As a Christian I believe, along with the majority of Christians across time, that the primary witness to the historical activity of God in the world comes through the scriptures, known as the Bible and the Old and New Testaments. As a preacher, this means that when I preach I do so from the starting point of passages from scripture. What is said in the scripture reading for a given Sunday is where I begin my discernment of what the Holy Spirit calls me to preach in my sermon. The funny thing is, the scriptures speak of all sorts of things.
We have many Separations Of Church And in our present world. We have the tirelessly cited Separation Of Church And State. We have the less widely publicized Separation Of Church and Politics. There is the comforting Separation Of Church And Money; and the insidious Separation Of Church And The Other Six Days Of The Week. My new favourite, after this morning, is the Separation Of Church And Sex.
I preached from a scripture passage that addressed sex. So the sermon was about sex. I spoke to all the parents of young children the week before, informing them that, at their discretion, they might elect to have their young children step out of the sanctuary during the sermon. I wanted to make sure I did not brooch a topic with their younger children that they preferred to postpone until later. I even had a gracious member of the congregation offer to tend these young ones until the sermon was over.
So right after the scripture reading and before I began the sermon proper, I made the announcement for dismissal of young children. Several left; one tried to leave but was asked to stay by a parental unit. So far so good.
Now, I've never preached on sex or sexuality so directly as this morning. And any time I brooch one of the Separation of Church And topics, I assume there's going to be some resistance in the human heart, and maybe some comments suggesting a little more modest presentation. But I wasn't quite prepared for what happened about a minute into the sermon.
Presbyterians don't move during a sermon--our western European congregational culture generally doesn't allow it. (Laughter can be OK; I think guffawing is off-limits, though.) So my eyes quickly found the movement when an older elementary-age child made his way out of the pew and towards the door. Now, you ought to know that the door from the sanctuary to the Parish Hall--where food is served, coffee is drunk, and young children are corralled during racy sermons--is at the front of the sanctuary. So this young lad had to walk right through the view of the congregation as he departed.
I had said the word "sex" or "sexuality" probably five times by now. That was enough for this one: as he left the pew and headed for the door, he had his fingers in his ears. No lie: his elbows were high, his fingers straight, plugging up those delicate receptors from any mention of the bad word I was uttering. (What I could see that the congregation couldn't was that his face was screwed up like I had made him suck a lemon!) The sight struck us all as funny, and frankly, when the sermon's going to be about sex it's not a bad thing to crack the anxiety with a little laughter. So we stopped and giggled for a little bit, then got back to business.
But this young man wasn't having any of this business. He was determined to keep his ears pure of this preacher's scandalous words. And so he did.
I can't complain; I can recite with laughter (instead of tears) the first time someone walked out because of my sermon.