Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2012
John 6:35, 41-51
Of the many blessings in my life, there is one that stands out above the rest. I was blessed to be born in the 1980s. And the real blessing of being born in the 1980s meant that I didn’t grow up with the music of the 1980s. I was blessedly unaware of Devo, A Flock of Seagulls, and New Kids on the Block. But this state of happiness couldn’t last forever.
For some unknown reason, this week I decided to watch the music video for Madonna’s “Material Girl.” And I’m sad to say, I was hooked. The beat is just so catchy. I couldn’t look away from the big hair and the whole 1980s atmosphere. It was like exploring a new and bizarre civilization.
But what really struck me, and what caught me off guard, was actually how Christian the lyrics are. The chorus goes like this: “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl. You know that we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” I would sing it for you, but I’ll spare you from the agony.
Yes, even big-haired, risqué, pop stars can speak the truth of Christianity. We are living in a material world, and we are material people. I can even imagine Jesus with his 1980s Sony Walkman jamming out to Madonna. Because Jesus himself is so very clear. He is a material Messiah, living in a material world. And we, as Christians, have a material hope.
Listen to the words of Jesus, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” Sadly, Christians have lost the vocabulary and language of our ancient faith. For Jesus, and for the first centuries of the Church, heaven, as we understand it, was not the ultimate hope. Jesus and the disciples didn’t believe in bodiless souls floating around on clouds. They didn’t think of their bodies as simple vessels or containers for their souls. Jesus, and the Church of God, live in a material world. And we have a material hope.
Think about the material nature of the Christian faith. We believe that somehow, in some fashion, God created the whole universe and called that material “good.” Then we believe that God himself, in Jesus, was born as a human, with a body. Christmas is a celebration of material things. Jesus then died a material, bodily death on the cross. And finally, Jesus rose from the grave. What happened on Easter was a material resurrection. Jesus ate and drank with his friends. He wasn’t a ghost after Easter. His soul wasn’t separated from his body. Jesus was a material Messiah, living in a material world.
And, we pray, what happened to Jesus on Easter morning will happen to us on the last day. When we die, we should not hope that our souls fly off to heaven. No, we hope that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God will raise us from the dead. Body and soul – because we are a material people living in a material world.
Our Christian culture has forgotten its roots. We have divided our souls and our bodies, and we have imagined heaven as a place for souls only. But it’s so much more than that.
At your funeral, your body will be placed in the center aisle of this church. And we will read the burial service from the Book of Common Prayer. In that beautiful service, we will not talk about going to heaven. But we will talk about the resurrection of the body. We will say from Job, “After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.” And when we are standing at the grave, we will not say that your soul has flown away from your body. But what we will say from our ancient Book of Common Prayer will be about a greater hope. We will say, “He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give new life to our mortal bodies through his indwelling Spirit. My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope.”
And when we have communion at your burial, we will talk about the resurrection. We will talk about the material parts of our faith. We will remember those words of Jesus, “Take; eat. This is my body which is given for you.” Jesus didn’t say, “Take, think. These are some ideas for your soul.” We are living in a material world, and we are material Christians.
This is precisely where the words from Jesus this morning fit in. Our Lord promises to raise us up on the last day. Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we too will rise from our graves at the resurrection of all things. Just as we believe God created us, we believe that God will re-create us. And that is the eternal life that Jesus promises. Eternal life – not as an endless amount of time strung together – but eternal life as wholeness, abundance, and completion with God.
We are material people, living in a material world. For too long Christians have desired to shed the material life. All too often we’ve sung about flying away rather than about being raised up on the last day. We’ve forgotten that Jesus healed people, we’ve skipped over the true meaning of Christmas and Easter, we’ve lost the great hope of the resurrection.
To address the situation, we can start living out a faithful Christian materialism right here and right now. First, we need to care for our bodies. These are the very bodies that God has given us, and we can respond to God’s gift with gratitude. Go for a walk. Make an appointment with your doctor. See your dentist. Care for the body that God promises to raise up on the last day.
Then use your bodies for God’s Kingdom. As we take communion, as we eat the bread of life, it is Jesus that dwells inside of us. Use your body – use Jesus living inside of you – for your ministry. Praying for somebody is great, but don’t forget to give a hug. Tell your friends who are ill to get well soon, but bake them a casserole too. Think nice thoughts, but also use your hands, your feet, and your whole body for the work of Jesus.
And finally, remember that even pop stars can teach us lessons about the Kingdom of God. We are living in a material world, and we are a material people. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it is how God created us. And it is how God will re-create. The great hope of Christianity – the hope of Jesus, the hope of the Church – is that God will raise us up on the last day. That we will live again, at the resurrection to eternal life.