Second Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 Corinthians 6:11-20
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Let’s talk about sex.
It’s not often that I start a sermon with a title of a song by Salt-N-Pepa, but I do so to break the ice a little as it is just as uncomfortable for me to talk to you about sex as it is for you to hear me talk about it. Broadly speaking, in The Episcopal Church, we tend not to talk about sexual ethics in church, especially from the pulpit. But frankly, sex is part of the human experience, and it is so powerful that beyond our bodies, it is intertwined with our emotions as well as our souls.
We are not the first Christians to grapple with how our faith affects our sexual behavior. In the epistle lesson, we hear St. Paul chide the Christians living at Corinth for their sexual immorality. In Paul’s day, Corinth was a Roman colony in modern-day Greece. Most maritime trade between Rome and modern-day Turkey passed through this port city, making it both powerful and wealthy. As a seaport, it had its share of prostitutes, and the multitude of foreign religions present brought with it a multitude of religious viewpoints on sex.
Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians who they are in Christ: “you were washed,” he says, “you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” This is the lens through which we should see the rest of the passage, which is only tangentially about sex.
Scholars believe that the Corinthian church used this as a slogan: “All things are lawful for me,” and that they were using the freedom given to them by God at baptism to justify sleeping with prostitutes and promiscuity in general. Paul doesn’t discredit their slogan, but clarifies that just because we’ve been set free in Christ, that doesn’t mean that life is a free for all. In other words, just because it’s permissible doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.
He continues by addressing another slogan of the Corinthian Church: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” which they were apparently using to say something like, “Our bodies are made for sex, so we’ll have sex with whomever we wish.” He makes an analogy suggesting that the relationship between stomachs and food is comparable to the relationship between the Lord and our bodies. That is, the intimate, indwelling relationship of food to the stomach points to a similarly intimate and indwelling relationship between Lord and human bodies. In fact, this intimacy between the Lord and our bodies is so strong – so deep – that it’s like the physical intimacy experienced in marriage when the two become one flesh. And not only is it a physical, bodily intimacy, he says “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” He continues with this connection between the spirit and the flesh when he tells the Corinthians that their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. 
Because we were washed and sanctified and justified by God in Christ, because our Lord came to redeem us as whole human beings – our spirits and our bodies, because we were created in God’s image, we should use the freedom we’ve been given to treat the other person we want to have sex with as if they are loved by God just as much as we are. Our bodies are not our own but are a gift from God and a part of Christ’s body. Therefore, our sexual behavior can glorify or dishonor God. Fornication – whether it be sex with a prostitute, or being promiscuous – is wrong, not because it is a naughty thing to do and it makes God mad, but because it is physical without a spiritual union. It dishonors God because it dishonors the dignity of the other person who was made in the image of God just as you were.
Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wraps all of this up more explicitly when he says, “All things are permitted, but not all things are beneficial; all things are permitted, but not all things edify. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.”
Let us give thanks to God for washing, sanctifying, and justifying us in Christ. Let us give thanks for the freedom we’ve been given as Christians. And let us ask him for the grace to glorify him with our souls and bodies, and value others above ourselves in everything that we do, including in our sexual behavior. Amen.
 This silly introduction is not of my own creation! Thanks to Fathers Jacob Smith and Aaron Zimmerman for their podcast on today’s lections (see Same Old Song, accessed January 16, 2021).
 Melanie Howard, Working Preacher, accessed January 16, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-1-corinthians-612-20-5
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 258.
 1 Corinthians 10:23-24.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!