Prostitution, Fornication, and Sin… O My!

On of the things I try to do early in a preaching week is to look for red flags in the lessons. Is there something that is going to be heard by the congregation that absolutely needs to be addressed? It is part of the reason why I never choose to go with the semi-continuous Hebrew Bible lessons in Track 1 during the Season after Epiphany. When the Old Testament lessons are disconnected thematically from the rest of what folks hear, it can mean the sermon never gets heard while people sort out why Moses got so ticked off he beat a rock with his stick until water came out. There are just certain stories, certain words or phrases, that might need some nuance.

We have one of those lessons, this time from 1st Corinthians, this coming Sunday. It is a rather salacious passage, in which Paul admonishes the Corinthian Church to avoid sex with prostitutes and to shun fornication as the only sin that one can commit against one’s own body. Ignoring for the time being how wrong that second statement is (see also, gluttony and drunkenness, for example), in 21st century America, these words from Paul carry a lot of baggage, and will most certainly set off some alarm bells in the ears of some who hear this lesson read. Especially in the context of online church, while we are still unable to be together in person, the disconnected face behind the screen saying, “Shun fornication” might require some explanation on the part of the preacher.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have not intention of preaching this text this week, but the need to spell out how the Greek word for fornication means both sexual immorality and idolatry is certainly on my mind today. The reality that while Paul is probably speaking to the open sexual culture of a cosmopolitan Greek city while also reminding this fledgling Christian community that becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ means giving your whole life over to God’s will could certainly be worth pursuing. In a nation that has, during these 10 months of pandemic, shown itself to be 100% committed to the idolatrous worship of power, wealth, and privilege, these words from Paul deserve to be heard and explained. But, its Annual Meeting Sunday, and sometimes, the Word God invites us to preach is simply one of encouragement, of God’s call to discipleship, or Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See.”

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