The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 14, 2018
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever thought to yourself, after hearing the words of Saint Paul read by the subdeacon at mass: What in the world is going on, Paul?
One of the gifts of being part of a lectionary based tradition is that we’re exposed to most of Scripture through worship, either in the context of daily or Sunday worship, even if in small fragments.
At best, we hear small bite size pieces of scripture, beautifully portioned for our liturgical purposes. I’m thinking of those passages from the letters of Saint Paul that often appear at funerals, baptisms, and weddings. It’s not too much longer in his letter to the Corinthians that Saint Paul will write -- “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Sound familiar?
On the flip side, at worst, when we hear only a small portion of scripture, specifically from Saint Paul’s letters, we can find ourselves saying: What in the world is going on, Paul?
In today’s Epistle, we find Saint Paul writing about what is lawful for us as human beings. Paul seems to be deeply concerned with our bodies and what they consume. From the food we take in, to the true ownership of our bodies belonging to Christ, and to our sexual conduct and ethics.
If we were to flip through the rest of Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we would realize that Corinth was a wild place. If you were to simply read the bold headings that appear in your bible, you would realize that something is off in Corinth to say the least.
From the opening rhetorical statements by Saint Paul in this passage, we can assume that the Corinthians favorite slogan must have been - “ I am free to do anything.” After hearing the Good News of Jesus, of God’s unconditional grace, love, and forgiveness, many in Corinth have taken this to believe that it does not matter what you do with our bodies because we have been given freedom in Christ. And this is exactly where Saint Paul stops them.
Yes, while all things might be lawful for you, not all things are beneficial. Not all things are beneficial because not all things bring us into unity with God and creation. Even those things which by their nature are good, if misused and corrupted, can be detrimental to our souls and bodies.
The major problem for Christians in Corinth was not that they could not see this but they didn’t seem to care. They didn’t seem to care if what they did with their bodies brought about pain and suffering to their families and community.
To break them away from their toxic patterns, Saint Paul turns their attention to our Lord’s Resurrection. Saint Paul reminds those in Corinth, and us today, of the centrality of our Lord’s Resurrection for both our physical bodies and our daily living.
Concerning Paul’s reminder of the resurrection and its role in our bodies, biblical scholar and former Dean at Duke Divinity School, Richard Hays, writes:
“ The body belongs to the Lord, and God has confirmed his concern for the body by raising the Lord Jesus; this act of power declares God’s ultimate promise to raise us also... The body is not simply a husk to be cast off in the next life; the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims that we are to be redeemed body, soul, and spirit. Salvation can never be understood as escape from the physical world or as the flight of the soul to heaven. Rather, the resurrection of the body is an integral element of the Christian story. Those who live within that story, then, should understand what they do with their bodies in the present time is a matter of urgent concern.” 
In the last few months, I have been reminded of the importance of our bodies and of our human capacity to exploit our God giving freedom when corrupted by power and a history of privilege. While it’s easy to point to those Christians in Corinth and their carelessness and exploitation of the body many centuries, we can also easily point to the now countless number of cases in Hollywood where people have been sexually and violently exploited. Let’s not be naive and think this is only happening in Hollywood because it happens here in New Haven and across our country. We have seen in our day, and continue to see, an evil spirit in which some among us believe that they are free to do anything they want. That the desires of their bodies are above the Resurrection which call us to view our bodies not as our own but God’s. So when someone is sexually harmed and abused it is harming both to the individual and God.
“Our bodies are not our own property which we may use according to our own autonomous designs.... [Saint] Paul insists that we have been placed under the ownership of the Lord. By his death, Jesus has paid the terrible price to ransom us from bondage to the powers of sin and death; consequently, we all belong to him and not ourselves, “for you were bought with a price.”
When a person decides to violently take the body of another person, they are rejecting the truth of God in Christ. They are rejecting our Lord’s Incarnation and Resurrection when our mandate is to glorify God with our bodies. In this the age of Christ, our bodies belong to God. Redeemed and made whole by his glorious resurrection. Our duty to is reject all things that seek to destroy our human bodies or that allow us to exploit the bodies of others because all bodies are part of God’s Body. And we’re called to do this so that we can do the only thing we were meant to with our bodies -- show glory to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.