Politics, Sex, Money, & Religion
Our Sacred Story this week comes from 1 Cor 6:12-20 Read the full story here.
There’s this list of topics “they say” you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company: politics, sex, money, and religion. The Apostle Paul clearly does not care about that list. Y’all are going to think I’m crazy when I tell you that I actually hand-picked this text as the one I would preach on and that we would engage together. Talking about bodies and sexuality and religion….all together!?! It’s a conversational hornet’s nest, better avoided that aggravated, right? These verses in particular have been used to deepen the rift between the carnal and the sacred, to cast sexuality as a shameful part of humanity rather than a divine one, to place rigid rules on “right” sexuality.
And I can see where some of that comes from...Paul is addressing the elite men here, the ones that could actually afford the “luxury” of participation in these practices. In the world of ancient Roman prostitution, temple servants were by far the most expensive. Unfortunately, he’s not particularly concerned with the well-being of women. But he’ll use any tool necessary including the shame of being “dominated” by women to get the men in line. He needs them to get with the program and do it quickly, because he thinks Christ is coming back around the corner any second now. He didn’t expect the world to last much longer. So he definitely would not have considered the impact of these words to people intercepting this letter 2000 years later. So this text is a jumble of all the things and it’s caused many church leaders to either condemn or ignore sexuality, but also the human body and its desires en total. And it spills over into our culture too. I was helping with my daughter's kindergarten class during their weekly garden time and I overheard one of the young students saying, “shhhhh….that’s a bad word, you can’t say that, sex is a bad word.” How early we are taught that even good things are to be treated as naughty.
But it is precisely this history of silence and downright abuse between the church and our bodies that causes me to engage these texts. Because Paul is right at least in this, that this stuff is important, so it’s important that we talk about it. But this story isn’t just about fornication.
I’m pretty sure that word is only used in church settings, so it’s easy to get fixated on. And so we easily miss the forest for the trees. We get caught up in the onslaught of rules and stipulations, that we miss the seismic shift in how we are to understand our bodies and our relationships in light of Christ.
So what does the forest really look like? Why does this stuff matter in the church? Why is this important to Paul? To him, the good news of Jesus Christ as Lord of all meant that following this Christ would mean living as an alternative to all the other systems that try to make ultimate claims on our lives and how we live them. He understood Christianity to be a way of life that stood in contrast to a culture of commodity and a cult of power. He was surrounded by a society in which people and things were reduced to objects, objects that are then glorified as if they are God. It’s a tale as old as time - it’s idolatry.
But why is this so pressing for the Corinthians? Why here? Why now? Well at the edge of the city, there’s this big hill, a steep bluff that towers over the town. At the very top is the Temple of Aphrodite,the Goddess of love and passion. This place was renowned across the empire and known to employ somewhere around 1000 temple prostitutes. It was a commonplace practice for well-off men to participate in things that weren’t just physical in nature but were considered sacred ritual.
Immediately following a couple chapters discussing relationships and bodies, we come to chapter 8 of this letter where we hear Paul explain that Christians should be thoughtful about eating food that was sacrificed in these same temples to these same Gods. Because the danger is that some will struggle to differentiate the object from its ritualized meaning. Food offerings at pagan temples were understood to be received at the table of the God’s and then returned to humanity. Thus by consuming such food, the traditions teaches that one is communing with and in communion with other Gods. And so this earthly thing becomes sacramental - an intimate connection to and participation with the divine in body and soul. Similarly, in the temple, sexual acts were a means to a transactional faith, objectified to gain divine kudos. The human body is reduced to a mechanical manipulation, rather than a gift received.
The problem Paul sees with this is that our body, with all its desires, all of its capacity for connection and pleasure, is not just a thing that exists apart from our souls or our identity in Christ. The Good News of new life in Christ isn’t just for some hidden part of ourselves, but for our whole self - including every wrinkle, every belly roll, every freckle, every goosebump, every embrace, every butterfly in our chest, every ecstatic release, every element that reveals God’s presence and promises in us and in our world. So, oddly enough, what might sound like a condemnation of sexuality to our 21st century ears, actually elevates and acknowledges our bodies, sex, and sexuality as something that is sacred, even sacramental.
Paul still isn’t saying that “anything goes”. And yet... the who, where, when, and how we love isn’t as central as the nature of our relationships with our bodies and the bodies of others that matters. Paul’s ultimate concern is the direction of our hearts in regards to the most intimate parts of our life; that we hear God’s voice declaring us good and holy above any other. He wants us to see our bodies as the place in which God dwells, not only in the things we consider our best features, and not just some of the time, but in every cell and sensation.
If we proclaim that God, the divine, became human, fully and completely, in every sense of the word, then we also proclaim that incarnation matters. This matter is different because it exposes the lie that our external body is something we might be able to “disconnect” from our whole being from, it cuts through the lines we try to draw between our bodies and our souls.”
So why choose the risk of putting my foot in my mouth by picking a complicated text? Why highlight the matters of faith that sometimes make us blush? Why here, why now? It’s because we live in the shadow of a temple of “swimsuit-ready” bodies that implies some bodies are not fit to be seen. Because that is true for men and for women, and for all bodies. Because more and more of us are awakened to the stories of the #metoo movement where the stark dissonance between the body being declared holy and being violently objectified is made all too apparent. Because we we too often find ourselves worshiping at the altars of filters, snapchats and apps that both remove us from our bodies and yet exhibit them.
And so, we too, need to hear the message that God’s love for us does not exist for us only in some other plane of existence, but in our bones and in our breath. We need to be reminded that our bodies are a reflection of the divine and thus are worthy of delight. That it does not belong to nor is it defined by those have or would use our bodies as an object. That this is true even when we miss yoga practice, even when our legs are unshaved or unwashed, even when our bodies carry disease, even when our bodies ultimately fail us. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, to whom you belong? For there is no limit or boundary to God’s love for you, therefore give thanks and glory to God for the skin you are in, with the body that the creator of the cosmos has created for you. Amen. +