Saturday, August 16, 2014

Beautiful Body



Genesis 1:26- 27
August 17, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

I wonder if it has occurred to you how very countercultural this emphasis on Sabbath is!

One of the books I’ve been reading in preparation for these sermons is the book “Sabbath as Resistance” by Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann’s premise is that observing Sabbath is saying no to the cultural pressure that traps and enslaves so many of us. He discusses, in one section, how the commandment to keep the day holy and to provide rest not only for self but also for servants, slaves, and beasts is essentially a statement of equality – when all are equally at rest. Brueggemann says,

“Not all are equal in production…
Not all are equal in consumption…
In a society defined by production and consumption, there are huge gradations of performance, and therefore, of worth and significance.”[1] But, Brueggemann says, on the Sabbath, we are made equal. As created beings, in the eyes of God, we have been made as equals, and every human being is made in the image of God.

Listen to the reminder of this truth at the end of the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis, verses 26-27: Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

If you have ever considered what it means to be created in the image of God, you may have spent a good bit of thought on the spiritual nature of that truth. To be created in God’s image, indeed, is to have free will, to have the ability to reason, to create, and most of all, to be in relationship with others. To be created in the image of God is to be a reflection of God’s spirit. But God, in Christ, is also embodied – the Word incarnate – fully human and fully divine. We see in the incarnation, in the fact that Immanuel, God with us, that God honors bodies – because God, in Jesus, has a body. So, to be created in God’s image means, also, to have a body.

It will come as no surprise to you that the Christian tradition has a long streak of being “anti-body.” Many generations of Christians have been instructed that the body is bad, that our flesh is inherently sinful, that the spiritual is good and the flesh is bad. Countless well-intentioned Christian teachers have told us that we need to revile our bodies, or at least ignore them, and attend to our souls. These teachings would have us believe that our bodily desires and functions are earthly, and that bodily pleasure is at the very least next door to sin, if not its roommate.

During the Renaissance, artists took delight in the beauty of the human form, and sculpture and painting celebrated the beauty of the body, particularly the male form, as in the statue of David. But in the mid-sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent decreed that “lasciviousness be avoided,”[2] prompting Pope Innocent to send out a worker with a chisel and fig leaves, and later a well-intentioned Pope Clement had fig-leaves mass produced to cover up the naked statues in the Vatican.[3] As recently as this past year, in my native Kansas, the American Family Association began a campaign to remove a statue, a work of art, from a 300 acre arboretum outside of Kansas City because that statue was a sculpture of a partially nude woman.

Then there is an advertising industry that constantly assaults us with information about our imperfections, in order to entice us to buy products or services to overcome them.
What, after all, does the consumer culture tell us about ourselves?
We are too fat or too thin – we need to diet or bulk up.
We don’t smell good enough – we need perfume, or Axe body spray.
We have hair where we don’t want it, and we don’t have hair where we do.
That hair, by the way, is too curly or too straight, probably the wrong color or the wrong length or not smooth, silky or manageable enough.
We need more new clothes, and jewelry and shoes.
We need makeup to make our faces look better, and nail polish to make our fingers and toes look better.

Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these things.
Well, except for Axe body spray, which should be banned, or at least have its use rationed.
There is nothing wrong with nail polish or hair color, or nice clothes or pretty shoes.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a healthy weight, and look good.
Let me repeat: there is nothing inherently wrong with pretty shoes!

What goes wrong is when these sales pitches work to make us buy things because they make us feel less than adequate. We don’t feel pretty – we think we are unappealing, even ugly. We become so persuaded by these messages that we forget that we were made in the image of God, made to reflect God’s goodness and creative power.

In his incarnation, Jesus honored the human body, and in honoring our own bodies, we honor God. St. Paul says the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and compares the church itself to a body, of which Christ is the head. In describing the importance of love for those who are married, Paul enjoins husbands to love their wives as much as they love their own bodies! He says, “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.”

We encounter these metaphors over and over, telling us that we are loved, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that we are beautiful, and made in the image of God. Since we are made in the image of God, and God called creation good, good, good, good, good, very good – that last is from the day God made humankind – it naturally follows that our bodies, too, are good, and beautiful, and worthy of being honored and cared for.

God’s loving message contradicts the shouts of advertising, speaking against the all too common sense of shame or discomfort we have about our own bodies. To observe Sabbath is to acknowledge the importance of our bodies, and to provide for our physical selves the same kind of rest and renewal that we want for our spiritual selves.

In Jewish families, the Sabbath observance, after the candles are lit, begins with a leisurely and enjoyable meal – unhurried, pleasurable. In our own homes, honoring our bodies may take many different forms. Sabbath might mean taking a nap, or lounging in a hammock, or spending an afternoon in the bathtub. It might involve a strenuous game of tennis, played simply for enjoyment, or a massage, just because it feels so very good.

Sabbath as resistance makes space for us to resist the negative voices around us.
Brueggemann says, “On the Sabbath:
You do not have to do more.
You do not have to sell more.
You do not have to control more.
You do not have to know more.
You do not have to have your kids in ballet or soccer.
You do not have to be younger or more beautiful.
You do not have to score more.”

Sabbath as acknowledging that we are made in the image of God, creates the space and time for us to reflect – to reflect God’s love for all of creation, including every person, and to reflect on the gift of a day of rest.

For our Sabbath moment today, as we consider this beautiful truth, listen to this poem by Mary Oliver. Simply let the words wash over you, like a cleansing rain, and rejoice in the gift of your life, your breath, your body, this day.

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Amen.






[1] Brueggemann, Walter, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, WJK, Louisville, 2014, p. 40


[2]http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/07/the_fig_leaf_in_painting_and_sculpture_excerpt_from_anatomies_by_hugh_aldersey.html


[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Clement_XIII

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