When Jonathan suggested that I fill in for him and deliver a sermon today my honest reaction was, and to a large extent still is, doubt. Doubt that I am worthy or qualified to stand up here and preach to anyone. If causing someone to become truly prayerful in genuine fear of the Lord is reason to thank them then I guess I owe Jonathan a lot of heartfelt thanks.
I’m sure most and probably all of us have looked at what we think is a mismatched couple, maybe husband and wife or a pair of friends, and said “I really don’t see what he/she sees in her/him”. Then we usually finish that thought by saying “Ah well, love is blind”. And just like Justice is supposed to be, love can be blind, or at least near sighted, to the faults and flaws of those we love.
In the most often quoted sentence in scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” the Bible describes the upper limit of Love. And looking at this love as an outside observer, can there possibly be a couple in love more mismatched than God, through His son Jesus, and human kind? What on Earth does He see in us that He could love us so deeply?
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he spoke of the Body as a place where we are “at home”. And the more “at home” we are there the further we are from the Lord. This begs the question. What does he mean by “at home” in the body? Where are we supposed to be that isn’t in “the Body”? What are we supposed to be that isn’t the body?
This brings up a question that has been puzzled over for literally thousands of years. What is the nature and origin of consciousness? The philosopher Descartes summed up existence with the phrase “I think therefore I am”. While an atheist would insist that all this thinking is the result of complex bio chemistry in the human brain we Christians recognize consciousness as something else. Something immortal and in but not of the body. We call it our spirit, our soul.
Luckily for us modern science actually provides support for the truth that our consciousness is not created by the body but in fact the reverse is true. Modern quantum physics is astoundingly hard to understand and even harder to believe. I don’t even pretend to really understand it. I’ve just read enough to know about some of the conclusions it draws about nature. But for the last century it’s been demonstrated through experimentation as true. It postulates that the world as we perceive it is brought into existence by consciousness, not the other way around. One of the founders of that science and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Max Planck, concluded that “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force … We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter”. He explicitly means God.
All told the world and our bodily existence in it is everything God isn’t. It is mortal, changeable, fickle, full of temptations that our bodies crave, and constantly demanding of our attention. In short, the world, wonderful as it is, can be a nasty dangerous place and our existence in it and of it separates us in our relationship with God. Yet it’s a world created whole cloth by God that exists from moment to moment through Him.
The combination of words, “in but not of” ought to sound familiar since Paul told the Corinthians in his first letter to them that in but not of must define their relationship with the world. And that in turn was an echo of Jesus, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[a] is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
When Paul refers to “the body” he means the physical world as we perceive it through the five senses of the body and the more at home we are in and of the world the further we are from God.
And a lovely world it is, full of sights, sounds, flavors, and temptations. But there are a few problems with this vessel we occupy in the world. One, it is really demanding. If we don’t feed it properly, give it water to drink, air the breath, and otherwise keep up a reasonable maintenance schedule it dies. And contrary to what some people like Vegans and fitness fanatics seem to think, no matter how careful and attentive we are we will be awfully lucky to make it much past seventy or eighty years on the odometer. There isn’t a label with a sell by date, but it definitely has one.
Second problem, desire. The body has desires that go beyond food, air, and water, all of which correspond nicely to things which the physical world has on offer. Now many of these desires are for good and necessary things which have legitimate purposes. Maybe the biggest and best and also the most troublesome involves fruitfulness and multiplication. But the constancy of body’s demands and how we go about satisfying them can also be problematic and lead to much pain and suffering.
And yet, despite all these imperfections, weaknesses, and sin God did and does so love us that He sent His Son to redeem us and allowed that same Son to sacrifice Himself to one of the cruelest and most painful deaths imaginable. What does He and what does His Son possibly see in us?
What He sees is our true selves, our spirit, and the potential we have for the close relationship with Him that we are born to have. In other words, the capacity for faith and grace.
When Jesus was at the shore of Galilee he saw more than two exhausted fishermen struggling with their empty nets and empty stomachs. He saw two souls which he had created and which He knew had the potential to someday travel the known world carrying His good news. When He met lepers, blind men, prostitutes, and most hated of all, tax collectors He saw them as souls trapped in the demands and temptations of their physical existence but with the potential to turn away from that and turn in faith to His Father. And He without doubt sees the same in us.
And He calls on us to see each other with the same discerning eye. To look past the mortal exterior of people, and the visible and tangible world in general, and see the immortal core. Doing this is hard, and complete success while we are in this world probably impossible. But no one, least of all Jesus, ever said following Him was going to be easy. In fact it’s the hardest road you can possibly follow.
But follow we must. Through prayer of course, but also by consciously realizing that these bodies we occupy, this world we live in, this life we live is not our true home. Our real home, the one we know is waiting for us to return to, is with God through His Son.
I’ve had the very good fortune to travel much of this world. So far every continent but Antarctica. And if penguins ever decided they needed rehab products or industrial tools, and came up with the funds to buy them, I’d have gone there too. In meeting and working with so many different people of different races, religions, cultures, and languages what’s most obvious aren’t the differences. What’s striking are the similarities. And these arise from the simple fact that each and every one possesses a God given soul. And in striving to see that in each other, as Jesus does, we will find ourselves a little closer to and ready for home.