Live Streaming of Services                                     Browse recent sermons




 A Sermon Preached by Rev. Gregory Hall at Clarence Presbyterian on October 13, 2019.

THE PRACTICE OF HONORING THE BODY

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  I Corinthians 6:19

        Today we continue our fall series on Christian practices that help us grow in discipleship.  Our practice for today might seem different from many of the others.  We are not talking about prayer or Scripture or some other high spiritual experiences.  Today we focus on the practice of honoring our bodies.  

        The South American author Eduardo Galeano once wrote:

The Church says: the body is a sin.
Science says: the body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The Body says: I am a fiesta.

The statement that the church believes the body is the focus of sin is a commonly held error.  The Scriptures do not teach that the body is bad.  In the book of Genesis we are told that when God had completed all of creation, including human beings body and soul, he pronounced it all good.  The Jewish culture in which Jesus was raised and from which Christianity emerged had a positive image of the body and material world.  

        In some of the surrounding cultures of the first century there were philosophies and religions that did not affirm the goodness of creation.  They believed there is a great divide between the material and spiritual.  They taught what we might call a dualistic understanding where the material world is the locus of evil and decay.  There have been some Christians who talk as if there is a great dichotomy between the material and the spiritual.  They sometimes talk as if spiritual things are good and earthly material things are the focus of evil. 

        This has caused some Christians to speak of the body and its demands as being evil.  But the Bible does not make this kind of distinction.  God created human beings body and soul and pronounced them good.   In the incarnation Jesus took on a human body which blesses all human bodies.  In our text we are told to understand our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

        Yet for all of that we human beings have an ambivalent relationship with our bodies.
About twenty-five years ago, in the midst of performing a funeral in Niagara Falls, I had a strange experience. In the midst of reading a lesson from the Old Testament I looked down at the lectern that held my papers.  My eyes happened to focus on my hands.  I was suddenly struck by the thought that these were not my hands.  I saw some veins and wrinkles.  These hands appeared to be a bit weathered.  They were certainly not the hands of a young person.  While they seemed somewhat familiar, they were not my hands.  After a bit it struck me, they looked like my grandfather’s hands.
I believe that many of us have had similar experiences in our lives, times when we have experienced being alienated from our bodies.

        This often happens to us during puberty.  Our bodies have hormones shooting through them and changes are transforming our bodies so quickly that we just do not know who or what we are.  Our bodies can seem to be an alien’s body in which we are trapped.

        This can happen to us when we are sick and are unable to perform tasks that we are accustomed to completing.  Broken bones or a lack of energy can make our bodies feel like enemies that impede us from doing all that we want to do.

        Age can make us feel disconnected from our bodies.  There are times we get up in the morning and look in the mirror and we wonder who the stranger is looking back at us.  Our mental self-image has no connection with that person staring out at us.  We don’t feel anywhere near as old as that person looks.

        There are times we are alienated from our bodies because we just do not like our looks at all.  We read glossy magazines and see pictures of the models, be they male or female.  They all seem to have perfectly sculpted bodies.  Their hair is perfectly coiffed. Their skin is flawless.  The constant images of glamorous looking men and women in movies, television and magazines can lead us to have a negative view of our own bodies.

        In so many ways men, women and children can experience times of hostility to their bodies.

        This morning I would like to focus on the proper relationship that we are to develop with our bodies. The Bible calls on us to learn to honor our bodies and care for them.  

        What does it mean to honor our bodies?

        First it means to understand the truth that our bodies are good.  In our reading from the book of Genesis we read the creation story that speaks of God creating us in his likeness and image.  God pronounces all of creation to be good.  Our bodies are not evil.  They are gifts to us by God.  God saw everything that he made and called it good.

        In the New Testament we are told that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This means God took on a body in Jesus.  There were some Christians in the first century that hated the body.  They believed that evil was located in earthly things.  They found it hard to believe that God actually took on a body.  Yet the Gospel is clear that Jesus was fully human and well as fully divine.

        Jesus had a human body.  We have not been given great details about Jesus’ appearance.  We know that Jesus had a certain body type.  Jesus had certain color hair and his complexion was probably quite dark.  He would have worn his hair long.  He would in all likelihood have had a beard.  The Bible is not all that concerned about giving us a physical portrait of Jesus.  Yet it it’s fundamental to the Biblical message that Jesus had a body of flesh and bones. In taking on a human body, Christ blesses all bodies.

        When we come to understand in a general way that bodies are created by God and are good, we move on to the second step, which is accepting our bodies.  If God has created us then we are to accept the bodies we have been given.

        Each one of us has been created with a unique body.  We have a singular combination of genetic material that determines many of the attributes of our bodies.  We all have a unique combination of characteristics.  Each one of our bodies has unique potentials and limitations.  Some bodies are created with the potential to run quickly and others cannot; some are born with vocal cords that create beautiful sounds and others cannot.  The list could go on and on as to the gifts and limitations that we all face.

        Honoring our bodies begins with acknowledging our individual gifts and limitations.  Our culture has increasingly placed a value on good looks.  In many ways our society has rewarded people for their outward appearance.  Therefore it is not surprising that there has been a great increase in eating disorders over the last thirty years.  Many people, especially young people get caught up in the search for what is considered the ideal appearance.

        The truth is that God does not intend for there to be one perfect look. God loves us as we are.  We are called to accept that gift.  This is not always easy for us to do.

        Stephanie Paulsell tells us a story of a mother who says that as a teenager she was plagued by outbreaks of acne.  One day she woke up and did not feel that she could even leave the house because of her anguish over how her face looked.  It seems she did not even want to consider going to school.  Her father led her to the bathroom and asked if he could teach her a new way to wash her face.  He leaned over the sink and splashed water over his face, telling her, “On the first splash, say “In the name of the Father”; on the second, “In the name of the Son”; and on the third, “In the name of the Holy Spirit.”  Then look up in the mirror and remember that you are a child of God, full of grace and beauty.

        This young girl is now a mother and has continued this practice with her own children because it helps them accept the bodies that they have been given from God.  If you have difficulty accepting the body God has given you maybe you could try the same practice.  This blessing of your body reminds you that God has gifted you as you are.

        If we have understood that our bodies are gifts to us from God and accept the positive and negative aspects of our physical nature then we move to caring for our bodies.  Paul argues that if God created us with bodies and pronounced them good, then our task is to care for our bodies and be respectful to others.  Taking care of our physical being is part of Christian discipleship.

I want to be careful here.  I do not want to use harsh moral categories of right and wrong when it concerns how we treat our bodies.  When I was young I heard many adults talk in absolute moral terms about smoking and alcohol.  The way some people attempted to discourage the use of these substances indicated that their use was equivalent to breaking the Ten Commandments.  The words that were used and often the emotional intensity behind them would lead one to believe that smoking one cigarette was the same as lying or that having a glass of wine was the same as stealing.

        This has only increased over the last thirty years.  What I like to call the health police in our society have tended to make every decision that we make about our bodies to be an ultimate moral question.  There are people who get more upset about second hand smoke than they do about political corruption.  There are people who talk about ice cream as being sinful.

        This is a misuse of moral language.  Smoking is not immoral in and of itself.  The Bible does not forbid having a beer at a ball game, eating a big Thanksgiving Dinner is not forbidden in the Ten Commandments and eating a piece of cheese cake is not disobeying Jesus.

        Paul tells us that “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” This is the appropriate language we are to use in talking about our bodies.  While certain activities and foods are not intrinsically evil, they can, in large quantities or used improperly, be harmful.  We should not say smoking is evil, but rather that it is harmful.  A person who overeats is not a sinner, but rather misguided.  Caring for our body means following habits that lead to health.

        Christ does call on us to care for our bodies. This is the part of the sermon that is a do as I say not as I do moment. You only have to look at me and realize that my habits are not the best.  You can see that I do not take enough exercise.  It is apparent that my eating habits are not the best.  This is a failure in my discipleship.

        God has created us with bodies. He has given our physical nature as a gift.  He calls on us to be good stewards of this gift.  Christ wants us to exercise, rest, eat properly and be moderate in our habits.  All the suggestions of the medical profession about good practices can be understood as helping our Christian discipleship.     
 
        The care of our bodies leads us to respect the bodies of others.  We were all shocked over the last year by the revelations of abuse coming out of the Roman Catholic Church in Western New York.  It was especially heart breaking for me when one of my colleagues here in Clarence, who I knew and liked, was named as an abuser. This was a deep violation of bodies that we believe are temples of the Holy Spirit.

        As followers of Jesus the practice of honoring the body means we are to work in our society to protect the physical well being of others.  Domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual exploitation are all violations of God’s gift.  They are sins against the dignity of individual people.

        Let me close by reminding us of what it means to Honor the Body.

        First, believe that God has created the human body and pronounced it good.  God loves you.  You are important to him.  You are of ultimate significance to God.

        Secondly, learn to accept your body with all its gifts and flaws as being a gift from God.  During each day give thanks for this gift.  We might even try blessing ourselves while washing.

        Lastly, take care of your body and respect the bodies of others.  If you already have good health habits begin to understand that this is part of your Christian discipleship.  If you have ignored caring for your body, understand it is not selfish to take the time and energy to care for your body.  Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.  It is part of your calling from God.

        Learn the practice of honoring your body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own.