIS YOUNG MAN'S ESCAPADE: people who allow their lives to be filled with lust DO NOT THINK  OF THE CONSEQUENCES; lust doesn’t consider WHAT MIGHT LIE AHEAD; lust simply SEEKS THE THRILL of a particular moment.
In order to GUIDE US IN OUR DISCUSSION of this delicate but relevant topic, especially in light of the covenant these youth are making today, I want to draw from 4 Bible passages. 

This first story is one the church likes to keep quiet about.  IT IS A TRAGIC STORY OF RAPE AND INCEST.   While this tragedy may be uncommon to us, the INNER STRUGGLE with Lust in not.  We can learn from this tragedy how not to create our own.

THIS STORY BEGINS WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF A WOMAN NAMED TAMAR.  Tamar was the daughter of King David, the King of Israel. The Bible tells us that she was “YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL.” The story also shows us she was WISE AND COURAGEOUS, which was a sharp contrast to the ugliness of her brothers and the spiritual weakness of her father.  TAMAR HAD EVERYTHING GOING FOR HER in terms of worldly status, as much as a woman could in that day.  But with everything going for her, TRAGEDY STRIKES.  Tamar's tragedy is a story in the church because, again, her story belongs to MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE THE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ABUSE, which is running rampant in our culture.


How many of you SAW NBC’S DATELINE STORY about a sting which was recently set up to catch sexual predators.  By using a computer, Dateline officials PRETENDED TO BE CHILDREN who engaged in INAPPROPRIATE, SUGGESTIVE CONVERSATION with adults on the internet.  In the conversations these ADULT MALES WERE LURED to the child’s home.  Most alarming was that all kinds of men from all walks of life engaged in the suggestive computer chats and came to the house when invited.  SOME of them were UPSTANDING CITIZENS; many of them married, one a high school teacher and the other a police officer.  IT WAS A SAD MOMENT to have the camera show a yard full of adult men being nabbed by police in the sting operation.  WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT so many ADULTS WOULD HAVE SO LITTLE CONTROL over their own passions that they would be willing to destroy what they thought to be the life of a child?


Sadly, THE CULTURE IN WHICH WE LIVE has all kinds of people who are ALLOWING THEIR LIVES AND OTHER LIVES TO BE WRECKED and RUINED BY UNCONTROLLED PASSIONS and lusts.  But the story is not new, and the tragedy of uncontrolled human passion is AS OLD AS THE BIBLE ITSELF.    That brings us to the OTHER MAIN CHARACTER IN THIS STORY.  King David HAD MANY WIVES AND MANY CHILDREN as was the custom 3000 years ago.  As was also normal in a royal family, the TWO OLDEST SONS WERE IN A STRUGGLE FOR POWER.  BOTH WANTED DAVID'S THRONE, and both would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.  AMNON WAS THE ELDEST and therefore the apple of David's eye.  His younger, step brother was ABSALOM, who was also Tamar’s brother.  ABSALOM HATED AMNON, but dared not risk his father's favor by doing anything against him.  THE LUST FOR POWER, the greed and arrogance of Amnon and Absalom EVENTUALLY BROUGHT BOTH OF THEM TO AN EARLY DEATH.  I tell all of this as a way TO SET THE STAGE FOR WHAT HAPPENED to Tamar. 


Now, our text tells us that Amnon FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS HALF SISTER, TAMAR (2 Sam. 13:1).   The Bible says he fell in love, but it was more like he FELL IN LUST for her.  Here is the first lesson of this tragic story:   MANY OF US CONFUSE LUST WITH LOVE.    True love, has little to do with sexual passion.  According to the late, Christian psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, LOVE IS THE COMMITMENT TO YOUR PARTNER'S SPIRITUAL GROWTH.  LUST HAS a lot more to do with HORMONES than it has to do with love or respect.  Love is about CARING FOR ANOTHER person; but lust is ABOUT WANTING something from that person no matter what.  


Several years ago A MOTHER CAME TO ME WITH HER SON and his girl friend.  The girl friend was pregnant out of wedlock.  He was in school working on his education and they had only known each other for a short time.  This mother was insistent. She told me that her son WAS GOING TO DO “RIGHT” BY MARRYING this girl and raising that baby.


While she was talking and I was listening to her desperation, I thought to myself: “I WONDER IF HE REALLY LOVES HER, because I know in my heart that “TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT.”  You can’t build a marriage on lust or accidents.  I knew she meant well and wanted her son to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for his actions.  Of course, I was thinking to myself that it would have been better IF HE HAD TAKEN RESPONSIBILITY A LITTLE EARLIER.  I attempted to prevent them from getting married too quickly and to think this over.  But the mother was adamant.  She DEMANDED AN IMMEDIATE WEDDING.  Of course if I didn’t PERFORM THE CEREMONY, then it would appear that I WAS AGAINST the “right” thing.  So, I did what she wanted.  I preformed the marriage ceremony.


Tragically, ONLY TWO MONTHS AFTERWARDS, the young woman HAD A MISCARRIAGE.  Within a few months AFTER THAT, they were divorced.  You CAN’T BUILD A MARRIAGE or a life based upon lust.  Unless we learn to distinguish between lust and love our LIVES CAN BECOME MORE THAN COMPLICATED, it can BECOME TRAGIC.  


Let’s move on.  We quickly come to another piece of enlightenment from this story. We read that AMNON WAS SO “IN LUST” with Tamar that he “MADE HIMSELF ILL (2 Sam. 13:2)   If Amnon had really “loved” his half-sister, he would have been committed to protecting her.  But because he was not “in love”, but “in lust”, it seemed to him that HE COULD DO NOTHING ABOUT HIS LUST BUT FANTASIZE. 


Here is another IMPORTANT TEST IN OUR OWN HEARTS to decipher love from lust.  When we are so strongly AND OVERWHELMINGLY PHYSICALLY ATTRACTED to someone THAT we can’t seem to have any kind of relationship with that person WITHOUT BEING POSSESSED BY A STRONG PHYSICAL DESIRE OF WHICH we have little ABILITY TO ABSTAIN, THEN we are in dangerous territory.


 LUST MAKES ITSELF SICK WANTING ONLY WHAT IT WANTS.  Love thinks mostly about WHAT THE OTHER PERSON NEEDS and what is best for that person and what is best for everyone else around them.  PEOPLE WHO ARE IN LUST WITH EACH OTHER GET “LOVE SICK”.  People who are in love with each other, never LET THE PHYSICAL ATTRACTION GO TO THEIR HEAD or hinder them FROM THEIR DEEPER RELATIONSHIP with others and with God.  People in love, don’t get love sick, but their love for each other love MAKES THEM BETTER, MORE FOCUSED PEOPLE, staying on track for life and its everyday demands, and causing them to care more about all of life, not less.  The person who gets “lust sick” will find a way to GET WHAT THEY WANT, AT ANYBODY’S EXPENSE: at the expense of the other person, at the expense of society, at the expense of parents and family, and even at the expense of their own witness to God. 


And this brings us to THE THIRD PART OF THIS TRAGEDY.   You’ve heard of the expression, “where there is a will there is a way.”  Well, in this story the way to tragedy is enabled by so-called FRIENDS who will join in with you to help you get what you want in order to gain something else for themselves. 


In this story, AMNON HAD A SCOUNDREL OF A FRIEND BY THE NAME OF JONADAB.   When Amnon became so lust sick that he didn’t know what to do, it was his friend Jonadab who DEVISED A CRUEL PLAN so that Amnon could have his way with Tamar.  In the story, JONADAB TOLD AMNON TO ACT LIKE HE WAS SICK and ask to have Tamar come to take care of him. "Then," he said, "you can have your way with her." 
  
THERE ARE PLENTY OF AMNONS AND JONADABS around even today.  You know what IS OFTEN DONE AT A PARTY.  Bartender, Jonadab will dutifully pour twice as much alcohol in the girl’s drink AS HE DOES IN THE BOYS, with A SLY wink and a nod.  People can become so arrogant; such products of a sexist and abusive culture that friends join together to look down on women and use them as objects.”  


Friends can BECOME DANGEROUS ALLIES when they TRY TO HELP US GET WHAT WE WANT so they can get From Us What They Want.   That is the third lesson of lust.  LUST IS NOT JUST ABOUT SEX, ITS ABOUT POWER and it’s about everyone going after WHAT THEY WANT with no thought of who gets hurt.  Remember WHAT HAPPENED IN ARUBA?  That young girl spent one night with her so-called friends and her family will probably never know  what happened to her.


Young people, you and I know that ONE of THE GREATEST PRESSURES in your life right now comes from your so called friends.  We call it “peer pressure”.  Let me tell you that I HAD A LOT OF GOOD FRIENDS when I was in High School and I hope you do too.  But let me help you put something into perspective.  BEFORE YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO DO WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING, no matter what it costs you, let me tell you that there is NOT ONE SINGLE FRIEND WHO WAS IN MY LIFE in high school WHO IS REALLY IN MY LIFE TODAY.  Yes, I see a couple of my old friends occassionally, but they have little to do with my life TODAY. 


I’ve told you this to GIVE YOU SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THINGS that you need for making good decisions.  The very friends who help shape your decisions today probably WILL NOT BE WITH YOU TOMORROW, no matter how good and close they are.   That’s how life is.  But let me tell you WHAT WILL BE WITH YOU:  every person you’ve hurt or helped; EVERY WRONG CHOICE YOU’VE MADE will stay with you.  And it is very possible, young folks, that the RESULT OF THE PEER PRESSURE you let yourself get caught up in, could stay with you for the rest of your lives.   AMNON HAD A SO CALLED “FRIEND” who led him to the trough to drink of lust and sin.  Ask yourself: We know where Jonadab was when he was helping to lead Ammon to fulfill his lust, BUT WHERE WAS JONADAB THE DAY AFTER?   The so called “friend” was gone, but the guilt and hurt was there.


There’s a lot more in this terrible story. TAMAR CAME TO INNOCENTLY TAKE CARE OF HER SUPPOSEDLY SICK HALF-BROTHER. Amnon fantasized as he watched her make cakes for him.  When the cakes were ready, he refused to eat the food. HE SENT EVERYONE OUT of his bed chamber except for Tamar. He said to her, "bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand."(2 Sam. 13:9)   You know what happened next.  When Tamar came into the bed chamber, AMNON GRABBED HER AND SAID, "come lie with me, my sister." But she said, "NO!"  Any sexual contact that happens after someone has said "no" is considered rape.  Very clearly she said, "No, my brother, DO NOT FORCE ME; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile!"(13:12)


AMNON DID NOT LISTEN TO HER.  He was stronger than she, and he raped her.   But remember, TAMAR NOT ONLY REPRESENTED HIS SEXUAL LUST but also his LUST FOR POWER.  To shame Tamar would also SHAME ABSALOM, her brother, his nemesis. TAMAR WAS AN INNOCENT PAWN IN THIS SIBLING RIVALRY; a victim of Amnon's injustice.  LUST IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT SEXUAL DESIRE, it is often ABOUT OTHER KINDS OF HIDDEN UNCONTROLLED DESIRES we may or may not always be fully aware of.  IF WE LET OUR DESIRES GO IN OTHER PARTS OF OUR LIVES, it will START TO CONTROL ALL of us. 


Now, we see ONE MORE TRAGIC THING about lustful passions.  Not only do lustful passions GET MISTAKEN FOR LOVE; not only do they make us SICK IN OUR HEARTS; not only do they bring to us so called “FRIENDS” WHO ARE NOT GOOD for us; not only can they be SIGNS OF OTHER ISSUES that are set loose in our hearts; but finally we can see in this terrible anatomy of lust, that lust WILL EVENTUALLY LEAD US TO “HATE” THE ONE WE SAID WE LOVED.   The Scripture says as soon as Amnon had finished with her,  HE WAS "SEIZED WITH GREAT LOATHING FOR HER. Indeed his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her." (13:15)   After Amnon GOT WHAT HE WANTED, he could CARE LESS ABOUT TAMAR.  Do you see how disposable people are?  From one day to the next your lust can quickly turn from “love” to hate and revenge.  Amnon’s interest wereNOT LOVE, BUT LUST.  Remember what the Christian Psychiatrist said:  “True Love is YOUR COMMITMENT to your partner’s spiritual growth.”  Any feeling that DOES NOT HAVE YOUR PARTNER’S WELL BEING and spiritual growth in mind is lust, not love.  This is WHY SO OFTEN COUPLES WHO SAY THEY REALLY LOVE EACH OTHER, BREAK UP and can’t be friends afterwards; they were experiencing lust, not love.


This loathing, or DISRESPECT FOR THE OTHER PERSON WAS THERE ALL ALONG, but it is especially revealed in one specific word Amnon used at the end.   After he was finished with her, AMNON TOLD HER TO GET OUT.   But TAMAR WAS A COURAGEOUS WOMAN who would not shed her dignity so easily. She pleaded with Amnon, "This wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me." (13:17)   It was NOT THAT UNCOMMON FOR A MAN TO MARRY HIS HALF-SISTER in those days if the Father consented.  BUT AMNON WOULD NOT LISTEN to her and now, pay attention to what he said next.  HE SAID: "GET THIS OUT OF MY PRESENCE and bolt the door."  In most translations, verse 17 is translated something like “Get this woman out of here." But in the original Hebrew, Amnon says, "Get this out of here." Tamar, the SUPPOSED OBJECT OF HIS LOVE, WAS NO LONGER EVEN VIEWED AS A PERSON in his eyes!  She was JUST AN OBJECT OF LUST and now she is nothing more than AN OBJECT OF HATE.  This is what lust does: It turns people into objects, things, and destroys the real human relationships we really need.


What we see in this text is the destruction of a person, who was TURNED INTO AN OBJECT AND EVENTUALLY DISCARDED as trash when all used up.  This is unfortunately what happens to people, even Christians, when they use others.  More sadly, this is HOW MUCH OF SOCIETY STILL TREATS WOMEN who become victims of sexual abuse.   THE LAW WAS AGAINST THE WOMAN THEN, and it still is.  AS A VIRGIN, TAMAR WAS ADORNED with a long-sleeved robe.  After her violation, she tore the sleeves off her robe, PUT ASHES ON HER HEAD AND WENT AWAY CRYING.  She had lost her dignity and her power.  A WOMAN WHO HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN AN INCIDENT OF INCEST, according to Leviticus 18 and 19, WAS TO BE PUNISHED.  Tamar's punishment was TO REMAIN BARREN for the rest of her life.  In a society in which a WOMAN'S WORTH WAS MEASURED BY HOW MANY SONS she could bare, this served to MAKE HER A NON-PERSON in most people's eyes. The Bible says that SHE SPENT THE REST OF HER YEARS LONELY AND DESOLATE.


BUT THAT IS NOT WHERE THE STORY ENDS.  Tamar's brother Absalom asked her what had happened, even though he already suspected that Amnon had violated her. ABSALOM HEIGHTENED HER SHAME BY SAYING, "Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart."(13:20) Like Job's so-called friends, like our culture's MINIMIZING OF VIOLENCE against women, ABSALOM ALL BUT SAID TO HIS VIOLATED SISTER, "Don't worry so much." "It ain't so bad."  "Boys will be boys." "He is your brother after all, it's not like he was a stranger." "Too bad YOU ARE SO GOOD-LOOKING, maybe this wouldn't have happened to you if you were uglier."  The WOMAN, IT SEEMS ALWAYS GETS THE WORST END of this SITUATION.   Even when King David heard, and became furious, HE WOULD NOT PUNISH AMNON, his son, because, it says, he loved him.


This mention of David brings us to another tragic point in this story.  If you remember, DAVID HIMSELF COULD NOT CONTROL HIS OWN LUSTFUL passion.  The tragic rape of Tamar his daughter by his son Amnon is “dejavu” all over again for him.  DAVID’S  OWN LACK OF SELF-CONTROL IS NOW PASSED DOWN TO HIS SON and continues to hurt his family. 
Most of you know and recall the story I’m referring too: the story of DAVID AND BATHSHEBA in 2 Samuel 11.  I don’t have time to get to that story, except to make ONE IMPORTANT POINT.   As you might recall, King David was in leisure walking around on his royal rooftop, when he notices down below A WOMAN TAKING A BATH.  Stop.  It has been our tendency to soften this story, at least from the man’s perspective, saying that if BATHSHEBA HADN’T BEEN TAKING HER BATH outside, all THIS WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED.  He would NOT HAVE SEEN her.  He would NOT HAVE BEEN TEMPTED.  He would NOT HAVE EVENTUALLY SENT HER HUSBAND URIAH off to war to be killed after it was discovered she was pregnant.  All that sounds true, but I want you to REMEMBER ONE THING ABOUT THE KIND OF “BATH” Bathsheba was taking.  It was not just any kind of bath, but it was most likely some kind of RELIGIOUS PURIFICATION CEREMONY which was required, as the text later explains. 


What I want us to see is this: LUST CAN HAPPEN TO THE BEST OF PEOPLE.  It is not just about sex but it is also about power, greed and giving in to our lower nature or passions.  It can happen at Church.    When our DESIRES HAVE SO MUCH CONTROL OVER US that we care about nothing except WHAT WE WANT, with no thought of consequences, no thought of who gets hurt, and NO THOUGHT OF THE HIGHER SPIRITUAL PURPOSES of love and life.   


The ONLY GOOD THING THAT COMES OUT ALL THIS TRAGEDY is that David ends up repenting and CONFESSING HIS SINS TO GOD, asking God to bring back the “joy of his salvation.” (See Psalm 51).  God does forgive, but more than that, HE WANTS US TO HAVE SPIRITUAL POWER OVER OUR THE DESTRUCTIVE DESIRES of our flesh.  God can HELP US BEFORE WE NEED TO ASK FOR FORGIVENESS.  HE CAN HELP US DISTINGUISH BETWEEN LOVE AND LUST before we get hurt. 


This brings us to the FINAL STORY from the Hebrew Bible and another young man, NAMED JOSEPH.  WE find his story in Genesis 39.  Here WE SEE THE SHOE IS ON THE OTHER FOOT.  It is not a man taking advantage of a woman, but A WOMAN TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A MAN.   
If you recall, JOSEPH WAS ORIGINALLY SOLD INTO SLAVERY by his brothers who were jealous of him.  He ENDED UP IN EGYPT being the servant of Potiphar,an officer of Pharoah’s army.   Potiphar trusted Joseph so much that he was made overseer of his household. GOD HAD BLESSED JOSEPH and he was becoming successful and powerful.  On top of all this power given to Joseph, the text says in Genesis 39: 6, that HE WAS ALSO “HANDSOME AND GOOD LOOKING.”  We are then told that “the master’s wife “cast her eyes” on Joseph and propositioned him.


WHAT JOSEPH SAYS TO HER REVEALS THE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH HE HAD over his flesh.  When the temptation was put before him, Joseph “refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and HE HAS PUT EVERYTHING THAT HE HAS IN MY HAND.  9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. HOW THEN COULD I DO THIS GREAT WICKEDNESS, and sin against God?"   


JOSEPH WAS ABLE TO KEEP HIS FOCUS.  How?  Because he had DECIDED beforehand UPON A CLEAR SET OF VALUES IN HIS HEART.  Joseph KNEW WHERE HE CAME FROM and where he WANTED TO GO; most of all he wanted to KEEP HIS PROMISE TO GOD and to others and be TO BE responsible. Because Joseph’s own personal and SPIRITUAL VALUES WERE SO STRONG, and his SENSE OF MORAL SELF was so high, even when this woman kept on approaching him, HE KEPT ON SAYING NO, NOT ONCE, BUT MANY TIMES.  And even when one day, she threw herself on him and tore his clothes off him, HE LEFT EVERYTHING AND RAN.   EVEN WHEN POTIPHAR’S WIFE set a trap FALSELY ACCUSING JOSEPH AND HAVING HIM THROWN INTO PRISON, Joseph REMAINED strong.  He HAD NOT VIOLATED HIS OWN HIGH SENSE OF VALUES, nothing could tear him down.  LONG BEFORE this moment of temptation, he HAD developed an INNER, SPIRITUAL AND MORAL STRENGTH that would help him overcome when temptation came.  WHAT HE DECIDED BEFOREHAND, not in the moment, is what made the difference.


WHAT JESUS TEACHES us about lust gives us this same lesson.  In his own words, JESUS BELIEVED THAT WE CAN GAIN SELF-CONTROL AND INNER STRENGTH over the powerful urges of the flesh.   In his great sermon on the mount, where Jesus talks a lot about the INABILITY OF THE LAW TO CONTROL OR CHANGE OUR HEARTS, HE GIVES A REMEDY for lust THAT IS SHOCKING INDEED.   Jesus doesn’t pull any punches when he says in Matthew 5:27, “YOU’VE HEARD it said in the law, ‘You shall NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’ But I say to you that “EVERYONE WHO LOOKS…WITH LUST has already committed adultery in their heart.” 


Some experts of the human psyche have BEEN CRITICAL OF JESUS SAYING THAT  his demand for us to control our innermost thoughts CAUSES UNDO GUILT.  THEY SAY he should have focused ON THE POWER TO CONTROL ONLY OUR ACTIONS. 

 LET IT BE KNOWN THAT I SIDE WITH JESUS against those other experts.  I BELIEVE IT IS EVIDENCED IN THE  disintegration of our culture that THOUGHTS ARE NOT HARMLESS.  They are the SOURCE OF ALL OUR ACTIONS.  Do you remember years ago, the slogan was “If it feels good, do it!”  The idea BEHIND THIS SLOGAN was that most all of our negative behavior and addictions, be they addictions to sex, to lust, to alcohol or any other kind of addiction, were A PART OF A LONG CYCLE OF REPRESSION.  In other words, because THESE URGES WERE PUSHED DOWN DEEP, either by PARENTS WHO WERE OVERBEARING AND TOO STRICT; or because RELIGION WAS OVERBEARING AND TOO STRICT, the URGES GOT STRONGER and WERE out of control.  It was thought that the best way to RELEASE THESE NEGATIVE, repressed energies was to LET IT ALL HANG OUT.  SUPPOSEDLY, once we GOT IT ALL OUT OF OUR SYSTEM, then we WERE TO return to sanity.  Unfortunately, our culture HAS BEEN getting more and more dangerous by the moment.  Our culture proves that THE MORE WE SEE IT, THINK ABOUT IT, TALK ABOUT IT, FANTASIZE about it, GIVE IN TO IT, the more we, as the commercial says: “just do it!” 

Let me tell you this is NOT JESUS’ APPROACH TO DEALING with lust or any other addiction.  Jesus has a WHOLE DIFFERENT approach.   And it may SOUND A LITTLE EXTREME, if you take it literally, but if you will INSTEAD TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY, you might learn something that will help you get control of the destructive passions of your life.  In Matthew 5: 29: “IF YOUR RIGHT EYE CAUSES YOU TO SIN, TEAR IT OUT….if your right hand causes you to sin…CUT IT OFF…  It is better to lose a part of your body than for your soul and your whole body to go into hell.”

This sounds extreme, but Jesus speaks figuratively, not literally here.  And Jesus approach is not UNLIKE THE APPROACH OF AN WELL TRAINED ATHELETE in the Olympic Games we’ve been watching in Italy these past two weeks.  What every successful athlete knows is that WITHOUT DISCIPLINE AND PAIN, there is NO GAIN and there will be NO GOLD.  Part of being a good athlete means we must LEARN TO ACCEPT PAIN AND DISCIPLINE in our lives.  When we are in training for something better in life, WE MUST ABSTAIN FROM CERTAIN BEHAVIORS and pleasures or we will not be at our best.   IN the same way, unless you and I accept the pain of discipline over our unbridled pleasure, we will not have power over our flesh.   

When we let ourselves go and when WE HAVE NO LIMITS and NO MORAL RESTRAINTS, life does not get better, THE PLEASURE WILL RUN OUT, and the GUILT WE ACQUIRE WILL NOT ABSOLVE itself.   Jesus is giving, in this rather shocking way, two major lessons about gaining self control: He gives a Warning and a Recommendation.  THE WARNING IS that PHYSICAL PAIN IS NOT AS BAD AS THE SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL PAIN that comes when we give into our lower passions.   Loosing an eye or an arm is tragic, but it’s STILL NOT AS TRAGIC AND PAINFUL AS LOOSING YOUR SOUL in the unending pain of hell of having no self-control.  LIKE THAT YOUNG MAN WHO CUT OFF HIS OWN ARM to save his life, when he was trapped on that cliff under a boulder, you should do the same to save the rest of your body and especially, your soul.  

The second lesson JESUS GIVES IS A RECOMMENDATION.  For anyone to OVERCOME ANYTHING or achieve anything in life there MUST BE AN ACCEPTANCE OF PAIN.  We must accept THE discipline AND LEARNING THAT COMES FROM THE HARD AND NARROW WAY.  AMNON carried the PAIN OF HIS ROYAL FAMILY IN HIS HEART and he sought the pleasures of the moment.  DAVID TOO HAD HIDDEN PAINS in being the SMALLEST AND THE FORGOTTEN until he was finally discovered.  Remarkably, JOSEPH HAD THOSE DEEP EMOTIONAL PAINS TOO, but somehow JOSEPH DID SOMETHING WITH HIS PAIN.  HE ACCEPTED IT.  He GAVE IT TO GOD.  Like a well-trained athlete, JOSEPH ACCEPTED AND MADE USE OF HIS PAIN AND BECAME STRONGER.  He learned through the hardships of life, to discipline himself to do the right thing, even when it hurt.  This gave him the POWER NOT TO GIVE INTO THE PAIN BUT TO LIVE INTO LIFE through his faith..

HERE IS THE KEY TO OVERCOMING LUST, says Jesus.  If you WILL MAKE THE EFFORT NOW, to BEING THE RIGHT KIND of person, TO PUT YOURSELF IN TO THE DAILY DISCIPLINES of love and serving others.  If you will DO THE HARD WORK NOW, then, when the temptations come, you will have gained an inner strength over your own flesh and YOU WILL HAVE SPIRITUAL INNER POWER TO OVERCOME both the pleasures and pains of the flesh.

This is CERTAINLY WHAT PAUL WRITES IN HIS LETTERS to the Gentiles, who knew very well the destructiveness the flesh could bring.  PAUL TOLD THE EPHESIANS, to PUT OFF “YOUR FORMER WAY OF LIFE, your old self, corrupt and DELUDED BY ITS LUSTS” (Eph. 4:22).   That word “deluded” – TO PLAY -is EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GIVE INTO LUSTS.  Lust plays a trick on us.  It tells us that a SIMPLE PLEASURE CAN TAKE AWAY THE OTHER PAINS of our lives. 

IF WE WANT TO WIN OVER THESE INNER PAINS that cause us to seek pleasure at the expense of others, then WE MUST DEAL WITH OUR DEEPEST PAIN. Jesus knows this is NOT GOING TO BE ACCOMPLISHED by plucking out our eyes nor cutting off our arms.  Jesus didn’t literally come to tell us to do that.  HE CAME TO LOVE US AND TO SHARE OUR GREATEST AND DEEPEST HUMAN PAINS.  Until you deal with your greatest pains; THE LONELINESS AND THE LOSTNESS OF YOUR OWN HEART, you’ll never OVERCOME YOUR NEGATIVE PASSIONS, including lust, no matter how many promises you make.  

WHEN JOSEPH WAS LEFT FOR DEAD THERE ALL ALONE IN THE HOLE - HE GAVE ALL OF HIS PAIN TO GOD AND IN DOING THAT HE GAVE HIS HEART FULLY TO GOD.  IN DOING THIS JOSEPH GAINED A PASSION FOR GOD, AND THAT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. 

Let me say, THAT WE SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR DECISION to WAIT FOR TRUE LOVE and not give into your lower passions.  But let me also say, that THE PROMISE YOU MAKE IN PUBLIC means NOTHING, UNLESS YOU GO INTO YOUR OWN HEART, not just here at church, but also out there, when you are at home, at school, or in a hole somewhere.  What you do in your heart when you are away from all of us, WHEN  you give yourself completely to God, that is what makes the difference.   And when you give everything to God, EVEN YOUR PAIN CAN BECOME A BLESSING.  Pain becomes a blessing because God can use the pain in your life as discipline, as a teacher, to HELP YOU OVERCOME YOUR LOWER PASSIONS AND LUSTS.  ONLY A HIGHER PASSIONS WILL ENABLE YOU TO OVERCOME THE LOWER ONES.  

Amen.