The Seven Deadlies: Lust

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached October 10, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Jeremiah 29: 1-7: "Build houses and live in them"
Luke 17:11-19: "your faith has made you well."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song tonight comes from country singer Keith Urban. The song is from his 2002 release Golden Road which produced four hit singles. This is not one of them. It's called "You're Not My God" and chronicles Urban's struggles with lust and addiction.

It's just a piece of paper, it says, "In God We Trust"
A little sure felt good, But a lot was not enough
And everybody loved me when I was on a roll
And I thought I had everything, When I held the gold
But you're not my god, And you're not my friend
You're not the one that I will walk with in the end
You're not the truth,
You're a temporary shot
You ruin people's lives and you don't give a second thought You're not my god

South Carolina is not my home - and in many ways it will never be my home, no matter how long I live here. When I arrived here in 2003, I was certain that I had moved to hell. When I tell people that I moved here from Atlanta - from that international gay mecca where the traffic may be slow and maddening, but the rest of the city flows with milk and honey - people look at me like I have lost my mind - and I did. I tell them, "Love makes you do stupid things - like leave heaven for hell."

I would write back to my friends in Atlanta and tell them about the hell that I encountered here. I had proof. We were living in Sumter at the time - a county whose area is - I kid you not - 666 square miles. But, there was further proof. The first year I was here there was a story in the paper about how terrible the abuse situation is for women in this state. South Carolina is ninth in the nation in the rate of men killing women. Back then, legislators were fighting to keep abuse against women a misdemeanor instead of a felony. However, in that same year they passed a law strengthening penalties for cock fighting. I told someone that year that the state's new slogan should be: "South Carolina - Where you chickens are safe, but your women aren't."

So, when I read the opening of Jeremiah's letter in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures tonight I recognize myself in his words. He's writing to Israelites who have been taken into exile in Babylon - ripped from their homeland by invading forces and sent to live their lives in enemy territory. Their reactions were much the same as mine - a heart filled with lust for my homeland. I'm sure they lusted for their homes, their old jobs, their temple - all the things they missed in this land of exile.

I, too, lusted - I lusted for my favorite restaurants, my favorite bookstores, my favorite neighborhoods like Little Five Points, my favorite parks like Piedmont Park and the amazing festivals they hold there. I lusted for all the things Atlanta holds that South Carolina lacks.

I also lusted for the opportunities that Atlanta held that South Carolina could never offer. As someone who has spent most of their life in journalism or other writing careers, Atlanta is indeed Mecca. There is a smorgasbord of jobs available there. I worked myself to death as a freelancer there because there were so many opportunities. Here, not so much. This land is barren for someone like me - opportunity is few and far between. So, I lusted for the money I could make back at my true home. I lusted for the wealth I could have there, instead of the certain poverty that could face me here.

Jeremiah has hard words to hear though, for those of us living in exile - lusting for the things we've lost: "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease."

In other words - get comfortable. You're going to be here awhile.

Little white lines on a mirror,
Cut neatly in a row
Medicine that kept me from lookin' in my soul
I thought you were the answer,
To all of my despair
And you almost had me six feet down,
But I'm still breathin' air
'Cause you're not my god,
And you're not my friend
You're not the one that I will walk with in the end
You're not the truth,
You're a temporary shot
You ruin people's lives and you don't give a second thought,
You're not my god

Like those displaced Hebrews, I didn't want to get comfortable in the Babylon of South Carolina. I kept dreaming of the day - lusting for the day - when we could return to Atlanta.

It is this kind of lust - this lusting for what we don't have, for places that we are not, for comfort that we don't have - that can lead us down that precarious path to addiction, to lust gone wrong. When our desires begin to control us - instead of us controlling our desires - we lose perspective. Our lives become all about satisfying our lust. Instead of seeking to be in community with one another - fulfilling that natural lust to connect with others and create - we begin to live one-sided lives that become all about us and the object of our lust.

Our addictions begin to rule our lives - and we begin to search for more and we never have enough. We can only be satisfied for a moment, then we're on to the next fix, the next high, the next hit.

Addiction - this misdirected lust - keeps us focused on the world outside of ourselves. As Urban sings, it was that cocaine on the mirror that kept him from looking inside his soul. That's what addictions do to us - they take us outside of ourselves. But, anything outside of ourselves cannot be our god, because the Holy resides within - through - and around us at all times. We cannot see the Holy out here, until we see it in here.

This is what Jeremiah was telling those displaced Israelites - don't lust for your homeland over there - live here, in the now, right where you are. Lust for the things you have, not the things you don't have. Give birth here, in this moment, to all the creativity you have inside of you.

It was when I stopped lusting for Atlanta, and directed my creative powers into a community here in Columbia that I renewed my healthy lust for life. For some inexplicable reason, God has planted me here - in exile - away from my home. Instead of lusting for a return to where I want to be - God has commanded me to grow here, now.

Jubilee! Circle is the result of some pretty healthy lust. A lust for connection with others - a lust to bring about something new in this world, something generative that would bless not only myself but others. We are here because of the result of lust. In the midst of exile - we have created a home. Oh, Yeah!

What are you lusting for outside of yourself tonight? Where is your Babylon - the enemy territory you find yourself living in and lusting to get out of?

Hear Jeremiah call to you tonight: "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce - multiply there, and do not decrease."

Breathe deeply.

From the cradle to the grave,
Temptations all around
But no matter how good the fix,
It's gonna take you down
Now some call it a weakness,
Some call it a sin
But it's all the same behind each game,
I see your evil grin
But you're not my god,
And you're not my friend
You're not the one that I will walk with in the end
You're not the truth,
You're a temporary shot
You ruin people's lives and you don't give a second thought
Whoa, you're not my god,
And you're not my friend
You're not the one that I will walk with in the end
You're not the truth,
You're a temporary shot
You ruin people's lives and you don't give a second thought
You're not my god, You're not my god,
Oh oh oh you're not my god

Our second song was a number on hit for singer Robert Palmer in 1986. Addicted to Love has since been covered by artists like Tina Turner, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Perhaps our version can fall somewhere in between those.

Your lights are on, but you're not home,
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes,
Another kiss is what it takes
You can't sleep, you can't eat,
There's no doubt, you're in deep
Your throat is tight, you can't breathe,
Another kiss is all you need
Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love

In our Jesus story, we find out guy out doing what he did best - healing people. He's traveling to Jerusalem and passes through a village between Samaria and Galilee. There he meets ten lepers. Now, lepers in this day and time were outcasts among the outcasts. Hebrew law banished them to live outside of the city and to cry "unclean!" whenever anyone came near them. If any of them ever actually recovered, they couldn't be accepted back into the community without being cleared by a priest.

As the lepers saw Jesus come into town, they cried out to him, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Jesus saw them and told them to go and show themselves to the priest, and they head that way. As they go, they are healed of their disease.

What in the world does this passage have to do with lust? Well, we may not have leprosy, but each of us here has a "dis-ease." We are all uneasy in this world - not sure if we'll have enough, or be enough, or do enough to have or be enough. We are all living in a "dis-ease" with the world around us - and we are all seeking to be made whole - to be rid of this "dis-ease."

This is where we can fall into the distortions of healthy lust. We seek to assuage our "dis-ease" by numbing ourselves with drugs, or alcohol, or sex, or too much TV, or too much Internet, or too much time alone, or too much time partying.

We seek to ease our own fear, and pain, and yearning, by seeking more, and more, and more, things outside of ourselves to makes us feel better. There is just one of these lepers that gets it - that finally understands the incredible wholeness that the Holy offers us. When he was liberated from his "dis-ease" by Jesus, he turned around and went back to that amazing healer and said, "Thank you."

Jesus then gives him the key to keeping his "dis-ease" at bay forever. "Your faith has made you well."

It is only when we trust in the deep mystery of the Holy that we will learn how to engage in a healthy lust for life. It is only by living in deep gratitude for the mystery all around us that we will learn how to live our lives with the beautiful, life giving, lust that the Holy intends for us.

So often, we're like the nine other lepers - we find some relief from our "dis-ease" and though we feel better and we're happy about it - we neglect to thank God - we neglect to run back to the Holy and recognize the source of our healing. Instead, we enjoy the feeling of relief - and forget to be grateful. This is a dangerous place to be - because eventually, we may again be tempted to again slide back into that "dis-ease" of unhealthy lust, captured again by our addictions.

Instead, we must heed the directions of Jesus on how to live our lives - to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we heed those words, and live into them with gratitude and trust - then we can develop a healthy lust - a healthy addiction - to love.

You see the signs, but you can't read,
You're runnin' at a different speed
Your heart beats in double time,
Another kiss and you'll be mine, a one track mind
You can't be saved,
Oblivion is all you crave If there's some left for you,
You don't mind if you do
Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it,
you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love

What happens when you fall in love? You really do lose your mind to some extent.

You can't sleep, you can't eat, your throat is tight, all you can do is think about what you love and how you can get back in the presence of that one you love.

How would it change the way you lived if you really were addicted to love - addicted to that generative, healthy lust that seeks to create joy and peace and community in this world? How would it change the way you lived if, at every moment, you heard the siren song of that healthy lust of the Holy that seeks to come into union with us and bring forth new fruits - new creations - that nurture not just ourselves, but everyone around us? How would it change the way you lived if you trusted the Holy so deeply that everywhere you looked you only saw people and things to fall in love with?

How would it change the way you lived if you were so thoroughly addicted to love - that generative, creative love - that even the most mundane activity in your life, like shopping, or driving, or doing laundry, became sacred events?

At the potluck last week, I played a recording of David Foster Wallace's speech to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. In that speech he said: "In the day to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. An outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship - be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh, or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles - is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive."

Wallace reminds us that if we lust for anything but the holy - be it money, beauty, talent, power, or intellect - we will be eaten alive.

It is only in lusting for the truly holy that we will be made whole - and given the freedom to live in deep trust and gratitude for this lustful, beautiful life.

Wallace reminds us that "the really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom."

Our lust can bind us, or it can free us. We are in the midst of exile, Jubilants. Each of us is stranded in a world of dangerous lust that constantly seeks to seduce us - to convince us to give up our real freedom for the false freedoms of money, or power, or beauty. We must build our houses here - we must multiply here - and testify to the real freedom of gratitude and trust in the Holy. Instead of giving in to the temptations of this dangerous lust, we must surrender to an addiction to love - and become aware of how others are bound up in their own lusts. Let that awareness open up a channel of love and compassion in you - care for those around you, sacrifice for them. Then you will find real freedom.

As you become aware this week of the lusts that bind you - whenever you feel some relief from you "dis-ease" - remember to turn around, to run back to the Holy, and give thanks . It is this gratitude - this trust - that makes you well - and truly free.

Your lights are on, but you're not home,
Your will is not your own
You're heart sweats and teeth grind,
Another kiss and you'll be mine
Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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