“Our Bodies and the Body of Christ”

Epiphany 3

January 24, 2016


Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21


          Let’s begin today by thinking a bit about that word “body”. As human beings, we are creatures who have bodies. Many people don’t like their bodies. Our culture negatively judges bodies that don’t look a certain way, especially those that are not thin yet voluptuous in the case of women, or fit and muscular in the case of men. Very few people have bodies that actually meet those standards, and people spend billions of dollars each year on diets, fitness regimens, and plastic surgery trying to change their bodies into something at least resembling those standards. Taken to the extreme, trying to meet these cultural expectations can lead to eating disorders, which can be harmful and even fatal.

          In addition, many in our society tend to look differently on the bodies of those whose skin is a different hue, whose facial features, hair texture, or other characteristics mark them as not being “white”. Racism can be described as discrimination against and rejection of persons based on their outward bodily characteristics. Racism is contrary to the gospel of Christ, which declares that there is neither Jew nor Greek. The apostle Philip baptized an Ethiopian official, a black African.

          Another script running in our society places less value on female bodies than on male bodies. There is still the reality that on average women are paid less than men for doing the same work. A report came out this past week that found the church is still doing this as well—female pastors on average are paid only about ¾ as much as male pastors are, and women are rarely chosen to be senior pastors of large congregations. Paul also said that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Sexism is also contrary to the gospel of Christ, who included women among his disciples and clearly valued women greatly.

          Society also does not deal well with those bodies whose abilities are different from the usual, especially when those abilities are perceived as less. Limitations, whether physical, intellectual, or related to medical conditions, are often looked down upon. We need to remember that much of Jesus’ ministry was to such as these—the blind, the deaf, the mobility-impaired, the skin-diseased (who he touched even though doing so made him ritually unclean), and the demon-possessed (who today we would likely describe as mentally ill). In most cases he healed them, which also had the effect of restoring their relationship to the community. Although most of us do not possess the same healing powers Jesus possessed, for there are some conditions we cannot cure, we do have the power to make such as these a real and meaningful part of the community. We do not always do a great job of doing so. We sometimes forget that everyone has limitations—it’s just that some limitations are less obvious or considered more socially acceptable than others.

          Within some forms of Christianity there has been a tendency to look down upon the body. Taken to its extreme, the body is seen as what gets us into trouble with God. The spiritual life is seen as the highest and noblest goal. There have been a couple different ways this has played out. One way has been to view the body as inherently evil, as something not to be honored or respected, believing one’s bodily life is totally destructive to one’s spiritual life. The other way is to treat body and spirit as totally separate entities, and to live in the body however one pleases, believing how one lives in the body has no impact on one’s spiritual well-being.

          Yet in 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul describes the church as Christ’s body. Paul describes the body as a unit with many parts, with each part being necessary and important to the functioning of the body. No part of the body can function properly without working with other parts. Clearly Paul thought the human body to be a good thing, even to the point of making it a model for how the church should function.

          For that matter, let’s remember that in the coming of Jesus to earth as a human baby, which we recently celebrated at Christmas, God chose to live in a human body as a human being. We call this the Incarnation (the root of which is the Latin word carne, which means “meat” or “flesh”), for as John’s Gospel reminds us, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.” It was his body that was nailed to a cross and which God raised from the dead for our salvation. So in short, the body has a great deal to do with our faith as Christians.

          Our bodies are the place God’s Holy Spirit lives and works in our lives. The Apostle Paul went so far as to describe our bodies as temples where the Holy Spirit lives. He further reminds us in today’s Scripture from 1 Corinthians that “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free (that is, without treating us differently because of the different conditions in which our bodies live), and we were all given one Spirit to drink.” It is from that point that Paul goes on to talk about the body having many parts and about how all the parts are important and need each other, and relates that to the variety of gifts God has placed in our embodied lives for the benefit of all.

          Likewise, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he added, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Now some interpreters over the years have tried to spiritualize the text Jesus read, claiming that Jesus was talking about bringing deliverance from spiritual poverty, spiritual captivity, and spiritual blindness. Although Jesus does bring deliverance from these things, I believe Jesus, in claiming this passage, is also claiming the mission of delivering people from the bodily conditions of poverty, captivity, and blindness. Indeed, his teaching and healing activity focused on these very things.

          We, too, are anointed with God’s Spirit through our baptism. And the church throughout the centuries, imperfect as we are in doing these things, has nonetheless focused a great deal of attention on people’s bodily conditions as it founded hospitals for the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and ministered to those in prison, all the while mindful of what Jesus said, “When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” We do not do these ministries because we are nice people, nor because it makes us feel good, but because God’s Spirit lives in us and empowers us to do these things.

          Therefore, let us glorify God in our bodies. Let us use our bodies, anointed and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, to minister to the spiritual and bodily needs of others. And let us do so out of the conviction that every body, no matter how much different it may be than society’s prevailing whims say it should be, is a precious creation of God.                                                                             Amen.

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