by Rev. Lura Groen
1 Cor 6:12-20
What if Paul’s words are true *even for a sex worker*?
Paul messes up gender and sex stuff all the time; I have to accept it to preach on him. If you notice, in this passage, he’s only talking to men. (Whoever warned women not to sleep with temple prostitutes? Nobody.)
When I am preaching on Paul, and he acts a fool like he does here talking about fornication and sex work, I always like to go back to what are the central truths he is communicating, and remind him of them. Paul is not an authority on my body or my sexuality. He is, however, an authority on the grand themes of the relationship between God and humanity. He just isn’t so good at practically applying them to anyone other than men with status.
Your bodies are good and holy, temples of the Holy Spirit. All of them. Men’s bodies, women’s bodies, nonbinary bodies. Cis bodies and trans bodies. Black bodies and Native and Latinx and Asian bodies. Disabled bodies. Trauma surviving bodies. All bodies. Holy and good, both the honored ones and the bodies sinned against by racism, sexism, transphobia, assault, poverty, and all the powers of evil in the world. They all carry the Holy Spirit, they all bear the image of God.
So, when I preach this text (and I never let it be read in church without at least referencing it in my sermons) I remind Paul that he knows all bodies are dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. I would then ask him to listen to Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, and consider the corporate ways we sin against Black bodies, against women’s bodies, against gender non-conforming bodies, against bodies living in poverty. I would ask him to reconsider what he thinks a sin against the temple of God is, and how a woman living in poverty and forced into sex work, or even choosing it willingly, deserves our care and deserves to be honored as bearing the image of God.
I would ask Paul to speak on how we dishonor the temple of the Spirit when we pardon the police killers of unarmed Black men, when we let Black women hang in cells, when we turn from Native women raped on reservations, when we let children in Flint drink leaded water and the citizens of Puerto Rico live without power. I would ask him to speak of how our bodies are joined forever with refugee bodies; bodies from El Salvador and Syria.
And I would ask Paul what he means by fornication. Because, truth is, I do think there is such thing as sinful sex, sex that violates the image of God in a person. If you are having sex with someone in a way that makes you or them feel like less than a beautiful and holy miracle, yeah, you’re doing it wrong. If you view someone as nothing more than an object for your pleasure, yes, you are sinning against them. If you abuse your power over someone, to gratify yourself at their expense, you are sinning against the Holy Spirit within them. If you harass your employees, fail to protect children, turn away form the violence against trans women, you are defiling God’s temple.
But sex that moves you to wonder at the splendor of God’s presence in another, sex that reveals to you the Holy Spirit in your own body, is worship.
And honoring the Divine in the bodies sinned against by our world, fighting for their justice, is seeing God in the flesh.
And, if I had to tie in the Gospel, I would invite the congregation to “Come and see.” Just as the Word can be experienced by going home with Jesus of Nazareth, we meet the Holy Spirit by honoring the bodies of God’s holy people.
Come and see. God’s Presence in our bodies.
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