By Rev. Dr. Mike Graves, Scholar in Residence

One way to describe a sermon is as “a small piece of the Church’s ongoing conversation.” There are obviously two sides to that equation: there is what gets said prior to any given sermon that preachers account for (scholarly commentaries and everyday conversations), as well as the discourse that continues afterward, when the sermon is no longer the preacher’s but hopefully living on in the people who heard it.

This past Sunday the topic was human sexuality, part of our series in which we are working our way through Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. Turns out, Paul’s treatment is the most extensive on the subject in the entire New Testament, the better part of three chapters (1 Corinthians 5-7). If you didn’t hear the sermon, you can always check it out online HERE.

The conversation prior to last Sunday, for example, would include our congregation’s lengthy discernment process in which we became officially Open and Affirming, a designation of our desire to welcome all persons, regardless of race, age, nationality, and so forth, but also gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These last categories relate directly to human sexuality, something we have been talking about as a church.

As for the conversation that might unfold in the days and weeks after the sermon, there are always pieces that end up on the cutting-room floor, so to speak, stuff that didn’t get into the message because a preacher can only say so much in fifteen minutes. In that spirit, I thought I might list some of the ideas and reflections that didn’t get included, see if it prods further conversation among us:

  • Because the context for sexuality is how we think more broadly about our bodies, I could have mentioned Wendell Berry’s astute observation that our society at some point allowed the human body to be the concern of medical doctors and grocers, while churches would, unfortunately, focus mainly on the spirit.
  • In a Bible study I led last year, “LGBTQ and the B-I-B-L-E” (Watch HERE), I noted that most of us read the Scriptures using a hermeneutics of convenience, picking and choosing. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says women should not teach men, a verse some folks take literally. But only a few verses before that Paul warns against women braiding their hair, wearing gold or pearls, a biblical teaching most often ignored in our day. How do we decide?
  • I didn’t say anything about Paul’s understanding of passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which he feels free to challenge with alternative interpretations. In other words, if kosher laws and circumcision can be challenged in the New Testament, why not teachings on sexuality in the first testament?
  • Paul’s treatment of singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 appears to privilege that lifestyle over marriage, which is amazing given how often singles in our culture are often made to feel inferior.
  • Joan of Arc’s story would have been insightful, who as a soldier helped to defend France in the Hundred Years’ War, her bravery lauded. Years later she was put on trial by the Church for among other things, cross-dressing. She was burned at the stake.
  • The story of Joan of Arc reminds me of the quote we included on the cover of the bulletin, haunting words from Father Daniel Berrigan, “Whose flesh are you touching and why? Whose flesh are you recoiling from and why? Whose flesh are you burning and why?”
  • There simply wasn’t time to note that at various places in Paul’s letters, “flesh” is used in a negative way, whereas “body” is used positively. Of course, in English, they are somewhat synonymous. Brian Wren’s hymn, which I quoted at the end of the sermon, is a good example, using “flesh” and “body” interchangeably.

Here’s a lovely example of how the conversation can continue. After the 10am service, a retired United Methodist clergywoman who is a new member of our congregation clarified something I had said unintentionally. I told about a woman who transitioned to becoming a man, which I had described as “deciding to become a man.” It would be more accurate to have said “deciding to transition.” Good catch. The sermon at 11am was much clearer as a result.

So, there’s what I did say and what I didn’t say about human sexuality. What do you want to talk about?