Epiphany 2 B: “I and We” and the Assault on the Capitol

The Second Reading for this Sunday is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Those who stormed our nation’s Capitol on Epiphany, January 6, shouted many slogans: “This is our house!” “Stop the steal!” “Hang Mike Pence!”

But they all can be boiled down to one: “Me, me, me!” The shouters were today’s heirs of the tradition that says my freedom and my rights are paramount. The rioters were not exceptions, but the logical extension of the argument in favor of an agenda many call “core conservative.” These are the values of individual rights, individual liberty, limited regulation of industry and commerce, and low taxes. In effect, this is entirely an agenda of  “me,” and the government and everything else is measured against how it affects “me.”

This agenda then, in effect, dismisses all truly fundamental consideration of “we.” Concern about equality is then labeled as the lethal danger of socialism. Concern about the way we speak to each other is dismissed as “political correctness.” Surely it is foolish, perhaps even treasonous, to consider addressing ravages to the environment or climate change if we must do so at any cost to our sacred, singular right to get more stuff for “me.”   

Tragically Christians have contributed mightily to this self-destructive ideology. Faith is seen in an ego-centric way as “me and Jesus,” or “me and the Holy Spirit,” and as a way for me to get to heaven.

The first and last sentences of our Second Reading, 1 Cor. 6.12-20, form a prime case in point. “All things are lawful for me,” says someone in the Corinthian church. The rest of the letter will make it plain that this thinking arose out of the false idea that Spirit, salvation, and freedom are all about “me.” At our baptism we arrive, we are now spiritual, and what happens to the community we live in is irrelevant.

Just so, Christians to this day think the notion that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” is a beautiful lovely picture of the purified individual Christian living chastely.

The wake-up call comes when we notice that those mentions of “you” and “yours” in the last two sentences of the reading are all plural. It is the corporate body that is the temple of God’s Spirit—that is, the meeting place of God and humanity. It is the human family that cannot long survive if it operates in a “me-centered” fashion. Neither the family, nor the neighborhood, nor the nation, nor your social-media connections are autonomous. You and your circle of like-minded ones, and your property, and your planet, all belong to God. Since your entire human family has been bought with a price, you must live to glorify God in the way you live in and for the CORPORATE body.

Swing on up to chapters 11 and 12 for more about this Body of Christ, which is our body of community. It is at the heart of the most sacred of things Christians do: The supper becomes “the Lord’s Supper when share in a way that lifts up the ones among us who the world treats as least worthy. The Supper is nothing if not egalitarian. And this plural understanding of Body of Christ is the essential foundation of Christian morality. See 12:12-27. No blinkered belief in individual rights or responsibility can take its place.

No one shouting “this is our house” as they break the windows of the Capitol and smash their way over Capitol Police, truly belongs to the Christian church or to the American experiment in politics—not if they live only for me and mine, and forget us and ours.

I consider myself a good conservative. I want to conserve individual rights and individual liberty. But I know that these things surely evaporate when I cannot also give of some of my rights and some of my liberty and some of my property in order to serve the common good.

Lord God, help us think and act as members of your Body. Help us give for the sake of one another, so that our community, our nation,, and all of humanity, may become the place where we meet you. May our body become the temple of the Holy Spirit among us.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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