| 1 Samuel 3:1-20
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
|Sun, January 19, 1997
Rev. Ed Searcy
|It could have been so straight forward. The lectionary texts were all lined up in a nice little row ... each one describing the call of God: Samuel hearing the voice of God ... and mistaking it for old Eli; Philip bringing
skeptical Nathanael to meet Jesus ... who athanael suddenly calls 'Son of God'; and, of course, Psalm 139. Wonderful old Psalm 139. "O Lord, you have searched me and known me ... where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?". It is a preacher's dream. Especially when the preacher has sermons already prepared and filed on each one of these old chestnuts. Such bliss. There is a God. But then a fly in the ointment. A few of us gather one evening last week to explore the season of Epiphany. Janice Love organizes the evening ... and has us working on some of the lectionary passages that are to be read during Epiphany this year. The call of Samuel. Nathanael's sudden 'conversion'. And, yes, Paul's harsh words about the dangers of fornication. Guess what. That last one didn't slip by without comment. It caused more than a few confused looks and much scratching of heads. "All things are lawful for me" ... "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" ... "you are not your own". What is Paul talking about? More to the point ... what is the preacher going to do now? Oh, he can take the easy route ... the obvious route ... and pay no attention to Paul's awkward voice. Why he can almost hear those pre-cooked sermons calling out from the filing cabinet drawer. But when he opens the drawer and samples those ready-made sermons they taste like stale bread ... dry, bland, lifeless. Wondering what to do he imagines the Sunday morning congregation, gathered and listening as the lessons are read. Samuel. The Psalm. Paul. Nathanael. 'What will they hear?' he wonders. What words will catch their attention? Of course: 'fornication'. If he pays no attention, they will understand ... perhaps even approve. This is difficult soil to plough in this day and age ... it is an awkward, uncomfortable, unpleasant subject. Not nearly so polite as lofty stories about the call of God. Sin can seem like fun at the time ... but fun is definitely not the adjective one has in mind when the preacher goes to work on it. So ... faced with stale-dated sermons on the one hand and the provocative voice of Paul on the other hand ... a nice little row of readings is suddenly rolling all over the floor ... out of the preacher's control.
Of course, the preacher always tries to keep things under control ... without making it look that way. It is a little sleight of hand that goes with the trade. It isn't something we intend to do, you understand ... not we who have been called to speak the Word of God with integrity. It just happens. If we aren't careful we make the verses say precisely what we want them to say. Remember the words of Tommy Douglas ... Baptist Preacher and CCF leader. "The Bible is a bull fiddle." said Tommy, "You can play any tune that you want on it. Why, give me any verse of the Bible to preach on and by the end of the sermon I can have it offering a ringing endorsation of the CCF". And, to be perfectly honest ... the preacher is sorely tempted to play his own tune this morning. Here is a text decrying immorality ... prostitution ... fornication! All this in the midst of a culture that revels in sexualizing life at every turn. Open a magazine ... turn on a screen ... drive down a city street and you cannot help but see that sex sells. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. We haven't even mentioned adultery, illicit sex, pornography. Well you can see it coming already ... a good old fashioned barn burner of a sermon decrying a society gone terribly wrong. But there's just one problem with such a sermon. It isn't Paul's. Not today. No Paul isn't much concerned about what's going on out there ... not in this text, at any rate. I checked. Just a few verses earlier he writes: "For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those inside that you are to judge?" (I Cor. 5:12). Ouch. This is going to be even more awkward than the preacher had expected. Just as he prepares to rail against vice in this permissive port that bears a striking resemblance to the Corinth of old ... Paul whispers firmly in the preacher's ear and says: "No. Wrong target. It isn't the people outside the church that I am writing to ... it's the people inside the church whose name is on the envelope." See what I mean ... it is a sermon out of the preacher's control.
It is Paul who speaks now. Paul who has heard that the congregation in Corinth has taken to quoting slogans ... slogans that conveniently rationalize offensive behaviour. Take, for instance, one of their favourites: "All things are lawful for me". This sounds like a title from one of Paul's own sermons. Remember Paul
announcing freedom in Christ from slavery to the law. Now Paul finds his own words coming back to haunt him. Since he has moved on to another pastoral charge, folks back in the Corinthian congregation are engaging in all sorts of illicit activity. One man has shacked up with his step-mother. Others are frequenting prostitutes
... and flaunting it. The congregation just shrugs its shoulders and yawns. In fact, its members are busting their britches with pride as numbers increase and tithes do, too. "After all", they say, 'All things are lawful for me' ... besides, sexual appetite is no different from physical appetite, is it? Remember what they say: 'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food ... and God will destroy both one and the other'." Do you see? The young church in Corinth has come to believe that the world of eating and sleeping and working and making love is 'earthly', this-worldly ... that, in the end, none of it really matters. What really matters is the spiritual world, the other world ... the realm to which they have entrusted their souls. In the meantime it's eat, drink and be merry ... with a heavy emphasis on the merry. Paul's words still seeth after all these years on the page: “Yes" he agrees, "all things are lawful for me ... but not all things are beneficial".
Paul is none too pleased with the folks in Corinth. That's for sure. But what might he think of us? I think that it can safely be said that there is no one in this congregation who has taken to living common-law with his step mother. Nor have there been any reports of members of the congregation frequenting houses of ill repute. So
I am the first to suggest that it is very tempting to respond to Paul's letter by brushing it off as irrelevant, out of context, none of our business ... all the while wagging our fingers at those naughty Corinthians with a 'tsk,tsk, tsk'. But something inside says: "Stop ... think again". The Corinthians' 'disembodied spirituality' has a vaguely familiar ring to it ... and so does their notion that what they choose to do with their bodies is not a 'spiritual' matter at all. This sounds more than vaguely familiar ... it sounds downright common place. In fact such ideas are all around us. Just walk through the campus. The testosterone is everywhere. Hormones fill the air. You can smell them ... feel them. Perfectly normal, right? But there is more. There is that familiar spirituality at work, too. Bodies are earthly ... not Holy. They are to be used ... and discarded. Your body is your possession ... it is yours to do with as you please. Sexual activity is not a religious activity ... it is more akin to eating than to praying. Or at least so goes the prevailing wisdom.
"But don't you know", asks Paul ... "don't you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Don't you know that to make love is to be spiritually united with your partner? Don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? Don't you know that you are not your own?" It sounds as if they were supposed to know ... as if Paul is reminding the members of First Church in Corinth of what they have forgotten. And us? Do we know? Did we know and just forgot? Or did we ever know in the first place? One has to admit that this is very unusual language in this day and place. It won't surprise us that some here have never heard such talk. We are not our own? What does Paul think he's talking about? Everything around us tells us that our body is our own personal possession. This is a central doctrine in the dogma of the dominant religion of our day ... the religious faith known as "Individualism". According to this peculiar sect, the solitary individual is supreme when it comes to one's own body ... the body is the individual's to do with as he or she pleases ... even to end its life if they so choose. Individualism is an alluring faith ... placing the self in the centre of the universe as
it does. Paul laments, but does not stand in judgement of those who answer the call to practice its rituals and obey its commandments. He simply reminds us that those who wade into the transforming waters of the Font, those of us who choose to belong to the Body of Christ by eating and drinking at the Table no longer practice
the religion of Individualism. Instead, we now live in Christ.
Live in Christ. It all sounds so ... so theological ... so academic ... so like a lecture. Live in Christ ... I wonder what that might mean in simple, everyday language. I wonder how it might sound if we tried to describe it to our friends. Perhaps we would begin with a gospel choir ... you know, a big black gospel choir in multi-coloured robes ... swaying and singing and clapping ... in church even. And we would contrast that sight and sound with an image of millions of solitary individuals staring into millions of picture tubes, clicking through
channel after channel after channel with their remote control, searching for something to keep them entertained, satisfied, stimulated. Here's the gospel ... the gospel is being called out of the lonely Temple of Individualism into a living, breathing, singing community of faith ... where you belong and where you are not on your own
because you are not your own. That is what it means to take your place here ... to call this community home. It means that you belong to God ... and that you are being used by God ... wrinkles and bald spots, pot-bellies and disabilities included! Now, we are tempted to hear 'Temple of the Holy Spirit' and go on a fitness binge, give up smoking, go on a diet ... all of which is fine until it becomes idolatry: the worship of muscle tone and lost weight instead of the service of God. Truth is, perfection is not what we are after. To say that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit is to say that God's Spirit is housed in rather flawed temples ... or, as Paul says elsewhere, it is like keeping a treasure in a clay pot. We find such gospel too impossibly good to be true. We
can hardly believe that God needs anything less than perfection ... so we offer perfect silence rather than risk singing or praying off key ... we stand still, locked firmly to the floor rather than tapping our shoes and getting the beat all wrong. But listen: the God who saves us out of self-indulgent lives that leave pain and hurt in their wake ... also saves us into lives of embodied grace, freed to celebrate God's presence with all that we are. A famous voice teacher recalls once meeting a gospel singer whose world tour had her singing four times a day, seven days a week. "What do you do when your schedule causes you to lose your voice?" the voice teacher
asked. "Oh, I have never lost my voice, honey" the singer replied. Stunned, the teacher asked how she had managed to accomplish such a feat. "Oh ... it's not hard", came the reply, "I just keep reminding myself that God doesn't mind a bum note". Here is what it means to live in Christ. It means to sing and to live, to make
love and to vote, to raise children and to face death not for ourselves but to the glory of God ... the One whose love saves us from our solitary selves ... the One who calls us to live with and for one another ... the One doesn't mind a bum note in the gospel choir!