December 6, 2020   Embodiment of Peace, Pastor David Tatgenhorst 

Mark 1: 1-8 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,  make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Let’s take a moment to center in, and notice our bodies. Breathe into your lungs. Watch your breath move - through your nose, pull air all the way to your stomach. Imagine the nourishment of the oxygen as it moves from lungs to heart and all through your body. Alive.

December 6, 2020 Embodiment of Peace

Third! Number three. Tom, the team captain choosing the team, picked me third! That had never happened before. I usually got chosen near the end. I looked at my arms to see if I had suddenly developed some muscles overnight. I wondered if I had grown a little bit. I was kind of short and skinny - with glasses to boot - back then. And since I didn’t notice any increase in muscles or coordination, I figured Tom had made a misjudgment and our team was going to lose. Still it gave me extra enthusiasm for that game and I was all in.

I’m always amazed at how widespread that experience is, especially for guys - that sadness and fear over being chosen last for a team. It was humiliating. Truthfully, it was embarrassing enough that it also a time when I started to be alienated from my body. I figured that sports and movement were not something I could do, and I decided to dedicate myself to something I was better at - like reading books. 

It wasn’t until I dared to take a modern dance class during my senior year in college that I started to reconnect and realize that my body could move just fine, that I didn’t need to be so embarrassed by it. I never developed a lot of muscle, but I got braver at living in my actual body and not just in my head. 

During Advent this year, our theme is ‘embodiment.’ It’s another word for ‘incarnation,’ which is what Advent and Christmas are all about. Incarnation is the embodiment of God’s Spirit into a human body. Jesus’ body, and ours. When I think about incarnation, I tend to think about it as two separate realms coming together, a spiritual realm coming into the human realm of the body. Christianity has fallen into a dualistic trap like that over and over again. 

Our best theology from the very beginning has insisted that body and spirit are not separable. Jesus talked about loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Our creeds emphasized the resurrection of the body, not just spirit. It takes a lot of faith to get your head around that one. Resurrection of the body is simply the logical end of the Christian understanding that bodies are important, that human bodies matter.

Men’s bodies matter - no matter how many times we send them to war and ignore their feelings. Women’s bodies matter - no matter how much objectifying and commercializing we do. Black bodies matter, white bodies matter. Jesus taught over and over again that naked bodies matter, hungry bodies matter, imprisoned bodies matter. This is the best of our theology, and doesn’t always fit with our expectation of what church is about. The forces of domination like it when the church limits itself to matters of the spirit and doesn’t bother them with taking care of people with actual bodies.

John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus taught this as well, calling people out from the towns to be baptized in the Jordan River. He invited them to confess and be renewed in the washing of their bodies in the river - to wash off the past and their complicity with the domination system. 

Jesus is forever connected with John and his message of repentance and renewal & baptism. Advent is a season of preparation, of humility and repentance, readying ourselves for the coming of the Christ, the incarnation of Jesus into our world, our selves, our bodies. We live in a violent world, a messy world, so we need this time of preparation, introspection, breathing. Advent has always been a time of a kind of bodily recovery and repentance and while we are isolated during this pandemic, this is a good time to reflect, notice, and repent of thinking we always should be picked first.

Because none of us have been stellar examples of Christian living. We all have our shortcomings. Maybe that’s why we feel so bad when we get chosen third or last. We wish, but we know we don’t deserve to be chosen first. Like John, there’s one coming who is first, whose shoelaces we are not worthy to untie. We all have done things that we regret, we all have moments we’d rather forget. We fear we will be chosen last. But this One, the Christ, says the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

On the radio show On Being this morning, Krista Tippett interviewed Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Mr. Stevenson is best known for his work with people on death row - people who sometimes have done horrible things to other people’s bodies, people who murdered or robbed or abused. Stevenson says, We have to stop “putting people in prison forever, life without parole, for writing a bad check. I’ve represented people who were serving life without parole for simple possession of marijuana.”

When I went to visit the powerful memorial he built in Montgomery Alabama, the monument to all the people who died by lynching in this country, I bought a T-shirt with one of his favorite sayings. “Everyone is more than the worst thing they have ever done.” I haven’t worn it very much. It’s a strange saying to wear around. “We all are more than the worst thing we have ever done.” 

It makes the most sense in connection with the redemptive work Mr. Stevenson is doing - getting people freed from death row. Everyone is more than the worst thing they have ever done. When you think about it though, it makes a lot of sense in connection to the redemptive work John the Baptist was doing, preparing the way for Jesus, preparing the way for us to find the Living God in this season, inviting us to let go of any shame we have, or any reluctance to claim that we too can be agents of God’s work in the world, no matter whether we get chosen first, third or last. All of us are more than the worst thing we have ever done. 

We seem to be reluctant to repent, partly because we’re not sure we are forgivable, partly because we don’t want to feel ‘guilty.' We are not really able to receive forgiveness ourselves when we are reluctant to forgive someone else for the worst thing they’ve ever done. They and we are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. Our country is more than the worst thing it has ever done. That’s why it’s so important that we learn to be able to forgive and to accept forgiveness.

In this pandemic time, bodies are really important - but our bodies are so far apart from each other. It’s more clear to me than ever before how important our bodies are to each other - how precious a hug is, how amazing it is just to sit next to you all or greet you all in person. 

Jesus, the Child of the Living God, is embodied in us even in this time. Jesus is being embodied in us in this time, to bring us peace, to help us know forgiveness, to help us live boldly again in the world. The long-expected Prince of Peace is coming. Prepare the way through repentance, forgiving others and hearing God’s forgiveness for us. We are never third in God’s eyes. God has an amazing way of picking each one of us, calling our name, so the last shall be first, all of us loved as we are. 
This is God’s good news.