The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

“As an older man, can I ask you a question about men?”

I was outdoors at a pub with Pastor Jon Ehlers in Cambridge having a meal. We had been working on the Central Office move and sorting and discarding decades-old files. There is still a lot to do but now it was time for beer and pizza. The young lady at the table next to us was with a chap and whenever he went inside the pub she would talk to us and she began by announcing that she was inebriated – which I confirmed “yes you are” – because she had asked for a slice of my pizza! And so began a series of brief conversations. 

I gave a faux shocked expression when she said I was South African but she happily told us about her travels in Australia after her second guess of my nationality. On another occasion we heard her view that we are all energy – and she took it in her stride when she wanted to know what I did. ‘I’m a priest.’ (People know what a priest is; they rarely know about pastors.) We are all part of an energy continuum, it seems. And in these moments, you try and say something but often people are not listening. I managed to get in a comment that we are really bodies. We are physical beings.

Her friend was away again and she turned to us again, ““As an older man, can I ask you a question about men?” I laughed at the ‘older man’ description. (So did Jon!) ‘Thanks a lot!’ She then asked whether it was normal male behaviour to be in a relationship but still want to be promiscuous (not her words)? Think about it … what does one say? Is it normal? She kept asking versions of the same question as we replied that while many men might want to behave that way, it wasn’t a matter of what is normal but what is right. And we said that such behaviour is not right. I asked whether the man in question was the one yet again in the pub? ‘Oh no, he’s a friend and he’s gay.’ And then he returned and she went back to talking with him and they then both went into the pub. They hadn’t returned when we left.

It was a different but pleasant though somewhat weird interaction at a pub and we found ourselves talking about what is normal human behaviour. What is normal? What everyone does? How we are socially conditioned? We would hope that ‘normal’ is at least legal or moral but who defines ‘right’? 

I often say that ‘relationships govern behaviour’ but in this case perhaps it is better to say ‘behaviour reflects relationships’. So I see promiscuity as essentially a relationship with self and for self and whoever is involved with such a person is a utility. Isn’t that the human condition though? If we can get away with it, having people always serve us? Human versions of religion are similar – we exist to serve the gods. This strikes me as ‘dog eat dog’, ‘use or be used’ – and if this is normal … oh dear.

That is why Christianity is so weird – and those who follow Jesus can be viewed likewise. In Jesus, we encounter a God who serves! Those were his words (Mark 10:45) and why he died on a cross. We meet him in worship (‘Christ is risen!’) and he’s the one who comes to us. The Heavenly Father is running to prodigals. The Holy Spirit is generously free – and persistent – about his presence with people. And those who meet such a God discover that they are precious, unique, an individual cherished by God. Hence the followers of Jesus seek to do likewise – serve others because everyone is precious to this God who serves. Oh, how wonderful our world would be if this lifestyle was normal?!