About flesh and body

As we continue to read in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we find a passage filled with words that made sense to the first audience without a lot of explanation, but which need some interpretation in 2011. Here is an excerpt opening the English words “flesh” and “body” as used by Paul in Greek in this letter and in his theology. Walter F. Taylor, Jr. is the Ernest W. and Edith F. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH.

Our text [Romans 8:1-11] uses several times the word flesh, making what seem to be almost nonsensical statements such as “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (verse 8).  If that is the reality, why even try to live in God-pleasing ways?  The key is what Paul means by flesh (sarks).  To understand his usage, we turn first to its apparent twin, body (soma).  For Paul the body is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  The issue is how the body is used.  When the body is used as God intended, the body is good.  But when the body is used inappropriately and opposed to God’s intention, it is for Paul a sinful body.  Paul’s shorthand expression for a body that is misused is the term flesh.  And so to live inappropriately is called living according to the flesh (kata sarka).  Read more about Paul’s theology. (Select “2nd Reading” tab)

What helps you to live fully for God? How has your living for God changed over the years? What kinds of “grown up” things do you do as you seek to know and do God’s will?

Leave a comment, reply to a comment, keep the Sunday conversation going. Thank you for participating in the Sunday Morning Forum.

The parable of the sower

And [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” Matthew 13:3-9 See also Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Is it about the sower? the seed? the soil? How do you hear it? Consider these questions about the parable and Jesus’ interpretation of his parable.

  • Tell me more about the sower. Who is the sower? Is it only Jesus? Is it we who follow Jesus? Is it only the baptized? Can anyone sow “the word of the kingdom”? (v. 19)
  • Do you recognize these areas (path, rocky ground, thorn infested ground, good soil) in the world around you? In the people around you?
  • Do you recognize these areas in yourself? Is it possible that in ourselves, in our “field,” we will find these areas? Will we find a path, rocky ground, thorn infested patches, good soil? All 4, just 1, a combination?
  • Are we to understand that we are to sow the seed (word of the kingdom) as wildly and extravagantly as “the sower”?
  • Is it possible for soil to change? How? With what help? Over how long a time? How would you apply this knowledge to you? To the people around you?
  • Do you know anything about composting? Can the thorns be composted? Will this compost enrich the already “good soil”? Will clearing the thorns help that soil recover in order to receive seed (as good soil) the next time around? Will there be a “next time around”?

These are a few of the questions that occur to me as I hear the parable. I encourage to leave a comment. Let’s continue the conversation begun in the Forum on Sunday.

Have you ever heard of EYE?

Would you like to hear a “good” story about the generation of (Episcopal) Christians now finding their voice and their gifts? Read on, here is an excerpt and a link to the larger story.

EYE: the Episcopal Youth Event is a triennial gathering of youth and adults from every Province of the Episcopal Church. EYE 2011 took place June 22-26 in St. Paul, MN. I have been able to attend and participate in 2 of these events and can tell you the energy and enthusiasm is life-changing.

For three solid days — from early morning to late night — 730 Episcopal youth, supported by more than 300 adult advisors and 50 bishops, were immersed in a comprehensive program designed to enrich and empower the next generation of leaders in the Episcopal Church. More than 50 workshops shared knowledge, stories and skills on subjects such as prayer and spirituality, effective Bible study, youth ministry and mission trip planning. Presenters included church leaders like Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton; the Rev. Angela Ifill, Episcopal Church black ministries officer; the Rev. Winfred Vergara, Episcopal Church Asian American ministries officer; and the Rev. Bob Honeychurch, Episcopal Church officer for congregational vitality.

Two daily plenary sessions presented keynote speakers that included Sutton, Rodger Nishioka of Columbia Theological Seminary, Episcopal missionary Cameron Graham Vivanco and the Rev. Luke Fodor, Episcopal Relief & Development’s network coordinator.

Fodor challenged the participants to “reframe the way we think about mission and our role in it,” suggesting it “is not possible for us to do mission” but that rather “mission is something that God does through us. God is the missional agent in this world.”

“My brothers and sisters, fear not. We all fall short of the glory of God, but God always works through us. Mission is not about us, but is about God and the others we meet when God is using us to build the Reign of God,” he said. “When we begin to think about mission in this way, mission becomes less and less about us. As we shed our baggage of fear, anxiety and the silent lies that suggest we don’t matter, then mission becomes more and more about God and our fellow humans.”

What was said to these young leaders is equally true for us: “reframe the way we think about mission and our role in it, for it is not possible for us to do mission, rather mission is something that God does though us. God is the missional agent in this world.” In the closing service of Holy Communion participants (young and old) heard an exhortation which is as true for us as it was for them.

Explaining that lay persons, like bishops, priests and deacons, are “the ministers of the church” (Book of Common Prayer, page 855), Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, invited participants to “jump into the waters of baptism.” [A video of Anderson’s address is available here.]

“We are the baptized. And the true claim of baptism, as our courageous ancestor JennieWylie Kellerman said, ‘is to wade in the water and be immersed in our Lord’s perverse ethic of vulnerability and gain through loss.'”

“He was not passive. Jesus troubled the waters. That’s our job if we are to follow Jesus. Our job is to upset any status quo that stands in the way of peace and justice, to question and do something about anything that stands in the way of a reconciled world,” said Anderson. “That’s why we are committed to mission. It’s our job to turn this world upside down; to turn over the tables; to look outside ourselves with fresh eyes and then help others see the kingdom of God.”

Read the ENS article: Episcopal youth enriched and empowered for mission

View and listen to Bonnie Anderson’s Address here

Reflect further – leave a comment

  • What do you think about God working through you to build the “Reign of God?” Are you ready? Do you need to be ready? Do you need to trust God for the grace to accomplish things through you?
  • In what ways do you “upset any status quo that stands in the way of peace and justice?
  • In what ways have you invited God (Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier) into your life so that you may, word and example, benefit others?
  • What aspect of the Baptismal Covenant do you find challenging? comforting? easy? difficult?

Start a conversation, keep a conversation going, leave a comment.

A Proper 11 Art for Readings 7/17/2011

VAN GOGH, Vincent
Click to open The Vincent van Gogh Gallery Artist Biography

The Sower
Oil on canvas
32.0 x 40.0 cm.
Arles: November, 1888
Click here to open The Vincent van Gogh Gallery display page. Click Next Painting to see seven additional Van Gogh treatments of the Sower.

Click here and scroll down for thumbnails of all eight Van Gogh Sowers.

Infusing the sacred into daily life

“Today, Americans are cultivating spirituality by probing deeper dimensions of things they do each day, from prayer to exercise and volunteering.” (1)

One way to deepen spirituality being followed by many: volunteering. As part of the Sunday Morning Forum we seek to encourage each other to do what we can with who we are in the time we have, for the glory of God and the welfare of all God’s children and all of God’s creation. Consider:

Even volunteering is serving as a portal to higher things. Organizations that make up the Catholic Volunteer Network guide some 14,000 volunteers to reflect on vocation, suffering and poverty.

“It takes a little while to realize, ‘I might not cure AIDS, but I might be able comfort someone who’s dying, and it makes a world of difference to that one person,’ “ says Katie Mulembe, CVN’s membership and recruitment coordinator. “You realize, ‘That’s why I’m here. And that’s good enough.’ “ Read the entire post

In our Baptismal Covenant we have promised to seek and serve Christ and to strive for justice and peace in the world. Let us fulfill our promises to God and each other.

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(1) “Americans search for ways to infuse daily life with the sacred” by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, USA Today at http://tinyurl.com/4ch4rjl on 31 Jan 2011

Paul Laurence Dunbar– “A Prayer”

Image source–Poets.org

Sunday’s Gospel reading made me think of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “A Prayer.” In Matthew 11:28, Jesus promises that, if we come to Him, He will give us rest. Dunbar’s poem could almost be viewed as a direct response to Jesus’ promise.

O LORD, the hard-won miles
have worn my stumbling feet:
Oh, soothe me with thy smiles,
and make my life complete.

The thorns were thick and keen
where’er I trembling trod:
The way was long between
my wounded feet and God.

 Where healing waters flow,
do thou my footsteps lead.
My heart is aching so;
Thy gracious balm I need.

(http://www.dunbarsite.org/gallery/APrayer.asp)

Surrendering to Rest

When I was growing up, I hated going to sleep. To me, there was just too much fun to be had and too many books to read. Why would I want to go to sleep and miss out on all of it? But, like most kids, I would eventually tire out, and when I did, I would be very clear with my mother. “I’m not sleeping,” I would insist. “I just need to rest my eyes for a minute.” The “minute” would, of course, generally turn into an afternoon or, I’m sure my parents hoped, an entire night. I wouldn’t mind it much, though, because I was resting, not sleeping. Resting came as a result of a full day, and it required surrender on my part. I had to admit that, loath as I was to go to sleep, I genuinely needed to rest if I wanted to have the energy to continue doing whatever I was doing.

There was, and still is, something about sleep that seems so permanent to me. Even now, I don’t like going to sleep, because I worry about whatever opportunities I’ll miss while sleeping. Rest, however, seems totally different. To me, rest implies, “I’ve been working hard. There’s still work to do. I’m gonna shut my eyes for about twenty minutes (or seven hours!), then I’m going to jump up and get back in the game.”

So when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, I feel like He’s speaking my language. Or, hopefully, I’m speaking His. He says,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (NRSV, emphasis mine.)

In this context, “rest” isn’t just physical, and it isn’t just spiritual. There are several different levels to the meaning. Pastor Elisabeth Johnson writes,

To all those laboring under harsh religious and political systems, Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” Rest (anapausis) in the Septuagint can refer to Sabbath rest, the rest of death, or rest from war when Israel’s enemies have been subdued. Rest also functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising “rest,” Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing into being. (Elisabeth Johnson, http://www.workingpreacher.org.)

Jesus understands what we often miss–that we need rest. And not just any rest; His rest. As “good Christians,” we often find ourselves whizzing about from volunteering to teaching Sunday School to baking cookies for the coffee hour to picking up the kids from school to making spaghetti for the youth group on Wednesday to barely remembering to read the text for Saturday’s Bible study and so on and so on and so on. We precariously balance church, work, family, and friendships, giving and giving until we feel there’s nothing left to give. We silently carry feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and the need to control every aspect of our lives so that there will be no surprises. We are “Marthas,” knowing all the while that we would probably be happier if we were “Marys.” We behave as I did when I was a child, unable to sit, unable to be at peace, unable to truly be at rest.

In the 1996 movie One Fine Day, Michelle Pfeiffer exemplifies this behavior as she portrays a single mom who is beyond stressed as she attempts to balance her commitments to her job and to her son. When asked why she won’t accept help from anyone, she replies,

“I’ve got all of these little balls up in the air. And if someone else caught one for me, I’d drop them all.”

We all have tons of “little balls” up in the air–obligations with which we’ve filled our lives, often in an attempt to do good. The beautiful news is this: not only is Jesus willing to catch the balls we’ve been juggling; He’s also willing to catch us. To take from us the heavy, overwhelming yoke of the world (and sometimes even of the church), and to give us His yoke–one of joy, laughter, hope, peace…and rest. Much like physical rest, spiritual rest requires our surrender. It requires an understanding that, “I’ve been working hard. There’s still work to do. But I know that, when I need to, I can retreat and take a break for a minute–without shame, guilt, or reservations–because Jesus said that He will give me rest.”

My hope is that we will come to trust that our Savior, who loves us all so completely and profoundly, is big enough to care for us at every point in our lives–whether at work or at rest.

Thinkin’ Questions

What are some other ways of interpreting Jesus’ meaning of “rest”?

Do you feel that you have a tendency to overcommit yourself, or do you strike a pretty good balance?

What are some ways that we could all practice “resting” in Jesus?

Are a restful spirit and a hectic schedule mutually exclusive?