Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20
It was a beautiful January morning as I made my long and arduous daily commute between the parsonage and the church. Hollidaysburg was bustling around me as people were commuting to their jobs as well. With my eyes I could see the sun gleaming off of the courthouse clock tower. That’s a sight that never gets old. With my ears I could hear a lawyer and a client on the opposite sidewalk discussing their case. My nose could smell something savory that was wafting through the air, most likely bacon, and it was coming from the direction of the creperie. Instantly I was regretting the unsatisfying granola bar that I was munching on. And as I walked that short distance I could feel the chill of winter setting into the fabric of my clothes. All five of my senses were firing, doing their job. My body was alive and well.
Where would we be without our bodies? Technically, we would be nowhere, wouldn’t we? It is with our bodies that we experience the world, everything it has to offer, the exciting and the mundane, the beautiful and the commonplace, the pleasant and the off-putting. God has given us the gift of flesh in which we move and interact with the rest of creation.
Each of us, when we stand in front of a full length mirror, has a story to tell about the mixture of bones, muscles, and fat that we see reflecting back at us. We can tell a history in our scars, or wrinkles, and our grey hairs. We see bodies that have been through a lot, things like injuries and surgeries and child birth and falls. We see attributes that we take pride in, and attributes that disappoint us. No matter what we feel about these personalized units, with reverence we can look in the mirror and give thanks that we are God’s unique creation. We know that God loves every part of us, including our flesh.
We recently wrapped up the season of Christmas, when we celebrate the miraculous fact that Jesus was born of Mary. We follow the Word made flesh and we see that the body is associated with God, just as much as the soul. In fact, Jesus shows us how to use the body to connect with God—through prayer, fasting, service, fellowship, and taking time to savor the world.
Jesus was incarnate, and so are we. All of us share in this fact. We are united by the experiences of breathe, heartbeats, hunger, splinters, bad hair days, pimples, and calluses. We are connected to each other and to the Word made flesh in the most basic of ways…and yet, so very often we neglect our own flesh, or worse, we treat our bodies with shame or scorn or scandal.
The body is the location of our spirituality. It is central to the Spirit. It is with our bodies that we first experience God, in the very same way that we experience sun and cold and the delightful smell of bacon. I live here. This is my soul’s address. God wants me to use this thing to connect with the divine. All of this, not just the brain can connect with God. After all, we believe and bear witness to the resurrection of the body, not just the resurrection of the soul.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he has a thing or two to say to this fledgling church that is existing in an extremely multicultural setting. Quite specifically Paul calls out sexual immorality: the members of the church are living in a city where temple prostitution, sexual slavery, and promiscuity are all culturally acceptable, even encouraged. In Chapter 5 Paul even outlines a situation that is taking place in that very church, the type of thing that would be written into a Soap Opera, where a son was living with his stepmother. Paul is so critical he says the local pagans wouldn’t even dream of this stuff! Knock it off people!
Stepping back a little, the whole of Paul’s argument isn’t even about sex. It is about honoring the body that you’ve been given. It is about experiencing God in the most complete way. That just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Just because there’s no law against it doesn’t mean it is good for us.
Paul is clear that we are unified in one mind with Christ. We are also unified in one Body with Christ. What we do effects our individual selves, our communal body as the church, and the whole universal Body of Christ. Using language from Genesis he reminds us that two shall become one flesh. Who and what are you uniting your flesh with?
Do you not know that your body is a temple?
Back during the lockdown venues from all over the world began offering virtual tours of museums, historical sites, national parks, and other notable places you might want to visit. I virtually toured a few of these cultural and natural treasures including Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia. It is absolutely massive and hauntingly beautiful. There’s over 400 acres of buildings—it’s the largest religious monument in the world with 72 temples. It was fascinating to take this virtual tour of a UNESCO World Heritage site that I will most likely never visit, to see all of the detail with these stunning photographs on these 900 year old buildings.
Temples are for honoring the divine. They are designed and built to hone our religious experience, helping us to access the spiritual. It makes no difference if it’s Angkor Wat helping people connect with Vishnu or the Temple of Jerusalem helping Jews worship the God of Israel—that was their purpose. A temple is a conduit to God. Here, Paul is making the point that our bodies are a conduit to God. The body is central to the Spirit. They are a temples of flesh and blood.
Do we treat our bodies with that kind of reverence? Do we care for them like UNESCO World Heritage Site or give them as much importance as Jerusalem’s Temples of old?
If we have been reminded of anything in the past 12 months it is that our bodies are fragile. We know what disease can do, but we also know how sex or overeating or undereating or poor nutrition or lack of exercise or lack of sleep or alcohol or drugs or any number of other things can absolutely wreck these temples. We shame and scorn our bodies for all their faults, for all the ways they have failed us, and we forget that they are holy, they are from God. We forget that a ruined temple will have ruinous results for our faith.
Glorify God in your body, for you were bought with a price. Care for your body and honor your spiritual union with Christ. Remember that your soul is sealed within this wonderful vessel. Your faith is as deep as bones.
Let me be clear, this sermon is not a call to embark on the newest fad diet or a one week detox or a 30 day exercise challenge or for you to give up coffee or booze…it is a reminder that the gift of flesh and blood is how we experience our faith. It is a reminder that our spirituality goes past the one square foot of real estate that is our brain and is the product of our whole self. It is a reminder that our spirituality starts with our senses and too often we complicate faith with our intellect. For we remember that Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me,” not “believe this in remembrance of me.” And, once again, everlasting life with God begins with the resurrection of the body.
I’ll close by offering a short observation from the brilliant theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who wrote:
“Christianity is not a set of beliefs or doctrines one believes in order to be a Christian, but rather Christianity is a is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable.”
Take care of the temple that God has given you, for it is how we commune with all that is holy. Take care of this gift and our interaction with God will truly be unavoidable. AMEN