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Where is the Love? Repentance and Transformation

A Sex Positive Sermon - January 2015

Using the scriptures of John’s baptism and the baptism of the spirit, Dr. Dale explains how our definitions of sex sin miss the mark. She calls us to personal discernment of the life of the Spirit suggesting this is where Love is to be found.


Today I would like to focus our attention on John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:4-11, Acts 19:1-7 ) and tease out some differences. And then, because I bring an expertise and interest in the intersection of the body and the spirit I want to apply these ideas to the world of body justice (or as we shall see, injustice). Keep in mind that we must, as Christians always be asking the spiritual question, “Where is the love?”


Baptism is not something one does a second time. Seldom do clergy participate in do-overs. So even though we may really screw up and want to do it over, Christians teach that God’s part of the covenant is still in play and this is unnecessary. The Good Shepherd’s message is that regardless of the number of times we go in and out of the pasture so to speak, we are never far from the watchful eye of our Protector. So it is really strange that Luke writes in Acts that Paul participated in a do-over. Obviously, from Paul’s perspective, the baptism of John or the baptism of repentance, was different from the baptism of Jesus which was of the Spirit -even tho we know Jesus didn’t baptize people. Clearly Paul has something else in mind by this act.

Now repentance is a good thing. We teach it. We practice it. It is part of the Christian experience. But let’s be clear what repentance is about and what it is not: Repentance is not just saying you’re sorry nor does it mean wallowing in guilt about your sin.

So first before we can talk about repentance, we have to talk about sin. What is sin?


Sin is NOT specific acts that we do or don’t do or rules that we break. Neither is it about being good, obedient boys and girls to please our parents, our preacher, or Father God for that matter. According to the prophets, God really doesn’t really care much about our rules. (More on that later).

Some examples of this wrongful definition of sin as simply certain acts we do are; in the church where I grew up it was a sin if women did not obey their husbands. Other churches teach it is a sin for women to wear makeup or for anybody to dance.

But, nowhere is this wrongful definition of sin more apparent than when we talk about sexuality, and our bodies, and physical needs. Early on the church decided to be the arbiter of what is sin in the bedroom. (There are lots of reason why this happened and explanations for how it got so messed up but that is a topic for another time.) The church fathers appointed themselves to determine what is sin for everybody. And they focused on specific acts, with whom, how, when and even appropriate motivations for physical intimacy. (And, as a sidenote, let’s be clear it was not to be for pleasure. Physical intimacy was to be an onerous task and not to be enjoyed but to be endured.) So we developed the idea that any physical intimacy outside of marriage is a sin, anything that is not heterosexual is a sin, or anything not procreative is a sin, and anything that was not severely restricted was a sin. The Church fathers’ definitions prevailed that various individual physical acts are sins -- in spite of the fact that this is not what the biblical word for sin means.

The word “sin” in Hebrew as most Jews are well aware means, “to miss the mark.” The metaphor is of a bow and arrow that gets shot into the target and it misses. That is sin. It is going in a direction that is off-center. Or, to use biblical language it is to miss the mark that is the path to righteousness.

But when we use the current Christian definition of sin as individual acts that we shouldn’t or should do it allows us to try to weasel our way around the teachings in such a way that we never ask the question whether we are missing the mark. “I did not have sex with that woman” one might say --  even tho that may be stretching the definitions of what actually happened. Young adults in the hook up culture do this all the time as a way to minimize guilt.

But the Hebrew prophets were aware of this kind of weaseling. They were always proclaiming that the people were participating in religious rituals and festivals but did not care a fig about the aliens and widows in their midst. They claimed to be followers of Yahweh but had hearts of stone and lived unrighteously. They were missing the mark and going in the wrong direction. See Amos 5, Jeremiah 7, Isaiah 1 and 10, Malachi 3

But Jesus also talked about this with the legalists of his day when he criticized those who thought the outward show of tithing got them off the hook. He said in Matthew 23:23 you have “left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith” (American Standard) He implied their off-centered acts in Luke 11:41 by saying, “Give for alms those things that are within; (NRSV)

When we get into just obeying the rules we don’t have to look at our hearts to see if we are missing the mark. That is one reason why this skewed definition of sin is so very wrong. It easily turns to legalism- trying to obey the rules without a change of heart, trying to get by with the externals yet minimizing one’s intentions. Let’s be clear if we are being legalistic we are most likely going in the wrong direction. We have missed the mark.


God does not care about our rituals and rules or our conformity. God cares about the heart, i.e., the direction we are going. Repentance then means turning around and going in the opposite direction. Crying in the wilderness John the Baptist, like the Hebrew prophets before him was saying, “Stop! You are going in the wrong direction. Repent. Turn around.”

When it comes to our bodies the church has focused on the outward signs to determine what is sin and therein lies the crux of the problem-- especially when you throw into the mix a fear of passion and misogyny toward women. We have failed to teach that sin is not about specific behaviors we do or don’t do with ourselves or one another but is about the direction we are moving- either toward God and righteous living, or away from God and following our own egos, pride, greed, or self-centeredness.

But, unfortunately, when the church does not teach people how to discern the spiritual path, the righteous path as it relates to our bodies we allow the culture to teach about intimacy and it is horribly misdirected as well.

Our choice becomes to be puritanical and repressive of the body on the one hand - thanks to the church fathers, or hedonistic and self-serving on the other - thanks to the culture. The first is driven by fear. We repress because we are afraid of the body, of passion, of female sexual power, of differences and diversity. But the hedonistic view of the body is driven by a self-centeredness that uses people for our own self-serving needs, objectifying people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the culture promotes the sexual body. As the song writer says we are supposed to be about “using things and loving people,” not the other way around. The world teaches us to love things and use people.

Yet when we fear difference and diversity focusing only on the rules we don’t allow people the freedom to discern their own path. This opens the door to unhappiness and sometimes tragedy. My heart hurt recently when I heard the story of Leelah Alcorn.

Leelah was assigned a gender at birth based on external features and named Josh, yet she felt trapped. From the age of four she knew this was wrong and pleaded with her parents to help her. But her Christian parents simplistically believed he was not being who God made him to be and did not listen. Leelah pleaded not to enter into puberty because after that time it is difficult to assume a new gender with any kind of ease. They refused. Puberty happened. Her depression increased. She was grounded and cut off from any support. On 12/28/14, Leelah walked 4 miles to a freeway near her home and deliberately stepped in front of a moving truck.  She had arranged for a suicide note to be posted to her tumblr account the next day that read he thoughts about society. She said “Fix it.”

The attempted suicide rate among transgender people is 41%. (LiveScience.com High Suicide Risk, Prejudice Plague Transgender People)  But “among those who had become homeless because of their gender identity, 69 percent said they had attempted suicide.” According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law  the trans suicide rate nearly 9 times higher than national average, report shows” (Posted on 20 Feb 2014) But another source said it is 25% higher.

Leelah’s particular “sin” was her gender and her orientation as a lesbian according to her parents and others. But God looks on the heart. And Leelah discerned her own sexual and gender path. She was going in the right direction. There was no sin and hence no need for repentance. But there was no good news for her.

“Many gay teens are harassed and bullied according to a study that was published January 2010 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. One study suggested gay and lesbian teens get bullied two to three times more than their heterosexual peers.” That too leads to increased depression and, possible suicide attempt. In other research it was found that lgb people living in unfriendly environments actually die earlier than their counterparts with a host of heart ailments, diabetes and other illnesses.


Now why do I bring this up for a congregation of progressive Christians who are already welcoming people from the sexual minority communities? Because what undergirds these deplorable statistics is the reliance on keeping people in boxes that allow for no personal discernment and no variation. Under the specific rules of specific acts and ways of being is a fear of diversity, specifically in these cases sexual and gender diversity. When it comes to the body the church has been very brutal in forcing people to conform to certain (rigid) rules about what is acceptable and what is sinful.

We must repent. To go in the opposite direction the church must begin to say “no” to sexual ignorance and the pain and suffering this creates. We must be aware our silence leads our children and their friends to get their information from pornography… and the average age now get to porn is 10 years.

We must say “no” to male power at the expense of female power, to all inappropriate unequal relations in the family, the home and the bedroom, as well as in society at large for it usually always leads to abuse and violence not to mention low self-esteem. We must ensure that those who violate children or those with less power are kept safely away from the innocent. We must protect spouses in abusive relationships and never tell someone to return to an unsafe place in order to possible win their spouse to Jesus.

We must say “No” to moral conformity that does not recognize sexual differences, differences in wants, needs and desires.   It is to protect sex workers and advocate for lawful protection for them. It is to recognize that not everyone is monogamous nor wants to be and allow the freedom for them to discern for themselves what is the right direction of their life path.

Repentance is the important first step that MUST be taken. And it is to go in the opposite direction of the hedonism, objectification, and ignorance of the world that is bent upon using people.

But to make this concrete: how comfortable would we be if several sex workers begin to attend our worship services and no, they are not planning to change careers? What about those who are making money in the porn industry? It pays their bills and no, it isn’t a sin for them. What do we do with that? What about men and women who are in caring intimate relationships with more than just their spouse? Or those who simply are not interested in either marriage or celibacy?

Sin is about missing the mark, going in an unrighteous direction. It is NOT about disobeying cultural rules (about sex). For only God knows what is in the heart and we believe that each of us has the capacity to access the Spirit to discern what is righteous for our lives. And this brings us back to John the Baptist.


Because he preached more than just repentance. He also proclaimed, “There is a spiritual truth deeper than the baptism of repentance and someone else will have to explain it because that is not my ministry. And, by the way, it is superior to my work, to my baptism.”

John’s baptism was “Come back, change directions, come home, you prodigal you.”  But Jesus baptism, the baptism of the spirit is deeper. No doubt John knew that it is possible to know justice, do what is righteous, go in the right direction, i.e. to repent, but still not understand the infilling of the Spirit that is revealed in the teachings and life of Jesus. To be filled with the spirit, like Jesus, is to hear God say to us, “In you I am well pleased.” Yes, in us, in these bodies that are beautifully made as spiritual beings in human form like Jesus was.

As incarnational Christians we teach God-in-the-flesh, in these complex, diverse bodies, through Jesus, through us. We must embrace the idea that God’s Spirit lives and moves and has its being in us, through these hands, through these hearts, through these bodies.

The Spirit embraces our differences- they are a blessing from the Creator.

The Spirit never condemns the experience of pleasure and delight for they are gifts of the Divine.   

Where is the love? The life of the spirit is where the love is - abundant, ever-present, extravagant, indiscriminate, excessive.

Where is the love?

We will know where love is when we put on the life of the spirit, the baptism of the spirit. We take off the “old man of sin” (according to Paul) and move into the pathway of spirit. As he told his Jewish followers, it is to move beyond the “circumcision of the body” and into the “circumcision of the heart.”  (Romans 2:29) It is not the outward show of obedience to rules but the inward path of the Spirit.

Then we know love in all its abundance, in all of its intimacy and in all of its creative possibilities. Then we will move from repentance to transformation.

Where is the love? There is the love!

May it be so.









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