Let’s talk about sex offenders for a moment.
If we can’t talk about them on Good Friday
when Jesus gave up his body for the sins of the world
—including not just we God’s faithful people
but also all the people we look down on or are disgusted by
—when can we?
I’ve been in a pastoral relationship
with someone on the Sex Offender Registry for several years now.
And I’ve been pondering for most of that time
why there are such extreme reactions to this person’s offense.
Over and above other kinds of offenses, that is
—it’s a different reaction than if you disclosed to me
that you’d stolen a watch
or even that you’d murdered someone.
It’s a powerful, visceral, angry reaction
which leads not only to creating the Registry in the first place
but also to everyday folks regularly checking out that Registry
for people in their neighborhood.
Registered sex offenders are the second least likely to reoffend…just behind murderers.
Why do we do this to ourselves? And to them?
It’s something to do with our essence, our being, our bodies.
A sex offense is…intimate and personal,
and an offense against our bodies
is somehow an offense against more than our bodies.
It’s like when you’re badly hurt with a broken leg, say,
or when you’re throwing up everything you ever ate,
the world condenses to this one primal, vulnerable space
where your body is.
All your being is concentrated on the misery of your body.
But somehow a sex offense magnifies that feeling.
Regardless of what the offense was
—and believe me, there is a wide spectrum
represented on the Registry—
knowing that a hurt was sexual in nature
brings up bone-deep revulsion
which seems to be the only truth.
To be clear, yes to all those feelings.
Violation of the body is deeply painful and emotional
and no one who perpetrates such violation should be given a pass.
If you’ve experienced such hurt, please tell someone
—don’t suffer alone.
It turns out, the violence of those encounters
leaves its scars on the perpetrators as well.
This person whom I know has struggled and been to jail
and to all the therapy and has transformed themself
in ways I frankly envy.
Even after all that, they fear reoffending
and even more the emptiness that comes
when a new friend finds them on the Registry.
Which happens all the time.
This person is outcast from social media, from employment,
and from more than one or two long-term friendships.
Perhaps you might justifiably say, “good.”
And perhaps you might also notice
the similarity between this person
and the people Jesus spent much of his time with.
Not because they were paragons of virtue
but because they were imprisoned by something
and wanted to be set free.
* * *
Let’s talk about close male friendships for a moment.
There was a time, as recently as the first World War,
when men who were friends
might be seen holding hands or hugging in public,
slinging their arms around each others waists, cuddling of a sort.
If you don’t believe me, just Google “male affection photo”
for an article called “Bosom Buddies.”
Human beings need touch—you know the studies
about babies who die because they’re not touched.
But more than that, we all need loving, gentle, consistent touch
for brain development and for spiritual development.
Our children are built for it,
demanding cuddling at wonderful and inopportune times.
But in the last 50 years, such touch between adult males has become rare.
Some folks wonder if societal homophobia
has robbed us of close male friendships.
My husband tells me his high school students
can’t even express the bare minimum of verbal friendship
without someone suggesting they might be gay.
Could we as a people be so concerned over the possibility of a come-on
that we’ve lost something precious?
“Boys imitate what they see.
If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness
between men they will grow up to imitate that behavior…
What do boys learn when they do not see men
with close friendships, where there are no visible models
of intimacy in a man’s life beyond his spouse?”
Women may be more able to show affection,
yet we participate in a culture of homophobia and touch-me-not.
We are made in the image of God and we are built for physical intimacy.
Perhaps you might justifiably say,
“But it can go so wrong so easily, even without assault.”
And perhaps you might also note that Jesus spent the Last Supper
reclining beside the beloved disciple John
whom our Celtic brothers and sisters say was so close
he heard the heartbeat of God.
No matter how enlightened we are,
we are imprisoned by our fear of closeness and we need to be set free.
* * *
Let’s talk about being unworthy for a moment.
I know students at UC who can’t fathom
that anyone would respect or love them.
They may seem happy or calm on the surface,
but it’s a cardboard cutout of themselves.
I know folks at UC who fill their days and nights with work
because they can’t trust themselves or others
to have their back and they fear failure.
I know friends who know deep in their hearts
that they’d never really be welcome in church
because they haven’t attended in years
or because they think God hates what they do with their bodies
or because they’re not good enough.
I know people who, because of their gender identity or homelessness
And when they hear that God loves them,
they scoff or cry or get angry because how could God possibly love them. It’s patently ridiculous.
Peter at the Last Supper shows us a silly version
of this deeply-held self-revulsion.
When Jesus arrives at Peter’s feet, Peter says,
“wait, what? You can’t wash my feet! They’re gross.
And you’re…you know…God or something.”
And Jesus patiently explains it again and Peter says,
“Oh, right, I’m so filthy, I need you to wash my whole self!”
We don’t wash the feet of our dinner guests anymore.
But my friends Chris and Kevin once did something similar for me.
After my entire family had been sick simultaneously
with a stomach bug for several days,
my friends came to our house and cleaned up.
While we were still weak,
they swept and mopped and did dishes
and sanitized counters and doorknobs.
They didn’t hesitate to touch
where our disease had made things unclean.
How could I have been worthy of such a gift?
Perhaps you might justifiably say, “oh man, that’s me. I’m just the worst.”
And perhaps you might also recall
just how many times our scriptures record
the consistent and overwhelming love of God
for some really filthy people.
All of us are imprisoned by sin and we need to be set free.
* * *
Now, let’s talk about Jesus’ body.
We say that he was God made human
and centuries of theologians have written
about how he was REALLY HUMAN.
It’s not that he just looked like us but was actually smoke and mirrors.
He didn’t have a glowing God center with a crunchy human shell.
He was really, really, physically, emotionally a person.
Jesus is God becoming a vulnerable, squalling, pooing baby
and a vulnerable, squalling, pooing adult
—that’s his whole deal.
That’s the whole point.
Our God who created the universe,
who made this world in all its amazing variety,
who made us—
these complex, thinking bodies charging through space—
our God didn’t just watch from afar,
munching popcorn like we’re some kind of soap opera.
God got themselves a body and ate hummus
and snuggled with Mary and Joseph
and in the teen years refused to be touched
and walked the dirty roads of Jerusalem
and touched disgusting sick people
and touched unworthy prostitutes and office workers
and touched cruel sinners
and then died in extreme pain in front of his earthly parents,
watching them sob.
And then—spoiler warning—came back to life for real.
It’s all about God’s body.
Jesus body standing in for all the bodies in the world.
All of them.
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection
is about our bodies being strong and resilient
and vulnerable and imprisoned and…worthy of being set free. And it’s about God loving us more than enough to do it.
That freedom is scary.
It’s a painful and fascinating transition.
But as the Psalmist says in the 31st Psalm,
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”