474758_10151033994919809_661170001_oIf you could go back and have a conversation with yourself, 10, 20 or 30 years ago, what would you talk about?

I know I'd have much to say.

When I was in high school, I was extremely lonely. I felt like no one really knew who I was. I was words like "too serious" and "too Christian" and "nerd" would be words other people used to describe me.

Needless to say, I didn't run in the popular crowd. I never had the right clothes or found myself in activities that achieved instant coolness. At school I only had one real friend. I think depression was something that I dealt with though I didn't have the words to describe it yet.

But, even with the awkwardness, I had some self-awareness.

I knew I liked encouraging others.

I knew I liked organizing and leading things with purpose and that validated others' gifts.

I knew I liked paying careful attention to the details of others' lives so to connect with them intentionally.

I knew I liked public speaking and got great joy out of someone receiving hope from something I said.

But, in all of these good gifts I felt completely defeated because I lived under a value system where none of these heart bursts of mine were assigned much if any value. Women in my church were not even allowed to usher, much less preach.

So, instead, tried to be what others saw as "good."  And you could imagine how well that went over . . .

I really tried, BUT

I wasn't good at sports. (I even got a C+ in PE once because of my kept falling off the aerobics bench during the routines).

I wasn't good at voicing my opinions in a crowd therefore I never got elected to student council.

I wasn't good at telling others that I needed them. I wondered why people didn't seem to like me as much as I liked them . . .

I just couldn't find my niche. I sat beside the teachers and the adults on the bus trips. But they didn't know what to do with me either.

Deep pains from this time in my life still eat at me now, if I let it. So, I could have become full of rage. I could have started living into destructive patterns of behavior. I could have rejected the faith I was given as a child. And, I'm sure no one from outside the bubble in which I lived would have blamed me.

But, in all of this mess, my life was saved, I know, because I was given this grace from God: to write. In my writing, I could figure out life. There might be a better way I could live one day?

Though I didn't have words to articulate this concisely at all, I knew what direction my life was going. I put pen to paper.

And gradually as I kept living, I found friends, mentors and colleagues who with great patience would beat it into my head that I was loved and that my gifts mattered.

I knew I had to fight for my own life, even if no one else did. Because my life mattered. And, I needed to live out my calling to BE the woman God created me to be, even if the Southern Baptist Church frowned on me. Otherwise my soul might start to die.

And, I'm so glad I did. I'm glad I choose seminary. I'm so glad I married Kevin Hagan. I'm so glad I became a pastor. I'm glad I'm continuing to learn what it means to be the "Preacher on the Plaza" on days like this one.

Consider the writings of Parker Palmer who says, listen to your life.

Let your life talk back to you. Let the divine gift of direction swell up in you and don't be afraid to believe in your own blessedness.

No matter if no one but you recognizes it at the time and not matter how much you feel beat down, keep believing and soon others will too.

So for me, if I could go back to high school, I'd have a long talk with myself about just hanging in their till the good stuff started.

"Life will get better for you, Elizabeth. It will. I promise!"

What would you say to you?

God Calls You to Take Care of Yourself

I Corinthians 6:11-20

Today we begin a series of messages in this season of Epiphany all about God's calling to us.

It's the time of year that the Christian calendar asks us to do some consideration again about this life of faith that we've committed to live in. It's the time of year for us to hear from scripture again some of Jesus' hopes for our becoming as people called the Body of Christ. And, today's "God Calls You" blank inserts the words "To Take Care of Yourself."

As I was preparing for this sermon this week, I thought back to previous studies I'd heard on the Corinthian text and the topical sermon series I'd heard or preached before. And, I realized this. I'd never heard a sermon or preached one for that matter on caring for self. Not one. I wondered why?

It seems we tow a good line as leaders and faith seekers in Christian community on the topics of self-sacrifice, selflessness and extending beyond the bounds of our own natural abilities so that God can work mightily through us, but rare it seems that we ever talk about care of self.

While we are eager to talk about becoming something "more:"  more loving, more giving, more serving, more faithful, it is rare that we talk about the physicality of a body from which all of the loving, giving serving and faithfulness comes or do we ever talk about our limits of care.

I don't know why this is, other than generations of doctrine and preaching and study has seemed to do a great job disconnecting the body and the soul.

Because of humankind's fall in Genesis 3, we learn we're condemned to a sentence of bodily suffering, pain.  The body is bad and will die while the soul is good and will abide in the presence of God forever, if redeemed.  Yet, we have forgotten that God previously said over the words of our birth that we were made in God's very own image and called "very good."

As a result of all of this confusion, we easily think us regular church going people, what's the point when it comes to our own health and well-being?

If we really need rest or a day of solitude and someone from the church calls us to do something, then the "godly" choice is always to say yes to others and to the church.

Furthermore, if we want our lives to be pleasing to God, then we've got to learn to give up beauty, give up pleasure, or even lay our own medical problems on the altar of denial, so we have time for everyone else other than us.  Though we are taught all along about love and grace and all that jazz, we believe the only way God will REALLY love us is we die to self by putting ourselves last.

There's a poem about JOY which you may have heard. It is the acrostic for the word JOY: Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last.

I remember my father saying to the children in Vacation Bible School once that "If you really want to be happy in life, you'll learn to love Jesus more than anyone else, even yourself."

As I grew older and had the ability to consider the deeper meaning of this saying I saw so regularly, I doubted the claim of "I wasn't really loving Jesus if I was loving myself."

Is this what Jesus' own ministry modeled for us?

Did Jesus never eat, sleep, take retreats or be quiet from time to time? But, Christian culture seem to teach me and my peers--  loving yourself was a bad thing. It you took a mental health or catch up on your sleep day, you just didn't talk about it.

But, is this what our epistle lesson from this morning is seeking to say about care? Deign it? In the eyes of Paul, do our bodies matter?  How might our calling be to care for ourselves be the foundation of all our care for others?

We find our lection for this morning found smack dab in the middle of a long series of instructional teaching from Paul to the church in Corinth, a church we know that Paul helped to found and nurture in its infancy.

Paul sought to teach this gathered community-- new coverts to the way of Christ-- what living out their baptism (as we were talking about last week) would look like in the practical every day issues in a particular context.

(As an aside, this is often why, we as modern readers have a hard time with the epistle scriptures. While there is much to learn from the "big ideas" of these letters, we often reach dead ends of frustrating fundamentalism when we take the directives of Paul too literally).

In the verses previous to and after our lection we hear Paul describing his concerns for order in the church, legal matters, marriage and the process of worship.

So, with this understanding, it seems less random these verses about sexual morality and food before us today which say in verse 13: "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" or in verse 18: "Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself."

It's like we are listening into a thousand plus year old conversation, though one-way, about food and sex morality's place in the life of faith. Paul wanted the church at Corinth to know that even as he taught much about "freedom in Christ" and the truth that being in Christ meant they were no longer bound to laws about this and that behavior-- still limits existed.  "All things are lawful for me," Paul reminds them but adds, "not all things are beneficial."

It's his way of saying, in the story of Christ's grace, we are not left out of the family of God for what we do and our actions do not change the way God looks at us or thinks of us, BUT freedom in Christ has limits. The limits are meant for our good.

Such is summed up when we reach verse 19, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body."

Like a young child who will not take instructions without their parent or caregiver answering their thousand, "Why?" questions, Paul gives the whys for his considerations for this particular community about how they partner sexually and what food they put in their mouths.

Their bodies are not bad. Their bodies are not just flesh and bones with nothing to do with their souls. Their bodies gave life and thus were a part of God's very own Self.  Therefore, a call resounds to care for their bodies.

I wonder how many of us in this room made New Year's Resolutions?  And, among all of you who made resolutions, I wonder how many of your stated intentions related in some way to your body or health.  (Any brave souls to raise your hands?)

A recent article about our New Year's Resolution practices in one US city[i] states that the top five resolutions made this year included to:

1. Spend more time with friends and family

2. Become fit in fitness

3.  Lose Weight and tame the bulge

4. Quit Smoking

5. Quit Drinking

No matter that social studies say that 80% of New Year's Resolutions fail by January 20th (that's only 5 days away in fact), there seems to be a compulsion in most of us to improve our satisfaction with our bodies and an equally strong compulsion to not.

According the National Center for Heath and Disease Control, nearly 2/3 of adults and children in the United States are overweight; nearly 1/3 are obese.  And, if we single out the church going crowd the statistics are worse. A recent study by a Purdue University sociologist "found that religious participation in the United States specially, participation in the Christian denominations (for which the Baptist church was highlighted as a chief offender)-- correlates with status as overweight or obesity.[ii]

At first reading of this I wanted to shout, "Oh come, on, so not true!" But, sadly I think the statistics tell our story. Our relationship with our bodies is out of control. Our disconnectedness of body and soul is out of control.

Have you been to a church dinner lately? Have you met a group of pastors lately? Though our church and its leaders might be able to say that we've cared for the sick and dying and we've given good weddings and funerals, when it comes to taking care of our own health, our own well-being, and our own mental peace, we do a really lousy job of it.

We don't really think our bodies matter that much.

I can't tell you how many times I've been at clergy gatherings where fellow colleagues have boasted of "never taking their vacation" or "working from sun up from sun down."

I can't tell you how many pastoral encounters I've had in homes when a piece of cake or pie has been shoved on me though I really keep saying, "I'm full." I can't tell you how many times the sin of gluttony has been ignored in church life as if it is ok to eat and eat and eat some more and the sin of lust has been ignored and we all know what happens when that comes out . . .  We as the church global have problems with God's call to care for our bodies.

All of this talk this morning is not meant to knock those of us who in the midst of a life-long struggle with body image, time management and finding ways to love exercise (though we hate it so), but it is this text that asks us to stop and ponder what IS God's calling to our bodies again. It's our time now to ask us what God's calling to "glorify God in our bodies" looks like?

In my early years of faith, I heard a lot about salvation as the process of being made right with God.

Salvation as making a stated confession to a community of my sin, repentance and faith in God. Salvation amounted to a prayer of confession and a lifetime of service in the church, hoping to lead as many others as possible in this prayer of confession too.

It was such a big deal that people would ask, "What was the day that you came to Christ?" And, when you appropriately answered, your salvation story was complete.

But, even as my understand of salvation began to change over the years, a class during my 3rd year of seminary, shifted my theology in a completely different direction.

Salvation was not, as Dr. Esther Acolotse, put it in pastoral care class one afternoon about a moment or a limited engagement experience. Salvation, she suggested was about become a human being-- the human being God designed each of us to be at creation. Salvation was about a journey to be made whole.

Such words lingered with me long that day after class and have stuck with me until now. That, yes, God calls us to take care of ourselves because our salvation depends on it.

But, what does this look like, you might wonder? I'm still trying to figure it out, of course, but what I've learned is that there is no way that I can act on God's calling for care of self if my schedule is out of balance.

If we try to over work or under work, if we say "yes" when we should be saying "no," we wind up cranky, drinking too much caffeine, and eventually physically ill.

But, if we remember when we look at the week ahead that it is good to care of ourselves-- the time we need to cook meals at home, the time we need to go on walks, the time we need to decompress-- as much as we say "yes" to other things, a funny thing happens.

We feel better. We might just sleep better. We enjoy my life more, and we exude the joy of being exactly the person God created us to be.  And, sure there are always times in your life and mine when we need to go more than others, but afterwards we always must remember to take a step back and not let this constant rush be our norm.

The stakes are high with this calling, my friends, for you and I get into more trouble than we can ever know now if we don't live into this. Not only what we first might think-- facing life with preventable health concerns dragging us down-- but in our community relations with one another. If we are ever going to be the presence of God to one another as other callings upon our life will ask of us-- we must first start with ourselves.

After all St. Teresa of Avila once said to her community:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.

So, what are you going to do to care for yours? AMEN

 


[i] Top Ten New Years Resolutions. Albrecht Powell. http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/holidays/tp/resolutions.htm

[ii]Mary Louise Bringle. "Eating Well: Seven Paradoxes of Plenty." http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/HealthArticleBringle.pdf