Sermon: Body Image
From Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
Body Image: 18 January 2009: am: The Revd Jenny Wilkens
- Psalm 139:12-18, 23-24
- 1 Samuel 3:1-10
- 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
- John 1:43-51
How’s your body image at the moment? Maybe January’s not a fair time to ask, perhaps it’s a bit soon after all that Christmas indulgence! Many of us have a very ambivalent relationship with our bodies – I know I do, and probably many of us have a lifetime journey towards acceptance of our bodies.
We live in a global culture that puts impossible expectations on how we see and present our bodies – a huge burden for our young people, but increasingly right through the age spans. Although I am encouraged in this weekend’s Dom to find that the ‘in’ supermodels for this year are those in their 40s and 50s!
The powerful multinational advertising industry exploits our dis-ease with our bodies at all ages. Just think of the term the Body Shop, for a start. And maybe we’re not that far away from the possibility of going shopping for new body parts in the future.
Joking apart, of course at the worst end of the spectrum is the exploitation and abuse of bodies in our world, particularly but not only those of women and children, where bodies are commodities to buy and sell, bodies separated from their inevitably damaged souls.
It’s been said that the exploitation of the body is one of the consequences when a society loses sight of God’s involvement with the world. ‘If God is found [only] beyond the body, then anything can be done to the body’(Rubem Alves), the body doesn’t matter anymore. Rather Christians would want to affirm the Christmas message of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the incarnation, that God has taken on our body and values it.
Of course to counter the negative stuff, there is the whole movement too in our society towards holistic health, the integration of health for body, mind & spirit – some of it a bit wacky, but a lot of it good common sense: making good life-style choices, achieving life balance, we know the lingo. There does seem to be a longing for integration in our lives, for living as whole people, in a world that has so often divided us up into bits, a world that only seems interested in our bodies.
And perhaps this is a healthy corrective for a church culture that has only shown interest in our minds and spirits, obliging our bodies to knuckle under! Think what many of us were taught in our childhood - keep still in church, keep your body still, close your eyes and put your hands together so you can concentrate, don’t fidget on those hard wooden pews, or the kneelers that feel like they’re filled with concrete, don’t get too comfortable, don’t worry about the lack of heating – it’s good for you, and for heaven’s sake don’t snore!!
For many of us it’s a learning curve to enjoy worshipping with our bodies, as well as our minds and spirits – to worship God with the whole of our being. Your body is at worship with you today – what does that mean for you? It’s something you might like to experiment with, as you get up and greet people at the Peace, as you walk up to communion, as you stand or kneel, as you cross yourself, as you stretch out your hands to receive communion. Maybe pray today with your eyes open, use your senses and God’s created world to stimulate your prayers; listen to the music; during the Eucharist, watch, listen, smell, taste, touch.
Where we relate to God with our spirit and our mind and our body, there is the possibility of new life, of resurrection, of re-union, of God putting us back together in new creation. Maybe for many of us, part of that is accepting and owning our own bodies before God, of being able to say with the Psalmist in Today’s Sentence: ‘I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, that I know very well.’ (Psalm 139:14). That might be quite a good Green Prescription for us all for this week – take once daily!
As we come to our Bible readings, Paul’s rather vigorous exchange with the Corinthians sounds strangely familiar. Some in this cosmopolitan, rather racy port city, are saying now we’re Christians, we’re no longer under the law, anything goes: food for the stomach, the stomach for food; by extrapolation, sex for the body, the body for sex – go for it! Fornication, prostitution, boobs on bikes, whatever – very 21st century.
Paul doesn’t come back with rules, but with some somewhat startling statements of his own, which can get a bit lost midst the more sensational bits. Just what does it mean to say ‘The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’(v13)? We’re so used to compartmentalising body and spirit, that we can well ask just what has Jesus got to do with my body and what I do with it! Paul seems to be suggesting that as Christians, God wants to relate to us and work through us as fully physical human beings, both now and in the life hereafter: “God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.”(v14)
So in this context, what you do sexually, you do with your whole self, not just with the physical bit of you. In the same way, what you are and do as a Christian, you are and do as your whole self, not just the ‘spiritual’ part of you.
Perhaps that’s what it means for our bodies to be a temple of the Holy Spirit (v19). If you are a Christian, it’s not that you only have dealings with God’s Spirit when you are praying, or at church, or engaged in more obviously ‘religious’ activities. No, God’s Spirit has permanent residence within us, God loves and values us, body, mind and spirit, and proved that in the most costly way at the cross where Jesus suffered and died in his body for us.
‘Glorify God then in your body’(v20) – discover in your body how to live the truly human life which brings glory to God in whose image you were made, and whose own unique image, his Son Jesus, died to rescue you from all that will stop you being the whole person God longs for you to be. At its best, that is truly integrating and life-giving for each one of us.
And amazingly enough, it’s also good for the church! For Paul plays here with the image of the Body of Christ, which he will develop further in this epistle. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”(v15). Individually we are in relationship with Christ, but also together we make up the Body of Christ on this earth. So we rejoice with those who rejoice – as we rejoice today with Revd Mark & Louise Brown at the birth of their son, Patrick, and claim those wonderful words of Psalm 139 for him.
We weep with those who weep – with those who are struggling in body or mind or spirit this day. We hold each other in love and prayer. We celebrate with those who celebrate, and we keep holy silence with those who cannot celebrate today.
We listen for God’s voice to speak to us as the Body of Christ this morning. I find it a helpful reminder to reflect that Samuel may not have heard God’s call without Eli, however weak and compromised in his faith he was, and that Nathanael might never have found his Messiah without Philip. Who might God be calling us to be Eli or Philip or Philippa to today?
We as the church are the ‘called out’ ones, the literal meaning of the Greek word ‘ecclesia’ and we have been called together. What does it mean for us to have been called together as the Cathedral community this year? What is God calling us to together this year? What will we discern together as we seek God and listen to one another in our parish review coming up?
Perhaps January is a good time for us to be doing a little sitting under the fig tree, looking and listening for Jesus to speak to us, to call us afresh ‘Follow me’. I was going to suggest January might also be the time for some dozing in the Temple so we with Samuel can ask, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
Will we be open to God’s call to us, as individuals and as the Body of Christ here? May Jesus, the one who bridges heaven and earth, say to us too, ‘You will see greater things than these’ and may we be willing to answer that call, body, mind and spirit. Amen.