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January 17, 2021

“For Our Benefit”

(From 1Corinthians 6: 12-20)

 All things are lawful for me [Paul], but not all things are beneficial.  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. (1 Cor. 6: 1, 19-20 NRSV).

     The Corinth of the Apostle Paul’s time was a complex city of diversities and conflicting ideologies.  Corinth, after all, was a booming and cosmopolitan port city in Greece.  It housed many temples dedicated to Ancient Gods and Goddesses, such as the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, as well as a Synagogue that was established by its Jewish inhabitants.  Due to this diversity of Corinth’s inhabitants and culture, the Corinthian Church, which Paul founded and shepherded, was prone to adopting wrongful beliefs and practices.  Their wrongful beliefs centered on a misunderstanding regarding God’s grace and their salvation.  You see, many Corinthians believed that because they were now saved by and under the protection of God’s “grace,” they no longer had any obligation to practice moral behavior. With their immortal soul saved, they considered their earthly body of no consequence to them.  Therefore indulging in sexual immorality with prostitutes, as was common among the popular culture of Corinth, was also a common practice in the Corinthian Church.  Paul’s letter, as we read in our lesson this morning, sought to put the Church right regarding both of these misconceptions—for their benefit.

   When it came to understanding God’s grace, the Corinthian Church had believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and were justified, or saved, by their faith.  The scriptures tell us that the Church had received many “gifts of the Holy Spirit” as a result of their faith.  What they were lacking was an understanding of ongoing work of the Holy Spirit both in and through them after receiving salvation by grace.  This process of growth through the in-working of the Holy Spirit is called sanctification; and it is an essential part a believer’s life—long journey of faith.  Our Forefather, John Wesley, understood the necessity for the ongoing process of sanctification in the life of the believer, and he called it going on to perfection through personal spiritual holiness.  For Wesley, the ultimate proof of the believer’s salvation was made evident through an ever-increasing practice of holy living.  Therefore, the Corinthian’s allowing themselves to indulge in immorality was contrary to their ever growing in holiness through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s love for the Corinthians prompted him to correct this misunderstanding, and the Church’s corresponding misdeeds. Paul did this for their benefit.

     Church, in many ways, we are living in a time and culture much like that of Paul and the Corinthian Church.  Perhaps our modern practices of immorality have taken on different faces, but the pervasive culture of our day is just as damaging to our sanctification process, our growth into holiness by the in-working of the Holy Spirit.  As your pastor, your spiritual shepherd, I feel an obligation to remind us, as Paul reminded the Corinthian Church, just who we are and whose we are.  I am doing this for our benefit. This year, as we celebrate and remember the life and work of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior against the persistent culture of racism, we do so amid some of the most racially divisive times of our lives.  As followers of Christ Jesus, and those commanded to be the bearers of his love and light in our world, we must hear again his powerful words, and then take up the mantle of this cause by using our power to advocate for racial equality, opportunity and justice for all of God’s people.  So, today, I speak the words of Dr. King’s August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, as a call to action for those of faith.  Let this year be the one where we turn the tide from systemic racism in our country to equality of opportunity to all of the means of quality of life for everyone, for people of every nation, race, and color.  Instead of a nation of exclusion, may we, instead, grow to become a nation that celebrates all of the wonderful diversity we have in God’s creation.  And, so I share some excerpts from Dr. King’s words with you today:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

On this Martin Luther King celebration Sunday, Amen—let it be so.