Tuesday, January 17

Sermon Second Sunday After Epiphany

I Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

The physical and spiritual are taken as dichotomous. Seeing body and spirit as differences within a unity is less common. Christianity is sometimes accused of being dualistic: preferring the immaterial, the other worldly and the disembodied to the material, to this world and to bodies. Some even will attempt to lay this dualism at the feet of the apostle Paul. Yet our Scriptures for today suggest that this accusation isn’t just a misinterpretation of Paul but of the entire Christian and Biblical outlook. Paul in Corinthians gives us the strongest possible valuation of our bodies: calling them the Temple of the Spirit. He does so based on the basic presupposition of Scripture: god is Spirit and without form but as a creator and for Christians as the incarnate Word, our encounter with God is through the body and the physical.
Samuel we meet in our reading as a young boy, yet to become the great prophet and judge of the people of God. As a boy dedicated to god he lives with the high Priest and sleeps with in the precincts of the tabernacle. One night he goes to bed as he always has not far from the Holy of Holies where God dwells. But tonight he is restless and can’t get to sleep. He hears a voice call his name, not in his head so that he is left wondering did I hear something. No this is a clear and distinct voice outside himself. Samuel naturally thinks it is Eli, the only other one there right. Well not exactly. Eli who is old and tired has already fallen asleep and groggily sends the boy back to bed. Samuel hears the voice and wakes Eli three times, before Eli is awake enough to realize that the boy is hearing an actual voice and that it must be God. Eli hears the voice of God and speaks with God. While literally, hearing God might be strange to us and should someone tell us that they were hearing god speak to them we would think they were hearing voices in their head and might send them to a psych ward. Not only is not this uncommon in the Scriptures but God is not only heard but also encountered in other physical ways. The prophets’ patriarchs and spiritual people in the Scriptures encounter God in vary physical ways, sight hearing, even wrestling. God may be essentially without form but as creator and we as God’s creatures, God is encountered in and through bodies not by transcending them.
In the Gospels, we have this physical encounter with God heightened in the ministry of Jesus. In case one missed it in the other Gospels, John in the first chapters of his Gospel drives this home. So we have in John the height of theological reflection paired with the affirmation that God in the person of the Word became flesh and lived among us humans as a body. The first disciples don’t discover Jesus to be the Christ by sitting and contemplating the essence of God, but by being with John the Baptists as he baptizes in the Jordan, and seeing who John points out to them as the Christ and then walking in the dusty roads litterally following Jesus seeing where he sleeps, and talking with Jesus. The disciples and others who follow and encounter Jesus find themselves transformed by that encounter, as bodies through encountering Jesus as a body with needs and whose feet get dusty like everyone else. In these first chapters of John we have water we have seeing we have walking and conversation, we have very human and physical things and through those things the first disciples are changed and encounter God in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh.
This fundamental belief in the physicality of spiritual encounter and transformation is the only thing that can make sense of Paul’s words to us in Corinthians. Paul is telling us that our bodies are not immaterial to our spirituality; what we do with ourselves as bodies and our bodily urges, desires, and passions has spiritual import. Food and sex Paul says are spiritual.
Paul claims for the Gospel neither an absolute freedom nor a legalistic asceticism in regards to our bodies. The question is not our freedom to act on bodily urges or desires, nor the absolute denial of them. Rather the question surrounds how the bodily drives are the place of our freedom and how they are bound up with our spiritual life. In Chris all things are allowed me, however sine our bodies are not immaterial to righteousness, justice, truth and beauty Paul directs us to consider what is beneficial and frees u from dominations.
As most of you know my diet is mostly vegetarian. I became a vegetarian while I was an au Pair in Austria. The family I was with was vegetarian, so although I could have bought my won meat, I chose to live according to their diet—it was an economically beneficial to do so. I remained a vegetarian after living with them because I felt, better more alert and less tired. I discovered that it was beneficial to me to have a restricted diet. I did though desire a steak or hamburger. This was difficult since my home was in Southern California that is home to In-N-Out Burgers which has the tastiest hamburgers in the world. Even so, it has now been about 12 years since I have had a hamburger or steak, and the desire to eat them has passed. The smell of beef is now slightly repulsive to me. Not only has the desire to eat beef gone but also I am more aware of my bodily desires and what my body actually needs verses simply craving. Becoming a vegetarian helped me become more attentive to my body and what its desires and urges (in regards to food) actually meant.
I tell you this story not because I think everyone should be vegetarian, but because how I became a vegetarian illustrates in a small way Paul’s teaching on the body. The vegetarian diet was not forced on me, but I made a choice based on economic benefit. I then chose to continue as a vegetarian because I was healthier. I was free and remain free to eat what ever I want, but I chose to not eat meat because it is to my benefit not be dominated by the desire to eat meat.
Paul wants us to think in terms of the spirituality of our bodies both what is truly beneficial as well as freed from the domination of our bodily desires. We are bound to our desires and cannot distinguish easily between what is truly good for our bodies because of the fall and the dominion of sin and death, form that we are freed due to the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Paul goes further and makes a quite astounding theological assertion: The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, lives in our bodies! Our bodies, not our souls or spirits, or our mid, or hears tar the temple where God lives. Our bodies are the Holy of Holies. This is why what we eat and our sexualities matter.
We may find ourselves in disagreement with Paul about his particular opinions about sex and our bodies, but we should be careful let this disagreement lead us to discount the importance of our bodies for our spirituality. If we down play the importance of our bodies for our spirituality, we risk denying the truth of our baptism and of communion. Our bodies our whole selves do not belong to us but we are God’s. Our bodies through faith, baptism, and communion belong to the Trinity. We are nourished by and identify with Christ and the Holy Spirit lives in our bodies. God is in you. Your body is the place of your encounter with God. Therefore, we are baptized and so we listen to the Scripture and so we eat bread and drink wine. Therefore what you eat and your sexuality have spiritual consequence and can either bring one closer to God or create a barrier between you and God. True Christian faith cannot divide body and Spirit because as members of Christ God in the person of the Holy Sprit lives in our bodies