During the Easter season I am going to be reflecting on stewardship as a Christian discipline. You can read weekly articles on my blog. We are experimenting with some sabbatical time over the next couple of months, so I will be preaching every other Sunday. One of those sermons is going to be a sermon on financial stewardship, the topic that makes many mainline Christians uncomfortable. We live in a culture that is fascinated by wealth, shaped by a growing gap between rich and poor, but is also uncomfortable talking about personal finances. Going back to the “things” of the Lenten season, we might show our wealth by the things we own, the place we live, the things we drive or the things we wear, but we would be slow to tell someone that actual numbers we have.
However, this is not the Sunday I am going to talk about financial stewardship. It is critical that we get beyond thinking about stewardship only in terms of money. We need to get beyond thinking of stewardship in terms of time and talent. Stewardship is an attitude that you carry with you. It is a way of looking at the world through a lens of generosity. It starts with God’s generosity toward the universe in bringing it into being. It continues with billions of years of things gathering and expanding, what was matter and energy becomes life on this planet and that life eventually leads to you, beautiful you. You are part of God’s generous gift of creation, and each breath you take is another gift.
So let’s talk about part of that gift of life, the body. In our gospel story today we heard about the risen Jesus eating some fish with his disciples. It seems very simple, but this was an important moment in understanding the resurrection because it was meant to show that he was truly alive, truly physical, truly risen from the dead. He is not a ghost. He is not a spirit or a soul. We hear this story and proclaim that he is risen, but we don’t think about the implications of a physical resurrection.
We as a culture have been much more affected by Greek philosophy than Hebrew teaching in our understanding of the body. The Greeks put a sharp distinction between body and soul. Popular philosophies saw the soul as essentially trapped in the body, only to escape in death. And you can see why this is popular. At our Still, Small Voice gathering on Wednesday we talked a little about this, how there seems to be this thinking and feeling part of us that could be unrelated to the body. In my imagination, I can travel to Hawaii and my body is stuck here. This separation also leads to popular visions of the undead. When early Christians thought about resurrection from the dead, they saw it as something hopeful, the restoration of full life, body and breath. When our culture imagines physical rising, we end up with zombies, the walking dead, decomposing body without a soul.
What this split has done over the centuries is to devalue the body as a gift of God. After all, this body is just something we are going to get rid of one day. In the meantime, the body is something that we have to tame; to indulge in physical pleasure is to allow the body to dirty the soul. What are pretty natural urges are seen as shameful and wicked. I am not saying that a wild and crazy lifestyle is all right. It’s just that our rejection of the body usually ends with some kind of unhealthy obsession with our body. If it involves our body and we enjoy it, somewhere in Christian history someone tried to put a clamp on it: sexuality, food, drink. The Christian attitude to the body has been, if it feels good, there is probably something wrong with it.
There is more and more neuroscience that is refuting this mind/body split, pointing to the idea that what happens to the body affects the mind and that we can often think ourselves into a physical response. All of you that complain of stress, what you are really doing is thinking yourself into a low-level panic mode, a physical response to an imagined threat.
As Christians, we should also be aware that this separation is not part of the understanding that is advocated in scripture. In the Hebrew world, the best image of humanity comes from the Garden of Eden story, where God shapes the human from the ground and breathes life into it. To be human is to be a coming together of body and breath of God. In Jewish tradition, physical pleasure was not a bad thing. Good food was celebrated. Wine was and is a common drink of celebration. According to the rabbis, the Sabbath day was a day when spouses should make love as part of the celebration of rest and joy. Moderation was important. To be obsessed with pleasure was bad. To lose control of yourself was the problem, so promiscuity, drunkenness, gluttony, over-indulgence were problems to be avoided.
But the body was not the enemy of faith or life, it was seen as part of the gift of life. Your body is a gift and an essential part of who you are. Now, having heard many of your medical issues over the years, I know that some of you would like to exchange that gift or perhaps get an upgrade. But your body is what allows you to experience this beautiful creation fully. All the colors you know are a gift of the eyes that God gave you. You only enjoy music because of a physical process of turning sounds waves into vibrations in the inner ear which then can be translated into the electric impulses that your brain can work with. When you come to the communion table, the bread and wine provide are a physical encounter with the holy. We don’t just think nice thoughts about Jesus. Jesus comes to us through the physical process of eating and drinking.
The body is a gift and as with all the gifts God, hopefully we are moved to gratitude for the opportunity to experience…everything. From gratitude then we move to stewardship. We thank God for the gift and then show our thanks by taking care of it. Some of the best things you can do for your body: allow it to move, allow it to rest, feed it well (and by well I don’t mean copious amounts) become acts of discipleship. Eating a salad can be a faithful action. Taking a walk can be a holy time.
Now there is a danger when you talk about the body where it is very easy to fall into a guilt-ridden legalism. You have to walk 10000 steps a day. You have to sleep 8 hours a night. You can never eat a cookie if you really love your body and if you do eat a cookie then shame on you for your lack of willpower. This can get even more troublesome if you bring faith into the mix because you end up saying if you really love God you won’t eat the cookie. The beautiful way that God has made us is that, most of the time if we listen, our bodies tell us what we need. When you’re tired, go to sleep. When you’re hungry, eat something and don’t eat something when you are not. When you’re thirsty drink something. When you are anxious, slow down, take a breath, go outside.
There are exceptions to this rule, conditions that may make us more hungry or tired than we need to be. Anyone who deals with addiction can tell that this is not a perfect system, that our bodies can get hooked, telling us that we need something that we don’t actually need, something that might do harm to us. Acknowledging those complications, I still suggest that at a basic level our bodies tell us what we need. That feeling of hunger, of thirst, of sleepiness, even a feeling of pain, is our own personal “Check Engine Light.” Pay attention to it as a way of caring for this gift that God has given. We are stewards of the gifts of God.
This life is a gift. Our attitude toward anything God has made, except maybe ticks and mosquitos, should not be, “I can’t wait to get away from this.” It’s like when you make a great Thanksgiving dinner and those ungrateful kids sit at the table for 10 minutes, never really tasting the food, just wolfing it down ready to move on to something else. This life, this creation, this body is good, God’s gift. It’s been given to you so that you can experience… everything. It has been given to you so that you can continue God’s work of creation, making something beautiful. It has been given to you so that you can do the beautiful work of praising God by helping others. It has been given to you so that you may know the meaning of life. So praise God and care for your body. Praise God and revel in your body. Praise God for this life and the promise of new life in Christ.