Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Dismembered Body of Christ

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In light of recent events Wesleyan Accent is not posting our usual weekend sermon today, but rather will resume our normal practice next weekend.

 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Romans 12:1, I Corinthians 12:21-23, 26-27

Bodies matter to Christians.

Life matters to Christians: even Christians who believe in just war, who believe in the occasional necessary use of violence, should and often do consider the matter with grave sobriety, aware of the sacred worth of human beings. Christianity is not the only religion to value human life, but it is one of them.

Recently I witnessed Christians – including some clergy – marching with signs and posters and placards bearing giant words: “I can’t breathe.” “Jesus can’t breathe.” It has become apparent to most North Americans that sometimes Black deaths are more easily accepted than White deaths, that sometimes to live as a Black person means something quite different than to live as a White person.

Bodies matter to Christians: something that has bearing on theologically orthodox or traditional views of human sexuality. As sexual beings, what we do with our bodies, with whom we do it, and when, all matter.

(Incidentally, Christians, while showing tender kindness and acceptance to all persons, may also want to think about how we can sensitively encourage each other to embrace emotional and psychological healing that will allow us all to live more mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy lives, as good stewards of our health for our own sake, our family’s sake, and our faith community and our world’s sake. What does it mean to be a well-rounded, healthy person? Pastor?)

Yes, life matters to Christians, including those in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition, even if we do have some semi-ben546px-Egger-Lienz_-_Madonaign inconsistencies to work out (like driving with a pro-life bumper sticker on our way to engage in belt-popping gluttony at an all-you-can-eat buffet after church).

And if #Jesuscantbreathe when a Black man suffocates at the hands of White law enforcement officers, then #Jesuscantlive when physicians inject a needle through a woman’s abdomen to stop a growing baby’s heart so that it’s easier to remove in pieces from the uterus.

It is a hard subject to face, as so many subjects have been in the past few years. I have written before about the need for followers of Christ to acknowledge evil without flinching. It’s often a difficult subject for men to discuss, especially pro-women, egalitarian, pro-life men who celebrate women’s accomplishments, encourage their flourishing, and grieve the reality of abortion in our country. It is painful for me to address because I have spent time as a pastor – and simply as a woman – and I know and love and value women who, for one reason or another, have had abortions. I never want to speak or write words that demean them or obstruct their full experience of God’s grace and love.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe that the Truth will set us free: the truth of the world we live in will set us free to confront evil where we find it, and the Person who is Truth will set us free when we follow him. As a theologian, as a pastor, as a woman, as a Mama, as a friend, then, I encourage us to quiet our rants for a moment – whatever opinions they express – and listen to the voice of God.

Are we willing to present our bodies as a living sacrifice? To discover what it means to live in the freedom of holy sexuality? To fight for our cardiovascular health so we can continue to be Christ’s hands and feet to others? To step out in deep courage and faith and bear a child we may raise or may put in the care of someone else to raise when the pregnancy represented chaos or uncertainty or crisis? To swab the inside of a cheek so that we’re entered in a database of potential bone marrow donors? To experience painful shots and immunizations, exhausting jet lag, bug bites and strange tastes while serving on a medical mission trip or sweating through building projects?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 

Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice means more than walking down an aisle during an altar call – though sometimes that’s included.

The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child
Saint Joseph and the Christ Child

When a nurse checks pieces of a small body to make sure all are present and there is nothing accidentally left in the womb – when, as the Planned Parenthood website describes, the “uterus is emptied” – has something beautiful occurred? Has something merciful taken place?  No. And the apostle Paul, when writing about spiritual gifts and the community of faith, likely didn’t picture his words describing infants in the context of modern-day abortion. But as a Christian – regardless of the legality or medical ethics of the situation – when I hear the loss of life of the innocent young described in ways that emphasize how to take life without destroying certain organs – when I hear words of crushing and dismemberment, my mind can’t help but go to the verses of scripture that celebrate all the different members of the Body of Christ. How precious was the earthly, physical arms and legs and head and torso of Jesus, as a hiccuping baby, as a wobbly toddler, as an awkward youth, as a growing man. How telling were the moments when the resurrected Jesus ate fish, dared Thomas to feel his wounds, tore bread with stunned disciples hungry after a walk.

Flesh matters: the Word became Flesh. The Word redeemed flesh. And we celebrate the Word-Become-Flesh and the redemption of our bodies, not the mutilation or dismemberment of them. There is no freedom, no liberation, in attempting to change our gender or rid our body of a baby: those are pathways of loss. Not irredeemable, but empty, ultimately unfulfilling in themselves.

How can we live and celebrate the reality that Jesus took on flesh to redeem it and set it motion the ultimate redemption of all Creation? Where in your thoughts, your attitudes, your actions, have you undervalued life? The body? This created existence?

How can you live as a testimony to the redemption of flesh and blood? What is keeping you from living a full, healthy life?

Are there areas in which you live inconsistently with your value of life?

If Jesus physically died and was physically resurrected, how does that challenge your notions of your own body and its value?

When you take communion, what does the ritual communicate to you about the promise of the redemption and resurrection of all Creation?

What should be our response to a culture of death? This is not a challenge to post Bible verses on your Facebook page. No – what should our community of faith do to confront our culture of death with a whole, healthy, beautiful, fulfilled picture of life? Practically speaking, how might congregations engage in activities that value life and show its beauty?

Let’s live lives that ardently pursue true happiness, beauty, and fulfillment. Let’s live out our calling to show in a million ways that life is beautiful.

 

For another article by this author on this topic, visit http://goodnewsmag.org/2012/11/call-the-midwife/

 

 

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Elizabeth Glass Turner serves as the Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent. Elizabeth holds an MA in Theological Studies and has written for Ambrose University College & Seminary, Good News magazine and others. She also has an essay in “The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes.”

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