Believing with Our Bodies
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
The other day I was driving to the church from my apartment in Northeast Portland, and I have to admit, I was jamming. I had The National blasting through my car speakers—that’s an indie rock band if you’re not familiar—and I was feeling the music. Like literally feeling it. That’s why I love listening to music in the car—if you turn it up loud enough, you can feel the notes and the different sounds and the beat of the drums pulsing through you. You’re not just listening to the music, you’re experiencing it.
So I was driving down Halsey, my hands tapping out the beat on the steering wheel, my upper body dancing as much as safe driving would allow—and I was belting out the lyrics. Except—full disclosure—I know maybe 10% of the lyrics of that song. I’ve listened to it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times, but I generally don’t have any clue what most of the words are saying.
But you know what, it doesn’t matter. I love that song. Not because I have any clue what it’s supposed to be about, but because of how it makes me feel. It’s epic. It takes me on a journey—quiet at the start, then picking up towards the middle—it builds. And then with a swell of drums and horns, it all breaks open, like a dam breaking—a rush that’s a little scary but also exhilarating.
When it ends, I feel like I want to sprint, I want to do big things with my day, with my life. I’m inspired.
It makes no logical sense to my brain, which tries to convince me that I don’t “get” the song because I don’t know the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter to my body. My body feels what it feels. It loves what it loves. Even when my head is still trying to make it make sense, my body understands.
It makes me wonder what it means to have faith, to believe. Growing up in a more fundamentalist, evangelical tradition, I was taught that agreeing with certain things and disagreeing with other certain things made me a good Christian. It was an exercise in thinking, it was about what happened in my brain. It was about making fact of God, making fact of the Bible, making fact of belief. I had to believe in a correct way, and to believe correctly was to believe that it was all the literal truth. Black or white. Wrong or right. No nuance.
Like literal readings of the Bible that condemn homosexuality or call for women to be silent in church.
We think this only goes for more fundamentalist, evangelical Christians, but I think this black/white, literalist way of believing has seeped into a lot of Christianity.
Like how we’re sometimes reluctant to invite people to church because we’re afraid they’ll think we’re trying to “save” them. We ourselves have bought into such a literal definition of salvation that we’re sometimes reluctant to say the words “God” or “church” in mixed company, afraid that they think we’re trying to “save” them. We may not think that’s the kind of salvation we believe in, but our actions reinforce it anyhow.
Another belief that has come to dominate our culture is that the body, the flesh, is inherently sinful. The flesh is something to be tamed, to be overcome. If my body feels desire, I need to fight it, to stay pure.
It’s seeped into how we experience bodies: our own and others’. A lot of us grew up ashamed of what our bodies felt or how they looked. Many of us felt shame around our sexual desires. Maybe some of us still do. We think that our bodies are a reflection of our sinfulness.
If our bodies are bigger, if they take up more space than some other bodies, we’ve been taught to feel ashamed, like our bodies are wrong. As if some bodies are less a part of God’s creation than others.
And bodies that are considered "attractive" are shamed in different ways. “They shouldn’t be wearing that” is a thought we’ve all had at some point. As if skin wasn’t part of God’s plan.
This shame was inherited from a certain brand of believing, a brand that puts a premium on black/white, wrong/right thinking.
But God cannot be limited. God does not stand for us belittling our bodies. God does not stand for calling God’s creation inherently sinful. And God certainly does not stand for any interpretation of God’s Word that limits our capacity to love ourselves and to love one another.
How do we know that? Well, first of all we know it because in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Every mountain, every speck of dirt, every drop of water. God created every living thing. Every single one of us. And, our scriptures tell us, it is all very good.
As if that wasn’t enough, though, God doubled down and sent us Jesus.
The Word became flesh. Thinking became being. God became a body.
That body, we are told in the Gospel today, made his way to the River Jordan to be baptized. And that body went under the surface of a river God created, and just as that body came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus inhabited this earth in a body like yours, like mine, and God was well pleased.
We have sacraments because we have bodies. Because just thinking or saying what we believe is incomplete.
We hear words at communion. “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you.” “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the New Covenant.” But there is no communion without the feeling of chewing and swallowing, without the burning of wine or juice down our throats.
There is a different knowing that comes from our bodies. When we swallow the bread, when we drink of the chalice, we experience our belonging in the Body of Christ with our whole selves. You feel it inside you when you leave this rail. It lingers when you return to the pew. It lingers when you leave this place.
And then there’s baptism.
I was baptized only six years ago. And it was no sprinkling affair. I stood in a kiddie pool and The Rev. Jay Johnson took a pitcher and poured a significant amount of water over my head three times. I felt the water spill over my face and run through my hair, I felt it soak into my clothes. They had tried to warm it beforehand, but I was cold anyhow. Shivering into my rebirth, into my new life in Christ.
It was not the full immersion experience that Jesus had, but I felt it all through me.
That’s the power of water and words coming together.
In a few minutes, we’re going to reaffirm our own baptisms. Yes, with words, and yes, stating what we believe. That’s important. But we’ll also remember the promises we made about how we will use our bodies to live our faith.
And then Deacon Laurel and I will come around and splash you with a little water, the cool drops on your skin helping you to remember with your whole self that you are Christ’s.
And if you haven’t been baptized, that’s alright. Let these words and this water be an invitation to you: to make the choice to step into your own belonging in Christ. Because God already loves you. You already belong. Baptism is how we pledge ourselves to living like we know we belong to God and to the Body of Christ.
The words point us to God’s love and to our mission to live God’s love, and the water—which we drink, which is probably falling from the sky right now, which is what we’re mostly made of—is our constant reminder of that love.
God will not be limited. Not by our words, not by our narrow ideas about what is holy and what is not.
God gave us this world, these bodies, these sacraments so that we might know God fully, with every part of who we are.