Monday, August 27, 2012

Mind. Body. Spirit.: Ordinary 22, Year B

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This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 or Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

This Week's Reflection:

I didn't post last week, but if I had it would have been more about John's gospel and all the references Jesus makes to eating his flesh and drinking his blood. This week, we move into Mark's gospel where in Chapter 7, Jesus tells the Pharisees that it is NOT what we ingest, but what we exude from our bodies that really and truly matters.

Okay, this is the problem when we try to read things as absolute and literal. On one Sunday we preachers are to stand up and proclaim to our congregations that "You are what you eat," then the next Sunday we are compelled by the texts to stand up and proclaim "Don't concentrate on what goes into your body!" If we are not very careful, our churches will quietly and politely send us to the psychiatric hospital or, worse, just stop listening.

Luckily, Jesus turns to scripture himself to explain what he means, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Ichtus at Trinity Church, Boston
In other words - I think - we can say from this focus of Jesus that we aren't really talking about food here or washing hands. What we are really talking about (and should be preaching on) are the ways in which we humans have of taking traditions created to protect God's children and turning them into anchors around the necks of all those we don't like. It feels like Jesus may be at his wits end. Exasperated, he says, "Could we please focus on what is really important here?" I'm sure there are none of us who have ever felt that way in a church meeting!

Maybe, just maybe, the lectionary texts this week are calling us to a more healthy approach to living the life God has given us. At the same time that Jesus says it isn't about what food we eat or how we wash our hands, James speaks of looking into a mirror, then walking away and forgetting what we saw there. The Song of Solomon certainly focuses more on the body than mind while Deuteronomy tells us to make sure we follow the rules!

I think it all comes down to James' proclamation to be "doers of the word." Or is it "doers of the Word"? If we have some kind of understanding that what is happening in every aspect of our lives effects our relationship with God and with others, then we will seek to follow Jesus in every way possible. Focusing on washing hands instead of feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel without actually living it day in and day out are ways in which we get out of whack. And, that is the medical term for it. Our bodies are not in agreement with our minds. Our minds are not in agreement with our spirits, and so on. In order to truly be disciples of Jesus, we should be seeking to be whole, to be the children that God created us to be.

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I recently read a book called "How to be a Woman" by Caitlan Moran (if harsh language offends, do not read this book!) and in a chapter in which she was describing herself as an obese teenager, she says she thought of herself as "a brain sitting in a jar." In essence, Moran says that she considered feeding her brain a healthy diet much more important than feeding her body the same. She goes on to discuss the ways in which she was liberated once she became attuned to understanding her body better and treating it as well as she did her mind.

Balance. I guess that is what I am getting from these scriptures today. We can carry our traditions and rituals so far that they become detrimental to us. On the other hand, we could also use these words of Jesus to make ourselves feel better about eating an entire cake in one sitting or drinking ourselves into a black out. "Well, Jesus said that it isn't what goes into the body!" Mind. Body. Spirit. With all that comes with those three - intimate love, feasting with friends, studying the word, keeping the rules that are for our own good, and serving our neighbors because we want to put into action our faith. Mind. Body. Spirit. I can't help but wonder if reaching equality of effect among these would be heaven on earth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You are what you eat! Ordinary 20, Year B

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
1 Kings 2:10-3:14 or Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 111 or Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

This Week's Reflection:
I read the gospel lesson aloud for a prayer group on Monday. I haven't wanted to deal with it since. Why in the world would Jesus say to people, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you"? Doesn't he know how much trouble we have explaining ourselves in the first place? We do not need any reference to vampirism being made to make the Church look worse than it already does. Of course, in these days of teens' love affairs with vampires, we may have find a new marketing point!

I would much rather focus on Solomon's desire for wisdom and how that could help our congregations or how the writer of Ephesians lifts up the idea of being wise as important and seems to point us to worship as the most important and wise thing we can do. The Psalms even point us in this direction.

Jesus Christ The Bread of Life, Nun Glykeria

So, what is a preacher (or teacher, or student) to do with this passage from John? I'll tell you what I want to do with it, but I don't think you will like it. It is far easier for me to think of these words as being created by the writer of John in reference to the early Christians ritual of The Lord's Supper. This in no way reduces the power for me and I believe should it have been the case that the Holy Spirit provided the words. That is an easy way to explain it - that Jesus would not have stood up thinking that it made a lick of sense to say, "Hey, here I am, come and eat my body and drink my blood," but instead, there was a creative writer inspired by the Holy Spirit to write in such a way to help us connect Jesus to the Eucharist.

Let's, for a moment, though decide that these words were actually said by the Christ. (And, let me make sure you understand that I believe they are the Word of God whether they were said by Jesus in his lifetime or not.) What, then, are we do make of it? It is so weird. How would we explain this to a person who has watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and read every word of the Twilight Series, but never stepped foot in a church or even know what the Bible is? It would be great if you could really answer that question for me. 
Because here is all I have:
I don't understand it. It is hard for me to put myself in the time period in which Jesus lived, to know the metaphors that would have been common use during that time, and Jesus seems to speak in riddles most of the time anyway! Here is what I do understand. Jesus is the son of God and he was willing to come to this earth, live this crazy, mixed up life that we live, and be tortured and killed. Somehow, miraculously, that was for us, all of us! And, because he was resurrected, we are assured of eternal life when we take him in with all that we are. In other words, you are what you eat. And, if we can consume all that we can of Jesus the Christ, then we begin to nourish this world. It is clearly the wisest way to go.