Reading Ramblings – July 3, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016 – The 6th Commandment

Texts: Exodus 20:14; Psalm 51; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Matthew 5:27-30

Context: **We continue in our alternate lectionary selections for most of the remainder of the 2016 liturgical calendar. Readings are selected to help preach through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.**

God’s plan for sexual intimacy involves one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship. While Scripture describes certain other arrangements (polygamy, such as Abraham with Sarah and Haggar; extra-marital affairs such as David & Bathsheba), it endorses only this one, starting with the creation account and continuing throughout the rest of Scripture. Other situations – additional spouses, extra-marital sexual relations – ultimately end up being sources of problems. And while lifelong monogamy may have difficulties as broken, sinful people, it remains even in our sinful and fallen condition the best possible situation for sexual intimacy.

Exodus 20:14 – Sexuality is a gift from God designed for the safety of a lifelong marriage relationship between one man and one woman. Sexual behavior under any other context is dangerous to both parties, dangerous to their families and society at large. It creates risks and fears which diminish the shared joy of the act, and multiply the possibilities of complications that directly affect the larger society (disease, unwanted pregnancy, jealousy, marginalization of women and children, etc.) Jewish scholars disagree as to whether this commandment is limited to actual adultery – sex with another person’s spouse – or encompasses any sexual behavior with anyone you are not married to. Within the larger context of Scripture, and throughout Christian interpretation, the latter is heavily favored.

Psalm 51 – This psalm is attributed to David in repentance after adultery with Bathsheba. Much has and should be written about this moving psalm! It is a deeply personal prayer of repentance. It does not petition for help against any adversary – the only enemy in this psalm is the sin and guilt of the author/speaker. In the depths of guilt we give voice to our firm hope of salvation, forgiveness. In the stain of sin we call on the God who can indeed wash us whiter than snow. We call upon the God who alone is capable of creating a clean and new heart within us, replacing our sinful and broken and scarred heart with the heart of his Son. It is a psalm of hope and confidence in the midst of otherwise crippling guilt.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – Paul has already addressed inappropriate sexuality in Chapter 5, but returns to that topic here. How is our freedom in Christ to be exercised? Are we truly free, or are there limitations? Paul is apparently quoting from some communication from the Corinthian Christians which forms the basis for this letter from Paul. “All things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” are likely quotes from this earlier communique, which Paul addresses and refutes here.

From the beginning, the wild generosity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led some to argue that they are now free to do whatever they like. They take the freedom of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ to mean an elimination of the Law of God and the justification for self-indulgence. Since it is not possible to out-sin the forgiveness we have been given in Christ, we should go ahead and enjoy our grace to the fullest! Paul argues here – as elsewhere in his letters – that such an attitude is a complete misunderstanding of what we receive in Jesus Christ, and who we are being made into day-by-day by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

Certainly, all things can be forgiven in Christ, but those things contrary to the will of God are not helpful in our sanctification. Certainly we can enjoy the pleasures of life, but we need to be aware of the power of those pleasures to enslave us to sin. We are not enslaved to the Law in fear, but rather we seek to conform ourselves to the Law as the best illustration of the people we are made in Christ, and will one day fully be. Yes, our bodies are intended for physical pleasure, but only within the context that God has defined. We have been made part of the body of Christ, and we are to consider ourselves and our actions within that context. So it is that we are to flee from sinfulness as we discover it and encounter it. Particularly in the realm of sexual sin, the impact of that sin is primarily directed inward to ourselves, is actually a part of ourselves. We might speak in anger and the words leave us. Sexual sin remains firmly attached to our physical selves, impacting not just our bodies but our minds and hearts and spirits.

We are to consider ourselves as what we are – slaves to Christ. Bought with a price – his blood. We are not free to dictate the terms of our lives arbitrarily. As slaves, we are obedient to the Word of God made flesh, the Word of God incarnate, who is consistent with the Word of God in Holy Scripture and through which we have been saved! If Scripture forbids it, our Lord Jesus forbids it. If our Lord and Savior is opposed to it, we can trust that it is something dangerous and harmful to ourselves and others.

Matthew 5:27-30 – Having destroyed the first refuge of those seeking to prove their worth through the Law – at least I haven’t murdered anyone! – Jesus now destroys the next most likely refuge (at least in his day, if not in ours!) – at least I haven’t had sex with anyone other than my spouse! Those inclined to see themselves as obedient to this commandment will be similarly shocked to learn that it is not just the actions of the body that constitute disobedience, but the waywardness of our minds.

In a culture where pornography runs rampant, this commandment is broken at younger and younger ages, resulting in profound physical and psychological problems. Yet there is no cultural recognition of this reality despite scientific studies. In an age where sexuality is a right and privilege to be enjoyed so long as those participating are consenting, this command is jarring, discordant with the cultural demands for sexual liberty and indulgence. How can it be that a 3500-year old moral code can be relevant to such a ‘modern’ and ‘enlightened’ and ‘secularized’ culture?

It remains relevant because it is how we were created. It works because, contrary to insistence to the contrary, there are particular contexts and situations in which things work better than in others. We might stamp our feet and demand that this should not be so, but across human culture and geography and history, we are shown that it remains true. Love has a proper context. It is not perfect because we are not perfect. We chafe against it because we are sinful, not because it is unreasonable. And the unreasonability is in the idea itself, not simply the act. As with the previous commandment against murder and all of the commandments, sin exists not just in the action of our bodies but in the mind and hear and with the first imagining of the act. This is the sin, whether or not the imaginings are ever acted upon or not. Sin is not what we do, sin is who we are.

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