“If we are divided from our body, we are also divided from the body of the world-which then appears to be other than us, or separate from us, rather than the living continuum to which we belong.” – Philip Shepherd
September 4, 2022
“This Here Flesh”
Body and Dignity
Genesis 1: 27-28; Hebrews 2: 5-9, 14
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Before reading our Scripture for this morning, I wanted to give a little background for the new sermon series which we are starting today. As I shared in the weekly email, this series is based on the writings of Cole Arthur Riley. But that is only part of the thought process behind this series.
As many of you may remember, Midway Christian Church is part of a program through Lexington Theology Seminary called Thriving Congregations. It is a five year program and in July, we began year three. The focus of year three is: to develop a deeper relationship between the pastor and an empowered laity. Congregations are invited to craft a project that strengthens this relationship in a way that benefits the entire congregation.
I shared in our grant proposal for year three that Midway Christian Church would be focusing on “what’s next” in this post-Covid reality. I went on to say that This idea had been percolating for a bit, that it actually started during the pandemic as we heard stories of restaurants adapting to something different from their “norm” of serving customers in their restaurants. Suddenly, they had to figure out a new way. We have also heard stories of local farmers who are adapting to something different from their new “norm”. Selling products to larger farms and taking animals to stock yards miles away no longer made sense. Many local farmers saw that the way they used to do it no longer worked. They had to think outside of the box and develop a new way of bringing farm to table.
Even banks, a staple in most people’s lives, are having to figure out new ways of being, especially as more people do their banking online and are no longer using their local bank buildings.
But this idea really hit home a couple of months ago when Lexington’s Parkette Drive In shut down. In an interview, the owner’s son in law stated that the business model under which they operated no longer works. So they made the hard decision to shut down.
All these institutions which I mentioned are trying to figure out how to exist in this new post Covid reality, whatever that means. But the amazing thing is for most of these institutions, they are not straying far from what they were already doing best. Instead, they are simplifying it. They are reclaiming who they are and what they do that no other entity can do.
When I shared this idea with our Thriving Congregations, the response was positive with even a little bit of what about this…What if Midway Christian Church finds our way through to the next part of our journey by doing what we do best, what our faith teaches us to do? What if Midway Chrisitan Church finds our way through to the next part of our journey by embracing a radical transformation through what we as people of faith have done for two thousand years…a reclaiming of contemplative spirituality, a reclaiming of spiritual practices, a reclaiming of our story of who we are and whose we are. What if Midway Chrisitan Church finds our way through to the next part of our journey as Cole Arthur Riley says, “by beholding the divine in all things,…knowing that our faith is a place to be contemplative and still, yet active, to hold things in tension; to play with doubt and curiosity; to understand that answers are not easy. It is a place to explore [what it means to have a lived spirituality in our day to days lives] to have a lived in spiritual experience, to feel it in our flesh, breath and bones…Because, we as the people of God, we as the Body of Christ, we in this here flesh, our bodies are imperfect. Our experiences are incomplete. As people of God, we know only in part the mystery of God. But all of it, our bodies, our experiences, our knowledge, our connection to Creation, all of it is ours and is beloved by God.” All of these things are our truest connection to the Divine. So, with all that in mind, let us now turn to our Scripture reading for the day…
Genesis 1: 27-27
God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”
Hebrews 2: 5-9, 14
God didn’t put the world that is coming (the world we are talking about) under the angels’ control. Instead, someone declared somewhere, What is humanity that you think about them? Or what are the human beings that you care about them? For a while you made them lower than angels. You crowned the human beings with glory and honor. You put everything under their control. When he puts everything under their control, he doesn’t leave anything out of control. But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while—it’s Jesus! He’s the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of his death. He suffered death so that he could taste death for everyone through God’s grace.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying.
Body and Dignity Genesis 1: 27-28; Hebrews 2: 5-9, 14
We are told from the very beginning of our faith story, that God created humanity in God’s own image, that in the divine image, God created them. Then in the text from Hebrews, the author borrows a bit from Psalm 8, reveling in the idea that we as humanity have been created a little less than angels. It completely boggles the author’s mind that God cares about us as individuals, that God has crowned us with glory and honor. Our very faith story tells us that such knowledge is too wonderful to comprehend.
This celebration of us, this celebration of all of us being created in God’s image…this is where I thought the sermon would be going. Yet throughout the week, I was reminded on more than one occasion, how often we dismiss this life transforming news, that for many people, they have never been told this. They have never experienced this knowledge in their daily lives. They have never had someone see them, really see them as a person created in the image of God, as someone who is named and claimed as a Beloved Child of God.
This understanding has ramifications beyond us as individuals. It affects us as a wider community. For many of us, we have been handed an experience “which ignores or distrusts or sometimes even hates the body”. We also know that “we live in a society that has made the body a commodity, that has privileged certain kinds of bodies more than others.
Knowing all that…How can we ever hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on Earth when we can’t even claim the life transforming news that we are created in the image of God not only for ourselves but for all of God’s children? How can we love our neighbor as ourselves when many of us, myself included, look in the mirror and see the flaws and imperfections rather than the light and love of God reflected back? How can we reclaim the story of who we are and whose we are if we do not embrace the knowledge that we in ordinary and extraordinary ways embody the Divine in our lives each and every day?
I have no concrete answers for these questions but what I do know is that a quote which I shared in my Theology Tuesday has been going over and over in my mind. This quote was by author Phillip Shepherd…which said, “If we are divided from our body, we are also divided from the body of the world-which then appears to be other than us, or separate from us, rather than the living continuum to which we belong.
There is a disconnect for us as humanity between this knowledge which is too wonderful to comprehend and how we treat our bodies. Yes, we all know we should eat right, that we should exercise, that we should take our vitamins, especially vitamin D. But if we only claim these practices, we are only telling part of our bodies’ story.
For us as people of faith to reconnect to the body of the world, to see all as connected to us, we must once again be connected to our body. And this is where contemplative spiritually comes in. This is where what we do as people of faith comes in. This is where we reclaim who we are and whose we are once more. Julian of Norwich, once wrote, “The fruit and the purpose of prayer is to be ‘oned’ with and like God in all things.” After suffering immense pain, she created a body prayer as a simple and beautiful way to pray without words.
Julian of Norwich’s body prayer can help us resist the idea that the body is something we need to renounce or transcend in order to experience communion with God. Instead, Julian invites us to be in our bodies, embrace our physicality as a way to ground ourselves, and find oneness with the divine and with all living things. It is a way to reclaim God’s love for our experiences, for our bodies, for this here flesh. So, I want to take a few moments and invite us all to join in this contemplative practice. As we pray this prayer it can help us connect our heart, mind, and body and to more fully experience God’s love for every part of ourselves.
The prayer has four simple postures. And intentions.
AWAIT (hands at waist, cupped up to receive): Await God’s presence, however it may come to you.
ALLOW (reach up, hands open): Allow a sense of God’s presence) to come …or not…and be what it is.
ACCEPT (hands at heart, cupped towards body): Accept as a gift whatever comes or does not come. Accept that you don’t know everything, that you are not in charge.
ATTEND (hands outstretched, ready to be responsive): Attend to what you are called to, willing to be present and be God’s love in the world, however God calls you to.
I also invite everyone to incorporate this prayer into your morning devotions this week, spending time reconnecting, remembering our wholeness and a reunion with the fullness of ourselves.” May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, September 4, 2022 – Body and Dignity Genesis 1: 27-28; Hebrews 2: 5-9, 14.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.