This Reflection was preached as a homily on 14 January 2018.
(Year B, Second Sunday of Epiphany, January 14, 2018; Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 6:9-20)
“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:9b-11 (ESV)
A litany of the things that will keep you out of the Kingdom may seem like a lectionary reading more suited to either Advent or Lent: in Advent to highlight the nature and character of the final judgement, in Lent to highlight the penitential heart we must have as we approach the Great Feast of Easter. Why is it here in our lectionary for the Second Sunday of Epiphany? Why am I preaching on it instead of either Samuel or Nathanael being called to God’s service, or instead of the revelations in store for those that choose to follow Jesus? Why am I focusing today on Paul’s rebuke of misbehaving churchmen and women in Corinth?
The season after Epiphany is characterized in the lectionary by stories of, chiefly, the apostles “getting it” about who Jesus is – from Nathanael proclaiming Jesus as Son of God, to Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the Christ (remembered in the Church Calendar this coming Thursday), the nature of the season is that of having a “lightbulb” moment. So again, why am I focusing on a litany of sins, and one that explicitly includes an item which makes the world hiss and spit and rage at us for our “intolerance”?
Like many of you probably do, I have friends and acquaintances that deal with same-sex attraction, and have chosen to either let it define their lives and identities or have chosen to let God do that instead and despite what their flesh desires. I have friends that feel that Paul is saying here that God doesn’t love them because he enumerates their sin in these verses. And I confess that when my primary concern was a misguided stab at flawed apologetics, I found all manner of ways to try and soften what Paul says here to be more appealing to these friends. None of the arguments held up, and I am thankful to say now that the truth of the Scriptural witness is firm in my heart.
Here is our Epiphany moment – “And such were some of you.” While verses 9-10 list all the people that will not be able to enter the Kingdom, verse 11 reveals to us that it is only by the grace of Jesus and the work of Sanctification continuing in His people that there are any who are able to enter, if we who profess His Name truly repent and rely solely on the mercy of Our Lord.
This list also helps to forge kinship with all believers of every sinful heritage, as well as call us to have greater empathy for those who have not yet found their adoption away from the lineage of struggle. I have never struggled with homosexual desire, but in my past, I have been a drunkard. I have never committed adultery, but I have been greedy. In listing out these sins, Paul does not identify some hidden hatefulness in God, rather he presents us with a means of diagnosing our diseased personalities – the disease is unrighteousness, and these are its symptoms.
It is easy for us who sit in church day to day and week to week to become detached and shocked at the depravity of the world around us, and to find some special affront in a particular deviancy of the day, which surely must disqualify such and such a person from ever receiving mercy, no matter how many confessions they make or how sorry they profess to be. But the world has been depraved since Adam and Eve first set foot out of the garden. Sin and unrighteousness have never been new in the post-Fall world. The depravities of Sodom and Corinth were not alien to each other, and neither are the depravities of Corinth and your hometown. There is no depravity in the human heart that is so bad that the heart cannot be saved – there are only hearts that are so full of depravity that they have no room for the Spirit that would save them.
Paul in this passage of his letter to the Corinthian church also reminds us that not only were these depravities not alien to the world, they were also endemic in the churchmen and women of that city, before they heard and accepted the Gospel, having their sins washed away in the waters of baptism. Similarly, sin and unrighteousness have not been alien to us – but like the Corinthian churchgoers, we who have faithfully repented and cast our hope on the Name of Jesus Christ have been washed, sanctified, and justified in that same Name and the Spirit of Our God.
You have heard it said that “Love Wins,” and the saying is true enough. But it is not the romantic or erotic love that wins, it is the agape love that sent Christ to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary, to teach the gospel of repentance from sins, to willingly be arrested, mocked, beaten and shamed, and finally to be hung from a tree and cursed for our sake. It is the agape love that on the third day restored him not only to bodily life but also to divine glory. It is the agape love that continually calls us to repentance and obedience. It is the agape love that gently reminds us in our moments of pride that we, too, have been guilty of sin and unrighteousness and that apart from this agape love we will likewise be barred from entry into the blessed Kingdom.
This week, I encourage you to love one another. Love those outside the Church. Praise God for being made clean, for being set free from the bondage of sin, and pray for those still in chains. Witness the gospel by your love of one another as well as outsiders. As the season of Lent approaches, I additionally encourage you to examine your hearts. If you have never confessed your sins, this is a practice that – while seemingly daunting – provides comfort and freedom to the Christian soul.
Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.