For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. --Rom 6:19 +INPFSS+
One of my daughter Lucy's favorite songs right now is “Head, Shoulders, knees and toes” which she likes to initiate about every 10 minutes by slapping her hands onto her head and going, “Hehhh...” until we join in and continue the song, at which point she lunges down to her toes right away. It's adorable...
And it's also theologically instructive.
Lucy is beginning to learn that she has a body made up of different parts all working together.
And even though she will understand this concept pretty much fully by age 3, in our adult Christian lives, we are wont to forget it. We are moved by the cultural tides to over-spiritualize what it means to be a Christian, and to forget that the Christian life is intended by God to be lived out in our bodies.
What I mean is, we have this sneaky tendency to think that because our souls are important, our bodies are NOT important. But in actuality, they are integrally connected, and BOTH matter. The Scriptures take pains to point out: What we do WITH OUR BODIES matters.
Both for good and for evil.
While it is the case that we are able to sin without dragging our body into it – all the sins of the mind – a large portion of the sins we plunge ourselves into, are sins done by the members of our bodies.
Similarly, while we can honor God with our minds, in our silent prayers and in our contemplation of his goodness, the vast majority of the good God calls us to do, we need to do with our bodies.
And what Saint Paul is getting at in the section of Romans that we just heard, is that with our wills, we must choose who our master will be. And when we make that choice, our bodies will become servants of that master.
In accord with this truth, in 1979, a great theologian once said, “you gotta serve somebody”
...that's Bob Dylan, in case you didn't catch it...
But this is an uncomfortable truth in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but an honest look at the human condition confirms it very quickly. Every single human being serves somebody, or at least some thing. Those people who think they are the most “free”, are in reality only serving their own emotions and passions that bubble up within them, which can hardly be called 'freedom'. They are controlled by their appetites, THEY are not in control. And thus they are a slave.
Cutting through the various ideologies about what is or isn't freedom that have been common in the last few hundred years of philosophical reflection, the Bible takes us to a much deeper and more ancient truth:
It is not a question of “are you free”, or “are you enslaved”, but “who is your master?” We've all gotta serve somebody, and the real question is: Who is it going to be? God? Or Satan? God's ways? Or my own ways?
And whomever we choose to be slave to, that choice will carry itself out in our bodies.
Listen again to the meaning of Romans 6:19:
For just as – before you were a Christian – you once offered your body parts as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your body parts as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
So that's what I wish to really zoom in on this morning: Our body parts. Our heads, shoulders, knees and toes, and everything in between.
What God is telling us in our reading this morning, through Paul's letter to the Romans, is that we should offer them all to him.
We need to offer our bodies to the God who made them in the beginning, and redeemed them in Christ Jesus.
I'll say that again: We need to offer our bodies to the God who made them in the beginning, and redeemed them in Christ Jesus.
In the first place this means refusing to let our different body parts be in service of sin.
Breaking it down by body-part can be a useful way of examining our lives with some objectivity.
The body-parts we have the most control over are our feet, our hands, our eyes, and our lips. The rest of our body for the most part either follows these parts, or is functioning on it's own, independent of my own thoughts.
So let's look at those.
Think along with me:
What have my feet led me into? What rooms do I choose to go into with my feet? When do my feet linger, when I should leave?
What have my hands done? Have they done deeds that serve merely myself? Have they been hurtful? Have they greedily grabbed what they should not have?
What have my eyes looked at? Have I set them on things that God himself would not look at?
What have I spoken with my lips? Have their been coarse, foul words? or vain bitter words? Words that have only torn down?
[[Singing]] Head, shoulders, knees and toes. Eyes and ears and mouth and nose.
God, these members are your own.
This morning I encourage you to re-Consecrate the members of your body as belonging to God, to be used for his glory, and for his purposes.
But much more than just avoiding making our members slaves to impurity, God's call on our bodily lives has a positive command as well.
The argument Paul is using here in Romans 6 is that our desire to serve God with our body parts should be as strong as the pagan's desire to use his body for evil.
We should serve good things with AT LEAST as much zeal as evil people serve bad things.
Think about the zeal – if we can call it that – that an addict exerts to satisfy his addiction. In as much as the Good and Living God is a better master than any sordid addiction, shouldn't our zeal at least be comparable? And yet for how many of us – and I'm really speaking to myself here too – for how many of us is a single good deed a huge, laborious, procrastinated effort?
The wicked put me to shame in their eagerness for wickedness, exposing how paltry and flimsy is my own zeal for Good.
So let's take this challenge from Romans this morning:
I want you to imagine a small cross tattooed on all of your body parts. Each mark a sign of owner-ship, “this belongs to God” [[[point to various parts and repeat:“this belongs to God”]]] .
And see how the week and how your life might be different.
Where can my feet take me, where I can serve and bless others. Where can they go, where I might be able to share the good news of Jesus? When can they take me into my closet or to the church to pray? When can my hands offer an encouraging touch? When can they carry, or make, or deliver something for someone? When can they bless and protect? What beautiful godly things can my eyes rest on; what windows into heaven? What affirming words can I speak? How can I build up another with my lips?
Our limbs aren't meant for evil. But they're also not meant for nothing. They are meant for Good! They are meant to be enslaved to the God who is Love, to be tools in his hands, conduits of his own love for the world and for his Church.
And when they are. When we offer them to the service of God in this way, our intentions actually can become habits, and we can become actually enslaved to GOOD, and – paradoxically – will find ourselves to finally be Free at last. Free from Sin, Free to enjoy God forever.
Which is exactly what Paul goes on to say – that the result of using our body parts for God's service is sanctification (vs. 19), and it's end, eternal life (v.22)
Which all of a sudden brings into view, as a closing thought, the other readings that we heard this morning, from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John. That is: Our eternal life with God is an embodied life. We will not be bodiless spirits for ever, just for a little while until the Lord comes again, at which point we will be resurrected. And THAT is why what we do in our bodies MATTERS: Because we are going to have our bodies forever. Transformed, immortal bodies, certainly. But bodies that still tell the story of what we chose to do with them, just as Christ's limbs will forever have the nail-holes that tell the story of his offering of himself for us.
Will our limbs be radiant with the mark of Christ and his good deeds? Or will they be stained with the scars of our evil deeds. The choice is ours; we gotta serve somebody.
...[[singing]] God, these members are your own. Amen.