Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn
I made a mistake on Tuesday. I invited my 10-year-old son Desmond to go jogging with me. I’ve been jogging quite a bit lately, and he expressed some interest. I didn’t want to over tax him, so we ran a slow 3 miles. But then when we got to Lynn Street over by Fuel on 24th Avenue, I told him that I always run up that hill as fast as I can, so I’d meet him at the top. That was my mistake. I had a solid five-yard lead; he caught and beat me to the top by at least five-yards. Of course, I told him I wasn’t trying. But there comes a time when the body just doesn’t do what the body used to do.
It gave me cause to consider the role of our bodies in the kingdom of God.
I’ll tell you, there are times when I’m watching young children play sports and I just well up with tears. I get all choked up. There is something beautiful about the effort of a body in motion. It provokes in me a deep joy when I see children playing with all their heart because these bodies we have are the expression of our whole being. In fact, they are the singular way, through actions and words, that we express ourselves to the world. And so, it is through the body that our character is seen, our priorities are known, and our feelings are shared, and our thoughts are expressed. It is through the body.
The body, when it does what the body was made to do, acts upon the orders of the will of our heart. When these orders are good and healthy, and happen consistently over time, we have bodies that act habitually for the good of ourselves and our neighbors, and generally the world. But when these orders are corrupt and self-centered, over time the body acquires habits that are self-destructive and bad for our neighbors and the world.
Our bodies say much about who we are. Now they don’t say everything about who we are. A body that is incapacitated by illness is not a reflection of one’s soul; a body that is changed by an accident says nothing about the content of one’s character. But our bodies in their normal state do say quite a bit about our relationship to community and to God.
Today I want to talk about our bodies and how we present ourselves. I’d like to do this in two ways: first, by talking about how we present ourselves to our neighbors; and second, by talking about how we present ourselves to God.
Football is going to work its way into this sermon, not just because I like football, but because the Seattle Seahawks are in the Super Bowl. If you’re tired of football, or don’t know anything about football, don’t worry, Jesus is at the core of what I’m talking about. That is the beauty of life in the kingdom of God, if you drill down deep enough you will always hit the Gospel.
Today the Gospel is called the presentation of Jesus. It is the story of a cultural rite of passage. It was believed in ancient Judaism that bodily fluids were unclean, so forty days after birth it was the custom to present the child to the priest for a good bath. I guess it became a “rite” because a priest was involved. But within this washing ritual lives the pure human instinct to acknowledge that a body comes from God and was made to honor God. At forty days we really don’t know anything about a child. We don’t know a child’s future size or shape. We know nothing about his or her athletic prowess or intellectual capacity. We don’t know the patterns of their character. We just know they eat, cry and poop. This is true for every child including Jesus.
While Simeon and Anna prophesied about him, he was still, in that moment, no different than any other child. He was a little body brought into the world for purpose yet realized. And so the presentation was the community’s way of saying this body, this blessed little body, will be the vehicle through which the purposes of this person are presented to the world and to God. So in the presentation story of Jesus we find these points: the body is the anchor of our temporal being; and the body locates us in place and time, and it is through the body that we act upon our neighbor and represent our relationship with God.
So today I’d like to explore how we present the fullness of our being, through our body, to our neighbors, and how we present the fullness of our being, through our body, to God.
But before we actually get into this, I want to highlight one particular theme from the presentation story. It is something that was true in the days of Jesus and is true today. Cultural messages and expectations, and, basically, baggage can get in the way of how we treat our bodies, how we view other people’s bodies, and how we honor God with our bodies. In the presentation story, this baggage is the prejudice of the rite of purification being only for the firstborn son. And the baggage is the financial quid pro quo of having to purchase a pigeon or dove to secure the rite. We have our own cultural baggage today. There are things that can distract us from seeing the body as the beautiful thing that locates the fullness of our being in a particular place, at a particular time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at one example of how we present ourselves to our neighbors through our body.
Clothes are a good place to start. Everyone has some. They can call out wonderful features of our body: colors can complement our skin and eyes, and cuts can complement our shape. They can highlight us in a way that shows we honor and consider and care for our body through clothing choices. That’s good. Clothes can also be used to separate and differentiate us. Clothes can confer status.
I remember my driving ambition to get a pair of red-tagged Levi jeans when I was in seventh grade. It was what the cool kids wore. And yet my dad also wore red-tagged Levi jeans, and there was nothing cool about my Dad. In fact, I remember asking him why he wore red-tagged Levi jeans. He responded, “I always have. These jeans are older than you are. I like this type of jean; they fit right, and they are well made.” This taught me that clothes may be worn by someone to express status, and the same clothes may be worn by someone else because they really work for them.
The presentation of our body says something about how we see ourselves, and how we judge the presentation of someone else’s body also says something about ourselves. Another example of the same thing is the watch I wear. Watches can be practical. They can also confer status, but for me this watch reminds me of my daughter who gave it to me a few years ago
So there are two things to hold in mind about the presentation of the body. First, our presentation says something about us; and second, how we judge someone else’s presentation says something about us.
Now let’s look at how we present our bodies to God.
Let me give you a few examples. We can start with what we are doing right now, which is putting our bodies in church. And then there is the family who bows their heads in prayer at a restaurant. How about the person who wears a huge cross, or a yarmulke, or bows down over a prayer rug at noon? And then there are some who use their voice to present their bodies to God, like the street preacher, a pro football player, or a parent who says prayers with their child at night.
Think about how you present yourself to God with your actions and words. And think about how you respond when you see someone else’s presentation to God through actions and words. The Apostle Paul says that we were set aside by God before the beginning of time for purpose. That purpose happens through the body. To attribute the body’s actions to the purposes of God can be a beautiful thing and move us to tears.
It moved Russell Wilson to tears after the game against the Packers two weeks ago. That was a mountain top experience for him. The fact that it was a mountain top experience for him and that he attributed this mountain top experience to God in no way diminished anyone who played for the Packers. Some believe that and some don’t, but I do know at least one Packer believed it. Some of you may have seen the post-game moment when a group of Seahawks, including Russell Wilson, got down on one knee, held hands, bowed heads, and prayed. In that circle there was one Green Bay Packer. You can bet the prayer wasn’t about victory, being better than the opponent, or about how God loved them more than the other team. I wasn’t there, but I’d imagine it was a prayer of thanksgiving for what bodies can do.
As I come to the end of this sermon, I’d like to invite you to consider how you present yourself to your neighbors with your body. How does your character reflect out in your body’s habits? How do the routines of your shopping, eating, traveling, exercising, and associations reflect who you are and what you believe? What does your body, by word and action, tell people about the fullness of your being?
I’d also like you to consider what knee jerk responses you have to how other people dress, or what they drive, or where they live, or who they hang out with. What assumptions do you make that might be more about culture baggage than what a person is really saying with their body?
And as I come to the end of this sermon, I’d like you to consider how you present your body to God. What does adoration look like for you in word and action? Ebullient, effusive, emotional? Or quietly sequestered within the confines of your mind? Is thanksgiving habitual or accidental or episodic based on need? And how do you view others who use their body, words and actions, to present their relationship with God in an “all in” kind of way?
It is a good day to consider these things. Today is presentation of the body of infant Jesus at the temple. Today the Seahawks are playing in the Super Bowl. And I imagine if you watch the game all the way to the end you will see someone saying something with their body about their relationship with God. And I’d invite you consider if you were in the same position, would you do the same thing?