"Lord Jesus," said worship leader Jason Denison after the opening set, "we come before you with all kinds of stuff going on in our lives.... Would you meet us where we're at, Lord Jesus? Would you let something start up?" During the set, the display screens at the front of the chapel had worked like video displays at a concert -- highlighting each performer, zooming in on busy fingers during the guitar solos. But, before the set, the screens were decorated with the red, spray-painted outline of a heart, and the words "Sexual Wholeness." Before the sex talk, however, Pastor Ed Noble brought a small child up on stage, along with his parents. "This is Ricky," he announced. "And his parents are coming to present him, as an acknowledgement...'Jesus, this is your creation'...and also these guys are making a commitment in front of their community, saying, 'We're planning to raise little Ricky to know Jesus and to walk with Him.'" Noble thanked God for entrusting children to "fragile, mortal, frail people like ourselves," and prayed for the parents. Then he committed Ricky to God, and prayed "that he would find Jesus as his all in all."
Members of a mission team to Angola came up on stage for a blessing. Denison explained, "We're going to help a city of about 200,000. The average age there is 15, and the average kid who is 18 has already had 19 sexual partners, so AIDS is kind of going through like wildfire. Our goal is to build some infrastructure, some youth programs." Pastor Noble prayed that "the darkness would be beat back a little bit by these small candles that you're sending out, Lord." The band played again, a surrender song: "I'm giving you my dreams/ I'm laying down my rights/ I'm giving up my pride/ For the promise of new life."
A short video jokingly acknowledged that "at church, there's at least one thing people don't like to talk about: sex." It gave a short indictment of the culture as sexually saturated, and then it was lights up and Noble's sermon. (To keep things comfortable, he went heavy on the humor and anecdote, and the congregation responded heartily.)
Noble argued that God was pro-body -- He created man and called it very good; He "sent forth His son, born of a woman.... Christ-followers have a unique respect for the body, which is why it seems like every time a Christ-follower ends up somewhere explaining to people about their relationship to God, they build a clinic or a hospital. Your body isn't your earth-suit; it's something God has made, and so we take sickness seriously." Further, God was pro-sexuality: He created humanity as male and female, and blessed them, saying, "be fruitful and multiply." It was only after "human evil entered the world" that man and woman stopped being "naked and unashamed."
Noble cited C.S. Lewis: "Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.... Obviously, either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong." He mentioned sexual trafficking. "How did that enter someone's mind? I'll tell you where it starts. It starts with the unlinking of sexuality and justice." God, said Noble, wants "you to be a person who doesn't manipulate and oppress and abuse and hurt other people." He also said that God's prohibitions regarding sexuality came from His desire for man "to really LIVE...to live abundantly.... God's point is not dutifully obeying the rules." He quoted Psalm 36: "And You give them to drink from the river of Your delights."
"Our problem," continued Noble, "is that we think too little of sex. Sex is a whole-person thing, a uniting thing. This thing was meant to unite and stick. The bodily uniting is a picture of the soul -- spiritual -- life -- uniting." He compared sex to duct tape: "The more times you take it up and try to reattach it in a different place, there's a part of the duct tape that doesn't quite work right any more -- the sticking, binding part."
At the closing, he suggested a prayer for those who needed to begin with God: "God, as best as I know how, I am giving you my body, my soul, my heart. Would You forgive me? Forgive me because somebody else's body -- Jesus' -- was broken. Because His blood was shed. Forgive me, God, and enter my life, my being, my body, and help me follow You."
What happens when we die?
"The Biblical version of that," begins Noble, "the way the church has stated it for centuries, is that there is a resurrection of the just and the unjust. Everybody appears before God, and God judges them and assigns them an eternal destiny. Here at Journey, we kind of feel that's God's department. We'll let God sort that one out."
8363 Center Drive, La Mesa
Founded locally: 1 993
Senior Pastor: Mike Burns
Congregation size: 1600-1700 adults
Staff size: about 30
Sunday school enrollment: 80-150, varies week to week
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: small group
Dress: casual, some short-sleeve button down shirts, lots of jeans
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, some Hispanics
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 1/2 hours