Made Visible in Our Bodies
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 3, 2018 Second Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 139; II Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23 – 3:6
How are we to live in this world that is changing so rapidly and in many ways catastrophically? What role can we play as a tiny church in a tiny village in a tiny state far removed from the halls of power? What can we do with these bodies that Paul rightly compares to frail clay jars?
We have already done one of the most important things, which is gather together in a spiritual community and ask these questions and look to the collected wisdom of the ages for insights. The problems we face may be more complex and extreme than ever before, but the principles remain the same. The sacred way is still the sacred way however changed the wilderness terrain.
Last week we heard Paul talk in his letter to the Romans about the Spirit versus the flesh, where flesh stood for our ego or false self and its materialistic approach to physical life. He said that anytime we make the ego or materialism the focus of our minds we get in trouble and lose the sacred, healthy and kind way through life. He saw that focusing on the Spirit within ourselves and all creatures and all things would put us in right relationship to our bodies and our world. We would act respectfully, carefully and with love toward all.
Today the scriptures elaborate on this.
Paul says in a letter to the Corinthians that it is the same God who created the universe and sparked the light of the stars that shines in our hearts. That light in our hearts can show our path through the darkest night, even the one our world is in now. We can find in our hearts the light of the knowledge of who and what God is. We can recognize the Spirit of God in the body and words and actions of the man Jesus, and we can find the same Spirit in us, guiding and empowering us to do the kinds of works Jesus did.
We have this most valuable, precious treasure, but we have it in fragile clay jars—we break so easily, we are so weak at times. Paul had his own difficulties with his body—he called it a thorn in his flesh—and it heightened his awareness of what an extraordinary spiritual power we carry inside, a gift from beyond us, from the force of love and life and light that created the stars.
Our calling is to make that extraordinary power visible in our bodies, to let our clay jars shine like stars.
What does that look like when we make visible in our bodies the Spirit of God that formed us and knit us together in our mother’s womb?
It may sound trite to ask “What would Jesus do,” but it is exactly the right question. His disciples were living on the road in voluntary poverty. They did not have homes in which to prepare a Sabbath meal, so one day they gleaned some grain to eat as they walked.
Traditional Sabbath rules made that a religious crime, but their human condition made it a necessity. The Pharisees responded as if God cared more about social rules than our bodies’ needs. Jesus asserted that loving compassion for human need is the highest authority, and if a rule gets in the way of caring action then it is right to break the law.
Jesus went into the synagogue and saw a man with a withered hand. Healing also broke the Sabbath rules, so the Pharisees were opposed to it. Jesus got angry at the hardness of their hearts. He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand,” and it was restored. It was the beginning of the Pharisees plotting to destroy Jesus.
We see the light of God shining through our bodies when we have compassion on any basic human need that is struggling to get met, like when we feed the poor and tend the sick. We see God made visible in our bodies when we protest against injustice and break unjust laws as Jesus did, risking making enemies, getting arrested or being crucified. We see God made visible in our bodies when love stands up against hardness of heart and insists that the kind and right thing be done.
The Pharisees could have claimed that they were being loving and kind toward the God-given institution of the Sabbath, and they would have been right, but Bill Coffin used to say that when confronted with two sides that both claim to be victims, our calling is to stand with the weaker, more needy of the two. Take your stand with the hungry. Stand with the one with the withered hand.
The light of God made visible in our bodies looks like the politics of love that Bishop Michael Curry described in his sermon at the royal wedding: “When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again…. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.”
The light of God made visible in our bodies looks like the hand stretched out in compassion to heal the hand stretched out to it. It looks like the hand stretched out in friendship to take the hand of a former enemy. It looks like the hand we see in movies stretching out to take the hand of someone hanging from a cliff. Last week someone stretched out her hand to give me a loving pat on the back after worship and I felt the light of God tingling through me.
The light of God made visible in our bodies looks like the late Grace Paley, our neighbor in Thetford, not only when she wrote compassionate stories about the human condition, and not only when she broke the law climbing over a fence to protest for peace or the environment, but also when she was bent over backing out of a public bathroom stretching out her hand to wipe up her muddy footprints so that the poor immigrant custodian would not have to clean up her excessive mess.
A town constable talks down someone on the brink of violence in a village store, a recently divorced woman wakes up from an operation to find an older woman from her church sitting at her bedside holding her hand. God is made visible in their bodies.
The Rev. William Barber revives the Poor People’s Campaign and calls for a national moral revival and inspires people around the country to rally on Moral Mondays and even get arrested to protest the racist and violent and materialistic ways of our society that hurt the poor, and at the same time Barber’s organization helps poor communities build day care centers and affordable housing. Barber’s body is bent over with a crippling, incurable inflammatory disease in his spine, he and his family receive death threats regularly, but God’s light is made visible in that broken and endangered body.
We each have our own particular set of gifts and callings, we each have our own way that God’s light wants to shine through our hands and bodies, we each have our unique opportunities to show compassion and love to the world. We can see injustice happening and hardness of heart in our society, we can hear the cries of the suffering asking us to stretch out our hand to take the hands they are stretching out to us.
How will we respond? What role can we play as individuals or as a church?
It is true as John Milton said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Sometimes we need empty time and rest. We do not need to do everything, we just need to make God’s love and light visible in everything we do.
What do you feel called to do in your life right now? In what direction will you stretch out your hand?
Let us pray together in silence….