The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
I began a period of at least 4 weeks sick leave on the 13th and will be away from my Mac and usual ability to upload sermons and check my e-mail for this time. I will attempt to continue this ministry but sermons might be less regular than usual. Christopher.
s054e05 Sunday 21 21/8/05
"present your bodies" Romans 12.1
As a matter of curiosity, the first sermon I put on the Internet was for this Sunday in 1996. How time flies when you're having fun! It was about the laughter of God -- if we are to be cheerfully merciful, God must do this even better than we could ever do.
My thoughts today turn to this injunction about presenting our own bodies to God and I reflect that often Christianity has come across as being more concerned about others -- most frequently that they conform to our expectations. Lurking in the background is the thought that the true Christian was someone who stands on street corners telling all and sundry how evil this modern society is and how everyone should stop what they are doing and go to Church. Again, in times past, a person who was ordained was said to have "gone into the church". The church was seen to be the preserve of the "professionals". Lay people only came under sufferance, and even then to be told how they didn't measure up sufficiently. People were treated like children -- to be seen and not heard -- to not think for themselves -- and certainly not to question the theology of the priest.
For those who were around in this parish a number of priests ago will know what I am talking about. A while back I met a person who came here to St Richards when he was young, and I have little doubt that he had any personal choice in the matter. His comment to me was that this is where he learned what hell was like! :-)
Or just after I typed these words I had a conversation with someone where I was buying my lunch. She knew I was a clergy person, and she told me that she had attended .. Anglican College when she was a girl. She asked: "Did I know the chaplain who used to be there, Fr .., that old "stick in the mud!"
On a lighter note, I have sometimes been told about parishioners politely declining to be passengers in cars driven by their priest -- once was enough! How many clergy are the most difficult patients when they get sick? I have as much need to hear and take notice of the words I say as anyone else.
Of course these days there is far more lay participation; though I have my fears that this has meant that the temptation is for lay people rather than clergy to take up the same mantle and begin operating in this same paradigm -- telling others what to do and what not to do. But what can we expect? This is what the Church has taught that authority is all about?
I often reflect that the story of King David and Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan's parable of denunciation to the King ought to tell us in no uncertain terms that we make our own sacrifices to God and not someone else's, or there will be hell to pay. It doesn't matter if we are the anointed King of Israel, if we offer to God something that someone else has paid for, then there will be hell to pay.
Often in times of financial stringency, it is an opportunity to have a gripe about those who don't come to church, and about those who apparently don't give as much as we do. A stewardship program can be an exercise in trying to get someone else to give more. It can be a way of saying to God, what a good person am I, I've got all these other people to give more and the parish will survive for another year or two. Most likely these other people will have given out of compulsion rather than thanksgiving and the benefits will be short-lived if not actually counter-productive.
We as individuals can only present our own bodies as a living sacrifice and if this does not add up to something that enables the parish to pay our bills, then we can be sure that God is telling us something about our own message and how we live it out. For all the lovely things about this place, if this is where people learn what hell is like, we cannot expect people to continue to come. The proclamation of the good news for all people is a responsibility of each and every one of us here.
H A Williams suggests this passage should conjure up in our minds "the prospect of physical pleasure, physical joy, not to mention physical ecstasy of a kind a lover has when he (or she) holds his (or her) beloved in his (or her) arms." ("True Resurrection" p 28). I suspect that anyone who is in a choir or who enjoys singing, experiences something along these lines, but this really is for everybody.
I find it interesting that the old form of the words in the marriage service were "with my body I thee worship" -- a remarkable phrase for a religion which purports to allow only worship of God.
One of the wonderful things about attending Sudanese worship is the dancing. They seem to have music and movement in their souls, whereas we have inherited a good deal of "stiff upper lip" I suspect to our detriment. They worship God with their bodies and with joy and we can learn much from them.
For me, my time at Yoga practice is a time to pay attention to my posture and breathing, a time to quiet-en my own thoughts and a time to experience the release that comes from chanting. The charismatic arm-wavers hold a truth, not that I am suggesting that we all become like them. We have a drum kit here and I suspect that playing the drums is a physical experience, similar to dancing. How do we allow others to present their bodies in ways that are different to our own? Or do we just let them go off to worship amongst those who worship similarly?
I have found that my care for my posture and breathing, my care for my body has enlivened my own worship of God. The human body is wonderfully made, even ones old and ugly like my own, and hence the God who made it is more wonderful still. The strength that comes from simply breathing is quite amazing, yet how often I have neglected what I have been doing all my life, when I will cease to exist the moment it stops.
Last Sunday morning I attended St Mary's South Road, and not unnaturally they were celebrating their patronal festival. And I thought, how interesting. Mary presented her body for the use of the incarnation. She wasn't asked to intellectually agree with a particular creed, to give more money, or become a suicide bomber. She was asked to present her body for a creative purpose, for the wellbeing of others, and as they say, the rest is history.
For me the fact that our salvation was not accomplished without this essential mediation of a woman, with all the biological un-niceties that human birth involves, has profound implications for how we perceive priesthood, our attitude to women and the ordination of women to all levels of church life. For me, if women are ineligible to be ordained to all levels of the sacred ministry, it is a denial of the incarnation itself and Mary's obedience to the call to present her body. For she is the one person who could ever claim to have done this completely.
I've commented before, after I attended a Moby concert, how much energy and enthusiasm was generated in that audience. If we want to know where both the young and not so young people in Adelaide are, then here is a good place to start looking. Young people want to present their bodies, in a wholehearted way. Simple recitation of a creed however orthodox is hardly any substitute.
So I guess to finish off, this might best be described as an invitation to look at our worship creatively rather than fixed, and to see if there are ways we can present ourselves, "our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice" in a joyful and fulfilling way, for us and for all.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"