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Saying No To Ourselves

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Maybe it is just my line of work, but it seems to me that every time we begin to hear lots of talk and excitement about how different things are now, about what kind of new and exciting adventures lie ahead, about building bridges to a whole new century, suddenly there appears that which reminds us of how little we have changed.
Last Wednesday night some of us gathered and talked about one of the proposed amendments to the Presbyterian Book of Order. We talked about the amendment that will establish new standards of behavior for deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word. The amendment is primarily concerned with setting standards regarding sexual behavior. Leaders will live in a marriage relationship or will live chaste.
At the same time the newspaper carried stories about the school board beginning discussions about the proposed Life Style Curriculum that has been proposed in compliance with the a state legislated mandate to teach community standards and requiring that that curriculum begin with the standard of abstinence. All because it has become apparent to many that we as a society, at the end of the 20th century, have not done a good job handling our sexuality and our human freedoms.
And now the lectionary leads us to this sixth chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and we read that Paul also has to deal with the question of human freedom and sexual behavior. The more we change the more we seem to stay the same.
Paul has come preaching the good news of the grace of God. We are saved by the grace of God, not by works, lest anyone should boast. It is not what we do, but what God has done in Jesus Christ. Receive the good news of the Gospel and we are forgiven. There is no salvation to be found in the struggle to keep the laws of Moses. Keeping kosher kitchen doesn't get you saved.
Well, you can figure that out. If we are free from the laws of Moses, then we are free from that law about adultery, we are free to covet our neighbor's wife or husband. If it feels good, we can do it. The early Christians were tempted to believe that the freedom of grace made them libertarians. In our own development we seem to have become so focused and preoccupied with our emphasis on individual rights and freedoms that some people think that any law is one law too many. Any restrictions for the good of society is a violation of their individual rights and liberties. Christians in Corinth and our citizens have reduced the rallying cry of the French revolution from three virtues to Aretha Franklin's "Freedom. Freedom. Freedom”
"I am free to do anything," that is what the Christians in Corinth were saying. That is what so many of our citizens are saying. Freedom for pornography on the Internet. Freedom for showing anything and everything on TV. Larry Flint: the hero at the movies for Freedom of the Press. Freedom of speech.
And Paul doesn't attempt to deny that freedom. His responds first by simply reminding them that not everything is the best. Freedom has to choose, and so often an easily indulged freedom quickly turns into an addiction. A freedom that does whatever comes along quickly discovers it is in bondage to something. The prodigal son quickly became the slave to pigs. Not everything is good. And you certainly don't want to use your freedom to become addicted, dominated by something that you carelessly and thoughtlessly selected in your freedom.
"I am free to do anything. I ought to be able to do anything I want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody." Sure, but how do you know that what you are doing is not hurting you. Jeff and Melissa Holloman really enjoy scuba diving, but they haven't been since she became pregnant because there are no scientific studies of the effect of scuba diving on pregnant women. So they have said no to themselves because they did not know if it would hurt her or J. How do you know that watching R-rated movies every weekend will not hurt you?
I am free to do anything. Who cares what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own room? But how do you know that what you are doing will not hurt other people. How are you, and how are we, to determine the long range consequences? It has taken forty years for people to discover the cancer causing nature of asbestos. Do you remember that commercial for a utility vehicle where the bird flies over and drops a pebble onto one of those great balance rocks in the west and that little pebble causes the big rock to tip over and roll down towards the utility vehicle and the driver puts it in reverse. How can you be so sure that what you do is not going to have long term harmful effects on you or on somebody else? We are free, but not everything is for the best.
We hear a lot now about the need for a positive self-image. We hear that every child needs a positive self-esteem. That is precisely where Paul centers his response to this whole flaunting of freedom. We are free, but the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that you and I have been linked by that love and mercy to God. By our professions of faith, by our baptisms into the mercy and love of God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are children of God. Jesus mentioned to his disciples that no one would throw pearls into the mud. No one is going to take that which is holy and put it in with the hogs. As much care and attention that we give to the communion silver and the setting of the table for communion because it holds the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, we ought to think we deserve that kind of attention and that kind of care, because we are vessels of God's spirit as well. We ought to care enough about ourselves to say no to ourselves, because we are the temple of God's spirit and passion. We need a much higher image of ourselves; we are not just some appetites like bellies for food. We are dwelling places for the glory and power of God and we ought not to allow that which is holy to be used or engage in those things that are not the best for us and for the world. We are the dwelling place for the spirit of God and everything that is less than worthy of God is to be refused. We may have the freedom, but we need to use that freedom more often to say No to ourselves so that we might be able to say Yes to those things that bring glory and honor to the goodness of God.
Rick Brand
First Presbyterian Church
Henderson, N.C.