Sunday, January 15, 2012
Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 15, 2012)
“What You Do With Your Body Matters" (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
What you do with your body matters. Consider the way your “body language” gives powerful, non-verbal cues. For example, someone is pouring out their heart to you, and you do this: [look at fingernails, yawn and look away, fiddle with glasses, look at your smartphone]. No matter how much you insist that you care about what the person is telling you, what you are doing with your body gives the opposite impression. What you do with your body matters.
The same is true in our relationship to God. What are you saying to God with the things you do with or to your body? No matter how much you say that you believe it is important to “glorify God with your body,” what you do with your body gives the opposite impression. Your body is God’s creation. Your life is a gift. “For you formed my inward parts,” the Psalmist declares. “You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13-14). The almighty God of the universe knew you long before your mother and father ever saw your face. He was busy molding you and shaping you before your little face ever saw the light of day.
In Holy Baptism, your body becomes God’s temple. Through water and Word, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within you. Ignatius of Antioch, first-century Church Father and disciple of the apostle John, understood this well. In many of his writings, he refers to himself as “Theophorus” … “God-bearer.” Ignatius confessed that God dwelt within him as a baptized believer in Christ.
Your body is a temple. God dwells within you. You are a “Theophorus” … a “God-bearer.” If the Spirit of God is within you, then he has truly touched your body. What God touches becomes holy. The forgiving presence of God makes you holy. You are sanctified. That which is holy is set apart for God’s purposes. This is the same reason why, in the book of Leviticus, the Lord told the Israelites, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Through contact with the Lord God in the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle, the people were made holy. Likewise, through contact with the Lord God through Word and Sacrament, you are made holy … not just your souls, but your bodies, too.
We like to think that we can do whatever we want with our bodies. The Corinthian argument was this: “All things are lawful for me.” They were exercising their freedom in Christ to the point of sinful excess. They may have been influenced by certain philosophies of the day which held that it didn’t matter what you did with your body … it was the soul that mattered.
Our arguments today are not much different. Take, for example, those who approve of abortion. “It’s my body,” they loudly persist. “I can do what I want with it.” But we already established that it is not your body. God made it. It belongs to him. And that body growing within you was, like your body, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God no matter what the circumstances surrounding the conception.
What about matters of relations between men and women? Not many of us would argue that cheating on our spouse is okay. Nor can I imagine that any of you would be so crass as to say that visiting the red light district for a little recreation is acceptable. But many of us would argue that it doesn’t hurt to “look” … especially if it’s just a picture on a computer screen. But whether you become one flesh in reality or only in your imagination with someone who is not your spouse, that is still adultery … immorality … “porneia” as it is in the Greek. Your body is not your own. It belongs to your spouse. It belongs to God.
The Son of God gained a real body when he was incarnate and born of the Virgin Mary. He was manifested to the world at Epiphany as God in the flesh, baptized in the Jordan to carry out the mission his Father gave to him to bear the sins of the world. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. You were bought by God with the precious blood of Jesus shed at the cross. You belong to him. Your soul belongs to him. Your body belongs to him. He is the Bridegroom. The Church is his bride. Jesus is ever faithful to his Church. Jesus recognized that his body was not his to use for his own selfish purposes. He always and completely offered up his body in service to sinners, among whom were also prostitutes and adulterers.
Recall how Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery. Jesus did not condone her sin, but clearly acted with compassion toward her, especially in light of the deceitful intent of her accusers. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus said. One by one, clenched fists relaxed. One by one, stones fell to the ground. Empty-handed, each man turned aside, his proverbial tail between his legs. Now there was only Jesus and the woman. He says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she said. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 9:3-11). “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Jesus treats sinners with compassion. Jesus is always ready and willing to forgive and receive us back into his loving arms when our eyes and our hearts wander away from him, when we have made choices that we severely regret. He invites us to approach him in repentant trust and our loving Savior – the Groom of the Church – unselfishly, unconditionally offers to us his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
What you do with your body matters. We are not disembodied spirits. God created Adam with a body and breathed life into him. God’s intention was for us to live body and soul together in union.
This is also why what we do with our body in worship is important. We make the sign of the cross, reminding us that our foreheads and our hearts were marked with that same sign when God claimed us as his own in Baptism. We bow before the altar where the Sacrament is prepared for us to eat and drink. We stand or kneel when we pray and when we receive the body and blood of Jesus, showing honor and reverence in the presence of God. We sit to listen and to learn when the Scriptures are read and the sermon is preached. It’s also customary to bow the head at the Gloria Patri or whenever there is a Doxology, a word of praise to the Holy Trinity. It’s customary to bow the head at the Holy Name of Jesus at certain points in the liturgy. Some pastors genuflect at the altar after the words of institution, acknowledging the real presence of Christ in the elements upon the altar. We engage all the senses in the Divine Service … sight, sound, touch, taste, even smell for those churches who use incense. All of this bodily action is, of course, church tradition that is not prescribed in the Bible. Doing it does not make you a better Christian. Not doing it is does not make you a lesser Christian. But because we are not disembodied spirits, what we do with our bodies may indeed assist our souls in our devotion and worship. To be sure, what is not optional in this Christian life is using our bodies in unselfish service to our neighbor, empowered by the Spirit who makes our bodies his temple and leads us to sing, “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee; Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.” (LSB 783.1)
Death is the separation of the soul from the body. But God’s intention is to reunite the soul with the body in the resurrection on the Last Day. So we treat these God-bearing bodies properly, honoring them, acknowledging that we will have these same bodies forever … no longer with all of the problems caused by sin, but immortal like the risen body of Jesus. “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power … he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him … You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”