Resolve: Glorify God in Your Body
First United Presbyterian Church
“Resolve: Glorify God in Your Body”
Rev. Amy Morgan
January 7, 2018
26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
29 God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Introduction: We like to think of the Bible as pure and wholesome reading material. But if you’ve ever spent much time in holy scripture, you know that it is not at all G-rated. It contains scenes with violence rivaling an R-rated action movie and other scenes that would make 50 Shades of Grey blush. So today I have to offer a little word of warning to the parents of young children in the room.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is addressing reports of some very bad behavior. In our reading this morning, and in the sermon that follows, we will be hearing about some of this behavior, and it may lead to some interesting discussions with your children on the car ride home. I will do my best to keep this all family friendly, but there are limits to how much this can be sugar-coated.
That said, this text and this sermon will address matters that our children hear about daily in the news. We may think, or hope, they’re not listening, but they are typically very aware of what’s going on in the world. So my hope is that their questions will open up important discussions that will help them interpret current events and shape how they, and all of us, resolve to live a Christian life.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
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.
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.
14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.
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!
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."
17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.
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?
20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
For many of us, the turn of the calendar to a new year marks the opportunity for change. We resolve to transform those things in our lives that are holding us back, or leading us in the wrong direction. Much of the time, those resolutions are motivated by an ideal, or a narrative that tells us we should be, we deserve to be, healthy, wealthy, and happy. So we make resolutions to lose weight or exercise, to save money or spend less, to relax more and spend time with those we love.
But the Christian narrative, the Christian ideal, tells us something rather different. Instead of health, wealth, and happiness, we are called to wholeness, compassion, and faithfulness. And so we’re going to start out these first six weeks of the new year exploring what sorts of resolutions we might make as Christians, resolutions that will draw us more closely into loving relationship with God and neighbor and help us live a more faithful Christian life in 2018.
The problem with all resolutions, of course, is keeping them. It is estimated that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept. And so today, we’re going to hold up as our inspiration some true change agents. People who not only resolved to do something, but who actually did it: Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2017, the “Silence Breakers.” These are numerous women who courageously stepped forward to tell their stories of harassment, abuse, and assault. They resolved to step out of the shadows and change our culture, and they sparked the #metoo revolution, leading to the downfall of powerful producers, actors, television and radio personalities, and even a few politicians.
While the “Silence Breakers,” have inspired many, they have confounded and even enraged others. Much of the behavior that has come to light is not technically illegal. And it has been tolerated for decades. “All things are lawful,” as the Corinthians say. So why is all of this suddenly not okay anymore?
As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, these same kinds of questions are circulating. In the portion of the letter we read today, he is addressing one specific type of misbehavior, but throughout the letter he addresses several concerns raised by a group within the church, referred to as “Chloe and her people.” This group has sent a previous letter to Paul accusing church members of various sorts of sexual misconduct and infighting.
Paul quotes a slogan that is apparently popular in the Corinthian church, “All things are lawful.”
Now, we don’t know exactly what Paul taught the Corinthians about life in Christ while he was with them, but judging from his letters to other churches, he likely emphasized freedom from the law, primarily where circumcision and dietary restrictions were concerned. He surely taught them about Christ’s death and resurrection, and our hope for resurrection and eternal life through Christ.
This seems to have led to a situation like we often find in many of my children’s stories, where Paul’s teaching has been taken a bit too literally, or just misunderstood entirely. The Corinthians seem to be under the impression that freedom from the law means freedom to do whatever they like, and some of them are taking full advantage of that freedom. They understand that they will be given a new, spiritual body to replace their earthly body, so their earthly bodies will be of no consequence in the coming reign of God, and therefore they are free to do whatever they please with their bodies in the present.
So now Paul has to say, “Uh, wait a minute. Let me clarify that.” He offers three correctives to the Corinthians’ theological understanding, all of which have practical implications for how they should resolve to live as Christians.
First, Paul addresses freedom in Christ. “All things are lawful” does not mean we should do whatever we want. Our actions and behaviors can still damage our relationships with God and others. We may be free from the burden of condemnation under the law. But whenever Paul talks about freedom from the law, he also usually follows that up with the news that we are now slaves to Christ. We are free from the law so that we can be free for Christ.
The second theological corrective Paul offers concerns power. “All things are lawful,” sure, but our desires can come to dominate us. Our desires can have power and lordship over us which properly belongs only to God. Our desires can lead us to assume power over others that only properly belongs to God. Paul’s beef with engaging with a prostitute has nothing to do with prudish morality. It is theological. You are taking your body, which belongs to God, which is part of Christ, and using it to satisfy your desires, to give power and lordship to your desires. Your body, and the body of the prostitute, were meant for something else.
Which brings us to Paul’s third, and most important point: your body has a purpose. It is not something that will be thrown away someday and is therefore inconsequential in the present. It was created by God and for God. As we heard in Genesis, our bodies were created in God’s image, and they were created good. In Jesus, God took on a human body to affirm the significance and holiness of our bodies. We are promised a bodily resurrection like Jesus’. And all of this is because our bodies have exactly one purpose: to glorify God.
While it is hopefully obvious to all of us that harassment and abuse and assault are actions that do not glorify God in our bodies, the “Silence Breakers” have forced us to look at the underlying assumptions of our culture that have allowed this behavior to persist for so long. Remember, Paul’s main concern for the Corinthians is not simply about engaging with prostitutes. That behavior, like the behaviors of those accused by the “Silence Breakers,” is a symptom of a spiritual sickness, a theological heresy, that is a problem for everybody in the church, not just the people exhibiting that specific behavior.
American Christianity has, for quite some time, had a schizophrenic approach to sexual ethics. Puritan influence and fundamentalist ideologies have created powerful rules and regulations governing the Christian body, suppressing desire and condemning pleasure. At the same time, the church has turned a blind eye or found ways to excuse abuse and assault by political and cultural leaders who promote a particular agenda or image. It has covered up church leaders who are serial abusers and whitewashed sexual scandals.
As the #metoo revolution continues to unfold, as more and more women tell their stories, as decades of unhealed wounds are exposed, we are all yearning for justice and healing and reformation. But those things won’t come solely from resignations and terminations and blacklisting. We need a deeper, dare I suggest theological, examination of how we got here in order to find a meaningful way forward as a society.
For decades, women have been told they are too sensitive, they are misinterpreting the situation, they are lying. They have been ignored, bought off, threatened, or fired. How are we at all surprised, then, that people feel “all things are lawful?” Even “good Christians” have felt free to do whatever they want with their bodies, and the bodies of others. Not because we live in such an ungodly society with lax moral standards. But because we in the church have not been clear about what freedom in Christ really means. It doesn’t mean freedom to do whatever you want. It means you are free to be a slave to the desires of God.
Instead, we make ourselves slaves to all kinds of other desires.
Nearly 80% of people have made a New Year’s resolution to improve their health in 2018. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a good steward of the body God has blessed us with. Caring for your health can be an excellent way of glorifying God in your body.
However, the truth is, in our society, “health” has become the new code word for “attractive.” While some people certainly just want to have more energy and feel good and live longer, many others are buying into a narrow, culturally-conditioned definition of beauty and desirability. This definition is handcuffed to our self-worth. We become dominated by the power of this definition and shamed by our inability to attain it. We become dominated by our desire to control our bodies and have the power over them to make them look the way we want them to. This desire fuels a 20 billion dollar weight loss industry. This desire shapes the things we say about our own bodies and other people’s bodies. This desire drives us to use our bodies to acquire and maintain power.
And so instead of seeking to glorify God in our bodies, we seek to glorify ourselves.
So let’s resolve in 2018 to do better.
Let’s resolve to remain free in Christ and not enslave ourselves to our desires. Let’s resolve to recognize Christ’s lordship over our whole, embodied life. Let’s resolve to fulfill God’s purpose for our bodies by glorifying God in everything we do with them.
And like the “Silence Breakers,” let our resolve be more than good intentions. Let it result in meaningful change. So that every person of every age and gender and size and shape - in this church, and in this community – might glorify God in their bodies by showing gratitude for how they are wondrously made, by caring for their bodies as though it was the body of Christ himself, and by loving their bodies as though they were made in the very image of God. Now that would truly be an amazing transformation to see this year.
May God bless our resolve and bring it to fruition. Amen.