February 3, 2019

Body Talk

Passage: Psalm 139; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

20190203 Sermon Rev


When we talk about our bodies, some of us don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.  Let’s begin with laughter.


In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.


Then using God’s great gifts, Satan created Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Krispy Kreme donuts. And Satan said, “You want chocolate with that?” And Man said, “Yes!” and Woman said, “As long as you’re at it, add some sprinkles.” They gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.


And God created the healthful food yogurt for Man and Woman to enjoy. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman and Man – they both grew.


So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.” And Satan presented Thousand Island dress­ing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts.


God then said, “I have sent you heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.” And Satan brought forth deep-fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight, and his cholesterol went through the roof.


God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it Angel Food Cake and said, “It is good.” Satan then created chocolate cake and named it Devil’s Food.


God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.


Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the health­ful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.


God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald’s and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then said, “You want fries with that?” And Man replied, “Yes! And super-size them!” And Satan said, “It is good.” And Man went into cardiac arrest. God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.


Maybe this isn’t so funny.


Tears came for me about midway through my trip to visit places in Turkey, Greece, and Italy where the Apostle Paul had traveled.  After yet another day of walking in the hot sun with temperatures in the 90’s and above, I cried tears of anger and frustration.  I was struggling and determined to stay in step with the group and see as much as I could see.  I was angry at myself for not being in better physical shape.  I‘d been looking forward to this trip for 7 months and had ample time to be more active, lose some weight and build up my endurance.  Friends had even brought a stationary bike over to my house for me to use.  What was wrong with me?  Why hadn’t I done what I knew I needed to do to enhance my experience on this long-anticipated trip?


For some of you who are diligent about good nutrition and exercise, frustration and disappointment have come when you’ve experienced a health crisis.  For you the question is, “Why did this happen to me when I’ve worked hard to take good care of my body?”


During the last decade, we’ve been learning a lot about traumatic brain injuries.  For one soldier I read about, physical injuries to his brain brought about other changes such as insomnia, excessive drinking, and really terrible mood swings.  It was difficult for him and his wife to determine what was physiological or cognitive and what was psychological.


Add post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to the mix and it gets more complicated.  If you have insomnia because you have PTSD, then not sleeping impairs your cognitive function.  And if you have more impaired cognitive function and you realize you can't do what you used to be able to do, it's really depressing and affects your mood, and then you behave worse, and it affects your relationships, and that makes you angrier.  Every bad thing feeds on every other bad thing in this downward spiral that is extraordinarily difficult to eventually pull out of.”


All of these stories illustrate the fact that health encompasses much more than physical aspects, that wellness is more than the absence of disease, and that all aspects of health and wellness interact with each other in ways we don’t always understand.


This is the third Sunday in a series based on a resource titled Stewards of Grace. [1]  We’ve looked at the topics of time and talent.  Today we consider health.  There are so many aspects to health that we will spend at least two Sundays on this topic.


Conversations about our bodies and health can be uncomfortable or embarrassing.  We’ll talk about most physical illnesses and injuries pretty easily – colds, flus, broken bones, sore knees – but not all of them.  Certain body parts and systems or certain physical characteristics, are not comfortable topics of conversation.  Attitudes have been changing, but for many of us it is still easier to talk about physical illness & health than about mental illness & health.


Many people obsess about their physical nature.  Some to the point where all that matters is being buff and beautiful.  Others where all they see are flaws and ugliness.  Still others appear to completely ignore most every aspect of their health.  How do we find a healthy balance in our responsibility to care for our bodies?


Let’s see what the Bible has to say about our bodies and being balanced and whole.  We can start at the very beginning, the first book of the Bible.[2]  Humans were created in the image of God.  In some way we are a reflection of God.  The writer of Psalm 139 writer rejoices in this fact.  God, you formed me.  I praise you because I am wonderfully made. [3]


Realizing that we are created in the image of God, that we were formed by God and known by God from the very beginning, ought to have some kind of impact on the way we view our bodies.  This spiritual understanding of our creation implies we are called to treat this physical body with honor and respect.  There is a connection between body image and spiritual image.


In 1 Corinthians as Paul warns followers of Christ to run away from sexual sin, he refers to the body as a temple.  Don’t you realize that your body is the temple [or sanctuary] of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.  So you must honor God with your body. [4]  The body image here is of something holy, pure, and quite valuable.


Paul uses a contrasting image in 2 Corinthians.[5]  He refers to our bodies, not as temples, but as clay jars.  Clay jars are crafted by the careful hands of a potter from a lump of cool, thick earth into something useful that can serve the needs of people…and of the creator.  Once formed, shaped, fired, and cooled, the malleable substance becomes hard and brittle.  Jars of clay are fragile and easily broken.  So are human bodies:  useful, but full of vulnerability, susceptible to injury and even death.  The vulnerability of our bodies testifies to the fragility of physical existence.  However, for Paul, the function of fragility and expendability is not to produce despair at the human condition, but to produce joy at God’s superabundant power.


Verses 8-10 provide a catalog of suffering that illustrates just how fragile these clay pots really are.  The list of disasters that confront but do not overcome the apostles becomes a testimony to their courage and grace, to their resilience.  In this list of struggle there are also messages of hope.


Verse 10 is not just an analogy for Paul.  He participates in the story he describes.  Paul is being given up to death for the sake of Jesus’ own death; Pauls’ living displays the glory of the risen Lord.  Another translation states it this way:  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. [6]   


In what ways do we view our bodies as a means by which Jesus is revealed?  This is one of the questions I’ll invite you to consider at the end of the sermon.


A few verses later, Paul encourages his readers to not lose heart. [7]  Imagine a clay jar, hit, kicked, or dropped, but never breaking.  The contents inside it provide a protective stability that overrides the container’s fragility.  Chips, cracks, and smudges may show visible evidence of abuse, but the jar isn’t shattered.  It retains its usefulness as a vessel.   The body is fragile and ordinary; the gospel, the good news, the spirit of God living within it are the treasure.  This passage reveals that the resurrection life of Christ is already at work in us, renewing us, and it continues even as we suffer.  God who created us continues to recreate us even as we age and our bodies waste away.


Paul ends another of his letters, the first one to the Thessalonians, with a benediction that stresses the faithfulness of God.  He also acknowledges our complexity as human beings.  May your spirit and soul and body be kept sound [or complete] and blameless.[8]  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. [9]


We are a complex creation of interconnected parts all miraculously held together in this biological and chemical collection of organs, muscles and fluids.  Each part of our being influences the others.  We are more than the sum of our individual parts because within it all dwells the presence of our Creator.  What should amaze us daily is how well it all works – even when individual parts may hurt or get out of balance.  Being whole means being aware of interconnected internal and external, physical and intellectual, mortal and immortal aspects of our being.


One way this interconnectedness might be illustrated is with a wellness wheel.

Wellness Wheel


Each of the spokes on the wheel represents one aspect of health and wellness. (Of course, there might be others that could be included.  Also, each of these might not be equally important.  But this is a good tool to start with.)  Each of the spokes is a continuum with the most positive or healthiest end at the outside and the least healthy end in the middle.  The descriptions written on the spokes may help as you consider where you currently fall on each continuum.  I find some of them more helpful than others.


As we look at this wheel, consider where you see yourself right now in each area of your life.  Of course, this changes over time – week to week, day to day, and even hour by hour.  Use a pencil to place a dot to represent where you are on each spoke, on each continuum.


Let’s begin with physical health.  This might be one of the easier ones to evaluate.  Are you be nearer the end labeled fit or the one labeled unfit?


Move on to social.  Do you tend to feel lonely or do you find enough places where you belong?


Next is vocational.  Are you dissatisfied with what you do, satisfied, or somewhere in-between?


What is your relation to the environment?  Do you tend to be wasteful or respectful?


Next is your psychological or mental state.  I’m not sure about the labels here, adaptive or inadaptive, but I can’t think of how to improve them.  Your ideal psychological state would be at the outer edge, the less ideal nearer the center.


The sixth category is nutritional.  How healthy is your diet?  Is it inadequate or is it adequate?


How about the intellectual aspect?  This is not a place to rate your IQ.  Rather, how well do you use your intellectual capabilities?  Do you ignore your brain or do you feed it?


The last spoke on the wheel is emotional.  How would you rate your emotional state on this continuum?  The descriptions here are “without direction” at one end and “in charge” at the other.  We often use “unstable” and “stable” when describing emotions but those descriptions are not quite satisfactory for me either.  Use your own alternatives if that would be helpful.


A final category to consider is spiritual, located in the center of the wheel.  In the center circle, write a number from 1 to 10 indicating your current sense of closeness to God, with 1 being very distant and 10 being very close.  How would you rank yourself?


Now, connect the dots you placed on each spoke and see what kind of shape you create.  Is it a circle or something else?  Is it large or small?  What are your current areas of strength?  What are your growth areas?  How do you think the shape relates to the number you wrote in the center?


I like the way this wheel illustrates the interconnectedness of many aspects of health.  It’s apparent to anyone who sees me that on my wellness wheel, the dots on the physical and nutritional spokes fall near the unhealthy end of the continuum.  When I look back in time, my initial large weight gain occurred after I accepted a teaching job and quit after only two days.  I used food as a way to cover up my feelings of failure and deep embarrassment.  During my 2nd & 3rd years in seminary, I was able to lose a large amount of weight fairly easily.  I was where I wanted to be, doing what God was calling me to do, enjoying the people I was with, feeling confident about the work I was doing, and receiving positive feedback.  All of my dots would have been near the outer edge of the wellness wheel.


Of course, there are many factors involved in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight – physiological, chemical, emotional, metabolic, and hormonal along with choice and will-power.  So even though I am currently where I want to be, doing what God is calling me to do, enjoying the people I am with, and receiving positive feedback there are areas of my life that seem out of balance or uncertain and I end up crying out of anger and frustration at myself for not being able to do everything I’d like to do on my dream trip to Turkey, Greece, and Italy.


As I encourage you to contemplate the scripture we’ve read this morning and consider the shape you’ve created on your wellness wheel, I need to be sure I do it too.  Rather than being completely discouraged by the areas of our lives that may be less than ideal, we can rejoice at how well we can function in spite of being less than perfect.  No one is in perfect alignment, but we are able to use our areas of strength to help us in the areas where growth is needed.


Each one of us can praise God and love ourselves because each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made.  Each of us can honor God with our bodies, with our whole selves, because each one of us is made in God’s image.  This is good news!  Thanks be to God!


May you feel the loving presence of the one who created you as you reflect on a few questions.  In what ways are our bodies a means by which Jesus is revealed?  How does body image translate to feelings about spiritual image?  What aspect of your personal health will you work with this next month? How will you work at strengthening this area?


[1] https://www.everence.com/resources/stewardship-education

[2] Genesis 1:26-27

[3] Psalm 139:13-16, New Revised Standard Version

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, New Living Translation

[5] 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

[6] 2 Corinthians 4:10, Common English Bible

[7] 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

[8] 1 Thessalonians 5:23, New Revised Standard Version

[9] 1 Thessalonians 5:24, New Revised Standard Version

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