Rev. George Miller
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
Jan 22, 2012
From time to time, inquisitive people will ask me how I decide what to preach on each Sunday. Does the denomination dictate it or do I choose the scripture on my own?
More often then not, my answer is “The Lectionary”, or as it’s officially known “The Revised Common Lectionary.”
Simply put, a group of religious leaders and scholars got together and created a cycle of readings arranged in such a way that the major themes of the Bible can be covered in 3 years.
So each week there are anywhere from 4 to 6 suggested scriptures, from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Poets, the Gospels and the Epistles.
The Lectionary is helpful in keeping preachers on track, ensuring that congregations get to hear the full sweep of the biblical narrative and allowing a diversity of voices to be heard.
However, as inclusive as the Lectionary tries to be, it still leaves a lot out.
For example, today we heard this rather interesting piece from 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, but truth be told, the Lectionary only suggested we read verses 29-31.
“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those with wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealing with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”
Short and lovely, not to mention good news for those men who have grown a little weary of their maidens.
Yet, if we had just read the 3 suggested verses we would have missed all this mish-mash about virgins and impending crises, marriage and distress, anxiety and uncontrollable desires.
Just what, oh what, is really going on here? The only way to really know is to read what goes on before verse 29 and what is said after verse 31.
But more about that later.
I find it interesting to read this particular scripture during today’s political climate.
The topic of marriage has certainly been a hot button issue for years, hasn’t it?
There’s Focus on the Family, the Defense of Marriage Act, and now U.S. Bishops are blaming homosexual marriage for the erosion of their religious freedom.
Then there are the recent accusations from Gingrich’s 2nd wife that he tried to redraw the rules of his marriage while Romney is more then happy to use his long-term marriage as a marketing tool.
Marriage seems to be on the minds and newspapers and internet screens everywhere. And more often then not, what is used to uphold the sanctity of marriage? The Bible.
Yet, listen to the words of Paul: “Stay single. Unmarried men want to please the Lord; married men want to please their wives.”
Further, he writes “He who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.”
Holy Sacred Cow! It’s as if Paul is anti-marriage.
Notice what is not said here: there is nothing about marriage being between one man and one woman or that marriage is for procreation’s sake.
Instead, Paul is saying “If you don’t have to get married, don’t; but if you can’t control your urges, go ahead.”
Imagine that as a campaign slogan. Could any candidate win with that mandate?
So what’s going on here? Why would Paul write a letter to a church in which he tries to discourage people from entering into holy matrimony?
It’s more then meets the eye. To understand Paul’s logic, we have to understand the situation during which Paul is writing.
You see, Paul is living during a time in which he and many others literally believe the world is going to end soon.
He believes that Jesus Christ is going to come back in his lifetime. That the Kingdom of God is at hand, so it makes no sense to bring about change or to start something new, like a marriage.
And it’s hard to fault Paul for this idea. After all, this notion of the soon-to-be-end- times appears throughout the scriptures.
For example, in Mark chapter 13 we have Jesus himself being quoted as saying that the current generation will not pass away until the Son of God comes to gather his elect.
So Paul, as many others, was waiting and alert for the day when the sun would be darkened, the stars would fall from the sky and Jesus would swoop in surfing on the clouds.
So, if this is what Paul believes, it would make sense that he would advocate for things to not be radically changed.
To get married right before the world ends would be the equivalent of falling in love before going to college, becoming engaged before leaving for war, and getting pregnant in the midst of a recession.
If the world is going to end, if the stars are soon going to fall, what sense does it make to fall in love, what sense would it make to get married, what sense would it make to bring children in the world only to experience moonless nights?
Paul’s rationale makes sense, but the thing is this: 2,000 years later, we are still here.
The sun still shines, the moon still lights the night and the stars still twinkle in the sky.
Yes, there are burdens; yes, there are trials and temptations, but we live.
I’ve been thinking lately about how some people talk about the way things used to be; about the golden age of America.
But I wonder: have things ever really been golden; has life ever really been that easy?
Has there ever been a decade free from fear and rally cries about it being the end-times?
In the 30’s it was the Depression. In the 40’s World War II. In the 50’s people built bomb shelters and school children hid under their desks.
Was that the golden age?
The 60’s saw Vietnam; the 70’s saw cars lined up at gas pumps. In the 80’s we had MTV.
In the 90’s we had Bush if you were a democrat; Clinton if you were a Republican.
Let’s not forget 9/11. 2 wars. The Recession, upcoming election, and the domination of Kim Kardashion.
Yet we are still here; and we live.
In the midst of worries, in the midst of fears, in the midst of media manipulation, we live.
We live our lives the best that we can.
We wake, we cook, we work, we dream. We continue to make friends, fall in love, make love and make plans for the future.
We do this with the knowledge that there is no certainty, with no assurance of what the future brings, with no idea of what lays beyond the river’s bend.
But as Christians, we live in a way that is different then the wisdom of the world.
We foolishly live with hope.
Hope that we know who holds the future. Hope that one day we will all be free.
Hope that the Kingdom of God is not only at hand, but that the Kingdom of God is already right here, right now.
That we don’t have to wait for falling skies or Christ scooting in on puffy clouds, but that we can experience and share the gifts of heaven today.
How can we do that? One way is by doing just what we are doing now; by worshipping God.
Not alone, or is separate corners of our world, but worshipping together in this safe space, in this holy time.
What a powerful way to show God our trust by joining together, to collectively offer our prayers, our sweet sounding songs and the tributes we bring.
We also live by forms of fellowship. The time we spend together, be it at a table, in the park or at the golf course.
Sharing of ourselves through stories and conversation, the jokes we tell, the tears we shed.
The intimate details told over a game of cards, the welcoming of 400 people to homemade spaghetti, and the visit to a hospital room.
Two marks that a Christian community isn’t afraid to live are worship and fellowship. A third can be acts of compassion.
Compassion; the act of emulating Christ by thinking beyond one’s self and one’s situation to reach out to another.
Compassion: the ability to be present in empathy and to say “No matter who you are or what you are going through, I am here for you.”
Compassion: the way to physically show the presence and love of Christ to a world that seems to be holding its breath in uncertainty.
Yes, we live.
As Christians, we live.
As the Body of Christ, we live.
Not because we are in denial of the world’s issues, not because we don’t believe there are dark valleys everywhere, but because we know that in Christ we are given the gifts and the ability to make our lives more then what the world’s wisdom wants to say.
In conclusion, we know that as Christians, our ability to worship, to fellowship and to show compassion gives us the strength to love, to live, to rise above our fears and to believe in another day.
Who knows when the appointed time will be; but at least we know that when the journeys of the sun and the moon comes to an end, we’ll be in the hands of God, filled with the Spirit, and Jesus Christ shall reign forever, with no end.
For that, we can say “Amen” and “amen.”