2 Samuel 13:1-22 & Luke 15:1-31

Lust and Love

I thought more than twice about changing the subject for this morning’s sermon. It’s difficult enough to speak about these things when I can see who I’m talking to, when I can get some clues about how it’s landing with people. When I know that we’ve got prayer ministry folk around who can come alongside those who need it. But, I don’t know how long we’re going to be online, and we can’t skirt the difficult stuff forever, so I decided that we would explore this subject today. If there is anything from what I say this morning, that you would like someone to pray with you about, please do get in touch.

We’re going to begin by taking a moment to just stop and recognise the damage and terror of this story of a real young woman, Tamar, who was actually raped. Four men colluded in her rape. Her father, two of her brothers, and a cousin. Her father sent her into an unsafe situation, and then failed to call the rapist to account. Her cousin came up with the plan to get her into that dangerous situation. One of her brothers lusted after, raped her, and then tried to gaslight her. Her other brother then told her not to make a fuss. Remember her name. Tamar.

It is a brutal story, with no happy ending. In the following chapters Amnon is murdered by Absalom. Absalom stages a palace coup against David, and rapes 10 of David’s concubines to demonstrate that he is now in charge after David flees from Jerusalem. David’s armies fight Absalom’s and he is killed in the fighting. David is heart broken at the death of his sons.

And all because of lust. Lust for sexual gratification, lust for power, unconstrained lust. Wanting something that is not rightly yours so badly that you will do anything to get it, so badly that it starts to govern your thoughts and actions. To fill your mind and desires.

But it’s all a long way away isn’t it? A time long ago, a place far away, in a royal palace. It really is like Game of Thrones, or a Philippa Gregory book about the Tudors – it is difficult to see ourselves in it, perhaps, to understand what it has to say to us today. But, it seems to me that one of the things the #metoo movement, and the recent revelations about the level of sexual abuse carried out in our national institutions has revealed, is that these sins are more common, and closer to home than we would like to think.

The explosive growth of internet pornography is troubling. I was in a seminar about online church the other day, and the church minister leading commented that he wondered how many of the people watching online church on a Sunday morning had been watching pornography on the same device on Saturday evening.

My feeling is that, even if the depths of depravity shown by the men who should have been protecting Tamar are far from us, the tawdry and everyday consequences of lust are generally much closer. Didn’t Jesus say to us, in Matthew 5, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s a pretty low threshold.

The point at which our sexual desires or yearnings for sexual fulfilment, are allowed to over ride our obedience to God’s commands about our sexual behaviour and our relationships with other people, then we are being overcome by the sin of lust.

The point at which our sexual desires or yearnings for sexual fulfilment, are allowed to over ride our obedience to God’s commands about our sexual behaviour and our relationships with other people, then we are being overcome by the sin of lust.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the first bit of this sermon has been like walking through a mire, I feel begrimed. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. How do we get clean? How can we be free of this?

Let’s think together about the second story that we heard today, the one that Jesus told about the loving Father. I’d like to encourage us to look at this story with a particular word in mind. That word is shame. Where is the shame, or lack of shame in this story? At what point do the characters feel shame, and what does it lead them to do, or not do?

To begin with the younger son is pretty shameless. He asks for his inheritance before his father has died, almost like saying he wished his father was dead. His lust for life, for money, for parties, for adventure, for women, was too great. It overcame his obedience to God’s commands to honour his father, and he went, no shame. Then disaster struck, and he ended up penniless, feeding pigs. I wonder if there was a time, sitting in that pig field, that the shame hit him. Shame at how he treated his family, at his sinful behaviour. I wonder how long it was that his shame prevented him returning home. Even when he overcomes that shame and starts heading home, he doesn’t expect to be restored to the family, he expects to be a servant. In order to return home he has overcome both shamelessness and the paralysis of shame, and has decided to repent – to recognise his sin, to turn from it, and to go back to his father.

And what of the father? He should have been ashamed of his son. According to the culture and expectations of the time, he should have disowned him. He had his inheritance, and now there was nothing left. But the father wasn’t ashamed. He was filled with compassion, ran to his child, and welcomed him back with celebration. The Father’s love for his child was more important than his reputation, or any shame he might have been entitled to feel, and burned so fiercely that it blazed right through his child’s shame.

It seems to me that there are two things that get in the way of us dealing with lust in our own lives.

The first is lack of shame. We do not believe that we are doing anything wrong. We all have blind spots, where we give ourselves a bye. We tell ourselves that no-one is being hurt, we see images or objects of desire not people with names, we buy into the prevailing culture that tells us that what we do with our bodies is entirely up to us, and if it feels good that’s OK. We all need the Holy Spirit to do his work of convicting us of sin, of helping us to see as God sees, to see how far short we fall. We need this, because it is only when we are convicted that we are free to repent, to acknowledge our own wrong thinking and wrong doing, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to live freely.

The second thing that gets in the way of us dealing with the consequences of lust in our lives is too much shame. We are so ashamed of what we have done, or what has been done to us, that we don’t think about it, and definitely don’t talk about it, not to each other and not even to God. If you are married and you find yourself attracted to someone else, who do you have that you can tell, and ask them to hold you accountable to your marriage vows? If you use pornography, who can you ask to help you break free? If you’re single and struggling with sexual frustration, who is walking with you and supporting you in your celibacy? If you have been abused, who might be able to hear your story?

What was it that burned away that young man’s shame? It was the Father’s love. We are called to love each other with this love, and part of that is to have open conversations, that defy shame and allow light into dark places, so that God’s Holy Spirit can bring freedom and true wholeness. Love is more powerful than lust, it defeats shame and brings forgiveness, freedom, and restoration. That is how we get clean, by resting in God’s shameless love.

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