Consecration Exodus 20.14; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; Matthew 19.1-9
Holy Space Anywhere that one person shares their life with, or gives their life to another is a very holy space. This is typified by the relationship initiated between the Creator and the creature, later revolutionised as the relationship between the Rescuer (Saviour) and the Rescued, or we could say between the Divine Lover and the Beloved. The same is true of the unique network of relationships we call the Church. Given that at the centre of this is the Divine Lover, no-one should pollute this holy space with personal greed, self-centred ambition, or a false sense of ownership. So it is with the family, and even of that heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed, blurred vision fantasia of boy-girl infatuation. So how much is it true of the sacred relationship of a woman and man in the mutual self-giving of marriage (or as the liturgies call it – “holy matrimony”).
Just cos it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s okay, could be a lose summary of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6. This passage was a shock to me as a teenager, because I thought it was all up for grabs until then – I would have argued that nothing forbids “intimate relations” before marriage – yep I was a child of my generation. So this passage is actually more about purity in human relationships and in our personal lives than about marriage as such; in doing so Paul takes seriously the role of sex in our relationships with each other and with God. In an age when the law allows or fails to forbid more than ever, it is important to hold these words close to our hearts. Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. As Paul says if I was to indulge myself in all the law permits I would be harming myself (and others) and would be placing myself under the domination of those supposed freedoms. So rather than allowing my body to become an idol I worship with greed and indulgence, my body is in fact a means of honouring and worshipping the Lord who saved me and that same body. In another translation we are told that our bodies are members of Christ, (NRSV) and that in sexual sin we are in effect joining Christ’s body to the object of our sin. The most solemn thing this passage reminds us of is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit – that is a place where He lives, where He is worshipped and served, so it is horrifying to allow that temple to be used for profane and unholy purposes. Paul also makes the strong point that sexual sin is different in that we are violating the sacredness of own bodies that were made for love that is centred on God’s purposes both in relating to our spouses, and in serving and caring for others. This astonishing vessel, this intricate device, that God has made for us is what has been bought back by God at great expense – the life, death and resurrection of His Son (God in the flesh). As such we belong to God in all aspects – body, mind and spirit.
Relating in purity is a rarity in the world of the 21st Century, though we shouldn’t delude ourselves that it ever been that much different. But if the church, God’s people, can lead the way by teaching and demonstrating that the marriage bond is sacred, that is holy, and to be treasured and guarded we would start to have a profound effect upon society’s attitudes, but we’re prey to the same weaknesses and failings as the rest of the world. And if we showed a similar understanding of the holiness of all kinds of relationships in families (with parents, with children, with aged relatives), with friends, and especially with church members people would actually begin to believe our message that God loves them. In talking to husbands in Ephesian 5 Paul raises a very high standard; he says men are to love their wives as much as Christ loved the church – remember Christ died for the church to make it holy and fit for relationship with Him. Would we be prepared each of us to die for members our family, our dearest friend, a church member or even our spouse. This is the gold-standard for good relationships, to lose myself for the sake of the other, to not demand my “rights”, to see physical intimacy as having only one place for legitimate expression – holy marriage of one man to one woman. It’s regrettable that for too many our commitment is first to ourselves and our “needs” and then and only then to our spouses (or friends for that matter), but Jesus confounds that worldly standard by teaching and demonstrating that holiness in relationship means living for others first. So today I’m not only calling on married couples to renew their life-long commitment to one another, but I’m also calling on all of us to deliberately commit to other-centred relationships, of purity, of sacrifice fuelled by agape love.