The Fourth Midweek in Lent
Text: Exodus 20:14
Dear Friends in Christ,
Ah, yes, the Sixth Commandment. Everyone’s favorite commandment. It has been the butt of more jokes than almost any other of the commandments. Society has wavered between libertine disregard for the commandment on one hand and pietistic hyper strictness on the other.
Part of the problem has to do with our lack of a clear understanding of creation. We act as though sex and sexuality are part of the fall - almost as though Adam and Eve didn’t have private parts until they ate the fruit. So let’s be clear about this. Adam and Eve would have had sexual relations even if they had not fallen into sin. They may even have had sexual relations before the fall. We don’t know that one way or the other.
One of the games Satan plays is to divide the world into material and spiritual. The spiritual is the higher order and the material is the lesser thing. But this is not what we learn from Scripture. All that is comes from God’s creative hand and Word. Whether something is spirit or flesh and bone is of no matter. Both are equally important parts of creation.
This division of spirit and material is called dualism. In its most extreme forms it is even claimed that the material world was created by the devil. There are two reactions to dualism with regard to sexuality. One reaction is to be completely libertine. After all its only the spiritual world that’s important. What we do in the material world doesn’t matter. The other reaction is to demand total celibacy, even to the point mutilating the body to prevent it. The ancient church struggled with dualism and sexuality. This led to both Augustine and Jerome teaching that sexuality was only for reproduction and was to be otherwise totally avoided. Since of course these are two of the most influential of the church fathers, their error was compounded over the centuries. It wasn’t until the time of Luther, more than a thousand years later, that there was a corrective.
Another term for sexual relations is marital relations. This is in fact a good term. For that is what God intends. In the context of marriage, man and woman become one flesh. They join together. In this way they build a strong relationship. Sexual relations were created also for this purpose. And in a proper Christian marriage relationship, sexual relations, like all aspects of married life, are focused on the other. So one does not demand this or that from the other because they would get some cheap thrill out of it. But each person is looking to serve the other and will seek to make certain that the other person’s needs are met. There must never be humiliation or control, but a free giving of self to the one flesh relationship.
About now you’re saying, pastor, I needed this sermon forty years ago. I think I’m a little past this. First, there is no age limit, though age sometimes limits us. As age and infirmity place limits upon this, we should share what intimacy we are still able to do. Even something as simple as holding hands, can be a continuation of that one flesh relationship. Because this is a one flesh relationship, however, each must sacrifice for the other. Perhaps at a certain point, one is more capable than the other. This might be especially true if a person is disabled at a young age. This does not dissolve the bond. Here is where we must make the greatest of sacrifices. Our own needs must always be placed below the needs of the other. So a person whose spouse is no longer capable of certain forms of intimacy is not free to seek it elsewhere. They must sacrifice for the other. Ah, but pastor, I’m even beyond that. I’m widowed. Yes, but now how do you speak to your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of these things? Do you encourage them to respect the one flesh bond of marriage, or do you approve of false ways? Remember that there is something that makes it easier for children to speak to grandma and grandpa about these things than it is to speak to mom and dad. So you who are widowed still must have an understanding of these things.
Nor does age release us from the command of God. My friend Diane has been moaning about her father’s flagrant fornication with his girl friend. His excuse is that he is widowed and they’re too old to have - oops - a baby. So what’s the big deal? Well, because God has said that these things are reserved for marriage. We are to bond together and be truly one flesh. We are not to play at it or dabble at it.
Sexual sins are like all sins. No one obeys this command perfectly, even for a day. At some level, in thought, word, or deed, we break the Sixth Commandment each day. This we must place at the cross, even as we seek to do better. It does not matter if it seems a minor violation or a flagrant shattering of the command, Christ has paid for all this. So for us we cling the cross. And for others, who we see around us, we must be like Christ. We must speak truthfully. To violate the Sixth Commandment is a sin. Go and sin no more. But at the same time, we must forgive the repentant, as Christ has also forgiven them.