1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Years ago a very popular city in a particular State here in the United States chose a slogan to use in its worldwide tourism marketing campaign. Now this slogan worked so well, that the phrase itself has become part of our normal conversational talk, and even if you have never been to Las Vegas you know the slogan I am talking about so say it with me… WHATEVER HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS IN VEGAS!
Ironically, the actual slogan is LAS VEGAS, WHATEVER HAPPENS HERE STAYS HERE, but either one tells the same story. That campaign was first cooked up in 2003 at a brainstorming meeting in the Las Vegas tourism department of an outside ad agency. The meeting was sparked by a need to brand Vegas for something other than gambling. So, after a year of research the following conclusions were reached:
“The emotional bond between Las Vegas and its customers was Freedom. Freedom on two levels. Freedom to do things, see things, eat things, wear things, feel things. In short, the Freedom to be someone we couldn't be at home. And Freedom from whatever we wanted to leave behind in our daily lives. Just thinking about Vegas made the bad stuff go away. At that point the strategy became clear. Speak to that need. Make an indelible connection between Las Vegas and the Freedom we all crave.” (R&R Partners Case Study).
Just in case you didn’t know how well it worked, this campaign has been credited with allowing Las Vegas tourism to weather the storm of the recession of 2008-2009 and the crash of the housing market which hit Las Vegas particularly hard. Typically, when something works this well we want to know why, and when I look at this particular campaign something about it bothers me because it seems to boil down to telling people that, for a few days at least, they can be someone they are not, they can do things they wouldn’t think they can do, and no one will get hurt because no one in their real life will ever know. As long as people from their real life don’t show up, they will never know who you said you were, or what you did while on this short, quick journey. This is your time to let yourself go, to lose yourself, to give into whatever cravings or desires or urges you have.
Let me ask, how boring does one’s life have to be that they need to go somewhere far away and do things they don’t want anyone to know about in order to feel free to have a good time? Isn’t something wrong with that picture? Even more important than that, is Freedom really the end result when choices like those are made for those reasons?
Now, I don’t think we should confuse this desire for Freedom that Las Vegas is exploiting here, with the Freedom to make choices, any more than we should conclude that everyone going to Vegas is going for that reason. I have to believe that there are all sorts of people choosing to visit Las Vegas for all sorts of reasons, which confirms, at least partly, the entire point anyway that we all are Free to make choices in our lives. This particular Freedom, I believe, is a Freedom we cherish, and rightly so. But having the Freedom to make choices, doesn’t always result in feeling free. Sometimes the choices we make leave us enslaved. Sometimes others believe they can make choices for us, and it is their choice that enslaves us. Then there are times when someone or some group taps into some desire that is uniquely human and the temptation to possess begins to overwhelm you until you reach a point where the only way to be satisfied is through possession and control.
The good news is that we are not the only ones dealing with temptations like these or quests to control everything and everyone around us. The Freedom of Choices appears to be at the heart of today’s passage where Paul is trying to Counsel a people he loves that just because you can choose something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can doesn’t mean it is best.
Now, I will say more about Paul and his counseling advice later, but before I do I want to talk about humankind in general and the impact the Freedom of Choices has had, and to do this I believe we must start at the beginning of the human creation story we know as Adam and Eve. Freedom was absolutely central to this entire story as mankind was always free to eat the fruit, but there would be consequences for choosing to do so. Where one choice might be rooted in love and community, another choice was rooted in selfishness. Where one choice was rooted in the selfless type of giving that benefits all, another choice was rooted in egotistical control. In this way, the problem for humankind in this creation story can be seen as the potential impact the Freedom of Choice has on us.
The fruit came to represent a split in the road, and choices needed to me made. This happens to all of us. Maybe even today and in trying to make a decision you reflect on the advice you’ve been given. Well in our creation story we have the advice the selfless giver of life gave about healthy relationships and mutual love. But we also have another voice, a voice that says don’t worry about that relationship and love stuff, what you really want is Freedom and the only way you will get it is by gaining control. Choosing to listen to the advice of one is choosing to accept the good, the true and the beautiful, while choosing the advice of the other is choosing another way, but no matter what you are Free to choose.
You see, this is not something unique to the early followers of The Way in Corinth, nor is it unique to us today, but I dare say it is unique to humankind as a whole for humankind has been created by the Divine God whose essence is love, and we were created in that image. Not a controlling, manipulative kind of love, but a true love which for better or worse always allows the Freedom to make Choices.
So, what do we do when we are told those whom we deeply love are make destructive choices? That is the question Paul was addressing in this part of his letter, a letter of advice and counsel to those early Followers of the Way who were trying their best to follow The Way in their unique daily lives. So, Paul, in a rather direct, straight to the point way, says, “you say you have the right to do anything, which is true, you need to also learn that not everything is beneficial to you and your relationships. While you are correct in saying I have the right to do anything, it is more important for you to know that I choose not to be mastered by anything.
It is as though Paul is agreeing that yes, we are free to do anything we want, but just because we are free doesn’t mean we should, especially when hurt and pain and destruction to ourselves and others is the end result. The advice in this letter is given to address specific problems with a specific group of people and while some of it may sound harsh, and while some of the issues are not our issues, Paul’s advice to the Corinthians is his passionate and reasoned call to embrace the faith they profess and to become agents of God’s love. Paul’s call in this regard should continue to resonate today for people claiming faith in the same God of Love. People of faith should seek to be the agents of God’s Love to all they encounter.
We are addictive creatures, but that addictive nature doesn’t have to make us selfish, egotiscal control freaks. Yes, we try things.
Yes, we experiment.
Yes, we explore.
And yes, certain things hook us, but they don’t have to master us.
Those things that hook us shouldn’t hurt us or hurt other people.
Yes, we are free to choose to do what we want, and at the time Paul was writing so was his audience, but because Paul loves them and cares about their well-being it seems he wants them to know that “Freedom isn’t being able to have whatever we crave. Freedom is going without whatever we crave and being fine with it.” (SP-017, pg. 75). The end result of choosing to satisfy some selfish, lustful desire never lives up its promises, because those promises only gratify selfish desires which can actually be harmful to self and others. Lust, in particular, always promises what it can’t deliver.
Freedom does in fact have harmful elements, and choosing to do something selfish and destructive just because you are Free to make such a choice is one of them. Yes, you are free to choose, and the advice being given here is that hopefully next time you will exercise that Freedom in a way that accomplishes something that is beneficial to all. This is Paul’s advice to those he loved in Corinth and this, I believe, is Paul’s advice to those he loves in Jamestown.
So in our Year of A Million Dreams, lets choose to live out of our own Divine essence and be agents of God’s Love.
Let’s use our Freedom to make choices that extend God’s Love in ever expansive ways.
Let’s use our Freedom to make the choices that welcome the oppressed.
Let’s use our Freedom to make the choices to stand up for justice for all of God’s Beloved.
And just in case any of us travel to Vegas, lets use our Freedom to make that choice so we can share our experiences with others in the most love fulfilling ways we can dream.