Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:1-11
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
In the 50s and 60s a radical sexual revolution took place which would sweep across the world and change the whole way in which we think about men and women, singleness and marriage, sexuality and society. You probably think I’m referring to the 1950s & 60s, and the rise of feminism, new conceptions of marriage in western society, and the rise of homosexual activism campaigning for recognition and equality. I’m actually referring to the Jesus movement that swept through the Mediterranean basin, continental Europe and North Africa in the 50s and 60s of the 1st century. The rise of the early church, and the growth of Christianity as the community of those who follow the way of Jesus Christ, introduced a radical new sexual and social ethic to the Greco-Roman world - and changed the course of history.
In this final talk in our ‘All Things New’ series, I want to think about how Jesus’ call to self-denial and a new ‘narrow way’ of life brought about a revolution which would go on to shape society in the centuries that followed - and especially as the first followers of Jesus began to practice a new ethic in relation to marriage, singleness and sexuality. My talk today can only touch briefly on some of these things - but I want to suggest that the sexual and social teachings of Jesus about marriage, singleness, men and women are as radical today as they were then - and perhaps as difficult to follow. There is too much for one sermon, and so I’m going to publish a blog piece on our website with some suggestions for further reading and reflection. It will go live at 2pm this afternoon, along with the text from this talk.
I expect that some of what I say will be divisive, and that not everyone will agree with some of the claims I’m going to make. It’s challenging to speak of these matters: we have a duty to listen deeply, carefully and considerately to both the voice of God in Scripture, and also the voice of God in society. It’s what theologians call ‘double-listening’ - and our work of double-listening is a feature of our obedience to Jesus’ command to love God and love one another. This double-listening must be patient, generous and gracious. I will not call those who disagree with some of my claims ‘heretics’, and I hope that I won’t be called a ‘bigot’. We’re engaged in an exercise in discerning the mind and will of God - which involves careful listening to multiple perspectives. I’m going to say something about some of these perspectives in a moment, but I also wanted to suggest that during this sermon we refrain from posting in the comment thread - as we don’t want to get into shallow arguments or ‘position taking’ online which might hurt one another. Indeed, some of you may prefer to switch off the feed for the next half hour, and to read this talk or listen again at another time when you can reflect prayerfully in your own time.
These issues are complex, and we need divine wisdom to help us. The letter of James in the bible suggests:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind… 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
This is not to say that doubting and questioning are bad things, but rather that we need to think carefully and know our own mind. Otherwise we will be double-minded and blown around by every new wave of culture. But this is challenging for us, because most of us have never been taught to think theologically about the world, human society and Christian faith. We tend to prefer to drift along with our own assumed beliefs, not necessarily questioning where they came from or if they’re right.
So I want to speak to you in three sections today:
- First, I want to outline some ways of thinking theologically about the question of human society: sex, marriage, singleness.
- Second, I want to make some affirmations about human sexuality and its place in human society.
- Third, I want to raise some questions and challenges for us to consider.
We live in a pluralistic, relativistic, fake-news and post-truth culture - but we who are Christians follow a God who proclaims himself to be the way, the TRUTH, and the life. We could join with Pilate and simply shrug our shoulders in resignation saying ‘What is truth?’. But if God has revealed himself to be truth, and to be known, then we have to learn to think about what and who this truth is, and how this truth - or reality about the world - reveals the will of God for our lives.
Christians are people who believe that God has made himself known in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that more than this, God has revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus both the pathology and the remedy for the ills of the world. By this I simply mean that the forgiveness and reconciliation effected by Jesus in his death and resurrection has helped us realise just how tragically alienated and separated we had been from God. As people of the book - the bible - we know that the Scriptures point us to Jesus, and tell us the big story of God and his creation. Put simply, there are three key movements:
- in the beginning God created all things and declared them good (and male and female creation very good) - this is CREATION;
- next, humankind fell from grace, rebelled and turned from God’s ways - instead of choosing the life that was on offer, we chose knowledge of good and evil - to become gods to ourselves. We were already ‘like’ God - because we were created in his image - but we were not satisfied with that, and instead wanted to be master and commander of our own destiny. We refused the vocation to be children of God and co-stewards of creation, and instead have wandered far from home. We are lost, sick, exiled; we’re dis-eased, disordered and destined only for destruction - this is what we might call DE-CREATION;
- but God, in his mercy, would not abandon the world he so loves - and its pinnacle, his image-bearing human children. He came to be one of us in the person of Jesus - and so represented all of humanity in the one perfect reconciling act of sacrifice. In doing so, he changed the story, and opened a doorway into a better future. We can be who we were made to be once again. This is RE-CREATION.
You might be able to see already that in this big story of God and his creation we have to make up our minds on a few key questions: What in our world or my life is part of God’s original good creation? What in our world or my life is a sign of de-creation? What in the world or my life is a sign of re-creation? As we seek to understand the will of God for our lives, we have to work out what is God’s design; what is our disorder; and what is the right direction to follow if we’re allowing Jesus to make all things new in our lives?
Creation - De-Creation - Re-Creation.
Design - Disorder - New Direction.
Christians have some tools to help us navigate these questions - tools to help us consider these questions. One tool for theological reflection we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral - named after the general approach of John Wesley to theological reflection. It says that in discerning the will of God, we have four tools to guide us:
1) Scripture - what the bible says about God’s will for our lives;
2) Tradition - the wisdom of all those countless Christians who have gone before us in the church - and also perhaps the voice of other Christians around the world;
3) Reason - how we use logic and careful reasoning to consider wisely how we should live in the light of God’s word; and finally
4) Experience - how we reflect on our own experience as Christians - whether we feel peace or particular conviction about a decision or direction.
Anglican theological reflection has had a similar approach - although in the Anglican framework, reason and experience are usually counted together as one tool. Anglicans have also historically placed a special emphasis on the bible - the written word of God. Hebrews 4 says:
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Anglicans - and particularly Evangelical Anglicans - believe that the bible is a plumb-line in our midst, and can reveal and correct our crookedness - ‘it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’. This emphasis expects the bible to critique and deconstruct our lives and thoughts, rather than the other way around!
Anglicans have seen reason (and our Christian experience) along with tradition (the voice of other Christians in the church) as being additional tools for theological reflection - but subordinate to Scripture. Two arms that extend from the head perhaps.
Anglicans place this special emphasis on Scripture over reason and tradition because we know that sometimes our own human experience and reason can blind us to God’s truth. Jeremiah 17:9 says
’The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’
We’re wary of placing too much emphasis on our human experience, because we’re fallen, fallible and fragile creatures with disordered, distorted and dysfunctional thinking! We’re also wary of giving too much prominence to the place of tradition - that is, Christians through the ages - for the same reason - that church communities in history become beholden to the culture of their time, and the women and men who make up the church are also prone to error.
Without lingering on this much longer, my point here is to remind us that when we set about the task of trying to discern God’s will on any given issue, we always start with an assumed theological tool in our hand. It might be that we instinctively start with the bible in our hands - though we must be wary of reading the bible through our own personal glasses and mis-interpreting it to our own ends; but it could be that we think first of our human experience or reason - our own ideas of what justice, freedom or love mean; then again, perhaps we start with the tradition - how things have always been.
None of these tools on their own is adequate - we need the church tradition, reason and human experience to be able to read and interpret the bible. But also, tradition, reason and experience can never take the place of the bible or do without the bible. To do so would be to cut ourselves off from the branch that we’re sitting on - discard the bible and we are no longer followers of Jesus.
So when you consider questions, do you start with an assumption about human sexuality that has come from experience or reason? Do you assume a position simply because it’s ‘traditional’ and conservative? Do you assume a position because your own ‘tradition’ is perhaps more liberal? Whichever way, as followers of Jesus, we have to be willing to do some deep, careful listening to God and to one another.
With all that said, I’m going to spend a shorter time making a few suggestions for your consideration about marriage, singleness, sexuality and society.
- God has made us human in his image - and created us to correspond with one another’s otherness. Genesis 1-2 says that God created humankind in his image - male and female. In other words, our sexed otherness - male and female (or xx & xy) - is a reflection of the unity and diversity within the divine life of God. God is three persons in one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - particularity and also unity. Humankind reflects this unity and diversity in our being made with different biological sex. The account of human creation in Genesis 2 uses a funny phrase to talk about male and female. In English translations it says no ‘suitable’ helper for Adam was found - but this term suitable could also be translated ‘complementary’. The Hebrew term is actually aa compound term meaning ‘according to the opposite of him’ - like but different. The sense is of corresponding jigsaw piece - the same but opposite so as to complement one another.
In fact, Genesis 1 has a whole set of opposites held in unity: light and dark, day and night, heaven and earth, sun and moon, land and sky, male and female. Theologian Andrew Wilson points out: ‘the entire structure of creation is made up of complementary pairs, which are distinguished from one another as part of God’s creative design.’ He continues: ‘just as male and female are separated in creation, but with a view to being united again in marriage, so the heavens and the earth will ultimately be united in cosmic ‘marriage’ in the New Creation (Revelation 21).’
Our differentiation as male and female provides us in the context of our relationships in human society the opportunity to reflect God’s image in how we love, work and relate with one another. Marriage provides one particular context for this - in which covenant faithfulness between and man and a woman (the corresponding male and female creation) can reflect the covenant faithfulness of Christ for the church and God for all creation. God is not creation, Christ is not the church, man is not woman - and yet these differentiated beings can be bound in faithful covenant to one another as a sign of love.
- God has also made us as sexual beings. It is unavoidably the case that we are not just sexed beings - as in male and female - but also sexual beings, with an innate desire for sexual intimacy and congress. We’ll discuss this desire a little more shortly, but we should remember that sex is God’s gift to humankind for our propagation and enjoyment. We are commanded to be fruitful and increase in number - and sexual congress is how this happens! Part of our mandate in being co-stewards of creation under God is to populate the earth with children who will grow to adulthood and in turn produce more children.
Given that human people are God’s image-bearers, and his under-shepherds in caring for creation, we can’t simply give up on this procreative duty! It’s curious to consider that it was only as recently as 1930 that Anglicans admitted the possibility of an intentionally childless marriage - and indeed not until around 60 years ago that Anglicans broadly accepted contraception. Procreation has been a natural instinct for most humans in most ages, and for most Christians it has been a way of perpetuating the new covenant family of God through time. None of this lessens the pain experienced by those who cannot conceive - but I suppose the point of that pain is because it feels like an aberration - it’s not how things are supposed to be.
Bear in mind that in many cultures through history, child-bearing had practical purposes - to produce labourers for your farm; to create family to care for your in old age (before state pensions!); to ensure generations of soldiers to protect your lands. But with this practical approach went a ruthless approach to child-bearing: in both Roman society, and many other ancient and non-Christian societies, unwanted children were simply killed or left to die. Girls, infants with deformities, children that were simply surplus to requirements, these were simply left to die.
Christians have had a different tradition: we recognise each child born as being made in God’s image, and demanding a duty of care from us. Children teach us how to love as God loves: with forgiveness, patience and steadfast love.
God has made us sexual beings with a procreative function to sex - to be literal co-creators with God - and to extend through time the line of those humans who will bear his image and reflect his love in the world. That is why abortion, infanticide and contraception have been traditionally seen to be wrong in Christian thought. I’m not going to consider those in detail here - but I’m sure you can understand how that theology works. (Actually, it’s the same basic thinking which also opposes euthanasia.)
The Roman Catholic Church still officially opposes contraception for this reason. Protestant churches have tended to also recognise a ‘recreative’ function in sex as well - that it is enjoyable, delightful, and recreates or renews the marital bond between husband and wife. Some would consider it to have a sacramental quality - just as we eat and drink bread and wine to recall the death and resurrection of Christ, and to remember the family to which we belong, so too a husband and wife make love to remember their marital vows and to renew their love for one another in sexual intimacy - we quite literally ‘make love’.
- More briefly, a couple more affirmations about marriage and singles specifically. First, marriage. As I’ve already explained, the bible and Christian tradition has affirmed marriage as being instituted by God and given as the only proper location of sexual intimacy. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 rejects the idea that seems to be emerging amongst the Christians at Corinth that somehow husbands and wives should abstain from sexual relations with one another.
The situation in Corinth seems to be very confused. Sexual immorality is occurring in Paul’s view - we know that Corinth had active temple prostitution, and a large variety of cultic religious groups that treated sex in pretty chaotic and promiscuous practices. Many of the new Christians in Corinth would have been familiar with this environment - perhaps it was little like the Love Island style shows of our own day, or the Tindr-style hook-up apps for casual sex. Some of them would have practised sex in this way, and may have been told by some of their leaders that now they were Christians they should abstain altogether.
Paul is quite clear - he believes that husbands and wives should engage in sexual relations. Like any 1st century Jew, he believed in marriage as the location for childbirth, and read the same scriptures from Genesis 1-2 that we’ve explored already. But there’s something quite radical in how he sets things out - look at verse 3-4: 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
In ancient cultures, the idea that a woman’s body belonged to her husband was common - but that a husband’s body belonged to his wife?? That was unheard of. The degree of mutuality described by Paul is breath-taking. And just a few verses later, he commands men not to divorce their wives. Again, this is unusual - and is in line with the tightening of Jewish law that Jesus promoted. Remember in the gospels Jesus was asked about divorce - and he made the rules stricter. Jewish men of Jesus’ day expected to be able to divorce their wives for almost any reason they liked. The Samaritan women at the well in John 4 had been married 5 times - this is no indication of unfaithfulness or promiscuity on her part: she had no right to divorce a husband. Having had 5 husbands means that she had been divorced 5 times - and probably arbitrarily dismissed and left without support, comfort or care by selfish and unkind men.
So the New Testament paints a more radically egalitarian view of marriage - one that we’ve too often forgotten in the church. Men who are husbands are expected to be active as servant-leaders in their marriages, laying their life down for their wives as Christ laid his life down for the church. They’re expected to be kind and fair to their children. The marital home becomes a little community, in which husbands and wives model sacrificial love and faithfulness towards one another, towards their children, and towards those to whom they offer hospitality.
And here’s where we also have a positive word offered for singleness. Because the Christian community is never to be characterised as a nuclear family - and may God forgive us when we’ve fallen into the trap of treating it that way! Singleness in the family of God is not a sub-standard mode of existence - though our culture may lie to us and suggest it is. Rather, either singleness or marriage are different vocations - different contexts in which we can work out our obedience to the Lord.
Again, we need to understand how radical this message was for women in particular in 1st century Roman society. The status of women in both Jewish and Roman society was extraordinarily low, and their role consisted chiefly in being available as sexual objects or receptacles for men, and in child-bearing and domestic duties. Women were expected to produce children who would survive infancy to perpetuate the empire - as workers and soldiers. Infant mortality was such that a woman would probably need to be pregnant over 20 times in order simply to have 5 children survive and grow to adulthood. Imagine if you only role from the age of 12-13 until your death at around 35-40 was to be pregnant. Imagine the impact of so many lost children.
In this context, Christians said that women could belong to the family of the church and have equal status and worth alongside men even if they were unmarried and childless - this was arguably more radical than any feminist movement since. Women in particular, and single people more generally were given dignity and place within this new Christian vision of society.
In Greco-Roman society they were helped to some extent by the fact that households were comprised of a mixture of blood-relations and extended community. Households often ran their own small businesses, and therefore may had had workers living alongside the business owner. Although they were often structured around a married couple, they also had slaves, workers, children and relatives living in the same households. It was quite unlike the arrangements of late modern western society - and you can see how these 1st century households became easy spaces for the ‘house church’ movements to begin.
These households also provided community - so that singleness need never be equated with loneliness. The tragedy of our age is that we have bought the myth that only romantic coupling is an antidote to loneliness. And so singleness is thought of as an unfortunate condition before or in-between romantic coupling. Shame on us for colluding with this lie. The church should be a place of Christian community in which in one sense marriage or singleness - or perhaps married and unmarried - is irrelevant. What matters is that we find a hundred mothers, brothers, fathers, sisters, children, co-workers and friends within the family of God.
So, I’ve offered some positive affirmations about the nature of our created ness as male and female, the purpose of marriage, the purpose of sex, and the relative importance and unimportance of marriage and singleness. You could see these under the framework of CREATION or DESIGN as I suggested earlier.
What about the DE-CREATION or DISORDER that I mentioned?
Well, the Christian doctrine of the fall says that there is no part of our lives that has not been touched by sin. It’s like a genetic disorder - it passes on through generations and societies. Like a cancer or disease, it spreads through us corrupting and corroding every part of God’s good creation. That said, it doesn’t have the final word - the power of sin and death has been defeated on the cross - but its effects in our lives still linger as we journey onwards towards the final new creation. This doesn’t leave us hopeless - the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us - making us holy. And we do experience transformation, healing and wholeness as we learn to become obedient to Christ. Nonetheless, it’s helpful to be honest and open about how DE-CREATION or DISORDER impacts us on this subject.
- First, we all experience disordered desires. We yearn for things which are bad for us - whether that’s junk food, toxic relationships, pornography or whatever else. All of our sexual desires are disordered - whether we’re gay, straight, married, single - we all experience fallenness in the realm of sexual desire. If sex is a gift for a relationship of covenant love and faithfulness, then those moments of lust and sexual desire that we feel for anyone other than someone to whom we’ve made those covenant vows is a deviation from God’s design. That’s true if you’re married and fantasising about sex with other men or women. That’s true if you’re single and trying to find a hook-up or yearning for pre-marital sex because you think it will be enough with or without the vows.
Pornography is not what it used to be. Pornography used to be a social taboo - magazines on the top shelf with plastic covers to hide the images. It was something dirty and secretive. Now pornography is everywhere. The statistics are shocking: 50% of 11-13-year-olds, 65% of 14-15-year-olds and 78% of 16-17-year-olds reported having seen pornography in some way. The internet and the smart phone have revolutionised the place of pornography in our culture. Almost 20 years ago I moved into a new flat in west London - and I deliberately decided not to install an internet connection in the new flat - because I lived alone and I knew that I would struggle with the temptation to use internet pornography. Jesus said that if your right eye leads you into sin you should pluck it out - this was my response.
I mention pornography because it’s symptomatic of a deeper issue - which is the belief that sex is simply an appetite, an animal instinct. That sex is simply a pleasurable way to use your body - with or without someone else. Sex becomes selfish - it’s about your desires, your wants, your needs. It becomes disconnected from covenant commitment to another image-bearing child of God. Pornography tells the world that sex is simply about enjoying yourself and defining yourself by your tastes. And it’s winning the debate simply by its prevalence and reach - if you have never used pornography then you are probably now in the minority.
Pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, sex that refuses the possibility of procreation, sex without commitment - this is the fruit of disordered desire.
- Second, and related, is the way in which sex has become an idol to our culture. Tim Keller defines an idol as a good thing that is made an ultimate thing. Sex is a good gift from God - there’s no denying it! But it’s not the only gift of God, nor even the most important gift of God. God giving himself in Jesus for the sake of the world is the ultimate thing.
Like all idols, sex promises a salvation that it can’t possibly deliver. Sex says it will make you happy and fulfilled if only you’ll have it enough, with enough partners, according to your appetites and desires, and on your own terms. Sex says it will make you popular, successful, desirable to others, and that it will make you loved. There’s an old saying that men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love. Actually I think that’s a little simplistic - the truth is that all of us need to know that we are loved - and sex suggests that it will give you the love you desire - after all, doesn’t sex ‘make love’? Well of course, it does, but only when viewed as a sacrament that remembers and renews the covenant vows of love and faithfulness made within a marriage.
- Third, we have treated marriage as a hiding place from our neighbour rather than a hospitable place for our neighbour. I alluded to this a moment ago when I spoke about households in Greco-Roman society. There’s no easy answers for us here - as we’re deeply embedded in a culture that idolises the nuclear family in its own home. But the trouble with this is that we’ve made it really miserable to be single or celibate.
If you’re unmarried, and perhaps have no particular intention of being married, then it will be hard for you to find long-term community living arrangements. Our society can cope with young adults sharing flats in their 20s - but it assumes everybody will couple eventually and arrange their households around romantic partnerships. If you’re divorced the same. If you’re gay, or same-sex attracted as some describe it, and committed to celibacy as a follower of Jesus, then we really don’t have much to offer in terms of long-term adult community. This is a failing for us in the church - we should be able to do better than our wider society.
- Fourth, we live in an age in which we have increasingly polarised and antagonistic views about marriage, sex and sexuality. Let me be clear about one in particular: I remain committed to the historic and conservative Christian teaching about sex and marriage. That means I believe that sexual union is to be enjoyed only within the context of marriage between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. And yes, that does mean that I don’t believe that same-sex marriage can be offered within the church. It’s the Doctrine of the Church of England in which I serve, and it makes the best sense to me of the voice of God in Scripture, as well as the voice of God and fellow Christians through the ages and in the contemporary debates. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with me! I know they don’t! Sadly, we live in an age in which we often villainise those who don’t agree with our views. We polarise people and then call them ‘woke liberals’ or ‘bigoted reactionaries’.
I don’t think this models the love of God in Jesus Christ very well. It’s an effect of sin in our lives and our community - sin divides, distorts and destroys relationships. To overcome this we will have to listen deeply, patiently and lovingly to one another. This listening doesn’t assume that at the end of it we will change our minds - we might, we might not. But it can help us to love one another throughout.
Will the Church of England - and indeed the global Christian community around the world change its mind on same-sex marriage? I don’t know. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury used to sometimes say ‘Only the whole church has the whole truth’. We have a great deal of careful listening to do - to the voice of God in Scripture, to Christians from previous generations, to Christians around the world and especially in the global south. To say this doesn’t mean that things won’t necessarily change - but I’m not persuaded that a change in our doctrine would be in accordance with God’s will.
All that said, we must repent of the ways in which we have marginalised and excluded gay and same-sex attracted people from our church families over the years and over the centuries. Every human person is made in the image of God and worthy of dignity, love and honour. Every human person is fallen and in need of the redemptive and transformative love of God in Christ. Every human person is made for community and fellowship - and we have not always let our churches be places in which this is possible for all people.
I’ve spoken for far too long this morning - but I hope you will forgive me in my attempts to be comprehensive. There is much more to be heard and much more to be discussed. I hope that over the coming months and years we will be able to continue deep and loving conversations in which we can explore our views together.
At the end of the book of Revelation, Jesus says ‘Behold! I make all things new’. We are invited by him into a journey of renewal and transformation. All of our assumed positions must be available to be questioned and challenged by the voice of Jesus - whether our natural position is conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive.
Romans 12:2 says ‘Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ Many of us simply assume that the way things are in the world is the way they’re supposed to be - we conform. But as the author John Stott used to claim, to be a Christian is to assume non-conformity as a starting point. We are always to test the norms of the world against the voice of God given us in Scripture and through the community of the church. I’m aware that for some young people in particular, they simply have never been told that Christians believe sex is intended only for marriage between a man and a woman. That’s such an alien concept to them - because it’s entirely contrary to the message of the world around them.
To re-consider this, to really question our thinking on this, may be challenging, risky and uncomfortable for some, if not all, of us - but we can do it because Jesus can be trusted. Jesus says that he came to give us life - and life in all its fullness. This same Jesus was unmarried and never had sex - and yet he experienced life in all its fullness. Jesus also said that to follow him we must take up our cross daily. He said that if we hold on too tightly to our lives, our assumptions and our way of seeing the world, we’ll end up losing our life. He said that if we can deny ourselves and lose our life - then we will find it.
The way of Jesus is strange to the eyes and ears of this world - and yet I believe, and I have come to experience it as the way that leads to abundant and eternal life. Knowing Jesus, following Jesus, trusting Jesus, we find our place in the world again as children of God - image-bearers of divine love. And when we know who we are and what we’re for - then we can ride the waves and worries of this world with joy, hope and steadfast love. So whether you know Jesus or not - I invite you this morning to come to him - male and female, gay, straight, married, single - come as you are and begin to follow his glorious way into life.