Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 12, 2016

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost — June 12, 2016 — Sermon starts at 28:45

YOU ARE NOT WHO YOU ONCE WERE

 Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Introduction

FineDiningYou are enjoying a dinner out at your favorite fine-dining, high-class restaurant. It’s Friday night, and everyone is wearing their Sunday best since that’s the required dress code at this establishment. Classical music is playing softly in the background. The tables are draped in white linen tablecloths and are adorned with the soft flickers of light coming from the centerpiece candles. The waiters, clad in their tuxedos, glide among the tables like professional skaters. This is the kind of place you come to for a special birthday or anniversary, and you come expecting a memorable, high-class experience.

Suddenly, a questionable-looking character comes in the front door. She is not dressed very modestly—certainly not befitting the dress code of this restaurant. She is obviously troubled by something. You can feel the stares from all the patrons coming out of the corner of their eyes. The maître d’ walks up to her and begins a polite but tense conversation, trying to figure out why she is there and looking for a subtle way to suggest that she head on her way. But then a regular patron of this fine establishment steps up from his chair, and to amazement of all and the disgust of a few, he invites this woman to sit at his table with his party and offers to listen and help with whatever dilemma she is facing. The restaurant owner stares at this scene from the far corner of the room with daggers coming out of his eyes, and yet he does nothing because he wouldn’t want to make a bigger scene nor offend his high-tipping patron who happens to be one of the area’s finest psychologists. The woman is clearly grateful that someone actually was willing to listen and console and help, while the rest of the room cannot believe the social faux pas that was playing out before their eyes.

If that scene sounds a little unrealistic, I’d like to suggest otherwise. I’d like to suggest that in its big picture this story is not unlike the Gospel account for today’s service from Luke 7:36-50. The characters are a bit different, but the situation isn’t all that different. Our Lord found himself at a dinner hosted by a Pharisee—a loyal, upstanding, righteous Jew who made sure to follow all proper religious and cultural customs of the day. Jesus came as an invited guest—a somewhat unusual scene since there already seemed to be some tension between Jesus and the Pharisees at this point. The woman who walks into the scene is known for her sinful and promiscuous past—and even if she had left it behind, her past reputation followed her in the present. This is not the setting she should find herself in. But the scene gave Jesus’ host reason to question all the buzz and popularity surrounding Jesus: If he really was such a great prophet, why would he associate with someone with such low moral character? But the great prophet and the Son of God was intentionally associating with this woman who not only knew her need for Jesus but was utterly grateful for the grace and forgiveness he personally proclaimed to her.

Who are you in that story? Do you relate to the poor woman who probably struggled with feelings of guilt on the one hand and yet was overwhelmed by Jesus’ message of grace on the other hand? Do you relate to Simon, the Pharisee, because you know how hard it is to avoid being judgmental toward someone else? Who are you in this story? Keep that question in the back of your mind, and keep the Gospel account in the back of your mind, as we take a look at the way the apostle Paul will help us apply that situation to ourselves in one of the other appointed readings for today’s service from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. 

9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.

I.

The apostle Paul, who wrote these words, was himself a former Pharisee—one of the most strict and devout groups of religious Jews in his day. And based on what he says at the start of this reading, it almost sounds as if he would have agreed with judgmental Simon who internally criticized Jesus as the “sinful” woman anointed his feet.

Paul does not give us a very politically correct list of sins. Failing to recycle is not among the kinds of sins that he lists! Paul doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to God’s standards. Sexual sin that breaks the marriage vows or that occurs outside God’s design is wrong whether it involves homosexual or heterosexual behavior. Worship and honor given to any other person or thing is wicked. Every form of stealing is wrong. Drunkenness and substance abuse is sin. Those who lie and speak abusively are wicked in the eyes of God. And all of this disqualifies a person from the kingdom of God and sentences them to the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of hell.

That’s some pretty harsh stuff. But then Paul adds the kicker: “And that is what some of you were.” The practice of sexual immorality in ancient Corinth was so bad, that people actually made up the word “corinthianize” to refer to sexual immorality. And that was a part of the past of some of the new Christians in Corinth. In fact, that particular congregation still had problems of sexual immorality in its own midst, and Paul had to address those problems in this particular Bible book. Add to that all the other things in Paul’s harsh list, and realize that some of those sins are easily found in the Church today. And then add the other violations of God’s Word and will that Paul didn’t mention here, add the commandments that are not covered in this list, and suddenly Paul could have side more than, “That is what some of you were.” Rather, he could have said to his readers, then and now, ”That is what all of you were.” We have all broken faith with the God of the universe—if not by sexual immorality, if not by idolatry, if not by abusive language, if not be drunkenness, if not by stealing, then certainly by something else—perhaps pride and arrogance, perhaps selfishness and snobbishness. Work your way through all the commands and commandments of God, and we will have to conclude with Paul, “That is what all of us were.”

The woman who encountered Jesus in Luke 7 didn’t need to be told that she had messed up. She knew it. And the time comes when we know it too. Our Sunday best cannot cover up guilt or erase sin from our story. But Jesus uses that realization not to shame us, but to help us, and to prepare us to receive his grace. The church, after all, is a spiritual hospital! We are not here to judge, but to be healed by the Great Physician of the soul. In fact, the best thing that can happen to us is for us to realize that in our own way, we are all like the desperate woman who ran into the restaurant. We are all like the “sinful” woman who came to Jesus in the Gospel.

II.

Right after Paul told his readers in no uncertain terms that their past stories were less than honorable, he changes gears to this incredible statement: “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.” Just as Jesus told the woman who came to him that her sins were forgiven and her faith had received his gift of salvation, so Paul tells his readers that their sordid past was truly a thing of the past. In the waters of Baptism, Jesus’ words and the Holy Spirit’s work create a sin-cleansing bath that makes Christians pure and clean in the eyes of God. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit took people who had dirtied their spiritual clothing with sin and vice and wickedness and instead used the bleaching powers of Jesus’ holiness to make them holy in the eyes of God. Through the work of Jesus from manger to life, from suffering to death, from grave to resurrection, believers are declared not guilty of sin in God’s eternal courtroom.

When God says something, it’s a done deal. At creation, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God said to Noah that there would be a flood that destroyed the earth in 120 years, and 120 years later there was a flood. God said through his prophets that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a baby boy born in Bethlehem, and that’s the Christmas story we celebrate every December. God said he would not let his Holy One see decay, and after suffering for our sin on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead in victory for us, just as his Father had predicted in the Old Testament Psalms.

When God says something about you, it’s also a done deal. You may struggle with feelings of guilt from the sins of your past or your struggles of the present, and those sins and struggles might even sound like the list Paul gave in our reading. But that’s not what God calls you. Jesus told the woman in today’s Gospel that she was forgiven, and she was. God tells you again today, through his called servant echoing his promises, that you are recipients of his forgiveness, and that’s what happens.

Fact: God directs your eyes to the baptism font and he says to you, “You were washed,” and it’s true. Fact: God points you to the perfect life of his sinless Son and he says to you, “You were sanctified.” Jesus lived that life for you, and now you are holy, and it’s true. Fact: Though you may remember with sorrow the sins of your past, though you may recall with sadness the struggles of your present, God points to the cross of his Son Jesus and he says to you, “You were justified.” He says you are innocent of sin. He has declared you not guilty in his courtroom. And since God has said this about you, it’s a done deal!

Conclusion

You are not who you once were. You are who God has called you to be through faith in his Son Jesus. You are who God has declared you to be in his Word. So, just like the woman who came to Jesus with grateful tears, go in peace, go with faith, and live life joyfully as the forgiven saint and grateful child of God that he has proclaimed you to be! Amen.

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