• Steven Marsh

Worshipping–Back To Our First Love: a Reflection on Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Joh

Author M. Scott Peck observes that our tendency as humans is to justify unhealthy behavior by naming it “natural.” Peck reveals the argument’s foundational flaw: “Calling it natural does not mean it is essential or beneficial or unchangeable behavior. It is also natural to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth. Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until the unnatural itself becomes second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural.”[1] Our lectionary readings teach us to do the “unnatural.” Psalm 139, 1 Samuel 3 and John 1 remind us, we are fearfully and wonderfully made[2], the Lord is always with us[3], and Jesus calls to us to follow him.[4] The text in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 confirms that factionalism, incest, litigation in civil court, and fornication are not natural and we should do otherwise.

On this Second Sunday After The Epiphany, we examine societal and personal difficulties that arise from a misplaced love which finds its roots in an incorrect understanding of freedom. Misplaced love is not “natural.” Eugene Eung-Chun Park writes, “The present passage registers Paul’s disagreement with a philosophical position about human freedom that was apparently advocated by some members of the Corinthian church and served as a theoretical basis for going to prostitutes freely.”[5]  You remember Thomas Steagald’s statement on the meaning of Epiphany: “Epiphany unveils, proclaims, celebrates God’s gifts to all people.”[6]  A misunderstood “freedom in Christ” most certainly veils, squelches, and demeans the light and gifts of God in the world. Mark Labberton, the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, reminds us that understanding our freedom in Christ requires returning to our first love. Labberton writes, “The context of human life is to be communion with God, one another and the world in which we are honored to live as God’s stewards. But that is not the choice Adam and Eve made or that we make. We recast our relation to God, thereby changing what it means to be human. As God indicated, we were meant for life but chose death. Our self-serving response to God alters everything.”[7] Worship is our demonstration of being free in Christ. We obediently come into our Creator’s presence. We give God praise and listen to God shape and send us into his world for witness in word and deed.

The freedom we have, and it is a gift, is to serve God’s ends not our own. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 makes that abundantly clear in two ways. First, freedom without responsibility is not freedom. Yes, we are free in issues of disagreement, litigation, and sexual relations. However, when we remove responsibility i.e. the possibility of discord as normative, using the courts to solve problems, and objectifying our bodies and those of others, we succumb to a definition of freedom that cheapens God’s grace and emboldens our selfish desire to want what we want when we want it. And second, because of our union with Christ there are implications for daily living. Corinth was known as a licentious city. Prostitution was a common practice, among Christian and non-Christian alike, and accepted as natural behavior, for the prostitute and the client. Or take the temple to Asclepius. It was a healing center for the city’s elite. Much like a country club, only those who had wealth could participate and the lavish parties and galas fostered a tendency for social climbing to which Christians desired to participate. Jesus is with us in all that we do each and every day.

Wanting what we want when we want it, an inaccurate definition of freedom, really is a master to whom we’ve become obedient. And more often than not, the consequences of such irresponsibility are detrimental to us and others. We do not live in Corinth. We live in societal systems, which are “Corinth on steroids.” We struggle with temptations of the flesh every day. And we rationalize our misbehaviors as “natural” developing new beliefs and mistakenly calling them Christian.

Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price, so all consideration of self-autonomy goes out the window. Richard B. Hays, Professor of New Testament at The Divinity School, Duke University writes, “We are not free to do anything we like, not free to invent our own standards, not free to behave as moral ‘free agents.’ We are bound to a relationship of obedient faithfulness to Christ.”[8] Freedom in Christ is both a matter of the individual and the church. We must be about obedient faithfulness to Jesus Christ. The church is made up of individuals. How the lives of the church’s individuals go, so goes the church. And how the church goes determines its witness to justice and evangelistic outreach.

Paul called the Christians in Corinth back to their first love, Jesus. And I do the same. Let us be faithfully obedient to Jesus Christ.

[1]M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled (New York City, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), 53.

[2]Psalm 139:14a

[3]1 Samuel 3:10

[4]John 1:43

[5]Eugene Eung-Chun Park in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 255.

[6]Thomas R. Steagald in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1, 207.

[7]Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 75.

[8]Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997), 109.

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