St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

January 14, 2023

You are set free from sin and its consequence, eternal death. This is the gift God has given you in your baptism. True, everlasting freedom. God, in Christ, has redeemed YOU. And His redemption isn’t merely a “spiritual” redemption, or an “intellectual” redemption, but it is a FULL redemption, body, spirit, soul, intellect, everything, every part of you has been redeemed in Christ.

Throughout the ages many have tried to dispel this redemptive reality. Ancient Gnostics and Manicheans focused on the intellect and believed the body was unredeemable. Modern Christianity tends to laser-focus on the spirit, sort of a mystical redemption where the emotion, the spirit is what is important and comes with these deeper, experiential encounters with God. Luther would call these sorts of people the “enthusiasts” because they built their faith, not on the foundation of God and His Word, but on how they felt, what they experienced, and on other forces from within. And even for these “enthusiasts” these seekers of experiences and encounters with God, the body is an appendage which they are forced to contend with.

But redemption is not just spiritual, it’s not just intellectual, but it is also physical – flesh and blood and bone redeemed in Christ the crucified. On the Last Day, it will not just be our spirits which dwell forever in eternity, but it will be THESE bodies – renewed, restored – but these bodies will be with us forever. And for those who reject Christ, they shall suffer in their bodies forever in hell.

When Christ died on the cross as a human being, and He rose again as a human being, He set the stage for us. We die and we rise to eternal life just as He. And when our Lord returns to judge us all, He will return as a human being, fully God and fully man, in a body, and every eye shall see Him, and every ear will hear Him. No one will escape His judgment.

Now, as we wait for that glorious day, in these bodies, the Lord has made each one of us into His temple, where He dwells with us. Therefore, these bodies are set apart, sanctified for the Lord, just as He was set apart for His body the Church.

This is who you are. Are you baptized into Christ Jesus? Then you have died to your old, unholy, unclean self. Have you been raised again to new life in Christ Jesus? Then you dwell in a new, holy, and cleansed body which is being prepared for glory. Whereas, in the days of old, God made His presence known in a temple made with hands using stone and wood, now in theses last days, God makes His presence known in the temples HE created, the temple of your bodies. You are a part of the body of Christ Himself and you are His temples, His place of holy dwelling.

Therefore, what shall you do with your bodies? How shall you tend to these bodies?

Look around this room, this sanctuary. Look up here in the chancel. Consider the vestments and the paraments, the polished brass, the candles, the layout of the furnishings. We take very good care of this building, and especially this room, don’t we? And why not? For it is here that we gather as God’s people to worship and to listen and to feast on His Sacrament, to join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the eternal anthem, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We know this place is one of holiness, sacredness, it is a room set apart, sanctified and everything we bring into this room should, no, MUST exhibit the same reverence and holiness which this room depicts. Why? Because God is holy; He is sacred, and because He is holy, we seek to do sacred, holy, reverent things in His presence.

He invites us to come into His presence in worship and prayer, and not one of us has a right to stand in His presence, but God affords us the privilege as His children to gather before Him humbly and quietly and reverently because He is a holy God.

We take care of this place because it is a holy place. Why, then, do we not tend to our own bodies which have been redeemed by God in the same way we tend to a building which is only temporary? Why do we put into these bodies unholy things; why do we allow these bodies to go to unholy places; why do we even encourage these bodies to engage in unholy practices, if these bodies are the true temple of the Holy Spirit?

If we can spend thousands on adorning this sanctuary with beauty and reverent things, why do we so quickly subject these bodies, the true temples of God, to filth and squaller?

Sexual immorality, in every one of its nuances, is a sin against God’s temple. It is equivalent to building an idol in the midst of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Theological immorality, in other words, abiding in and allowing false teaching into our minds and bodies and hearts is a sin against God’s temple, and no different than placing a statue of a false god, here upon the altar. Greed and the idolatry of wealth and possessions is a sin against God’s temple. Wrath and anger and murderous hate is the idolatry of pride and a sin against God’s temple. Sloth, laziness and a disregard for worship and prayer is idolatry and a sin against God’s temple.

Now, it’s quite easy to say, “But Pastor, we’re all sinners,” and you’d be absolutely right. Luther once wrote, “Sin and sin strongly,” and of course the sinner in us takes that to mean, “All bets are off, do what you please, because God just forgives so what does it matter? Believe what you want, think what you want, live how you want, act as you want because God just turns a blind eye to it all anyway.”

But is this what Luther meant, and more importantly, is this what the Scripture teaches? Absolutely not! And if you read the context into which Luther wrote, “Sin and sin strongly,” you quickly see that he is not, in fact, teaching us to be Christian antinomians. Luther, in his discussion about faith and works, was making the point that we cannot be saved by our works, writing, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.” What does this mean? He means that God does not save people who “think of sin but lightly,” or “suppose the evil great.” God saves only those who take seriously their sin, who are honest about the severity of their wonton ways, who approach the Lord not with, “Hey Jesus, look at me, I’m not all that bad, I’m pretty good actually, so be sure to let me in the pearly gates!” No, Luther is saying that we take sin seriously, that we not think of our sin as weak or meager, but as strong holds in our lives, so that as Luther writes, we “let our trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

As with the words of Paul and the other Apostles, Luther was not one to excuse sin, but to mortify it. And as with Paul and the Apostles, Luther also taught that we must run to Christ the victor over sin and death with all our sins, not just the little ones, but all of them seeking His mercy and grace and His help to overcome them.

See Christianity is a way of life which comes with certain habits, beliefs, principles, and convictions. And when we neglect these things, when we become convictionless, this is a dangerous path to walk as it does not lead to the still and peaceful waters of Christ.

People who fall into sexual sins tend to be lacking in convictions. Sexual sins are about as carnal as a person can get. Jesus says that if we even look at a woman (or in this day and age, if any person looks at another person) with desire, with unclean thoughts, with evil intent, that the person has sinned against the other.

This is big deal stuff. Paul was speaking specifically with the Corinthian problem of temple prostitution, but the principle is the same across the board with any sins of the flesh. And remember that St. Paul wasn’t writing his letter to the Unbelievers at Corinth, but to the BELIEVERS. Jesus wasn’t preaching to 12 apostates when He preached His sermon on the mount, but to 12 apostles, disciples, believers.

Now, I could preach like a pop-culture preacher and give you a six-step, six-week sermon series on how to fight against sins of the flesh. And I could give you practical, no-nonsense advice, I could therapize you, and give you an easy-to-follow plan to overcome whatever sins of the flesh bind you. But in the end of the day, you’re going to end up going home and sooner or later fall right back into doing what sinners do.

Such preaching, such Christianity won’t help you, no six-step plan will fix you. Because the problem is that, even though God has called you and made you His temple, your body is still living in a sinful world and your mind is still drawn to your sinful flesh and desires, and the devil is still sitting on your shoulder whispering compromise and half-truths into your ear.

So, on the one hand, you are a saint (and saint, by the way, means “sanctified person,” and being sanctified means that you are set apart), you are a saint in God’s kingdom eternal. He has declared this to you, with no strings attached. You are His holy and beloved child, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ, and His blood isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, you receive His blood and His body every day you kneel at this altar and stretch out your hands for the food of heaven.

And yet you are still a sinner, and sin and rebellion is soaked into your bones and into your blood and flesh and brain and there is simply nothing YOU can do to fix it; you can’t suck it out through renewed commitments or promises to God. You can’t dissolve it or change its nature. It is there and it will be until the day your body returns to the dust from whence it came.

So as one who is same time saint and sinner, who is same time temple of the Lord and temple of evil, who is same time cleansed by water, blood, and spirit, AND filthy by the devil, the world, and your own flesh, how do you live and walk?

It’s tape recorder, actually. It’s what I say time and time again: repentance and faith. Repentance and faith. Repentance and faith. Repentance is simply going to the Lord every day and acknowledging that you are a sinner, and I don’t mean a little sinner who does little sins, but a BIG sinner who does EVERY sin many times a day. Fall to your knees, open your mouth and your heart and acknowledge your sins and your need for help. Don’t try to hide your sins from God for wherever you hide, He is there. Don’t try to change the definition of sin by deciding what you’re doing or failing to do isn’t sin because everyone else around you is doing it or not doing it. If God says your actions or inactions are sinful, then so they are, and the world’s depravity has no authority to change that.

No, fall to your knees and confess your sins. Confess your sins at home in prayer, and confess your sins here in the Divine Service, or see me for private confession and absolution, but repent – confess, confess, confess and do not stop confessing much because we sin much.

And then remember daily what God has done for you in your baptism. It wasn’t merely water poured atop your brow or a pool into which you were immersed. In baptism, God has saved you and set you apart. He crucified you with Christ so that it is no longer you – the old self with its enslavement to sin and death that lives, but the new self, set free in Christ and forgiveness that lives. Remember your baptism and if it helps you to remember, walk up here to the font often and make the sign of the cross as a reminder that you ARE marked as one crucified with Christ. If it helps for the font to be in the back of the sanctuary again, I’ll move it there, because I want you remembering, remembering, remembering your baptism and confessing, confessing, confessing your sins.

Why? Because this is the Christian faith and life. We get confused and mystical visions of dancing with angels jade our minds whenever we see on TV a Christianity of emotions and experiences, where works righteousness and forked-tongue preachers tell us we can have wealth and health and prosperity now if we give our money to their ministries. We see people waving their arms and closing their eyes in emotional bliss and we envy their all-together lives of faith and we want that sort of Christianity, that is until they get caught in sex scandals or embezzling money from their megachurch megasafes. The old saying, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” isn’t just as true in the church as outside.

And is not the Christianity of the Scripture or the one established by Christ and His apostles. For truth, biblical, Christ-centered Christianity is about repentance and faith. Confession and holding fast with all you are to Jesus and His cross. It’s the bleeding woman who fought and broke all the human rules to get to Jesus and touch His cloak to be healed. It’s the lame man whose friends carried him and lowered him down through the roof to be blessed by Jesus because they believed He could do it. It’s the roman centurion seeking out Jesus and humbly requesting healing, believing Jesus could heal his servant even from far away.

It’s the bright-eyed child in the arms of Jesus who doesn’t even understand a word Jesus says to him, but is carried way in his mother’s arms with a smile the size of Texas and a mother who will never deny her Savior.

This is the faith. It is a faith which confesses the truth of our weaknesses and confesses the strength and hope of Christ who died to forgive us our sins and rose again to give us paradise. It’s catechisms, it’s habit, or as Luther wrote, the Christian faith is “oratio, meditatio, tentatio,” or “prayer, worship, and cross bearing.” It’s quiet, it’s humble, meek, and it never goes beyond what is written. It’s family prayer, family devotions, a family altar if you read the Digging Deeper section of the church announcements, it’s simple. The Christian faith is Christ dying and rising for us and we therefore daily dying and rising in Him. Amen.