On Monday evening, I had the opportunity to worship with the young adults with Urban Servant Corps. I had been invited to come and lead worship around the topic and information on the ELCA’s social statement: Women and Justice: One In Christ and the newly minted social message on gender based violence. I’ve been what’s called a “process builder” for the Rocky Mountain Synod on the Social statement since 2013 offering listening events and feedback to the church wide task force as well as offering presentations on the findings. I was asked to wrap worship, including Holy Communion, around this very difficult conversation on sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse based on perceived expressions of gender and sexual orientation. Tricky to say the least and I wasn’t sure how this would be received. After all, I’m well aware of my own generational biases and these young adults are much closer to the age of my children than myself. No matter how hip, cool and relevant I think I am, my children assure me that I am indeed not.
But while we had these different generational lenses on how we enter into the conversation, we were all wrestling with the tension inherent to Christianity: the good news that Jesus is risen, the tomb is empty and death and suffering are conquered. We will have eternal life someday with God. And yet, there is the reality of the here and now that suffering is real, any kind of pain of mind, body or spirit is real and our physical bodies matter. It matters that we are bodies created in the image of God. Not esoterically, or spiritually, but physical manifestations of the divine. Male, female, tall, short, black, white, gay, straight, two legs or one, all ten fingers or fewer, a fully functioning heart, or a broken one, a brain that becomes overwhelmed by stimuli easily, or can tolerate noise, social or introverted, unable to walk or an elite runner. Galatians 3: 28, the foundational Bible verse for the social statement work: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer free or slave, no longer male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus”, sounds lovely, utopian and a wonderful goal to assent to someday, when we all see Jesus face to face. But I think Paul didn’t mean that in a someday by and by sense or only when it was easy, comfortable, accessible and safe. Paul knew that bodies mattered to Jesus in the here and now, no matter what the cost. And when MLK quoted this verse in his last speech before his assassination, 48 years ago Monday, I think that King also exactly understood the cost of this truth.
For the now apostles, it had been less than two months since the death and resurrection of Jesus. They had received the Holy Spirit, they had converts being added to their numbers day by day and they were still very much on the radar of the Roman and Jewish authorities. Hiding, or at least laying low and not making any noise, would have been the prudent, smart, and safe thing to do. But that’s not what they did. We read that Peter and John were going to the temple; remember that the apostles and early converts did not identify as Christians but Jewish Jesus followers. At the gate of the temple, they came upon this man who had been born differently abled, not able to walk and in first century Palestine, he did not have worth, and most certainly was not considered created in the image of the divine. Each day, he was placed on the outside of the temple by his family, to beg for alms from the good, proper and pious church goers who were required by Jewish law to give mitzah, commitment to do good which included giving away money. So, much like we give a $5 or a $10 or even a blessing bag to those who stand on the street corners with signs, people just threw money at him without really looking at him, probably judging him for his own misfortune (after all he must have done “something” to deserve this) and pushing down the fear that they themselves are only one mishap away from such a fate. They were terrified to identify with him.
But Peter and John saw this man. Really saw him, body, mind and spirit. Now, the safe thing would have been to just go to temple, pray and go home, but really seeing this man, knowing that his body mattered to God, knowing that his inclusion in community mattered to God, seeing themselves as connected, Peter and John couldn’t just go on with their own lives, worrying about only themselves. Peter looked at the man and told him to look at them. Connected equally before God. Connected equally in God’s image. Connected equally in God’s love. The man assumed he was about to receive alms but Peter had something better-something that no matter what the risk or cost to himself, he couldn’t keep to himself. He offered him healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He didn’t first demand a faith statement, an assent to some sort of proper belief of God, no, Peter freely offered what he had first been given, Jesus’ message of love and that he mattered. And Peter also didn’t offer the man a platitude of someday, in heaven being healed. He was being healed today, right now, in public. The man got up and walked but more than that, entered the temple, with all of those who had excluded him his whole life. He leapt and praised God not just because he could walk, but because his body had mattered to someone, he was no longer isolated, he now could offer himself as part of the community and the community benefitted from his presence and praise.
We didn’t read on in Acts to hear what happened next, but it is important. You see, after acknowledging that bodies in the here and now mattered to God, Peter pointed to this act not as something he, himself had done but as a sign of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, what God is up to and this was available to all people no matter the condition of their mind, body or spirit. Peter and John boldly proclaimed that the old system of the world, was not God’s system. The world’s system of worth, was not God’s system. The priests and other Jewish leadership didn’t like this at all. It was disruptive, it was uncomfortable, and it threatened their power and control. The healing and proclamation of this man as a beloved child of God ushered in the first of many post-resurrection clashes between the apostles and the authorities. In true non-violent resistance form, Peter and John were arrested for radical inclusion, pushing on the status quo and disrupting the systems of privilege and entitlement.
The man, who went from immobility to freedom, is not only a sign of God’s kingdom to come but also highlights the inconsistencies in our lives and the things that we don’t understand as we await the fullness of time in the return of Christ. Why are some healed physically in the here and now and not everyone? Why do some people experience a miracle and not others? Why does God allow injustice? I’m here to say with confidence, I don’t know. I struggle with this as well any time I read the healing stories in the Bible. But here’s what I wonder and I invite you to wonder with me.
What if we are called to really see people as God sees them, not as broken, different or disabled, but as whole and beloved children of God and a part of us? What if really seeing people and including them despite the risk of our own comfort, safety or privilege DOES bring healing in ways that only God can heal through us? What if we allowed ourselves to truly be seen by our neighbor, brokenness and all and be healed by one another? What if when Jesus says with the bread and the wine, do this to re-member me, is not about a memory or nostalgia but being re-assembled, re-membered into the one body of Christ in order for the whole of creation to be re-assembled, re-membered as one, one in hope for reconciliation in the here and now, one in solidarity with those in our society who are told that their bodies don’t matter, one in the unconditional love of Christ in the here and now and forever? What if we are the ones, like Peter and John, who are called to risk pointing to the in-breaking of God’s system in the world?
The good news is that despite our human differences, our human biases and our human fear, Christ proclaims that we all are one in Christ, we all belong to Christ and we are in the here and now, truly seen, forgiven and loved through Christ. Thanks be to God.