Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sermon January 14, 2018

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
6:12 "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. 6:13 "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 6:14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 6:16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." 6:17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
6:18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 6:20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

‘Love God, and do what you want.’
This was a saying of St Augustine, who lived from the year 354 to 430.
But the church in Corinth,
brought into existence 300 years before Augustine,
might have liked this statement a lot too.

Paul founded the church in Corinth,
and he had some problems with it.
Corinth was a Roman colony far out in the backwaters of Greece.
It was a former military colony.
It had, if you will, a reputation.
Sin City.
It was like the Las Vegas of the ancient world.

Paul founded the church in Corinth,
and then left to found other churches in other cities.
But the Corinthians were problem children.
He had to keep writing letters back,
telling them to get their act together.

The Corinthians really missed the boat on some things.
They had some what we would consider interesting opinions.
One of these was that because they were spiritual,
because they had been given the Holy Spirit
and could do all sorts of interesting things like speaking in tongues,
that the things of the body didn’t really matter.
Maybe they were misled by the teaching
that the food laws that the Jewish people had lived with for years
didn’t apply to those who were in Christ.
They had all sorts of statements such as ‘All things are lawful for me,’
and ‘Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,
and God will destroy both one and the other.’
And so they believed that they also might satisfy other hungers as well,
even to the point of patronizing the temple prostitutes
that the other Corinthians patronized.
After all, if they were free in spirit,
what did it matter what they did with the body?

This was not a body-affirming spirituality,
it was a body-denying spirituality,
which manifested itself in body-affirming behavior.
Did you get that?
The body and the things of the body were not important,
they didn’t really matter,
it’s what was inside that counted.
We’ve heard that statement, right?
And it’s true, but sometimes true statements can lead us astray.

Christianity has often been misunderstood as a body-denying spirituality,
especially by some Christians.
But this is not true at all.
Christianity has a body-affirming spirituality.
This means that the spirit is not divorced from the body,
and everything the body does counts,
the body has everything to do with the spirit.

This is true because of the incarnation.
For God himself loved the world so much
that he himself took flesh.
He himself adopted the bodies we wear.
The Son served the Father in the body,
and gave his body on the cross for our sakes.

Again, true statements can sometimes lead us astray.
We know that our bodies belong to us.
‘It’s my body.’
And this is true.
It’s true because our bodies
should be free from violence, from coercion,
from control by other human beings.
And this is most clearly seen today in sexual matters.
Indeed, the #me too movement has come about
because too many people have used other people’s bodies
as objects for gratification, to show their power,
and our bodies should be free from that, because it affects the spirit.
Well we might think
that St. Paul himself would have understood us,
that in focusing on the Corinthians’ sexual lives
he was not being prudish or prurient,
but articulating a truth,
that what people do in the body has much to do with their spirits?
And that God does not desire people to do violence to another,
or to coerce another, or to control another?

But as I have stated,
in another way our bodies are not our own
to do with as we please,
but instead they belong to God,
and we are to freely do as he pleases.
God does not coerce or control us,
instead he calls us to glorify him in our bodies,
as St. Paul says.

In baptism we have been made members of his body,
that is, our bodies are extensions of his body.
We are to freely do what he did.
And through our bodies he does what he does today.
He serves, he forgives, he encourages and blesses,
he feeds others, he himself prays, he himself gives bodily comfort and sustenance.
Martin Luther says,
‘Creatures are only the hands, channels and means
through which God bestows all things.’
This is how we are to be with our bodies.
To do no violence, to avoid coercing another with word or deed,
to not control another,
but instead to use our bodies to bless others.

The negative, what we are not to do,
needs to be balanced and perhaps overbalanced by the positive.
If I were to have you take away something from the sermon,
it would be what St. Paul says,
‘Glorify God in your body.’
We are to glorify God by what we do –
in how we eat: we do not live to eat but we eat to live.
in how we speak: to build up and not tear down others.
in how we behave: not to control others but to bless and comfort them,
never denying them their selfhood.
We are to glorify God with where our feet take us, what our hands are set to,
what our eyes look at and our ears hear,
with how we use our time and money.

It may well sound hokey,
but when we ask ourselves,
Does this glorify God?
our actions might be different.
If you disbelieve this,
think of those who are manifestly evil in the world,
and then ask yourself whether things would be different
if they honestly asked themselves the same question.
If the answer is yes,
then perhaps we should ask,
If it’s true for them, why isn’t it true for us?

Augustine said, ‘Love God, and do what you want.’
This is what that means -
When we love God, we desire to glorify him.
Then our freedom becomes not a freedom from,
but a freedom for,
freedom to glorify God, freedom to serve others.