What might Paul say to heal the nation right now?

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One week after people stormed the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings. In the snippets I have heard from the debate, Representatives in favor of the resolution cite the President’s speech for support. Opponents point to the need to unite and move on. As this news runs in the background, the foreground of my thoughts focuses on sermon prep. My text for this Sunday (surprisingly?) connects with this moment.

On this sunny Wednesday in January, I am sitting outside studying 1 Corinthians. For background, the Corinthian church seemed to use a slogan: “All things are allowed for me.” In 1 Corinthians 6.12-20, it sounds like they used it to justify visiting prostitutes. Paul’s response doesn’t evoke a need for unity and a desire to move on. He articulates the tension between freedom in Christ and doing what is beneficial for the community.

Paul sets up his argument using the Corinthian logic. If “all things are okay,” then would you want something to dominate you? He doesn’t condemn sex. He situates it within a positive sexual ethic of freedom in Christ. Our bodies, he says, are temples for the Holy Spirit, so we do not own our freedom. Jesus paid dearly for us.

I do not know what would heal the nation. A corrective note from St. Paul might be a good start. If he were recycling bits from his first letter to the Corinthians, he might say to us:

You say, “All things are lawful for me.” But not everything is healthy or beneficial. It’s easy to let that sense of freedom dominate your lives. For example, consider the way food is meant for our stomachs, and our stomachs are meant to hold food. That makes sense. Still, they are both flesh, and God will destroy our bodies. They don’t last forever. Our spirits do, though. The body is not meant for attacking institutions like the U.S. Capitol. Our bodies are meant for the Lord, and the Lord is meant for us. God raised Jesus and will also use that power to raise us. Don’t you realize that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I, therefore, take my body and use it for a violent insurrection because I don’t like the way the majority voted? No! Don’t you know that whoever joins an insurrection becomes an insurrectionist? For it is said, “Those who abide in love abide in God.” Anyone united with the Lord becomes one spirit with the Lord. Shun violent insurrections when the majority elects someone you don’t like. Every sin that a person commits is outside the body. Unjustified insurrectionists sin against the community directly. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you? You have this from God, and your body is not your own. Jesus paid a price for you. You’re worth more than this. Glorify God with your actions.

1 Corinthians 6.12-20, re-imagined for today; changes in italics

In the biblical 1 Corinthians 6.16, Paul quotes Genesis 2.24. In my reimagined Pauline response, I have Paul quote from 1 John 4.16, “Those who abide in love abide in God.” I picture the heavenly Paul appreciating all scripture and eager to invoke it at appropriate times.

Paul doesn’t shy away from offering blistering critiques and corrective instructions. It seems like he would have little patience for patronizing, empty calls for unity. To all of us, he would say, “You are not your own. You are God’s. Try living like it.”

Before pointing my fingers at the ones who stoked the flames of division and carried out the violent insurrection, I should hear Paul’s words. I am not my own and I have spiritual work to do. Healing and unity can be ahead of us. How has my liberal elitism emboldened those with whom I disagree? How many times have I said the wrong thing or remained silent when I should have been speaking? My own list of failings could go on because I need to hear Paul’s chastisement as much as the insurrectionists.

Thank you, Paul, for the honesty, for pushing me to be the follower Christ called me to be. With God’s grace, there’s hope for all of us.

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