Dear disciples of Christ Jesus,
In the midst of the growing controversy regarding late-term abortion — and what can only be termed infanticide — as a matter of self-serving convenience in a culture celebrating such decisions while refusing to consider the consequences that undermine the sanctity of life and assert our capacity and “right” to “play God,” I thought it might be helpful to share my sermon from this year’s NALC Life Conference.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians and to us, not only in this reading (1 Corinthians 7:1-7) but his words about sexual immorality in chapter six, are difficult for us to accept in a culture where sexual promiscuity has become more the norm than the exception.
(Please take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 6 and 7.)
Paul reminds us that our bodies are a part of Christ’s own body. Outside of marriage, human sexuality is a form of prostitution. He quotes the Genesis text, “The two shall become one flesh.” Your actions are like uniting Christ with a prostitute. May it never be! “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” Sexual sins are sins against your own body. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Paul reminds us that there is a spiritual side to human sexuality that is inescapable. Once you are in Christ any claim to autonomy is gone. It can never be a matter of “This is my body and I can do whatever I want with it. It is my choice.” Yes, you have the right, but not everything is beneficial or faithful in our relationships to Christ or others.
Paul’s words in this text are just as critical for our day as they were for his own. Human sexuality in marriage has its origin in creation. In Genesis 1 and 2, the equality of the sexes is affirmed, as both share in the image of God and in the responsibility for fruitfulness and the care of creation.
People were created to be in community. God’s answer to meet this need for community: “I will make a helper suitable for him.” This helper was to be Adam’s counterpart, companion, complement — a sexual partner with whom he was to become one flesh to consummate their love and to procreate children.
Genesis then describes a special work of creation. Out of the undifferentiated humanity of Adam male and female emerge. The sexes are differentiated. No matter what anyone else teaches there are just two — male and female. After Adam awoke from sleep and saw Eve, that perfect complement, he broke into a glorious love song. “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.”
This complementary nature of the sexes is the basis for heterosexual marriage. The creation narrative affirms our need for companionship. “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
Since we are made in His image and God is love, we were created with the capacity to love and to be loved, to live in community rather than solitude. While Paul can affirm singleness as a good vocation for some, he does so without undermining the understanding of the created order. Paul understood this to be the exception and not the rule.
As Anglican evangelical scholar John Stott points out, “the complimentary nature of the anatomy of men and women is a symbol of a much deeper spiritual connection of the two becoming one in marriage. They were originally one. Then woman was taken out of man and they were separated from each other and in the sexual encounter of marriage they are reunited again as ‘one flesh.’”
Paul describes this complimentary unity as not claiming authority over our own bodies but “yielding” our bodies for the sake of the other. In marriage there is a commitment to the mutual fulfillment of the other. This selfless giving is the nature of a loving community into which children are born, nurtured, mentored and mature in such love.
Paul also clearly acknowledges that in the midst of the beauty, power and attraction of human sexuality there is also the perfect opportunity for Satan’s temptations to influence us in ways that are contrary to God’s intended purposes.
There is much confusion today regarding sexuality and marriage as Satan continues to influence people in the direction of self-centeredness, self-realization and self-indulgence. Sexuality has become more about pleasing one’s self and using another person to achieve that end than about love, commitment, relationships or marriage.
Our culture has attempted to justify self-serving behavior by norming mutually exploitive relationships. (You can use me for your satisfaction if I can use you for my satisfaction.) This is the nature of sexual immorality to which Paul is referring.
The net effect of these behaviors that have become valued in our culture of non-judgmental acceptance and tolerance is the continual growth of perverse sexual immorality that undermines marriage, family and a stable environment for children to be nurtured.
Just as moral behavior consistent with God’s will leads to healthy relationships and fulfillment, immoral behavior contrary to God’s will leads to broken relationships, a vacuum of selfishness, the destruction of human community and the senseless deaths of countless unborn children that were intended to be the fruit of selfless love in marriage.
Marriage is a gift and Paul points out that those who refrain from marriage also have a gift. But such a gift is not grounded in self-serving opportunities. The gift of remaining single is not a matter of being unwilling to share with others in order to keep more for one’s self. Paul’s life was just the opposite. His life apart from marriage was bound in the community of the Church providing him with the greatest flexibility for serving Christ and caring for many churches.
Martin Luther’s words regarding this subject are helpful. Luther writes, “There are many reasons why people marry. Some marry for money and prosperity. Many people marry because of sheer immaturity, to
seek sensual pleasure and satisfy it. Some marry to beget heirs. But St. Paul gives but this one reason, and I know of none fundamentally stronger and better, namely, need. Need commands it. Nature will express itself, bearing fruit and multiplying, and God does not want this outside marriage, and so everyone because of this need must enter into marriage if he wants to live with a good conscience and in favor with God. If this need were not there, all the other reasons taken together would make very poor marriages. This is particularly true of that smart immaturity which leads fools to take lightly such a serious, needful, godly estate; but it is not long until they realize what they have done to themselves.”
What is it that we have done to ourselves and continue to do? We cannot talk about the outrageous increase in the numbers of abortions without also talking about the sexual immorality that has produced so many unwanted pregnancies. Abortions are often an abominable attempt to cover the tracks of our immorality by committing murder.
Our concern for blending in with the culture by softening our approach regarding sexual immorality — and our failure to teach our children these solid biblical understandings — has only served to weaken our culture and contribute to the demise of the family, thereby fueling the growth of abortions as being tragic but unavoidable in such a culture.
I believe that we must understand and confess that behind both our immorality and the resulting abortions is our insatiable appetite to undermine the sovereignty of God and thereby undermine the sanctity of human life. It is the temptation of original sin to believe that we can know what God knows and if we have such information we can rely on our own wisdom and don’t really need God at all. We long to make ourselves almighty and take God’s power into our own hands. It seems obvious that there is no longer a Christian consensus regarding God’s sovereignty as the author and giver of all life or the biblical understanding of human dignity.
The freedoms we have given ourselves have not made us more civilized but less. Have we become any less decadent than the Roman culture at its demise, leaving unwanted babies exposed and left to die in the elements? Is placing them in a hospital incinerator more civilized than the trash heap? Is there any going back after legislating such immorality and incivility, to recapture the civility we have lost, to again acknowledge the sovereignty of God and a biblical view of human dignity?
There is only hope if we are willing to speak out, preaching and teaching in conformity with these biblical understandings, refusing to accept the cultural norms as the starting place for our life together and ministry. Growing up in the church during the 1960s and 70s, no one ever pointed to these biblical teachings of Jesus or Paul let alone lived in conformity with them. No one spent time connecting marriage to the created order. Many thought that being “relevant” was a matter of adapting to the new cultural norms of “sexual freedom” and independence from any norms except our own personal norms.
One of those biblical texts that provides a wonderful model for proclaiming the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God is Psalm 139. It does so from beginning to end. First, the psalmist affirms the nature of creation. “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”(v. 13). He refers to God the Father as a skilled artisan, a potter or a weaver. This is a mystery for which there can be only thanksgiving and praise for how we were formed in the womb. The growth of a child in the womb is neither haphazard nor automatic but a divine work of the creative hand of God.
Second, the psalmist calls our attention to the consistency of God’s involvement in our life. He observes, in the present, God’s involvement in the past and is assured of God’s guidance into the future. All of life from conception to death is in the hands of God. The psalmist realizes he has the same identity through it all, a person fashioned from the hands of God.
Finally, the psalmist points to an ongoing relationship that God initiates and sustains throughout the life of the faithful. The fetus — which means “offspring” in Latin — is neither a growth in the mother’s body nor a “potential” human being, but a human life endowed with the fullness of humanity they already possess.
There are many other places in Scripture that give voice to this spiritual understanding of the preciousness and dignity of human life as well as the sovereignty of God. The question that remains is how often will we preach and teach about this Word of God and assist our people to struggle with how counter-cultural our faith is?
In preaching on the Gospel text of the Baptism of Jesus and the divine affirmation that concludes the reading, I made this point. Too often we seek outward affirmation from those around us. While there is nothing wrong with being liked or thought well of, there is a danger in putting too much value in the affirmation of others. As humans, we are relational beings and it is natural to want to connect with others — not only connect, but connect in a positive way. However, the issue is, do we allow our earthly connectedness to supersede our heavenly connectedness?
(Please forgive me for this all too familiar story.) During my last few years officiating high school and college sports, I was often given the task of working with less experienced officials as a mentor. Just before a highly competitive game, I was leading the pre-game discussion and the two rookie officials were nervous because they were being evaluated. I shared with them what one of my mentors said to me after my first high school game. His name was Sam DiBlasi.
Sam came into the locker room after the game. (I thought I had done a good job.) Sam said “Bradosky, lose the rabbit ears or get out of officiating. You are not there to please the fans. No matter what call you make, half the people are going to love you and half the people are going to hate you. And the next call you make the people that love you will hate you and the people that hate you will love you. If you have to have their affirmation to do your job, then get out of officiating now.” He added, “There is only one opinion in the stands that really matters.” In my naiveté I asked, “Who is that?” To which Sam replied, “Me, you fool! I understand why you are here and what you are supposed to do. It’s only my evaluation that makes a difference.”
I think Sam’s words are important for any Church leader, lay or pastoral. Popularity is irrelevant; faithfulness to Christ is all that matters. His is the only opinion that ultimately matters, the only evaluation that has eternal significance.
We must face these important issues of sexual immorality and abortion with teaching that is faithful to God’s Word. We must strengthen marriage and family, protecting all life and living more for our heavenly connection than any earthly one. We must remember that there is only one person in the stands whose opinion truly matters — Jesus Christ.
When God is pleased, nothing else matters. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
St. Augustine points out that the words spoken to Jesus at Jordan are words for us to hear. They are addressed to us right now in this moment, “You are my son, you are my daughter, with you I am well- pleased. On you I have set my favor; through you I am doing what is my pleasure.”
May we remain faithful and hear Jesus’ words: “You are my beloved, in you I am pleased.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.