The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s114e09 Epiphany 2 18/1/2009

'shun fornication' 1 Cor 6.18

There are only a few persons whose sins are described in the Old Testament.

Off the top of my head they are the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah who bullied anyone who happened to come into their town (Genesis 18.20). Then there was Onan who refused to impregnate his brother's widow so that she could perpetuate his dead brother's line ­ and give some meaning and purpose to his sister-in-law. The Lord killed him (Genesis 38.9). More notorious was King David's affair with Bathsheba, where the issue was probably not the affair itself but David's contriving to have her husband, Uriah, killed. Perhaps least well known was the sin of Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli ­ the very same Eli when the boy Samuel had his visitation from the Lord ­ the account of which we read in today's Old Testament lesson. The sons of Eli presumed that they would inherit the priesthood from their father and had essentially done so. However they treated 'ordinary' worshippers with contempt ­ picking out the best bits of the animal sacrifices for their own consumption. The other thing they did, apparently, was lie with the women who served at the entrance to the temple (1 Samuel 2.22). This always seemed to me to be a rather strange place to commit fornication :-)! We miss out reading what the Lord said to Samuel, but it was actually a condemnation of Hophni and Phinehas, and when their father pressed Samuel to tell him what God had said - he readily acknowledged the fault of his own sons and the rightness of the coming punishment.

It should not escape our notice that when prophecy is given to someone the person usually will know the rightness of it.

Treating others with contempt ­ using one's position of power and authority to demean others ­ this was the sin of Hophni and Phinehas. Treating the offerings of others as something for their own benefit ­ picking out the good bits, and throwing the rest away.

It is interesting to me that each of these examples of sin is really about treating others with contempt, acting deliberately, implying that the other person's feelings are of no importance, that others are essentially expendable. And how often have we heard the church consign those who do not live like us, believe like us and worship like us ­ to eternal damnation? For all we might think we are proclaiming a God of love to others, how do we do this when we consider others essentially (and eternally) expendable? If the sacraments essentially delineate who is eternally saved and who is eternally damned, and we use the sacraments to reinforce this perception, are we not acting much differently from bullies like the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, Onan, King David and Hophni and Phinehas?

Let me state quite definitively that Jesus was hardly crucified for reasserting the desirability for personal morality, and it is hardly likely that this is on the top of St Paul's agenda either. Recently a churchman has spoken out against females bathing and sun-baking topless on New South Wales beaches and images of mothers breastfeeding on 'Facebook' banned. I don't have issue with public morality - I mean where will it end? But we don't need to invoke God, Jesus or the church. The Corinthian Church was not really a hotbed of sexual immorality ­ though there was an instance of incest (1 Cor 5.1).

I thought about the times when Jesus was questioned: 'By what authority' do you do these things? By what authority did Jesus tear down the religious and theological façade that included the acceptable and excluded the rest? For if our religion is about delineating the acceptable from the outcast and the inclusion of the former and the exclusion of the later, then we are no less bullies than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, & etc. This façade needs to be torn down ­ especially if it is done in the name of the divine!

St Paul's primary thrust is against treating others with contempt and that is certainly far wider that in our personal intimate relationships. I have no doubt that when St Paul talks about honouring God with our body, he is talking as much about the body of the Church as he is referring to our human bodies. It is not insignificant that Eli warns his sons: 'If someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession?' (1 Sam 2.25) St Paul puts it more positively: 'You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body' (1 Cor 6.20).

St Paul's words, that even if you happen to be right it is better not to go to court, it is better to let yourself be cheated (1 Cor 6.8) surely refer to the body corporate more than an individual's gripes.

It is entirely counter-productive for the church to think how right it is declaring how immoral others are, and yet not seeing that by judging others they are treating others as 'beyond the pale'. Essentially the church would look down on their offerings and only approve of the offering from those who are acceptable to them.

Sadly the church uses the text 'shun fornication' to determine how, when and with whom (other) people can express their intimate affections with someone else. There is good sense in being careful when it comes to expressing one's intimate affections for people continue to be hurt when these are not reciprocated in a respectful manner. But this is again something which good sense suggests, it is not something which needs the Lord's command. When hormones run riot, certainly common-sense can go out the door, but when a relationship does not last it is not the end of the world. It does not deserve the disapprobation of the 'christian' community - for such things happen with a desire to love - not to demean another. But how many people, and usually young ladies, have been demeaned by the church using these words?

And the desire to determine how, when and with whom (other ­ and predominantly female) people can express their intimate affections with someone else is a convenient way to ensure that children contract relationships with 'suitable' others who subscribe to 'our' values ­ which is essentially using another for one's own benefit. And this is not so very far removed from bullying.

The old idea of the father of the bride 'giving away' his daughter in marriage reinforces this (presumed) power over the (particularly female) child.

So the words 'shun fornication' are not directed to 14 to 21 year olds ­ they are directed towards all people, to treat others with courtesy and respect. We, as the church are in a position of authority and responsibility and that must be exercised with a good deal of restraint when it comes to young people and a far greater deal of rigour when it comes to adults. Child molesters frequently blame their young victims for their actions. Sadly people do contract unhealthy relationships but they usually hurt only themselves, but when the church and faith communities treat others with contempt ­ in the name of some god or other ­ then all hell breaks loose on a far wider scale. Wars are the result and it is the multitude of the poor and innocent who bear the brunt of this sort of conflict.

We dismiss these words by directing them towards young people at our own peril and the peril of all society.

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