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madonna ink mediumMessage for Mary the Mother of Our Lord Sunday on Luke 1:46-55 give on August 14, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Many people I know have a love-hate relationship with their bodies—they love that they can do things we all enjoy—like taste great food, play a sport or exercise, embrace the people we love, go swimming to cool off in this heat, and heal after an injury or surgery.

But then, many also hate or feel conflicted about their bodies, or parts of their bodies—certain parts we want to be different, our hair or lack thereof, how much we weigh, how hard it is to stay in shape, chronic health issues, the frustrations of getting older and things not working how they used to.

For centuries, Western culture has not helped us in this regard. Plato—who has had more influence over Christian attitudes about the body than Jesus himself, viewed body and soul as enemies; he thought that matter and spirit were in conflict with each other, and we have been living out this struggle ever since. Many Christians have falsely believed if we could “die” to our bodies and its needs, our spirits would rise.

The translations of the Apostle Paul’s writings (in Galatians 5, for example) about the desires of the flesh verses the desires of the spirit, have not helped our cause. When Paul refers to “flesh” everyone thinks he is talking about our bodies—piling more shame and struggle on top of our body/spirit dichotomy. But Paul is talking about worldly, selfish desires, our sinful nature—which includes a whole host of things—like greed, fits of rage, jealousy, and envy—and not just body-related sins like drunkenness and immoral behaviors.

Given all of this, it is hard not to view our bodies as the part of us we must discipline, subdue, tame, shame, scold, and force to shape up, and slim down. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. After centuries of body rejection and poor body theology; we can swing from substance abuse or addiction, eating disorders, self-harm and other behaviors that hurt our bodies on the one end, over to cosmetic surgery, salons and gyms going to an extreme, that make our body and appearance a cultural idol on the other.

I can go from eating too much to searching for the highest rated eye cream for women over 50 in one afternoon (in one hour, actually!). Then when we pack for a trip I hand Dan a fistful of my toiletries and quip, “well, 60 can’t be the new 40 out of quart-sized bag!”

But then Mary, the Mother of Our Lord lovingly and unexpectedly inserts herself in the middle of these hot, sweaty months when we are not sure bodies were a good idea at all. I always forget that Mary Sunday comes in August until Dale (our Director of Music Ministry) reminds me. So here she is, when we expect her only near Christmas, with images of a human body giving birth to God, and in so doing, inviting us to wonder anew what it means for all of us to embody Jesus, the Christ. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” And of course, I am—we are—so focused on all the wrong things.

Because Jesus came through a body, a human body. A body like yours and mine. A poor teenage, peasant’s female body. For God, for Jesus, for Mary, for Christians, for us, there is no split between body and spirit because God became a body in Jesus.

Writer Cole Arthur Riley says it this way:

For me, the story of God becoming body is only matched by God’s submission to the body of a woman. That the creator of the cosmos would choose to rely on an embodied creation. To be grown, fed, delivered—God put faith in a body. In Mary’s muscles and hormones …. And when Christ’s body is broken and blood shed, we should hold in mystery that first a woman’s body was broken, her blood shed, in order to deliver the hope of the world into the world. . . .I believe that the spiritual realm is so enmeshed with the physical that it is imperceptible.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
  and holy is his name.

“The spiritual realm is so enmeshed with the physical that it is imperceptible.”

Mary experienced no duality between body and spirit. Neither did Jesus—that is the very message of the incarnation and our confession about it—fully human, fully divine—body and spirit operating as One soul--“the spiritual realm is so enmeshed with the physical that it is imperceptible.”

Of course, we believe that the physical is tied to the spiritual in our faith—we confess it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed – “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” This affirmation goes back to the 2nd century! We do not believe that only the spirit lives on. Paul tries to explain this in 1 Corinthians 15 with his understanding of the resurrection of the dead—that God gives everyone who has a physical body, a spiritual body in the resurrection.

Our body is part of God’s work of salvation.

Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr says it this way:

Christianity makes a daring and broad claim: God is redeeming matter and spirit, the whole of creation. The Bible speaks of the “new heaven and the new earth” and the descent of the “new Jerusalem from heaven” to “live among us” in Revelation 21:1–3. This physical universe and our own physicality are somehow going to share in the Eternal Mystery. Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation.

“Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation.” This is the gift that Mary offers us. She teaches us how to receive this mystery with praise and gratitude. Mary shows us how to respond to it—“let it be with me according to your will;” how to carry it, give thanks for it, trust in it and move forward living life, not with a love-hate relationship with a body/spirit split, but rejoicing that our body is part of our whole soul that God is using as a dwelling place for Christ. The body does not hold the soul, rather the soul contains the body and spirit. 

My soul (body and spirit) magnifies the Lord,
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
  and holy is his name.

When we view our bodies as part of our soul in which Christ dwells, where spirit is present and part of how God works in us and through us in the world, we can pay attention to our bodies in a new way, as a spiritual resource. God put faith in Mary’s body; a healthy theology of the body invites us to trust God’s faith in our own body.

Of course, we already listen to our bodies with hunger, tiredness, pain, and other signals. Many of us listen to other bodily cues as well: Paying attention to gut feelings when making decisions. Listening to the sensation that signals you are not in safe space or with a safe person.

I am inviting you to bring this body awareness into your spiritual life and prayer life if you have not already explored this before. Pay attention to your body when you pray and when you move throughout the day. What sensations does your body have when you experience peace? Exercise? Your favorite Music? Nature? Being with people you love? Work?

Psychologists teach us that all our emotions are experienced in our body as well as our mind. And the body never lies. If you have a hard time knowing how you feel, close your eyes and mindfully scan each part of your body top to bottom and pay attention to where in your body you store and signal different emotions. Scan your body to listen to how it feels, what it needs, how you can care for it, and love it as a vessel of your spirit and the indwelling Christ.

When we treat our body as a spiritual resource—as part of our soul—we can listen to the wisdom it is holding, how to live peacefully within our limitations as we age, and most importantly, we can listen to what the indwelling Christ is revealing to us about embodying his love for others in our world today. For that is really where Mary, the Mother of our Lord is leading us—we hold the risen Christ in our whole soul, so that we can be led into the world to be the hands and feet of Christ, embodying the kingdom that Jesus died for and that his Mother sang of –where no bodies suffer injustice or poverty or oppression. She could envision the wholeness and justice of Christ’s body in the world because she experienced the wholeness and peace of her own body and spirit in God’s claim upon her complete life and soul.

So, we go from here joining Mary in her humble song, unified in body and spirt, trusting God’s faith and salvation for our whole soul, singing,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
  and holy is his name.

 Image: Roy, Jamini, 1887-1972. Mother and Child

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The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.