This is a sermon for the second Sunday after Epiphany. The Scripture it references is 1st Corinthians 6:12-20.
I had to make a decision this week. I’ve signed up to one of the local gyms, and a couple of times a week I try to get to one of their group classes. (It’s nice to have goals about being healthier and fitter, isn’t it?) Anyway. So I turned up to the class I usually go to, to discover that they’ve cancelled that class and replaced it with yoga. And so the helpful staff member I spoke to suggested I stay for yoga.
I must have seemed less than enthusiastic about that, and he seemed surprised that I wouldn’t jump at the chance, so I had to explain. I can’t do yoga for religious reasons. I can’t, as a Christian, participate in what is fundamentally a Hindu worship practice, even if it has become the darling of the “spiritual but not religious” wellbeing movement.
Anyway, the point about that is not really to carry on about yoga, but to illustrate the idea that sometimes, saying “yes” to God means saying “no” to something else.
That’s part of what Paul was talking about in our reading from Corinthians today. For him, the issue wasn’t yoga but prostitution; but his argument about why you can’t run around having a good time with prostitutes is that you can’t “become one” with something that’s incompatible with God, at the same time as “becoming one” with God. Because “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”
The thing about this “becoming one spirit” with God, though, is that it helps us to understand what salvation really means. Salvation is an immense gift, but sometimes we’re tempted to think of it only in terms of what happens after we die (getting into heaven, or at least, staying out of hell). But what Paul is trying to get across here is that salvation isn’t just about that; it’s a fundamental re-shaping of our lives now, so that our lives become a participation in the life of God.
Last week we thought a bit about baptism and what it means for us, this sacramental reality of dying and rising with Christ. And I say sacramental because I want to say something stronger than “symbolic;” we know that people don’t physically die in the font, as if I were to drown them, but something real is happening in them nonetheless. Their story and Christ’s story, their life and Christ’s life, are being joined together in a way that can never fully be separated. They are beginning to participate in the life of God; they are becoming one spirit with God.
The body is not meant for fornication but for the Lord, Paul said in today’s reading; and elsewhere he refers to our bodies as “weapons of righteousness;” a weapon is wielded with a purpose, and the implication of Paul’s words is that God wields – or at least sends – us into the world with a purpose, too; one that shouldn’t be undermined by getting involved in things incompatible with that purpose.
This all means that becoming one spirit with God – participating in God’s very life – is ultimately about action. About being in the world, doing the things God would have us do.
As this is what it means to be Christian, then we can’t say that Christian belief or faith is just a matter of assenting to the Creed (without crossing your fingers), or even trusting God’s goodness. It has to be more than that; a taking up or embrace of our whole being into God’s being in such a radical way that we consistently act as living extensions of God in our world. That’s what it means that we have died and yet have been raised to new life; it is a new life; the life of God, with its priorities and loves and joys.
In his other letter to the Corinthians (well, the other one that we still have, anyway), Paul puts it this way: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Participating in God’s new creation – becoming one spirit with God – means our transformation; and in different places in his letters Paul talks about how that transformation means we become the glory and the righteousness and the justice of God; ultimately we become the image of God; the image of God that we were originally created to be, before sin and the fall meant our alienation and disfiguration from that image. So we become like Christ – the perfect image of the invisible God – by participating in the life of Christ.
And here’s the thing: all of this points us towards mission. To be transformed into the image of God revealed in Christ; to participate in God’s new creation and to become God’s righteousness; to discern and do God’s will; to present our bodies to God as a temple for the Holy Spirit, and as weapons to be wielded for his purposes; all of these things mean that we are meant to be in service to what God is up to in the world.
Becoming one spirit with God means that God’s purposes become our purposes, and God’s priorities become our priorities. God’s mission becomes our mission. Those of us who believe the gospel and are baptised enter into a life of participation in God’s mission, along with all the other people who have also entered into that life.
That means that our salvation, our renewal in Christ is not the point; it’s not an end in itself. It’s part of a much broader and deeper divine agenda; to bring together a body of people who participate in the new creation, doing God’s will in the world.
And let me push this just a little bit further; this is for all Christians. Not just for the clergy or the particularly educated or gifted. But each Christian person, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, participates in the new creation; and carries out a living witness to the gospel. This is what it means to be part of the church; every single person has a part to play in the mission of God.
Do you know what your part is, today? Do you feel equipped for it? If not, what do you need in the way of equipping? (That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. My role in this mission is to see to it that you are equipped; so if you see that your knowledge or skill or confidence is lacking in some way, tell me; and together we’ll find a way to work on that).
But to come back around to the prostitutes – or the yoga – this is why Paul says “no.” Not because it’s a matter of being a puritanical killjoy, but because it’s incompatible with the mission. To exploit a woman’s body for pleasure does nothing to recognise or honour her as an image of God, or to encourage her towards becoming a co-worker with you in God’s purposes for our world. To worship another god – even at a distance – detracts from my ability to participate fully in God’s life, God’s purposes and God’s mission.
“Anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” It is a process of becoming; we grow into it over time. But what I wonder now, is where do we need to grow into it some more, here in this parish, in order for us to live that out most fully? What needs to happen for us to move another step closer to being one spirit with the Lord? I leave that with you to reflect on.