Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon: I've Got a Perfect Body

This series will be the texts of a number of sermons I've written, both delivered and undelivered. The first is one from my first thesis and that will probably otherwise never see the light of day. Enjoy.

I’ve Got a Perfect Body

Come, O Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.

“I’ve got a perfect body,” sings Regina Spector.  “I’ve got a perfect body, because my eyelashes catch my sweat. Oh yes, they do. They do, they do, they do, they do.” Now I do not expect that you know this song. It is new and not particularly popular. But it is a good song. You get the startling claim that someone has a perfect body, which is rare these days. And what makes this body perfect is not that it is physically fit or beautiful. No, it’s a perfect body because it does what it is supposed to do. That’s it, nothing more. This is all it takes. And that's an elegant solution that should put many of us at ease. It should really appeal to those of us who are young and whole and well. 

I’ve got a perfect body, oh yes I do. 

But what about the rest of us? What of those whose arms and legs do not respond quite so quickly anymore? What about the aged? The infirm? The handicapped and physically disabled? What about the mentally unstable, those who neurological chemistries predispose them to certain kinds of illness? What about those people who have metal hips and knees, long-term or recurring illness? Protracted fatigue or insomnia? No, the more we think about it the fewer and fewer perfect bodies we have, even by this better definition.

Yet: I’ve got a perfect body, oh yes I do. It’s a line good enough to sing.

So maybe there’s a better definition still. Maybe there’s a perfect body that everyone might get. So let’s talk about Genesis. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Now that’s odd. I don’t think I look like dust, and I can tell you that you don’t either. But I do feel like dust, sometimes. I think we all do. We become irritable and irritating. We chafe, our words cut and sting. We can’t decide what to do, blown here and there by our anxiety or our frustration. We can taste the grit of insults and rumors on our tongues. From the dust we come, to the dust we shall return. Doesn’t sound too perfect.

On the other hand, here we are. Man became a living being. The Lord God breathed into our nostrils the breath of life. Sounds better. You can imagine this, can’t you? A figure kneels and leans over the man, makes that seal around the mouth and nose, and blows. Cardiovascular resuscitation! But tradition has it that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. “The Lord, the giver of life,” we say in the creed. This is it: this is what the Holy Spirit does, right here. Brings that man to life. Man became a living being – and women too, I must say.       

Breathed into life by God! Imagine that! And everybody’s in. Adam is every body. Doesn’t matter if your body’s healthy or sound, appealing or appalling. We all qualify. We’ve all been touched by God, blown into being by the Holy Spirit. Of course, we're still dusty. God did not blow us clean. So we’re still kind of dead. That’s what dust means, right? It’s dead earth, loose, infertile. “When no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up.” 

From death, life from the Lord. There is this tension. A professor once remarked that this passage means that we are divinity and dust. Whenever we feel that we are either, what we need to do is remember that we are also the other. When we feel like dust, recall that divinity, the breath of God moves within us. When we feel like divinity, you’re probably soon going to be humbled, humus, of the earth. Good advice, though it would hardly make an entire way of life.

I’ve got a perfect body. Oh yes, I do.

“When you hide your face,” says the Psalm. “they are dismayed. When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Dust without divinity is dead. Without breath, you can’t go on. And the thing about breathing is you have to do it again. You breathe once, you die, you exhale. You breathe twice, you live again. 

But how does one receive the breath of God?  And he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Mouth to face. Face to face. When you send forth your spirit they are created. And you renew the face of the ground. You breathe in, you breathe out. God breathes in, God breathes out: the motion of the Holy Spirit. The whole world breathes with God. In, and out. We are the face of the ground. Renewed, not just once. The Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life twice. Breathing doesn't stop. You should have been face to face with God, forever.

I’ve got a perfect body, oh yes I do.

So we’re not there yet. But I do have another candidate for the perfect body. Because there is someone who did receive life from the Spirit twice. Right? Rabonni! Mary did not recognize him. Sounds like a different body. Was it? You all know the story: put your finger here and see my hands, he tells Thomas. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. The point is not doubt but recognition. Who is Jesus after death? Where’s the body? They have taken away my Lord, Mary says. I cannot see his face, she might add. But when the doors of the house were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. And he breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 

Now I have often wondered what this might have been: is he blowing out a candle or breathing on a mirror? Might have even been a kiss. Or it might have been that cardiovascular resuscitation. But you know the story: Jesus is God, breathing face to face. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” God breathes in, God breathes out. God breathes with us. The Spirit gives life, and then the Spirit gives life again. Face to face with God.

And that's not what you might expect. Receive the Holy Spirit and if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. Dust, but dust together. Dust, but dust caught up in some divine wind. Forgiveness. Forgiving is what God does. Divinity does not think that we are just dust. Jesus carries the wounds, the marks, the scars. He died. No getting out of that one. So maybe it’s our infirmities, which remind us of our deaths, that look the most like Jesus. Now there's a thought.

But it's not enough. The risen body of Jesus tells us is that death is not enough. Or, rather, that it is enough for more. The Spirit gives life, and then the Spirit gives life again. God breathes in, God breathes out. Do not hold on to me, says Jesus, because I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Ascending, borne aloft on the wind. Heavenly dust. Ashes to ashes to....what? What happens to dust after it ascends? The world breathes with God. I’m going to my Father. Face to face with God. Peace, indeed.

I’ve got a perfect body. Oh yes, I do.

So there’s your perfect body: Jesus. What is that to us? Well, we get that perfect body when we share the Eucharist. Episcopalians know this. When we share the bread, the broken bread, we become the body of believers. We chew our faith, Thomas Cranmer said. And once we become the body of believers we become the body of Jesus Christ – incarnate, crucified and risen. We are what we eat. Christians know that. We are the perfect body, because of our infirmities and insults, our dust and our burnt-out ashes. 

Hard to believe, isn’t it? No annual meeting can go all that well. So this must be a heavenly reality, one of those that started but just ain't finished yet. That's what Paul says. You do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed. The glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. So there is our body now, and that perhaps is this body, this church. Divine dust, forgiven dust. Our living, breathing glory and make no mistake. But then there is another breath. Another body, raised in glory, breathed in power, raised in spirit and in heaven and in Christ. 

So maybe in the end we'll just talk about dust that is divine. Heavenly dust, face to face with God. Dust that does not sting. Dust that is not dirt. One can hardly say. It is what we have been promised. As is the man of heaven so are those who are of heaven. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. Jesus said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” Not a commandment, certainly not a condemnation. Because that's not what we need. What we need is breath, a promise from God. And a promise from God is just as good as a gift from God.  So maybe we all already are standing, just a little bit, face to face with God. Breathing with God.  

Cause enough to say, and I know you can say it with me:

I’ve got a perfect body. Oh yes, I do.


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