October 2 2011 Sermon
Exodus 12:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. 7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. (Exo 12:1 ESV)
Let’s get physical! We usually think of church as something spiritual, but today we will get very physical.
On the night of the Passover, those were real, physical lambs that the people roasted and ate. They could taste it. That was real, physical blood that they painted on their doorposts. Those were real physical blood stains they saw with their physical eyes on their houses. It was real stuff.
Today, however, we have split apart the spiritual and physical areas of life. We separate Sunday morning from Monday morning. Monday seems real, when we go back to our real life, into the real world with its challenges, struggles, hurts and pains. We return to work, to school, to business, to the market, and once again face all the struggles of just making a living and eking out an existence. We have to be practical, realists, hard working, tough, and in control.
On the other hand there is the spiritual realm of existence. We relegate that to Sunday morning. It seems otherworldly, soft, dreamy, unreal, and perhaps even irrelevant and impractical. We think of spiritual people as going around with their heads in the clouds, idealists, without a good grip on reality. Religion and church fall into this category. It may even seem dull and uninteresting. We yawn when we are told to store up our treasures in heaven, not on earth, because the treasures we really want are the things of this world—riches, success, happiness, health, life without trouble or pain. Things in heaven just aren’t that interesting. We think heaven is floating around on clouds playing a harp all day. It seems boring, floaty, unreal, impractical and irrelevant to real life.
So we set up a dialectic between the spiritual and material realms of life. We suspect that the spiritual is higher and more holy, but the material is a lot more interesting and fun. We abstract Sunday morning, going to church, from Monday morning, going to work. We want a god who will satisfy our physical and material needs and wishes. Who will give us success and prosper us and make us happy. We just keep him around to call on in emergencies, like 9-1-1. Talk about going to heaven years into the future, doesn’t seem relevant.
But today I’m going to tell you that worship, God, faith, and religion are intensely physical and material. The same God who created our spirit, is the God who created the universe and all the stuff in it. He is the God of the material world, its creator; and he works in and through it to give us all good things. That is the whole point of sacrament. You see, when God saved Israel out of Egypt, he did so by the death of the first born sons of Egypt; real babies who dried at night and sucked their mothers’ breasts. He told the Israelites to kill and roast a lamb and paint the blood on the doorposts of their houses; real meat and real blood. His salvation was tied to physical and material things. He worked through the death of the firstborn sons, the eating of lambs and the shedding of blood to save them. God comes into our physical world in a physical way to save us and give us good things.
So when God came into our world to dwell with us, he did so by becoming a human being. He joined himself to his creation. He became one of us. God became not just a spirit, not just a spiritual reality, but a physical, material reality. He came into our material world as a material person.
God validates the material world. God validates his creation. He sanctifies humanity. Jesus was a real human being. The Apostle John later said: “We saw him with our eyes, we heard him, we looked upon him and we have touched him with our hands.” He is real and solid. He is flesh and blood.
The children felt his hand as he took them into his arms and blessed them. The blind man felt him as Jesus took him by the hand and led him out of the town and placed his hand on his eyes so he could see. Lazarus could hear his voice when he called to him in the tomb. Peter felt his firm grip when he was sinking into the sea and Jesus pulled him out. He was real; he was physical.
Don’t look for him then in dreamy spirituality, but in the hard, physical realities of this world. He is there in everyday life. He gets down on his hands and knees with us as we toil and labor. He gets his hands dirty in the muck and mud, in the hurts, the sickness, the death of the real world. He is in the halls of the hospital, in the ER and ICU, in the hurts and pains we go through. He is in the morgue, in the jail and prison, in the hard, disgusting realities of life in this world. He is in our suffering and pain. He comes to us in the material realm. He doesn’t ask us to go up to heaven and ascend to him, rather he comes into our physical world, his is God in flesh and blood.
He came to get himself dirty with our sin; to absorb our sin into his own flesh. By our own deserts, we are all going to hell, but God came in human flesh to do something about it. Just as he touched a leper and healed him, so he touches the leprosy of our sin and absorbs it into himself and fills us with his righteousness.
The smell of blood and sweat and open flesh filled the air on the day he was whipped and lashed and hung on the cross. He could feel the thorns pierce his head. He could feel the nails pierce his hands and feet. He is real. He is physical.
And on the third day after his body was laid in the tomb, the women found the tomb empty. That same flesh and blood body had risen from the dead. When he appeared to the disciples that night, he ate a piece of fish and the disciples watched his Adam’s apple moved up and down as he swallowed it. Thomas could behold the holes in his hands and feet and the wounds on his side. When the dead are raised, it will not be to some spiritual existence, with a floaty, ethereal body, but we will have our very own flesh and blood bodies. We will be solid, not a vaporous spirit. We will live in a real world, not just a dreamy cloud.
And that Jesus who rose is still human and divine. He still has his body of flesh and blood. Where his body is, there is God. The two are inseparable. He is not a dismembered spirit. In the person of Jesus, God is a part of the creation and works in and through his own creation.
This is the very meaning of the Jesus’ words; take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood. Jesus, the God-man, is present where his body and blood are present. He is present again in the material things of creation, in bread and wine. There is Jesus, God himself. He is not just here spiritually. The bread and wine do not just represent or symbolize his body and blood. But he is present in his body and blood. Jesus is materially and physically present, in his own resurrected and living flesh and blood.
So as we eat this bread and drink the wine, we are eating the body and blood of God. God himself comes into us and becomes a part of us. God now lives in us. He dwells in us. Just as he became a man in Jesus, and joins his body and blood to the bread and wine, now he has become flesh and blood in us. He is living in us. “We live and move and have our being in Him.” He is physically and materially present in the world through his church.
Now is when we get physical. The Christian life in this world is not just waiting for a day in the future when we are taken up out of this world into heaven. The Christian life is not some idealistic and irrelevant life with your heads in the clouds;. The Christian life becomes intensely material, and this-world oriented.
St. Paul says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” And again he says, “Present the members of your body to God as instruments for righteousness.” We use our physical body to love and serve our neighbor. It is in and through our bodies that God touches people with his love, his compassion, his caring, and his mercy. It is through our voices that God speaks to the world. The epistle to the Romans says, “Having gifts that differ, let us use them; if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching, the one who exhorts, in his exhortation.” It is through our lives that God restores justice to the world. It is through our efforts that God works against poverty, prejudice, and oppression. Jesus sent his disciples out to “Proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, casting out demons. You received without paying, not give without pay.”
Our lives as believers are focused on the well-being of others. We are given all good things by God, so that we can in turn gives God’s blessings and riches to the rest of the world. Our lives are now all about this world. No, not our own self-fulfillment. Not our own pleasure. Not our own happiness, but that of others. Instead of having our heads in the clouds, we have our feet firmly planted on the ground where they can stamp out evil and present our hands and feet and eyes and mouth and ears to the service of others. “Present you bodies as a living sacrifice.” “Use your bodies as instruments of righteousness.” Right here in this material world. Because the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ has been joined to your physical body and blood. That union was first created in Baptism, and is now kept alive in Holy Communion where the living Christ is present in his body. Now worship becomes not an irrelevant, impractical spiritual exercise, but a relevant, practical, physical discipline of helping and serving your neighbor because in Holy Communion you have been joined to the physical body of Jesus who now lives in and through you. Amen.