A sermon preached by John T. Pless on Tuesday in Pentecost 18, 6 October 2009 at Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana; Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
"May God the Father, who created this body; may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh." These words are, of course, the words spoken at the committal in the Service of Christian Burial. At that most sober and somber moment they proclaim the truth about the body of the believer; it is body created by the Maker of heaven and earth, purchased with the blood of Christ, and hallowed by the washing of the water with the Word. It is not a left-over carcass to be tossed aside but a body given by God and now rendered back to Him.
The body is yours; it is uniquely you. Yet it does not belong to you. You did not create yourself. While we read of the wizardry of post-human futures with synthetic parts that replace worn out limbs and organs, we finally cannot transcend the reality that we are flesh and blood which will perish. We may view the body as a pod that houses our creative (and free) will. We may treat the body as an instrument of our hedonisms, as a plaything for our pleasure. Then we need not be surprised that once the toy of the flesh breaks down we seek ways to be relieved of the burden. Enter assisted suicide and euthanasia. If we can't finally master the body and control the suffering of disease or old age, we will put an end to it at the time and place of our own choosing. We speak of the person committing suicide as "taking their own life" as though it were theirs to take. We think, at least, we will be done with burden of the body.
What do we do with the body? That's a question faced not just at the time of death but here and now as we live in the body. When the spirit of the age is mistaken for the Holy Spirit, the body will be thought of as incidental to spirituality. Such was the case with the super-spirituality of the Corinthians who apparently thought that something as bodily as sexual intercourse could not affect life in the Spirit. Freedom in the Spirit translated into a life unhampered by restrictions, boundaries or limitations. Homosexual practice, prostitution, and even incest were fair game. Perhaps they reasoned that the bounds of Christian liberty were wide, expansive and permissive since "food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food and God will destroy both." It could be that they mistakenly thought that the Gospel is message of liberation from the body. The glue that binds us together, we are told, is the Gospel, Baptism, and mission. Something as mundane as a sexual ethic should not get in the way of these! We need an ethic that is more relational and less "physicalist" was the argument advanced by one of the proponents of change in the debates within the ELCA leading up that church body's adoption of novel policies that run counter to the Sacred Scriptures this past August.
The Apostle takes a position and asserts an ethic that is physicalist indeed for "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." What you do with your body does matter. Listen again to Paul: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" It is a matter of ownership. You can't take the body which belongs to Christ-bought with His blood and washed by His Spirit in Holy Baptism and join that body to a prostitute. To do so, Paul says, is to sin against your own body. Hence he says "flee sexual immorality" for every other sin a person commits outside of his body-but this sin is against your body- the very body that God has created, redeemed and sanctified.
Christ Jesus will not have the body that belongs to Him rendered unclean; desecrated by fornication and enslaved by a fleshly union to one who is not your spouse. Christ Jesus would not have you live in bondage to another lord for He has made you His own. He has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death that you may live under Him in kingdom ad serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness just as He in His body is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Your body belongs to this Lord so the Apostle says "glorify God in your body" for your body is the place of His Spirit and it is destined for the resurrection of the flesh. So now present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is your spiritual worship. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep you in body and soul to life everlasting.
-Prof. John T. Pless