Saturday, January 14, 2012

B, Epiphany 2 - 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 "Girls, Gold, Glory"

“Each age has its own peculiar temptations!  Young fellows are tempted by girls, men who are thirty years old are tempted by gold, when they are forty years old they are tempted by honour and glory, and those who are sixty years old say to themselves, ‘What a pious man I have become!’” (LW 54 #1601)
This is a quote of Luther’s from the end of May 1532.  Notice here Luther says nothing about those who are fifty years old — humorous since Luther was just shy of turning fifty at the time.   One wonders what was tempting him at the age of fifty!  Perhaps not telling the whole story!  Or Wittenberg Bitter!
Nevertheless, he makes a good point.  There is something that tempts everyone, the young and the old, male or female, well off and the not so well off!
What temps you?  We all have our weaknesses.  As Christians we are forgiven, we are being healed, but still the sore of sin oozes and festers.  When we think sin is under control it soon breaks out again in another way.
When I was a young man this Corinthians text troubled me deeply.  Perhaps it still should raise concerns in me today!  Growing up as a Christian in a post-Christian culture, sex was everywhere.  It was in the media, in music and their videos, on television, in ads... you couldn’t get away from it.  Unfortunately, I failed to flee from it too.  I failed in thought, word, and deed! 
You see temptation is a sneaky thing.  It comes about and succeeds because human nature always seeks to find fulfilment in the wrong thing.  I thought if I could deliver myself from this sin, I would be a better person.  And when I couldn’t I thought I was not good enough for God!  But I also knew giving in to the lure of licentiousness and lust would also be disastrous and deadly. It seemed I was trapped. 
As I grew older I soon realised the same sin raised its head again, not through girls, but through gold, and then glory.  I see today I fall into the same trap thinking I am over sexual sins, because there is a foundational sin behind sexual sin, working me to want wealth, and harassing me to hunger for honour. 
My sin is no better, if I begin to believe, I’ve conquered sin on my own and moved on from the days of my hot blooded youth, or the go-get-em working days for wealth and the weekend.  
Yes! This text should still concern me today!  Not because of sins of the past!  No! They have been nailed to the cross and forgiven!  But rather, because of the sins of the present!  And no, not the sexual sins of today’s youth, but my sin, my temptation, and my failures before God today!
I am throwing stones in glass houses if I think this text is just about someone else’s sexual sin rather than the cause of it, and the true cause of all the various age specific sins.
You see there is just as much thought around that sex is bad.  This is just as big a sin as sexual promiscuity and perhaps partly the cause of it in our society today.
Yet we hear right at the beginning of creation, after the fall, a recount of the conception and birth of Adam and Eve’s first son.  In Genesis four we hear, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:1 ESV)
Therefore it’s good to know your husband or wife sexually.  For sure it’s private, but God is glorified in right sexual conduct.  And may I say, right sexual conduct between a husband and a wife, in the sight of God, with his blessing, is the most joyful, satisfying, exciting sex there is to be had.  Contrary to popular thought that fulfilment comes through what one might do with their own bodies.
And here is where we begin to uncover the cause of sexual sin and why Paul calls us and the Corinthians to flee from sexual immorality.  When we think of ourselves and our own sexual temptations, they occurred most likely when we were younger.  Teenagers of every generation have been the same.  Pimples and body odour occur because of what’s happening in the body; it is sexually developing.  Stopping sexual development in the body is about as futile as stopping pimples and BO! 
But learning what is happening in us while we develop as teens and young adults is crucial for fleeing from immorality when we’re young; as is fleeing from greed or self-glorification when we’re old.  In fact, many struggle just as much with their senior’s sin, because the sins of their youth haven’t been dealt with appropriately.  Rather than flee from the sins of youth, sexuality was suppressed and secretive.
But why and how does one flee from the sins of sexuality?  Not only are we developing physically when we are teens, but also socially, emotionally and mentally.  It’s at this age when the ego really begins to kick against authority.  Mum and dad no longer know anything, it becomes about personal experience and excitement.  Teenagers believe they should be bullet proof; they should know, and have everything!
Unfortunately we’re all taught to believe we must do stuff to find fulfilment.  For a teenager sexual gratification is number one for fulfilment.  Whether they do it or not is beside the point, it’s the belief of what fulfils the ego that drives the temptation.  And it’s the thought process and belief of what one must do to find fulfilment that sets up a person’s life for temptation, failure, and seeking things that never fulfil anything.
The first thing we must ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of a person?  What is my purpose?”  What will give the sum total of my being fulfilment; physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally?  Without this sorted out one will roll from various sexual sins, into greed for acquiring stuff, or seeking satisfaction in status, family, fortune, or fame.  All falling short of the very thing we seek in these things; namely, fulfilment.
“What is my purpose?” may be the first thing we need to ask ourselves. But knowing what our purpose is takes a life time to really get.  Nor do we fully get it until we’re raised to eternal rest with our Father in Heaven.
We need to see in this text that fleeing from sexual immorality, is the need to flee from the self, the ego, the need to self appease that takes our focus from God and glorifies myself.  The rights of “I” need to be shifted from idolatry back to the righteousness of the great I AM!
Augustine of Hippo, a father in the church, back in the fourth and fifth century in his writing, The Confessions, said,
“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”
Augustine was no stranger to the ways of the world.  He was raised a Christian but strayed for some years, in search of pleasure.  Also in his confessions he said of his youth,
“But I, wretched, most wretched, in the very commencement of my early youth, had begged chastity of the Lord, and said, 'Grant me chastity and continence (self-control), only not yet.”
 So Augustine like so many of us are restless.  Looking for fulfilment in all the wrong things.  But bitter experience taught Augustine, Luther, and many others who have gone before us that allowing sexuality, status, wealth, reason and pride to enslave us will only leave us yearning for something more, unfulfilled and unable to raise us up on the last day.
Saint Paul says, “All things are lawful for me but I will not be enslaved by anything!” (1 Cor 6:12)  In other words he’s saying he has freedom to do whatever he pleases but in exercising his freedom he must be careful not to become overpowered by the very acts of his freedom. 
He continues, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:13–18 ESV)
Humanity was made to glorify God, to praise God, to be empowered by God.  Until we rest in God’s power, trusting in him, we have no rest. 
There are many things we can prostitute ourselves to in the name of bringing fulfilment to ourselves.  These are idols and they have no power.  God has power, it is the power of his love, in Jesus Christ crucified and raised, so he might raise us up daily to glorify him and eternally where we will be glorified with him forever.
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God! You are not your own.  You were bought with a price. We were created to glorify God in our bodies.
How do you do this?  Trust not yourself but the power of the Holy Spirit who continually works to place you under the forgiveness of our risen Lord Jesus Christ and into the loving presence of your Heavenly Father.
The kingdom the power and the glory are his.  Amen.