After much prayer and study, I felt the Epistle was what I should preach about Sunday. Thanks to the brave soul on RevGals who first suggested it as a possibility. In any case, here's my sermon for Sunday.
When I was about 12, my dad came home one day about as angry as I ever saw him. Dad was directing a Methodist Church choir at that time and had become close to those folks. They were a second church community for him.
Well, one of the sopranos had a daughter who got pregnant and had to get married. I already knew about this, of course, as scandals of this kind were not all that common so the grapevine worked overtime to get the news out quickly. Most of the gossip seemed focused less on the pregnancy and more on the fact that the father of the baby was Roman Catholic. Horrors! What on earth was a good Methodist girl doing dating a Roman Catholic? And then to get pregnant with his child? It was too much to bear.
And, for the soprano, it was too much too bear. She was so distraught that she ended up being hospitalized in the state-run asylum. And that’s what made my dad so angry. This daughter had not honored her family. She had brought shame and sorrow to the point of a mental breakdown on those who loved her best. Bev and I were read the riot act about what we could expect if we treated our own mother that way.
My dad’s anger on that occasion is as close as I can get in my own experience to feeling what Paul must have felt when the Corinthians took his teaching about being free from the Law just a little too far. They interpreted what he said to mean that all things were lawful for them. When we read this passage, which is specifically addressed to the issue of using pagan Temple prostitutes, we scratch our heads and wonder where they ever got the idea that sleeping with a prostitute could possibly be a good idea. And so we tune out. Besides, we really don’t like to read words like fornication and prostitute in church anyway. It just isn’t polite in this place and in a family of men and women, adults, young adults and children.
So what words would make it relevant and acceptable to speak of? The Corinthian argument that food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food makes me think of all the times I have said, “I know I shouldn’t eat any more but it is just so good and besides – this is the clergy argument – the people who prepared coffee hour went to a lot of trouble and it would be rude of me not to try everything.”
Or we could talk about not looking at someone else’s test in the hope of seeing a correct answer. And there’s always taking pens home from the office “inadvertently.” How about buying more than we need or want?
There are all sorts of situations we can substitute for fornication and prostitution. Pick the one that helps you to hear the rest of Paul’s teaching here.
Not all things are beneficial and I will not be dominated by my desire for those things that are not beneficial. Shun that which does not honor the body – our individual bodies and our corporate bodies of family, friends and church community – and finally, “Glorify God in your body.”
What we do, how we use our body as well as our spirit affects our life in Christ. Hear Paul say that our bodies are united to Christ in our baptism and that to use them improperly is to damage that connection in terrible ways. We are to take care of this gift of body/life so that we can glorify God.
And that means avoiding extremes. Just as it is wrong to eat more than I need to eat, it is wrong not to eat enough. While it is a good thing to exercise, it is not a good thing to spend all my time exercising and working on physique or external beauty.
“O Lord, you have searched me and know me. You are acquainted with all my ways.” Psalm 139 reminds us in wonderful images that God is always with us. But even though the psalmist says that God hems us in, behind and before, and lays hands upon us, the psalmist does not say that God tells us exactly what to do and when. We have choices to make but we make them in God’s presence.
This community is one place we experience that presence of God. I grew up in a close church community like this one. Any of the adults felt free to admonish or guide as the situation warranted and I, mostly, did what they told me to do because it usually sounded like what my parents would tell me if they were standing beside me. But it never occurred to me to wonder if the decisions I made would affect any of those kind, loving people.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians encourages us to look out for one another because we are all one in Christ and part of the body of Christ. That makes good sense to me. I do, mostly by virtue of my position here, consider that what I do will affect all of you. But we are all ministers, all called by God to do particular things for the good of the Kingdom. So, just as I have to consider all of you in my actions, you all need to consider one another. Family members make a difference in the lives of each member of the family.
Of course, we cannot be extreme in our care of one another or we will end up tearing this place apart. But we can be mindful of the needs of others here. We can greet the stranger in our midst. We can pray for one another. Have you ever thought of the parish directory as a prayer list?
Jesus called his disciples into community with him and each other. Long after he ascended into heaven, they were still a community. They had their ups and downs, their squabbles and moments when they longed for the restrictions of the old Law. But they glorified God in their bodies. They proclaimed the Good News by word and example every single day. How can we do anything less?