19th Jan, 2003

The Second Sunday After The Epiphany

“The Body is a Temple”
Preached by Dr. Gwynne Guibord

Let me begin by carefully pointing out that there are three – note: three – male priests on staff here and yet I’m the one who gets to talk about sex!?. “Go ask your Mother…”

Well, let me borrow from my dear friend, George Regas, the retired Rector Emeritus of that other Episcopal Church nearby, All Saint’s Pasadena, who used to say: “Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.”

So why do we talk about sex in church you might ask? Paul talked about it because he was asked to by the members of the church he had founded in Corinth.

Paul was told that one of the congregants was openly sleeping with his father’s wife.

What were the others – as Christians – to do? What were the rules?

Paul responded that he was not speaking as a disciplinarian but as a loving father who brings the miraculous experience of Christ to them.

He knows that they have gone terribly astray and that they are truly endangering themselves and the whole community of believers with their poor actions and misunderstandings.

His letters were in response to their problems. (Our vestry should have special compassion for his role here.)

Like us – the citizens of Corinth lived in a successful urban environment that had a great diversity of over-lapping customs and cultures.

This was also in a time of moral and sexual tension and transition.

They – like us – needed guidance and a deeper understanding of what lay beneath the rules of their emerging religion.

They had each chosen to step away from the faith of their birth in order to follow this growing group of believers.

They each had answered a call within that was life-changing and endangering.

Each new Christian answers the same call to go through the water of baptism into a new life.

Like Samuel and Nathanael these early Christians rose to take the risk even though they didn’t yet know many of the ramifications.

There were perplexing questions about how to live, how to be with one another. And they weren’t doing a very good job of it.

There were in-groups and snobs and selfishness and gossiping.

Paul was trying to get them to be loving and caring and responsible in their actions toward one another just as Jesus had been.

God’s awesome love revealed through Jesus was the Good News that many of them didn’t seem to get.

At the same time Paul had to teach them boundaries about what was acceptable for Christians and what was not.

The loving and responsible way they were supposed to treat each other within the newly formed community of faithful was at serious odds with how they treated each other in daily society where classism, sexism and racism were the norm.

There were many specific issues addressed to Paul. Those we look at this morning were about how Christians were to be sexual in a manner appropriate for those who through their baptism had been made clean, made holy, made one in body and blood with Jesus Christ.

Each person through baptism was made one with Christ and entered into the congregation as a new Christ.

How were Christians to behave?

How were they – how are we – to re-conceptualize our own body when it has been made clean and “one with Christ”?

What does that mean for our daily lives?

Let me offer a story.

A little boy – afraid of the night – cries out to his parents. They come to his room. They read him a story. They bring him a glass of water. They hug him and say good night. Still he’s too afraid to let them leave. They scold him. “Come on. It’s all right. Be brave.” Still he cries. They promise to leave on the light. Still he won’t let them go. So finally they sit on the edge of his bed and explain to him, ”Sweetheart: You don’t need to be afraid. God is right here with you right now.” ”I know,” he replies – trying to be brave, “but I need someone with skin on.”

Boy, we all know that one, don’t we! “I need someone with skin on.”

So God slipped God’s sweet Self into a manger in Bethlehem…

God incarnated into skin and bones and flesh
so that we could feel and see and hear God -
so that we could be transformed through an immediate and intimate relationship with God -
so that God could take on for us those things that we would be asked to take on
so that we could reunite with God by following the sacrifice and example of God in Flesh – Jesus the Christ – who created the way for us back to God.

Some of those early Christians knew – with a profundity and immediacy that we today lack – that Jesus was truly God Incarnate.

They knew about Lazarus, they knew about a dead Jesus lying cold and lifeless on the stone ledge of a tomb who rose and walked down the road with his followers.

Death wasn’t removed from them and sanitized as it is for us. They knew about dead bodies and decay. And they knew that Jesus was able to bring Life back into the body after it had already gone.

Our bodies are a miracle – but only when Life is in them. For example – there is no substance known to humans with the durability and strength and subtly of the inside of your hand A glove, a tire tread, even steel would have worn out long ago, but the palm of the hand heals anew each and every day.

Healing stops and decay begins at the moment when Life leaves.

There is a world of difference between a body that is alive -filled with the breath of Life – and one that is without life.

Those early disciples knew the stories, knew that Jesus had been able to take illness and injury and death and replace them with life and wholeness and health.

Paul knew because Christ had felled him on the road to Damascus and then sent a follower – a man Paul would have murdered – to heal him.

Jesus the Christ was God choosing deliberately and meaningfully to come into the flesh, to put on skin, for us and for our salvation to teach us how to love God and one another.

We – who are baptized respond to God’s call to follow Jesus – to join Christ in our body and our lives consciously and deliberately.

“Through the water of Baptism
we are buried with Christ in his death,
we share in his resurrection and are reborn by the Holy Spirit becoming a part of Christ’s Body the Church.”

(That’s straight out of the Book of Common Prayer.)

How on earth do we live that out in terms of our physical body? Paul’s answer to the Corinthians was that we need to understand our body as a temple.

You don’t desecrate a temple.
You don’t worship it for its own sake.
You don’t turn it over to others who have no appreciation of worshipping God as you do.

Temples should be filled with life and love and joy…
with sacrifice and goodness and caring. So too should our bodies.

Temples should be places where we can share pain and care for one another and laugh and pray and rejoice together.

They should be places where we gather for experiences of awe and wonder at the enormity of God in our lives as individuals and as the Church.

So too should our bodies.

None of us here today created St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church of Hollywood.

We have inherited it to use for the glory of God. It is a privilege and a responsibility. That’s what our tithes are all about. It costs us to get to use and take care of this wonderful place. We have to sacrifice to be able to enjoy it.

So too with our bodies.

We treat the space well. We don’t knowingly fill it with poison or perversion or profanity. We don’t ignore or violate its sanctity as a holy place.

So too with our bodies.

This is a magnificent building but it has no value in and of itself. It gets its value because of what we do with it. We use it to worship God and in so doing it fills with the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

We cannot separate this place from what we do here.

So it must be our bodies. Spirit and flesh go together.

Yet we live in a culture that pressures us to believe that the appearance of the body means everything. Jobs. Sex. Satisfaction. Security – all are based on one’s “looks”. There are whole industries that flourish promoting this distortion. Billions of dollars are spent in the quest for “looking good”, snagging a mate, getting laid.

We have been led to believe that if we look good, we’ll feel good and get good things. But appearance for its own sake becomes narcissism or neediness. It has no substance. Addiction is the result.

We can never get enough of something that is a substitute for the real thing. We can never quite sustain good looks long enough to feel secure and though we might get laid – that’s not the same as being loved.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are about love beyond anything we can begin to imagine. God putting skin and bones and flesh on for a purpose.

We are a vital part of that purpose. We are called to participate with everything we are.

How radically different our lives would be if we truly experienced this body as a temple, as the place where God dwells in us and through us…if we understood that we are actual opportunities for people to experience Christ in the immediate moment…through a touch, a word, a smile, a union.

Paul said that our bodies are holy. How differently we might treat them if we could actually grasp and hold onto that!

How different it could be if we were able to sustain the understanding…that through the water of Baptism we are buried with Christ in his death, we share in his resurrection and are reborn by the Holy Spirit becoming a part of Christ’s Body the Church.

If my body is a temple for Christ, then everything I do with it should be a sacrament. I should nurture and protect and cherish it.

Sex like everything else should be conscious, deliberate, and loving.

The joining of two people in sexuality should be empowering, respectful, responsible, healing and transformational.

Sexuality and church are both experiences of the mundane made sacred through deliberate love, daily sacrifice and profound soulfullness.

We need to leave both experiences feeling cleansed, healed, enriched, and profoundly joined into the divine community which is the body of Christ made manifest.

God is right here right now – not only around us – but also within us.

“For you yourself created my inmost parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.”

Oh what miracles and joy if we could live that realization!

Dr. Gwynne M. Guibord
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
19 January 2003

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