Okay today I’ve got a stool to sit on, and a bottle of aspirin, I’m sure we’ll need those aspirin later. How many of you have heard me marvel over how often the liturgical calendar, which has been set up for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, exactly fits into something that’s going on within a congregation or within the church at a given time? Caeden read our Gospel reading for today. Typically there’s at least one Gospel reading, at least one Old Testament reading, usually another New Testament reading, and a Psalm. If we were to stick with the Gospel as our lesson today, we’d be talking about the baptism of Christ and the recruiting of Disciples of Christ at the beginning of his ministry. We’ve done that before—a lot. So rather than go over that again I poked around the liturgical calendar and found a verse that comes from this week but actually next year. It’s 1st Corinthians 6:12-20 let’s give it a look.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
If you’ve hung around the church for any time at all you’ve noticed that when anyone brings up one of these verses that discusses sex and relationships considered a sin, suddenly everybody has some verse that comes to mind talking about sex and sins. You can find them going back as far as the Ten Commandments, you can find them in Leviticus, you can find them when the law was restated in Deuteronomy, you can even find Paul talking about sex and relationships in the New Testament. This section we just read in 1st Corinthians was one of Paul’s. We didn’t talk much about sexual sin in Scripture when we had the recent ONA discussions, but as visitors start to attend and ask questions about this ONA thing, these types of sexual sin discussions will undoubtedly come up.
Maybe we should look at how this all worked out in practice for someone whom God loved; God’s favorite, King David. When we think of David we get a mental image of the young man who brought his sling and slew Goliath. A young king curled up underneath the shadow of the Tabernacle who wrote probably half of the Psalms. As a boy he played his harp for King Saul to help him get some rest. Oh sure, we all remember some story about Bathsheba, but with all the great things God says about how much he loved David, he must have been a really great example right?
Well, let’s take a look at that: The young life of David was indeed quite the story, but David’s life turns into quite the confusing tale before too long. David’s first wife was named Michael, Now we think of Michael as a man’s name, but no; in the ancient Hebrew Michael is a girl’s name. King Saul planned for David to marry his eldest daughter, and arrangements were made for that to happen. But when it was discussed that the younger daughter, Michael, had a fondness for David, King Saul changed his arrangements and married-off Michael to David. Now, just because there was affection between the two, we shouldn’t assume that there was no transaction taking place. In fact, David paid for Michael with the foreskins of a hundred dead Philistines, of the 200 that David killed for King Saul. I can see the conversation now both of them looking at this pile of foreskins scratching their heads David saying “Do you want to count them?” King Saul saying, “No I’ll take your word for it.”
Michael loved David, and things were going well—considering Michael’s father, King Saul was trying to kill David at the time. Things headed downhill when David was up on his roof watching his next door neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba, take a bath, and decided he wanted her for himself. After seducing Bathsheba, and getting pregnant, David tried to get his neighbor Uriah to come home from war and sleep with his wife, so it might appear that Uriah had gotten his own wife pregnant. But Uriah chose to follow the ancient tradition of not having sex during time of War, so David finally resorted to having his generals send Uriah to the front lines, knowing that Uriah would be killed and, therefore, David would be able to take Bathsheba as his own. Got that, Murder to cover up adultery? Now he did go on to marry Bathsheba and have four more children with her, after this. In total we know of David having eight wives although the scripture says there were many; so scholars believe that only eight of those many wives were listed in Scripture.
The last straw for David’s first wife Michal was when David was dancing naked in the streets to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant. Michael couldn’t handle this kind of inappropriate celebration, so she married someone else.
No concubines are mentioned in scripture for David but it would be highly unlikely for someone at that time of his stature not to have any concubines. There was one other particularly awkward arrangement worth mentioning. It was believed in those days that the fertility of the land was a reflection of the fertility of the king. So, as David was around 70 years old, and in declining health, his advisors wanted to at least give the impression that the King was virile and active. So they found a 12 year old girl to play ‘nurse’ with the King, sleep with him, ‘keep him warm’ and at least give the impression that he was able to keep active sex life. Well, scripture tells us that nothing really happened. But life still ended badly for this young girl, She was killed because she was considered someone who could be a king-maker, upon any future marriage, so she was put to death rather than allowed to marry someone else.
As we all know King David was regarded as a man after God’s Own Heart, God’s favorite, and God’s anointed one. How can this be? How can God have thought so highly of David, when by all accounts, David seems to be the king of immoral behavior?
Do you want to know why monks are famous for making beer and wine? Sacramental wine is always the official answer, but the real reason monks brew is because of questions like this!
Now it gets worse before it gets better, in fact I’m not even sure it gets better but it does get worse: David’s childhood friend Jonathan is described in scripture as someone whom “David loved more than any woman.” Now, some scholars believe that indicates the David had intimate relations with Jonathan, in addition to being interested in women. That is not a majority opinion, but it is certainly an interpretation that has been around for a great deal of time. Especially given that in ancient times, men having sexual relationships with men did not imply the emotional relationship we think of now.
David wanted to be the one to rebuild the Temple, but God said no, that is the job of Solomon, David’s son from Bathsheba. While Solomon was busy being King, and rebuilding the temple, he seemed to find time to have 700 wives of of Royal birth, plus another 300 concubines.
All of this would have greatly upset Paul; but this all happened hundreds of years before Paul was around. And none of this speaks to the prostitution, on which Paul concentrated. Let’s go back even further. To the time after Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt; you remember when they Joshua led the marching around the walls of Jericho, as they were blowing their trumpets. The spies found a prostitute who was willing to help the Israelites take over the city. Rahab let a red rope out a window to aid the spies. Rahab married Salmon, of the tribe of Judah, she was the mother of Boaz. Which means that Rahab was a direct ancestor to David, and therefore Rehab the prostitute was a direct ancestor to Jesus. I’m sure the Apostle Paul was highly incensed about this, but I’m betting it probably didn’t bother Jesus.
I say that because one of the stories we read near the end of Christ’s earthly life is when a prostitute enters the house of Simon the leper, and pours a large bottle of perfume called nard [spikenard] on Jesus’ feet and proceeds to wash Jesus’ feet with her own hair and this perfume, which would have cost a Year’s wages, and for most people in those days. And while the disciples winced, Judas complained about the value lost in the perfume; but Christ commended her for doing what she could to prepare Him for burial. You’ve probably heard this story, and heard it was Mary Magdalene being the one who poured the perfume on Jesus. Scholars do not believe this to be accurate, nor do they believe it was Mary the sister of Martha, and brother of Lazarus was raised from the dead. Rather this is someone who listened to Christ’s teachings, but whose identity we don’t know.
Jesus was both renowned and ridiculed for hanging out with the lowest people in society those days; prostitutes, and tax collectors. Yet somehow both the ancient Church and the modern Church have a particular disdain for anything that can be construed as a sexual sin.
How do we attempt to reconcile these seemingly disparate interpretations? How do we deal with an ancient culture that has its own sexual mores and taboos; against a savior who spent time with these people?
How do we reconcile a modern society with its own hang-ups, its own proclivities, against a faith of inclusion. Especially considering we’re surrounded by other congregations in other denominations, who maintain a rigid intolerance for those whose appetites differ from theirs.
I don’t have the perfect answer. Like I said it’s questions like these that drive theologians to drink! The conservative Church simply says the law is the law; so everything else must be sin. Some on the theological left argue like Paul in our reading; that everything is allowed but not everything is good for me.
My question to those who like to argue such things, is “What was the purpose of the law?” Now, you might get different answers that question, but there is an official Seminary-approved answer to that question. The official answer to “what was the purpose of the law?” is: To show us that we could not live up to God’s expectations, and therefore must be saved through Christ. No one could keep every ceremonial law, every health law, and every cultural law. It was simply impossible. God needed a way to teach his people that it was impossible for them to be pure enough, correct enough, holy enough, to be able to come to God by ourselves. It is quite simply impossible to obey the entirety of the law. Christ came, and died in our place, to atone for our inadequacies, our sin, our inability to save ourselves. We were never expected to obey the law, we were expected fail it! It was Christ himself who summarized the law as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. All we’re expected to do is live up to just that part, as best we can; Christ has already taken care of everything else.