I am sure you are aware NFL preseason football is underway and college football will begin very soon and sports retailers are stocking their shelves with team merchandise for the new season. Even I once designed a T-shirt for our cathedral GOYA youth group in Denver that was patterned in the widely used “property of” athletic T-shirts associated with professional and college sports teams in our case.
The T-shirts read, “Property of the Assumption Metropolis Cathedral GOYA Ministry and the kids wore these T-shirts with pride until they either outgrew them or wore them out and there is a ring of truth to the notion that sports franchises own their star athletes since the teams invest tremendous sums of money in their players bodies in pursue of games won and championships and this is why fans can be very unforgiving when a young athlete engages in reckless behavior and jeopardizes that investment his own future and the fans loyalty.
At least while they are under contract, the athlete’s bodies don’t really belong to them. So it should come as no surprise to you that the same rights of ownership are held by God over our bodies as well. And this despite the fact that many we see today approach the faith as if it were only a philosophy, something that concerns our hearts, our minds and our souls perhaps but which leaves us free to do with our bodies what we will.
But a point of fact, Holy Scripture is so clear and attesting to God’s right at the ownership of our bodies that I can easily limit my references this morning to only St. Paul’s first and second letters to the Corinthian’s and still drive home the point. You may say to yourself well good, maybe Father will preach a little shorter today. Probably not.
In January of this year, I attended the OCF College Conference West at Saint Nicholas Ranch in Dunlap, California where I was asked to address the all-important topic of sexual purity. And after reminding the kids that were there that were then our orthodox hermeneutic that is how we discern truth from error that we did not find a listing for personal opinion. One of the very first passages I took them to appears at the end of this morning’s epistle reading.
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells within you, if any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him for the temple of God is holy and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
“We are the temple of God…”—understand that we are the body and soul, the personal property of God Almighty who bought and paid for us through the offering of his son Jesus Christ is a potent antidote to the latent Gnosticism so prevalent today that seeks to divide spiritual from physical concerns.
And nowhere is this rupture more apparent than in our unrestrained attitude toward sexual behavior in spite of the fact that outside of the sacramental context that God has provided which is alone sufficient to contain it. That is lifelong monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, sexual activity is still recognized as fornication and it is still a sin. St. Paul emphatically reminds the faithful of Corinth:
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ”, he says “flee fornication, every other sin that a man commits is outside the body but the immoral man sin against his own body or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you. Whom you have from God and you are not your own for you have been bought with a price therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
“For you are not your own you have been bought with a price”—this exclusive ownership that God enjoins binds us together and unites us to God in the Eucharistic meal that we share wherein all divisions are overcome and our allegiance to God alone is reinforced. We eat at the same training table and are forged into a team if you will eucharistically.
Saint Paul writes, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread, you cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:16-21).
We can only say on one team at a time, there are no free agency in Christianity. And in the holy Eucharist we are forced into a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts wherein we who are many are one body, the soma tou Xristou, the Body of Christ. Our exclusive allegiance to Christ who is the head of the body in which we as living cells are given eternal life, marks us as God’s own prized possession and sets us apart from those who have chosen as yet not to surrender to the love of God.
As Saint Paul writes:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness and what fellowship has light with darkness or what harmony has Christ with Belial, what has a believer in common with an unbeliever, what agreement has the temple of God [that’s us], with idols? For we are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:14)
We could never dream of desecrating this temple in which we are worshiping here this morning by engaging in ungodly activity within these walls, and by the same measure we should not desecrate the temples of our bodies by engaging in dark and sinful activities since we are the temple of the Living God.
No doubt like me this week you have been heartbroken and astonished to have read of the horrors being perpetrated upon Christians of Iraq that are to grizzly to recount. There are times in human history, when it is clear that corrupted humanity has given itself wholly over to the darkness to serve as the foot soldiers of hell.
We are witnessing this week the fulfillment of the prophecy that the days would come near the end when the demons themselves would look on us and tremble as we outstrip even them in our capacity for evil since we yet have agency in our bodies to perpetrate it.
And because we are corporeal members of the body of Christ, the pain felt in any part of it is experienced by all. In fact, the measure of our apprehension of ourselves as members of the body of Christ is our capacity to enter willingly into the mystery of co-suffering love on behalf of, in this case, Christian children being slaughtered by the dozens.
St. Paul writes, “For even as the body is one and it has many members and all the members of the body though they are many are one body so also Christ. For by one Spirit, we are all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we are all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many, and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, and if any one member is honored, all the members are rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
So it is no longer our body—it is Christ’s body—and we are members of his body. And as we witnessed these heart rending scenes of Christian martyrdom, the words of St. Paul come to mind, “for we have become as the scum of the earth and the dregs of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:13). The degradations that are being born by the many victims of this demonic eruption—because that is really what it is, as we near the end of all things “are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
St. Paul writes:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, our bodies, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves for we are afflicted in every way but not crushed, we are perplexed but not despairing, we are persecuted but not forsaken, we are struck down but not destroyed always caring about in the body, the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus also would be manifested in our body for we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh, in our bodies, therefore we do not lose heart for though the outer man is decaying yet the inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:7-16).
We celebrated last week the Feast of the Transfiguration where Christ revealed to his disciples not only his glory as of the only begotten Son and Word of God but the glory that awaits each of us who have valiantly finished the course of our life in faith and in repentance.
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes, “For we know that if our earthly tent which is our house is torn down, that is our body, we have a building from God a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, for indeed in this house that is in our bodies, we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven in as much as we having put on will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent we groan being burdened and we know this, we experience this ourselves in these our mortal bodies, we are burdened and therefore groan because we do not want to be “unclothed” but to be clothed so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. ... Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature the old things have passed away, behold new things have come.”
And this is the Transfiguration that awaits us. This is the promise that God has given us.
Finally God’s rights of ownership of our bodies do not end even when we die. Even then, He is not done with our bodies, in recognition of which the Orthodox Church has always proscribed cremation as a denial of the hope of resurrection.
St. Paul writes, “but someone will say, ‘how are the dead raised and with what kind of body do they come?’” And then as St. Paul often does, he gets a little excited, he says, “You fool!, that which you sowed has not come to life unless it dies so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable of body, it is raised an imperishable body, it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body, if there is a natural body there is also a spiritual body and as is the earthy so also are those who are earthy and as is the heavenly so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have born the image of the earthy, who will also bear the image of the heavenly” ” (2 Corinthians 15:35-48).
Speaking here of the Saints. what do we say? “Αγιος,” “not of this world,” heavenly. “We will also bear the image of the heavenly,” we have been created for this precise purpose so let us never think or say but our faith is only a private internal matter that has no particular bearing on what we do with our bodies.
Your body is not yours to give away sexually outside of the sacramental context of marriage that God has provided. Your body is not yours to abuse with drugs and or alcohol or dangerous stunts and riotous living. Your body is not yours to tattoo up-and-down with perforate with multiple piercings and distortions. As those who have been marked with the sign of the cross, the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit as God’s personal property as those who strive for salvation along the narrow path that leads to eternal life our bodies, yes our bodies, do not belong to us so let us walk and live and act and strive with our whole selves, bodies and souls to attain the heavenly kingdom as members, as members of the body of Christ.