Feb. 7, 2016 “Broken Gift” – Romans 1:18-32
February 7, 2016 – Transfiguration
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy it its own way.” That’s the start of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:13, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.”
In the past three sermons I’ve been talking about human sexuality as a gift which God gave us when He designed and created us. It’s a good gift, not some kind of limitation or defect. It’s a beautiful gift, meant to be celebrated and enjoyed by a man and woman in the context of marriage. And it’s a gift which blesses single people when they receive it and offer it back to God in faithful celibacy. Yet we hardly need to look beyond our own noses to realize that sexuality is also a broken gift. There are any number of ways in which it comes to us damaged or by which we break it ourselves.
Our text from Romans 1 this morning talks about the brokenness of sexuality, its use in disordered and unintended ways, as one of the consequences of rejecting God, of worshipping idols and parts of creation rather than our Creator. God intended our sexuality to give us joy and to honor and glorify Him. But when we turned from Him, He allowed us, gave us up, as verses 24 and 26 and 28 say, to break that gift in all sorts of ways.
Think about a Christmas gift to a child, some hoped-for, earnestly desired, maybe expensive toy. It starts out wrapped and glorious there under the tree, but before Christmas day is over it’s in pieces, maybe even in the trash can. That breakage happens in many ways.
Beth will tell you about the beautiful ballerina doll she received when she was 10-years-old. She wanted it for months. It was not only pretty, but wonderfully crafted with jointed legs and arms and hands and feet, so that she could be posed perfectly in all the various ballet positions. Croisé or arabesque or plié, that doll could do them all—until Beth’s cousin Steve got hold of it on Christmas afternoon. He bent the legs the wrong way and broke them off. It couldn’t be repaired and Beth’s parents couldn’t afford to replace it.
You can complete the metaphor. For some here, the gift of sexuality has been broken, perhaps almost beyond repair, by the abuse of someone else. Through no fault of your own, what God gave you for joy and His own glory has become damaged in a way you’ve carried all your life. This is one of the saddest and most tragic outcomes of human sinfulness and turning from God. It happens even in what appear to be happy homes and in what seem to be safe places like churches. Part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to protect the children He loves from that kind of abuse.
One of the books our church library recently received is about help and healing for this kind of brokenness. If you want to borrow it at the end of the month, you can just slip me a note saying you’ve got it, in case you don’t want to write your name down on the public borrowing sheet there in the narthex.
That’s one way a Christmas gift gets broken. Someone else can take it from you and bend that fragile and lovely present in ways it was never meant for. It happens far too often. At least one in every six women in the United States has been sexually assaulted at some point. As Christians let us do everything we can to end such violence.
Yet most of us realize that even without the violating force of another person we are capable of breaking the gift of sexuality on our own. By our own choice and deliberate misuse of what God has given us, we can shatter it and our lives. The child at Christmas can rip a leg off a stuffed animal or use his new light saber to hit a baseball or try to bathe her new talking doll in the bathtub. The gift gets broken.
Our Scripture reader did not read all of Leviticus 18, a long list of ways in which God warned His people they could break the gift of sexuality and ruin their lives and their relationship with God. It’s too embarrassing and painful to read aloud in church. Incest and bestiality and homosexual behavior and even the horrible act of child sacrifice, the murder of infants, are all mentioned and condemned.
Other places in Scripture, like the Ten Commandments, tell us that we can misuse and break our sexuality not just by acts that are “unnatural” as Paul describes them here in Romans 1, but by adultery or promiscuity. In our Gospel lesson in Matthew 5:28 Jesus said that we can break the gift of sex just by imagining and desiring it outside the bond of marriage.
We take God’s good and beautiful gift and twist it in ways it wasn’t designed and use it as a tool it wasn’t meant to be. We damage our sexuality and ourselves and others by actions which God warned would lead to disaster. Whatever anyone else has done to us, we far too often manage to break God’s gift by our own choice and action.
I need to pause here and address a question some of us may have. In the last few decades, both Christians and non-Christians have focused a lot of attention on one form of sexual activity that I’ve said is a breaking of the gift. Many, including Christians, have contended that homosexual behavior is just as acceptable as heterosexual behavior and that both laws and attitudes need to be changed in this regard.
There is no time in a single sermon to address all the questions, but please let me say a little bit. The first thing to say on this contentious topic is that God loves gay people. Whatever may be perceived about Christians or even said and done by heretical and hateful Christians like those at Westboro Baptist Church, God does not hate homosexuals. Jesus gave Himself for them like He did for everyone. God loves and wants to save homosexual people as much, and perhaps more, than He does anyone.
Having said that God loves gay people, it does not mean God approves of homosexual behavior, anymore than the fact God loves heterosexual people means He approves of all that long list of wrong heterosexual behavior in Leviticus 18 or of the heterosexual lust which Jesus condemned in Matthew 5.
In sexuality God gave us a gift designed to be used and enjoyed in a specific way, in marriage between a man and a woman. Any other use, except a celibate return of that gift to the One who gave it, is going to break it and damage human life.
God created our sexuality to be used in a way in which we could grow and flourish as human beings. He made it so that children could be raised in healthy families. He made it so that it would reflect His image, both as Trinity and as the great Lover of His people. That’s what Scripture consistently teaches, as you see today. Leviticus and Romans both agree that homosexual behavior is not good, not God’s design.
You will hear other ways of interpreting these texts and other parts of Scripture which mention homosexual behavior in a negative light. There are interpretations which talk about the words being used, about differences between modern and ancient cultures, about progressive revelation of God’s will on some topics, comparing the treatment of homosexuals to oppression of slaves or of women.
Again, I can’t answer all those alternative interpretations in a single sermon. But you can find excellent answers, full of compassion yet faithful to the Bible, in the chapter on homosexuality in The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays. I’ve made a few copies and put them at the back, along with our Covenant resolution on human sexuality and a little essay I wrote in biblical support of that resolution.
There is one more argument given for accepting homosexual behavior which shows us a third way in which a gift can be broken. A person can simply find himself or herself with a desire for persons of the same sex. I don’t think it’s true in every case of homosexual behavior, but it appears that some people may be born gay, not attracted to people of the opposite sex, but attracted to those of their own sex. In those cases the gift of sexuality is still broken, but not through anyone’s fault.
In our picture of a Christmas gift, it can be broken by someone else, like Beth’s doll. We can break a gift ourselves, like the child who throws her new porcelain figure of a horse in the toy box. But something else can happen. A gift may arrive broken, come out of the box cracked or missing a part or damaged in some way.
I got a bicycle for Christmas when I was about 11-years-old. I went out riding on Christmas day and as I turned a corner the handle bars twisted and I fell and broke my arm. The bike wasn’t assembled properly. The nut on the handle bars hadn’t been tightened enough. It wasn’t my fault the gift was defective, but I suffered anyway.
Part of our compassionate response to homosexual people must be to realize that, at least for some, sexuality may be broken right out of the box. It’s not their fault they have the desires they do, the attractions they experience. That does not make acting on those desires right, anymore than it would be right for a heterosexual man to desire a woman who is not his wife and then act on those desires, as Jesus clearly condemned in Matthew 5.
We also need to realize that brokenness in sexuality can be passed on through generations. One of the saddest aspects of abuse is that it can be transmitted from parent to child, from an abuser to the abused. Abused people are more likely to become abusers themselves. Certainly not always, but it happens. One person’s gift is broken, and their confused and damaged response is to break it for someone else.
So again, sexuality can come out of the box broken for us. That may be no one’s fault at all, if there is some sort of genetic inclination to sexual dysfunction, like there is to other physical disorders. Or it may be the fault of an abuser who broke a person’s sexuality before the abused person was even old enough to understand.
You might think that all of this is being preached today in order to condemn people who are different from most of us, to simply lay out a bunch of rules by which to judge others. Lots of non-Christians imagine that all Christians want to do is legislate what other people can do with their genitals. But that’s not the point at all. The point is that we all break God’s gifts in some way. We all experience this brokenness in some fashion, through personal pain and damaged relationships. And God wants to heal us.
Go back to that harsh chapter 18 of Leviticus. In verse 5, God tells us the point of all the rules, “You shall keep my statutes and ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the Lord.” God declared by His very name that the point of it all is life. Like a parent helping a child figure out the right way to play with a toy, God wants us to enjoy what He gives us, to live well and happily.
To get there, though, we need to acknowledge the breakage. Let’s read on from where we ended in Romans. Paul’s aim in talking about sexual sin in chapter 1 and a bunch of other sins there in verses 29-31 is to get to the first verse of the next chapter, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
Just when we were comfortably listing off all the sins of the bad people, Paul ambushes us with the truth that we are just as guilty as they are. It’s the same truth Jesus wanted us to see by talking about committing adultery “in your heart.” No one is guiltless. We all break the gift and are broken.
Paul is going to go on in Romans and argue that our breaking of the gifts and commands of God means we are all desperately in need of God’s mercy and grace. Right there in chapter 2 verse 5 he asks, “Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The lesson from all the Bible says about sin, sexual or otherwise, is that God is not cruel. He is kind. He wants to help and save us. He wants us to live.
Whatever your story is with God’s good gift of sexuality, whether you’ve broken it or someone else broke it for you or you simply found it broken all your life, God loves you with everlasting kindness. He sent His own Son Jesus Christ to be broken on the Cross in sympathy and grace toward your brokenness. And He raised Jesus from the dead to show forever that brokenness is not the last word.
Right now we are waiting to be raised up again with Jesus. Short of that, some brokenness and pain may be with us all through life. Wrong attraction and temptation could always be there. But as Paul says, repentance is possible. Breaks can be healed, damaged hearts can be turned toward the new life we are receiving in Jesus. And by His grace and help we can turn all God’s gifts back toward Him.
My prayer today is that you can experience and acknowledge both the breaking of the gift and the kindness of God. As Lent begins it is a good season to confess and repent once again, and let the loving mercy of Jesus do His gracious work of repair in you. Take the gift of sexuality, take all the gifts God has given you, and offer them back to Him through Jesus. And you will receive the most precious gift of all, Christ Himself living in you.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2016 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj