Tabernacle of Love (1 Corinthians 7:1-16) Old North Abbey Doug Floyd August 7, 2011 The stories of our age contain

the questions of our age. In novels, movies, theatre and more, we can listen to the longings, struggles and hopes of the culture. I happen to like science fiction and fascinated by some of the questions I see raised again and again in science fiction. Lately I've been watching Battlestar Galactica. The story begins with an attacks on the humans by cylons. Cylons are a robot race created by humans. They look and act like humans. After the attack, the humans remaining take flight into space on a series of ships. Battles continue back and forth with cylons. Soon we discover some cylons live amongst the humans and didn't even realize they were cylons at first. Some cylons form friendship with humans. Others are afraid. Some want war. Some want peace. As the show proceeds, the humans and the cylons as well go in search of the mythical planet earth. While the show raises many questions, two that stand out to me are "Who is a person?" And, "Where is home?" These two questions seem to appear in many sci-fi films and stories from Battlestar Galactica to Blade Runner to Star Wars to Eifelheim. Eifelheim is a novel by Michael Flynn. It's set in the fourteenth century in a village at the edge of the Black Forest called Oberhochwald in the midst of a world fighting the ravages of the black plague. At the edge of the little village, a space ship crashes and aliens known as Krenken emerge. They look like giant grasshoppers. As the story proceeds, some of the humans in the village learn how to communicate with the Krenken. In fact, the village priest Dietrich forms a friendship with them. When one of the Krenken want to be catechumen, Dietrich must ask hard questions like do they have a soul? Can they be catechized? Does God love them? He is asking "What does it mean to be a person?" Throughout the novel, the Krenken are trying to repair their ship, so they can return home. They are wondering, "How do I find my way home?" They questions continue to show up in stories because many people on our age are asking "What is a person?" And "How do I find my way home?" I think many of us know these questions. We may be asking things like, "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What am I going to do with my life?" "Where am I headed?" On one level, these are questions of identity and purpose.
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We live in a culture where identity is questioned on multiple levels. People change their bodies, join new groups, change names, change looks, seeking to express, discover an identity. Identity and purpose are bound up together, so often identity springs from the family we grow up in, or goals we strive for or the groups or tribes we join. In the midst of trying on identities, some thinkers tell us "You have no identity or purpose. You're only mask that you wear today." Who is a person? Where is home? I believe these questions connect with today's reading. In fact, they connect to the whole book of 1 Corinthians. Even as Paul corrects, he gives a vision of identity and purpose bound up in our relation to Christ and to one another. When Paul answers their questions about sex, he continues in this path. He speaks not as a moralist, reducing our faith down to a set of moral regulations. Nor does he speak as a theorist, offering a categorical imperative. He speaks as a man who knows what a person is because he has met one. The apostle Paul met the complete person on the road to Damascus. Jesus spoke to Paul as the Resurrected Christ, the Living One, the Perfect Person. He opened Paul's eyes and blinded him in the same instant. Even as Christ reveals Himself, we realize how much greater is the mystery than we imagined. After Paul meets Jesus Christ, his life, his identity, his direction is bound up in Christ. His past and future change. Paul the Pharisee who persecuted the church know realizes that he was called from the womb to follow Christ. In Christ, Paul discovers who he is and where he is going. He leaves everything behind to follow Christ. For Christ is leading him home. But what does this look like? Is Paul's encounter just a spiritual revelation that leads him on a spiritual quest? Not at all. Every aspect of Paul's life is transformed. Paul's way of thinking, way of acting, way of answering questions is re-oriented in and through Christ. Paul reads the Torah in and through Christ. Paul interprets the surrounding Hellenistic culture in and through Christ. He realizes like John that all things were created in and through Christ, and that our whole lives are bound up in Christ. For it is in Christ that we live and move and have our being. And that in the fullness of time, all things in heaven and on the earth will be united in Christ. In Christ, God and man are united. He is fully God and fully man, yet undivided and unconfused. It is our confession. And yet, it is a mystery. By His Spirit we know Christ, we confess Christ, we trust Christ, we live in Christ. And here's another aspect of this mystery. We are bound up together in Christ. When Paul writes to his various communities, he addresses them as family. Though they are not connected by blood, but he realizes that in a true
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and very real way, they are connect by the Spirit in Christ. At their very essence, they really are connected, related, bound together. They are one in Christ. In the 1 Corinthians reading for today, Paul turns his attention to marriage. I would suggest that the Risen Christ continues to inform Paul's understanding of marriage, of sex, of family. Paul is not simply using the concept of Christ to address these issues, he is writing in relation with Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are reading these Scriptures today as a people who are guided and taught by the Holy Spirit. So even as I speak, I trust the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts, guiding us into the truth. We live in relation to the Risen Christ by the Spirit, and it is by His Spirit that we confess Christ or know anything of love. Christ compels us to love, but what does that look like? In today's passage, we are looking at love within a marriage relation. Paul opens by addressing what they wrote. Verse one reads, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' Won't sex interfere with the spiritual movement toward God and higher things." In Plato's Dialogue with Gorgias, he address the power of sexual drive, he speaks to the power of eros. Eros drives us toward the beautiful, this drive in a relation between a man and a woman is understood to consummate in a sexual relationship. In Gorgias, Plato argues that it is better if the drive moves beyond the physical and toward the higher truth, the higher wisdom, and the higher life. While Plato raises an interesting question about the transformation of eros, he does so at the expense of physical, sexual love. The Corinthians seem to be thinking like Plato. Paul rejects this false dichotomy and underlines the importance sex and sexuality. He writes, Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
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Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 1
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Paul defends and emphasizes sexuality in the relationship. Even though he makes an allowance for a short separation for a limited time, as an act of devotion. Verse 6 has sometimes been connected to verse 7 in way that indicates that Paul is allowing for sexual intimacy as a concession, but actually that would go against his whole argument. Gordon Fee and others suggest that when Paul says, "Now as a concession, not a command, I say this," he is making a concession to those who believe they need to abstain sexually for a season as an act of spiritual devotion. It is clear from his broader argument that Paul does not believe this abstinence is necessary, so as a concession he will allow that but not require it. Then in verse 7 Paul says, "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." Paul indicates his celibacy is a charism. It is a grace gift from God given out for the rest of the body. But in the same breath he says, "one of one kind and one of another," indicating that marriage is also a charism. Some have the gift of celibacy for the body of Christ, others have the gift of marriage for the body of Christ. And if one has the gift of marriage, then sexual relationship is part of that marriage. And notice, he never mentions procreation. He defends sexuality as an act within the relationship itself. This is a defense of erotic desire and delight. When Paul suggests the temptation to sexual immorality, he reveals the power of this desire. We encounter this desire in the Song of Solomon. This book offers a full celebration of the sexuality between a man and a woman. Sadly, we're so afraid of sex, this book is often reduced to only an allegory abut the saint and God. This book is so much more. But the desire goes all the way back to the Creation story. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and 1 The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 7:5–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible
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brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:15-23) Man is not designed to be alone. he is designed with needs and a drive that only woman can fulfill. Paul does not simply leave this as man, but he points out that the woman also has need of the man. Before I leave the Genesis story, let me point out a rhythm that should help make sense of Paul's admonition. The Lord God puts man and woman in the Garden. He creates them with needs and he meet those needs. He gives them food. He gives them one another. Eden is a world of gift. In the gift received, the needs of man and woman are met. Hunger creates need. The gift of the trees meet that need. Now I would suggest that gifts meet needs in a way that is deeper than simply the physical need. The trees are a gift from God. In receiving the gift, man and woman receive a tangible expression of the love from their Creator. They receive provision and behind the provision affirmation of relation, and ultimately an affirmation of who they are as people. They are dependent. They are blessed. They are loved. When Adam and Eve are tempted to take what is not given, they deny gift. They reduce their needs to physical and even intellectual but not relation for they'e denied the relation to the Creator. Food and sex and sunshine and all the things we need to survive are more than just physical gifts meeting physical needs. They are gift of relation that sustain us as persons on multiple levels. Now back to today's passage. Paul tells the husband to render unto the wife the affection due her, and likewise the wife to the husband. Some translations speaks of "conjugal rights." By inserting the word "rights," they may give a nuance in today's world that is alien to the gifting world revealed in Genesis and in Jesus. The husband and the wife are created with needs of affection. The language of "rights" comes close to suggesting that they can take this need because it is owed them. But the image Paul gives is in telling the husband not to deny the wife and the wife not to deny the husband. In other words, the responsibility is on the giver.
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Instead of rights, we must think of gift. Intimacy is gift. Paul is exhorting husbands and wife to give freely of themselves to one another. By over spiritualizing, they may deny intimacy, but deny much more at the same time. For in giving of themselves, they are giving precious fruit that is lifegiving. They are affirming relationship, love, identity, even place. Home is not simply the place where I live, it is the person who I am bound to. Let me back up to help us revisit this idea of gift in relation. Instead of a man and woman. Let's think of a family. A mother and a child in particular. From what I understand, the newborn's gaze has a limited focus of just few inches. Enough for the baby to focus on the mother's face while nursing. In this initial time of bonding, the mother is meeting the baby's need for nutrients, but so much more is happening. The baby is welcomed into this world. The baby is confined in the mother's grasp, giving the baby a sense of safety. The mother's voice soothes the baby. The baby is affirmed as person and safe at home. Now back to the husband and wife. Just as the baby had to learn how to speak, the husband and wife must learn the language of intimacy. This is not a language they learn from a book. But from one another. It is the most difficult and most delightful language they will ever learn. Difficult because they will never stop learning. Delightful because it will change and glorify them and help them discover who they really are. Here's a different way to approach this idea. Think for a moment of the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. The Tabernacle is designed with three designated areas of relation: outer court, inner court, and holy of holies. The people come to the Outer Court, the priests serve in the Inner Court, and the high priest goes into the Holy of Holies. There are veils that seal off the Inner Court and Holy of Holies. Behind each veil, the priests are also unveiled in a sense before the Holy God. In the Holy of Holies, the high priest is completely exposed. It is both glorious and dangerous. He reveals the secrets of the people and he may hear the secrets of God, and he may die. Now think of a house. We build a house around relationships. The house guards the family from weather, strangers, and wild animals, but it also provides a place of privacy for relationships to form and develop. If someone knocks on our door, we may not invite them inside, or we may choose to invite them. In the living room, we may introduce ourselves (revealing our names), listen to their story and even become friends. A level of intimacy is possible in the living room.

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We can invite into a deeper intimacy by inviting into the dining room. As we eat together and drink together, more veils come down. We share more stories. We become more vulnerable, more exposed. The dinner table is a place of forming life long friends. Different rooms in the house provide place for deeper levels of intimacy where veils can come down and we can give of ourselves to one another. The master bedroom might be likened to the Holy of Holies. It is a place where all veils come down: outer and inner veils. It is easy to take off clothes and expose ourselves to one another in love. It is far riskier to remove our inner veils as well. The bedroom is a place for sharing secrets, sharing love, sharing life. It is a guarded place. To protect the intimacy between a husband and wife, it must be physical closed as well as verbally closed. We don't speak of it because it is a holy place. Where secrets are guarded with our lives. Lucinda Williams sings, "All I ask is that you don't tell anyone the secrets that I told you." The secrets shared are treasures never to be exposed. In this place of safety, Christ meets in our spouse, our lover. He meets our needs at multiple level. This dangerous place can become a place of absolute safety, of trust, of rest. In this place of gift-giving, we learn who we are and where is open. The unbridled urge of eros is transformed by the ever faithful agape. We learn to become lovers in all ways. And from this well of love, we learn to become gift givers to our world. Thus marriage truly does become a charism for the body of Christ. For those called and gifted in celibacy, God can meet their needs in friendship and other ways. In Paul, we see eros transformed through agape into the passion for planting churches, teaching God's people and establishing the kingdom. Both marriage and celibacy are gifts of the good God who has called us to be gift givers. As Paul ends this passage he suggests that the believing wife should stay with the unbelieving husband, and the believing husband should stay with the unbelieving wife. He concludes by asking, "For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" 2 (vs 16). The power of gracious giving of oneself to the other by the grace of God may heal wounded hearts, may open closed minds, may prepare a way for the

2 The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 7:16). Wheaton: Standard Bible
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gospel to take root. The spirit of this passage speaks to all our lives about giving and loving those around us freely. Let me close with a poem by Bobi Jones. He is Welsh poet born in 1929. All through his life, he has been writing praise poems to trees, to the land, the culture, but most of all to his wife. He continues to write songs of love to his wife. In one place he tells her, "The secret of safely burying thoughts is all the ways I love you." The Whole and Shebang and Beti (lines in the Vale of Glamorgan) I In every tree in Glamorgan I see your lovely face. There where the leaves are a peacock, your eyes are following. I watch the bark form your smile. The green luster Beams you on the air-waves like the chords of a harp; And all the trees beyond the South are a stirring of song, Overburdening each other with the tongues of your mirth Till it reaches this spot, an ode of praise. The lore Of your sap and your sunshine people each corner of the province. Back, forth, among bubbles. Lord, the enchantment! And tranquil. Down in the reeds. Tadpoles there Are moving through your purity. My wandering darling, Your infinity is gathered from afar in the lake of each minute: Let the current of my kisses rise to follow them back to that spot. II Wherever I turn, I retain your movements, The way you slip through a crowd, your posture as you place A dish on the table, your walk as you go upstairs; All are embroidered on my retina. So outstanding to me Is the curve of your elbow, I’d be reckoned foolish If I related my memory of it here in Pendulwyn. Neither curlew with its cataract nor song-thrush with its fountain Fails to sing your nature, fails to furnish your feast. Once upon a time we were joined: you are my treasure. I am your burden: you are my support. I am your poor hovel: your are my door-keeper. You are the hills and the vale overflowing with milk And honey: I the solitude where you went lost. And you, You are all my people….World reality, and illusion.3 Here is part of one of the more recent poems he wrote to her:
3 Bobi Jones, "The Whole Shebang and Bete." Selected Poems, translated by Joseph P. Clancy. Christopher Davies Publishers Ltd, 1987 (p.p. 75-76). Doug Floyd, August 7, 2011, 8

Before I was born You were established To love me. Before you were born There was long moaning In the waiting To give myself to the hidden one, The tranquil you, The centre of you, the unmarried core, With that vapor which once was given Which has always been. And after I was born To recognize you— Your very self, to Learn about you, our Lord concealed Himself Dancing And binding Himself In you because I Love encountering Him in the other you are.4 In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

4 Bobi Jones, "Ma Bete." Selected Poems, translated by Joseph P. Clancy. Christopher Davies Publishers Ltd, 1987 (p.p. 247-248). Doug Floyd, August 7, 2011, 9

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