Our Selves, Our Souls & Bodies

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 15, 2018

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

I have a personal favor to ask of all of you. The final game of the World Cup between France and Croatia is this morning. I am going into media blackout so that I can go home this afternoon and watch the replay in blissful ignorance of how it ends. So please, if you know the score, do me the favor and don’t say a word.

You all know that I am big soccer fan. I come by this honestly. My grandfather was full-blooded Italian. And I remember watching Italy play in the 1994 World Cup final in the Rose Bowl. From his house up in the mountains of Los Angeles, we could hear the roar of the crowd from the stadium.

Italy lost that day, breaking my grandfather’s heart. But soccer, football, had put its claws into me. See, it’s a beautiful game of movement. There’s a real ebb and flow to it. The players, they run, they jump, they slide, they kick, they head. Baseball is chess with sunflower seeds. Football is brute force. But soccer, soccer is a dance.

And that’s where I want to pick up for today. Dancing. Dancing is using your whole body to express yourself. You feel something inside your soul and you show it with your body. You dance at prom to impress your date. You dance at your wedding to celebrate your new life together. You dance at the Astros game because you want to be on the Jumbo Tron. You dance to express yourself.

It’s what King David is doing in the Old Testament, too. Remember, this summer we’re making our way through the long stories about kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Here’s where we are now: Saul has died and David has been anointed as King of Israel. David takes the city of Jerusalem and makes it his capital city. Part of what he does is to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Remember, the Ark contained the tablets of the ten commandments.

As they are bringing the ark into Jerusalem, the story says that “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might.” Dancing before the Lord with all their might. They were using their bodies to express what they felt in their souls. They were joyful that the ark was finding a permanent home. They were exuberant because they had received the promised land. They felt all of that in their soul and they expressed it with their bodies.

A life with Jesus, a life with God, expressing our praise of God, is something that goes beyond the words we say. We praise God, we express our thanksgiving, with our whole bodies; not just in the thoughts we think or the words we say.

This is a foundational Christian teaching. One of the most basic tenets of Christianity is that bodies and souls are united. It is body and soul together that makes a person. You are not a soul kept in a jar of a body, waiting to fly off to heaven. No, you are soul and body, knit together. This is what we learned from Jesus. Jesus did not come to us as some spirit. No, Jesus was born like you and me, he had a body. And Jesus died for us as a body, he bled real blood. And then Jesus rose from the dead, not as a ghost but as flesh. He shows his wounds and his scars to the disciples, he eats with them. This is the teaching of the Incarnation – God made flesh. Bodies, flesh, are not bad things. The Church has a difficult history with this teaching. All too often we’ve said that what matters is the soul and the body is evil.

But, our bodies, our flesh, these are good things because they are gifts from God. And with our bodies we can praise God. It is in the body that we fully express what we feel in our hearts. Think of what it means to get a hug from old friend. To make a deal with a firm handshake. To feel tears run down your cheeks at a funeral. To kneel in prayer. To kick that goal that wins your country the World Cup. Or to dance before the Lord with all our might. Our bodies are how we express what is going on in our souls. 

So a life with God, following Jesus, is more than just taking care of your soul. Yes, we need to pray every day, to be regular in Sunday worship, to acknowledge our faults, say our prayers. But a life with God also means taking care of your body. To be better disciples of Jesus, to be good stewards of what God has given us, to honor God, we must also care for our bodies.

Yes, I do think that part of following Jesus is having a healthy lifestyle. To eat a balanced diet. To exercise and move our bodies to stay strong, balanced, and flexible. To see the doctor and the dentist when we can. These are not add-ons. Look, I expect that each of you have a discipline of prayer to keep your soul in tune with God. And I also hope that you have a discipline to keep your body healthy. When body and soul are healthy and working together, the Spirit of God flourishes within.

And I do not mean to shame anybody. There is too much of that going around already. I want to approach caring for our bodies from a positive perspective. I want us to look at our bodies theologically and spiritually. David danced before the Lord. Jesus came to us in the flesh. We Episcopalians know that we worship by kneeling, standing, sitting, eating, and drinking. I want us to think about flesh and blood in terms of stewardship – caring about our relationship with God means caring about what God has given us. 

You’ll have noticed that we are trying to embody this at Holy Comforter. It’s great to have something to eat on Sunday morning, but it doesn’t have to be a donut. Sometimes I think the Church gathers for the purpose of eating; rather than gathering for the purpose of being with each other. And we are making positive steps, too – one of our parishioners hosts a free Tai Chi class on Friday mornings. We played pickle ball the other week. I am not asking anybody to run a marathon or to play soccer or even to dance in front of the altar. But I am asking that you care, insofar as you are able, for what God has given you.

I understand you probably did not come to church on Sunday morning expecting to hear what your cardiologist is already telling you. Be that as it may. But since I live with a chronic disease, I have an acute awareness of what this all means. And I call you, from my own daily experience, how I care for my body affects my soul. I understand that caring for my body is part of how I follow Jesus. I wish Type 1 Diabetes upon no one, but it has taught me that my body and my soul are tied together. When I’ve eaten bad food and haven’t exercised, when I haven’t take care of my body, I can’t take care of my soul. When my body feels bad, I can’t pray. It’s the honest truth. But when I am on top of my health, when I’m exercising, when my body feels good, connecting to God comes naturally. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

What is simple, is that God already loves you – heart, soul, mind, and body. But the path of discipleship is not easy. Offering your whole self to God means just that, you whole self. Commit your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be on the path to find God.

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