Sermon for Sunday 12th February 2010 – Epiphany 6 – Ordinary time 6
2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Cor 9:24-27
(LINK TO AUDIO RECORDING)
(LINK TO AUDIO RECORDING)
Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
Last week as most if not all of you know I celebrated my 50th Birthday and enjoyed a wonderful day. As a little self indulgence I wrote a note on Facebook – you can tell it was self indulgence because No-one has responded to it :) In it I imagined that Great cricket commentator of my youth, the great Hampshireman, John Arlott describing the scene at Headingley Cricket ground as I raised my bat to the pavilion in acknowledgment of a half century.
Now you have got to know quite a bit about me these past few months, but one thing you don’t know about is my prowess as a cricketer – you didn’t know?? No? Well in my head I m a great cricketer :) In my head!! In England there is something known as The Church Times Cricket competition. All the dioceses field teams, and after regional group stages the best teams play at Lords in the final. I played for Bradford Diocese – we were a bit thin on cricketers :) In my first match I’d been watching the test mtch on TV – I batted six – the first delivery . . . I placed my foot down the track and struck a flawless drive through mid-off for four :) I went on to score 24, nearly all in boundaries before being undone by a slow full toss which took out my middle stump :) Unfortunately the apparent quality of the rest of my innings perseuaded the captain he had a real talent on his hands. I was promoted to open. I now probably hold the Church TImes record for consecutive first ball dismissals :) It was all in my head. In my head I was a Great Cricketer – I still am :) in my head, but not in my body.
We live in a world and culture where we think so much of the body and fear its loss of power. People are consumed by body image – by being slender, or muscular, or athletic – we are warned at every corner about the perils of mistreating our body through unhealthy diet or the like - and when we express aging and our fears for the future, it is nearly always the body we refer to – I cannot do what I once wanted to – I am afraid of losing my physical ability – we feel very threatened by old people who have lost control of their bodies. YET for all we think of the body, we actually think very little of it in temrs of our identity – we do not think ‘I am my body’ we understand the self in a psychological/emotional/ spiritual sense – like the Greek idea of the Soul a persons essence – but to say ‘I am also my body’ comes as a strange idea – obsessed with the body but denying we are our bodies – AND we think very little if Anything of its place in our faith. We hear these words of St Paul, ; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified, and we either fail to comprehend what he is going on about, or, probably after that dismiss him as some strange ascetic. What after all has Faith to do with the body?? As long as he keeps faith he will be ok, surely? How can the body threaten his own salvation??? Surely faith is a matter of thinking the right things?? What has faith got to do with the body. Dismissing St Paul – psychologising him and finding ways to write him off has been popular for a number of years – we always try to dismiss what we don’t understand . . . to our great loss
One of the earliest battles the church had to fight doctrinally was the denial of the Real humanity of Christ – his embodiedness. Indeed the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was not fought for because as we might like to think it was miraculous and therefore divine, rather that it Proved Jesus was Flesh and blood!! Early Christianity grew up in a body denying Greek culture, that is why we speak of the soul although such an idea is hard to find in Scripture, certainly as we think of it. Body denying. Finally the battle was won, but then forgotten and the demon sneaked in through the back door finding the house empty and swept clean – and nowadays it is rare to say the least to hear anything of the VITAL necessity of the body in faith – so we can dismiss Paul
The Word became Flesh . . . and we have seen his glory
John REFUSES point blank to allow us to disconnect the flesh and blood Jesus of Nazareth with ‘the Christ of faith’ which has implications for us which I haven’t got time to go into now – but for him and for the early church the embodiedness of Christ was Essential.
We declare to you what was from the beginning (LOGOS), what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed – they TOUCHED the LIFE
Last week I used the story of Peter and John at the Temple to dramatically illustrate how in the Christendom church we have substituted the Life of God for idols, silver and gold, education, buildings, things which look impressive to the world. But they looked at Peter and John and said – these are uneducated men – they said of Paul – his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible – it was said about Christ ‘there was nothing in his appearance that we should desire him’. Paul was physically spent spreading the gospel throughout the gentile world – and there is something in that story of the healing of the lame man that I am sure we may think of no account : Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
Why take him by the hand? Why mention that? Why didn’t Peter just command him to get up?? Surely faith is enough?? And Yes faith is enough – but the Body is the vehicle of faith. If you examine all the accounts of Jesus healing people – what are exceptional are those healings where Jesus does NOT touch, and in Every single case where he does Not touch there is something else at stake – without Exception. His glory is revealed in the body and by His body. His Glory is inseparable from His body for in his humanity, it is The Glory of the First Adam before he chose to hide.
His glory is revealed in the body - A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. – Jesus Stretched out his hand and touched him – his body the vehicle of Life.
Lepers were cut off – they were cut off because of fear – fear that their disease was infectious – but actually that cutting off from society was a broader manifestation of their condition. Leprosy is a bacterially caused condition which afflicts the sensory nervous system so you cannot feel – the disfigurment of leprosy is brought about in part because if you cannot feel your skin is damaged. We have little inkling of how awful life would be if we could not feel, of how quickly our skin would be damaged and we would be disfigured. In a sense we too have lost touch with our bodies.
Recently I’ve taken to walking barefoot a lot and also doing a little running barefoot. What you rapidly realize is how sensitive the foot is and how shoes numb you to your surroundings. Following the advice of leaders in the field I’ve tried not to avoid sharp gravel, but rather let it re-educate my feet. Remembering things they had forgotten. Encased in shoes feet become weak and lost touch. So similarly enclosed in understanding of faith which doesn’t require the sensitivity of the body or sensitivity to the body we too, you might say have become lepers. Cut off. Having a disembodied faith – not recognizing the VITAL role a body has to play.
Jesus’ glory is revealed in the body and by the body - and that is How God’s glory is to be revealed in us.
We cannot be present to someone without our bodies – we cannot be a vehicle of God’s Life without our bodies – and in the customs of the church we still have a memory of this, but do we realize it is Essential??? – we still ordain through the laying on of hands, but do we realise that we have to in order to be vehicles of God’s power? – we still lay hands on the sick although less than we did because of ( I suggest mistaken ) concerns over vulnerability. Do we realize that this is Essential??? That this is No Mere comfort – it is No mere symbol – Faith is Enacted in and through the body – faith is not ideas, is is Eternal Life and human Life is utterly identified with the body.
Lent is fast approaching. A season of Discipline and there are several in which the body is most clearly involved – most obviously Fasting. Fasting is a discipline which I think has almost fallen into universal disuse throughout the Western Church. Very few books are written on it, none when put in comparison with prayer and other aspects of Christian disciplines. Yet it is The Discipline that most rapidly reconnects our faith to our body. The Christendom church learnt to live on the bread of silver and gold, of education, of buildings – and forgot that it’s true bread was the Power of god present amongst us. The individual likewise has forgotten that man lives not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God and so as St Paul warns, our stomachs are all too often our gods, in other words our bodies have become dominated by that which should not dominate them. We have been overpowered – Fasting sharply reminds us of that. We find neat theological sounding excuses for not fasting as we do with other commands of God.
Fasting is a gift - It’s like walking barefoot – all of a sudden we become sharply aware of how out of touch with our bodies we have become –Bodies which are Vital to our faith. We begin to reconnect the two
Perhaps in Lent we might revisit this – for the Word became Flesh – and the Word hungered in the desert – and the Word learnt obedience in the body – and Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, took that body and broke it for the sake of the world.
May we again learn the true power of Life that dares take on Flesh.