Feb. 9, 2020
Scripture introduction. Both of our scripture lessons this morning illustrate that we have bodies—and more. You will hear just one short paragraph out of the entirety of Chapter 15 where Paul proclaims the Resurrection of Christ and where he is at particular pains to explain the resurrection of the dead. How are the dead raised, in what kind of body? Paul enters into a kind of thicket here that I don’t believe he quite gets out of, but he makes a testament to the body as the temple of the spirit—part of the body is eternal. Then we will hear the story of Jesus casting out the demons from a man driven mad because some (many!) spirits are in conflict with his body.
Preamble. I want to speak this morning about reproductive rights in the U.S., in particular the legislation before our State House, titled the ROEAct, which is intended to preserve abortion rights and access to contraception and all reproductive health. I want to do this in a spiritual and theological context, and it seemed with Valentine’s Day coming up a good time to do this.
Let us pray. . .
We have bodies.
I’m calling today Valentine Sunday. And why not? Isn’t it written, God is love (1 John).
But what hasn’t already been said about Love? Truth is, not enough has been said! Each one of us contains an encyclopedia’s worth of loving and not-so-loving experiences to relate, to sing, to bemoan.
Love, love, love! Ow, ow, ow! Ay, ay, ay!
Yes, with love come contrarieties, contradictions, and paradoxes, and love at times shades times toward the darkness. The irrational power of eroticism ends, or can end, in immolation. The question is, will God’s love conquer all--? Even Dionysus?
But, where love does not even figure—what then? In rape, incest, sexual assault, where power commits a crime as indelible as murder—what’s love got to do with it?
In church, we lift up love’s possibility and denounce its demonic inversions. But we quake in the knowledge that we have bodies.
Yes, we have bodies—loving bodies.
That would seem to be an obvious enough assertion. But as lived, having a body takes a lot of getting used to. Anyone who has raised children knows the enormous effort it takes to help them master all the biological systems—mobility, sleep, speech, alimentation, digestion, elimination, respiration, and reproduction. I mean, it’s like a parental full-court press from the time of toilet training through puberty and on.
It’s the reproductive part that seems to give humans the most fits, and parents don’t always do a very good job teaching their children on this matter. Of course, we also remember our own challenges growing up, many of us in the dark, the memories of which mainly bring laughs now—well, mostly.
As adults, it’s everything we can do to keep our appetites from undermining our personal aspirations, and it is particularly our sexual appetites which can bring with them all kinds of unintended consequences. The riot of wonderful sensations sometimes carries us right over the Niagara Falls.
Yes, we have bodies—but what risks they carry!
We know there’s more than meets the eye about our bodies, because we think about it, we are conscious of our bodily selves, our mortal fate, and our relation to others and to their bodies.
Listen to how Octavio Paz, Mexican poet, novelist and essayist, and Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, captures the human situation [Octavio Paz, from bulletin cover].
His thoughts are curiously parallel to St. Paul’s in that both are reaching for the simultaneously biological and spiritual, the earthbound and the unearthly nature of our lives.
We know there’s more than meets the eye about our bodies, because we pursue more than food and shelter and clothing; we pursue love.
So if we think it’s a miracle just to coordinate all our biological systems, it’s an additional miracle to coordinate body and spirit, or body and soul. You could say that is what it means to be “born again”—to come into the physical awareness of our spiritual nature.
Nature is going to have its way with us, but it seems to be part of our nature to want more than what nature wants for us. Our factory-installed sexual needs serve to advance nature’s purposes for the continuation of the species, but can block other of our needs. Nature has over-determined the reproductive mechanism, which is good for elm trees, say, (regard this basket of elm seeds from one branch of the elm tree outside my office) but human beings not so much.
As a result, society, family, religion all had to gang up to put fences around nature’s sexual imperative. When those are not enough, the state imposes laws to make up the difference. The original penalties were things like execution, the stocks, ostracizing, and exile. As the population multiplied and more problems grew, those deterrents proved ineffective and of course deemed inhumane.
You could say, the time came when Nature itself needed some drastic intervention.
The best scenarios are when people exercise our own restraints on our own free will, and these have worked, to an extent but not nearly enough, when you consider the interpersonal mayhem we see in any human society. That’s when contraception and abortion came to be legalized.
Contraception—100 years ago, the fight between Margaret Sanger and Senator Comstock began and was not fully settled until the 1960s. Abortion—with the number of fatalities due to illegal abortions increasing, the national climate was such that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion with restrictions in Roe vs. Wade in 1973, which is the law of the land today, but under attack.
Our concern as Christians is whether those interventions are moral and in line with what we call God’s will—I believe they are. Despite the existence of quite vocal Christian opposition to contraception and abortion, a huge number of Christian denominations and people plus the vast majority of the U.S. citizenry support the need for this intervention. I am among the supporters, see my Open Pro-Choice Letter to Mass. Clergy on our Website. It explains the religious rationale for supporting the ROEAct which is before the State House right now.
Having said all this, it is important to add more thing--
These interventions alone are not enough, because contraception is not fool-proof and abortion should not be seen or abused as contraception. If repressive controls are not the answer, we must help people find the connection between our body and our soul, and that is what the church is about. Let’s make it our mission to show how love is the way to self-management, because it’s clear we men have a self-management problem. All of recorded history documents this universal fact, but it has been raised to greater consciousness now via #MeToo. The male prerogative remains largely impervious to such consciousness
The saddening death of Kobe Bryant two weeks ago does not obviate the fact that acted on one occasion anyway on the Trumpian principle that when you’re famous you can do anything to women. A married man, Bryant forced himself on a woman who passed conveniently across his path. She reported it, and they ultimately settled out of court. His marriage survived, and they went on to have four children, all daughters, so it seems there was some redemption for him.
He seems to have found religion, in fact. But what was to become of her? We won’t know, except for the certain knowledge that such experiences are indelible for women. The price women pay for male heedlessness can never be added up. The #MeToo movement has brought to light just one example of the many different violations of self-management on the part of men—the examples of the conflicted spirits that drive men mad are Legion.
It is through the love of God that people (we are talking about men now) will find the way toward integration of our selves, of our bodies with our spirit. The church’s vocation is to show how the love of God applies to our human loving.
You know, many of the TV advertisements for beer conclude by saying, “Drink responsibly.” Can’t we have a campaign whose punch line is, “Love responsibly”--?
In the meantime, we have to buy time with legal interventions upon nature’s way. God understands.