There was a government official who was pacing around late at night. He was anxious about upcoming events. The year was 1653, and Bulstrode Whitelock was being sent to Sweden as an ambassador of England. His own country had just survived a civil war, and England had executed its own king, Charles I, only a few years earlier. Factions were strong and secretive, and he questioned whether he could speak on behalf of a nation that was still sorting itself out. A trusted servant noticed his worry and inquired if he could ask him a question. The ambassador allowed it, and the servant said,
“Sir, do you not think that God governed the world very well before you came into it?”
“Undoubtedly,” he replied.
“And, sir do you not think that He will govern it quite well when you are gone out of it?”
“Certainly,” he said.
“Then, sir, excuse me, but do you think you may trust Him to govern it quite as well as long as you live?”
The question was followed by silence, and Whitelock went to bed and was able to sleep. While he could not control the circumstances of his country, he could choose whether he would walk in the way of the Lord. That servant helped Whitelock to remember not only who he was, but whose he was, and by doing so, he served the body of Christ.
This anecdote occupied my attention this week as we entered another week of uncertainty. Between the riots and the pandemic, I fell into doomscrolling, a new word that describes the phenomenon of consuming a lot of negative news at once. I thought that if I just acquired more information about current events, I would be relieved, but that didn’t work. That just allowed me to dress up my worries with data. Instead, I had to disconnect from the internet and connect with my body. Breathe, stretch, be still and trust the God who governs all things. This God became like one of us that we might become like God. We have been united to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and through our own bodies, we are given the opportunity to glorify God. This insight is central to the Christian life, yet it is harder to grasp when much of our daily activity has gone virtual. We know what it means to be “Zoomed out” and to be “sensitive to screen-time.” While we may be weary of these things, we remain united as the body of Christ.
Paul talks at length about the hope we have as members of Christ’s body in his first letter to the Corinthians. He pleads with them to honor their bodies because they been brought into the body of Christ. It’s a proclamation that our bodies bear dignity and goodness, in light of God’s great love for us. From what we know about the Corinthians, it seems as if they treated the body as neutral or nothing special. Corinth was a renown cosmopolitan city of trade, and it imported a variety of spiritual ideas. For that reason, Paul wanted to set the record straight.
Freedom in Christ is not a license to do whatever we please. Rather, it is a blessing to be shared. That freedom is meant for our flourishing, to build us up and to bring us closer to God and our neighbor. The Corinthians seem to embrace the body-spirit dualism that has infiltrated the Church so often. In that type of thinking, the body is something less than the spirit, but Paul denies that idea. The body is integral to our identity as Christians. The Word became flesh. We have been marvelously made, as the Psalmist declares, and through Christ, our lives can be transformed into an offering to God.
Imagine the most magnificent, inspiring church or cathedral you’ve ever entered. Consider how you conducted yourself, how you appreciated that environment. Perhaps you enjoyed its beauty or design, or the peace in that place. As brilliant as that building may be, your body merits infinitely more reverence, because its Maker is God. Paul longs for us to realize our precious worth, because we have been bought at a price.
Our freedom in Christ is not freedom from all restraints. It is freedom for the increase of faith, hope, and love. “Freedom is not free,” is a truth engraved on the Korean War Veteran Memorial in DC, and that truth is reflected in our faith when we make decisions that are responsible and revere human life. In our passage today, Paul announces that we were created for a purpose and that our presence makes an impact in the body of Christ.
Paul’s testimony about human dignity and God’s glory then touches upon the unexpected topic of sex–but it’s actually a natural connection. His words might sound like moralism, but Paul is speaking about a deeper reality here: God desires for us to know intimacy, appreciation, and acceptance at a fundamental level, especially when we are vulnerable. As members of the body of Christ, we are God’s beloved, and Paul does not want anyone to disregard or damage that status. Although our culture is saturated with references to sex, it’s often about objectifying bodies, erasing people’s identity down to their looks.
That kind of content is an ugly form of consumerism, and Paul rejects anything that diminishes God’s creation. By talking directly about the body, Paul makes it uncomfortably clear that what affects us personally affects us all. It’s not simply about one private matter, but it’s about all relationships and our responsibility to one another. In this passage, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to see that justice is vital to the body of Christ, because without justice, dignity and glory fade away. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described his dream for America as the beloved community: a society based on justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being, and we still strive for that vision.
Today, we gather for our Annual Meeting to talk about our vision at Pohick for this coming year and to carry on the mission entrusted to us as the body of Christ. Although we are not able to gather at church, we affirm that we are together as one body in Christ Jesus. This past year has been particularly painful, as we have been faced with the fragility of life. The sickness of COVID-19 and nationalism have threatened our lives, yet we trust that God is with us, like Bulstrode Whitelock and all the faithful before us. In talking about times of crisis, Fred Rogers, more affectionately known as Mr. Rogers, said the following: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” In helping our community through service, in being true to whose we are through worship, we aim to glorify Christ in our bodies like Paul commands the Corinthians, and we invite you to join us in our mission: Come and see.