A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Following Christ

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio (1308-1311)

Epiphany 2B 2021
Rev. Doug Floyd
1 Samuel 3:1–21, Psalm 63, 1 Corinthians 1:6-9, John 1:43–51

Jesus tells Philip, “Follow me,” and he follows. He even finds Nathaniel and invites him to follow as well. Today we are pausing over the call of Jesus Christ to each of us, “Follow me.”

We begin life as followers. A baby does not name himself. The parent names the child and, in a sense, calls that child into the reality of that name. Joseph names Jesus and in so doing publicly acknowledges Jesus as his Son. A baby learns by following. First, she may mimic facial gestures and some hand gestures. At first, words are simply mimicked sounds. The meaning comes over time. The child is born with the potentiality to do these things, but the parent and siblings call these actions forth. We learn in relationship. We learn by patterning, and by the gentle guidance and correction of a parent, a teacher, a friend.

I grew up helping my dad teach children’s church. Even as I helped him, I was learning to be a teacher. I’ve taught in various capacities as long as I can remember. In one sense, I am still following my dad who often told me how he would volunteer to teach courses at his work even when he didn’t know how to do something. He would learn it and then teach it.

When Jesus calls the disciples, he doesn’t simply call them to think thoughts, believe truths, and pray about them. He calls them to follow. They walk where he walks. Eat when he eats. They learn his way of life by living with him. He teaches them. Guides them. Corrects them. Along the way, they ask questions. They misunderstand. They argue. They gradually grow up into a way of following. His Spirit will lead and empower them after He ascends, but they will still walk in the way of Jesus using their bodies.

In our Corinthians passage, Paul addresses a community that has been celebrating their wisdom and the spirit-filled life but who act improperly toward one another and beyond. Our lesson today begins with a list of unrighteous actions. Paul writes:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

Paul lists a series of physical actions, then he expands upon sexual immorality. He says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” He says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (vs 19-20). As a side note, this happens to be one of the only times Paul refers to the individual as the Temple. Most of his references involves the entire community. I say that because many have quoted this verse as an excuse for not associating with a church body, but that is a misunderstanding of the point of this text.

Paul is telling us that our physical body is created to glorify God. We are whole people. Not just spirits. Not just big heart or big minds. The physical body is an integral part of the spiritual life. In the Old Testament, sexual immorality is most often linked with idolatry. Partly because idol worship often involves sexual practices, but also because adultery is the physical pattern of seeking after other gods.

The physical and the spiritual are bound together. The Israelite could not combine the liturgical practices of the Temple with some of the rituals of paganism. Isaiah reveals this is total corruption and leads to far worse physical actions. The early Christian martyrs were willing to die rather than offer a handful of incense to the gods or to the cult of the Emperor. That small physical violation was a threat of corruption.

The Corinthian men thought that they could be faithful Christians while still visiting prostitutes. Paul says, “No!” That duplicitous lifestyle still appears today throughout the church. So many Christian leaders have fallen to sexual immorality, to spiritual idolatry. Paul recognizes that it is a real and present danger. Then and now.

It matters what we do and don’t do in the body. Each week we confess that we have sinned against [God] in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” By what we have done and left undone.

Some people don’t like this confession of sin because it emphasizes not only those things, we have physically done but those things we should have done but have failed to do, and there are so many things we fail to do. Following Christ, involves following him in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We physically follow Christ.

St Maximus the Confessor rejected the heresy of the pre-existence of souls for a variety of reasons, but one of which is that is creates a dualism between the spiritual and the physical. Drawing upon Maximus, Dmitrue Staniloae taught that the spirit and the body come into existence at the same time. This is the great and wondrous miracle of bearing a child. This little human is growing intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, even as she is growing physically.

As we consider following Christ, I want to invite us to consider what does this life of discipleship physically look like? This is a question that each of us may consider on our own and in our families. How is Jesus calling us to follow Him. We do not live in first century Palestine and he is not calling us to walk along the Sea of Galilee, but what is He calling us to do?

To help us think about this, let us turn to The Rule of St. Benedict. It gave simple guidance for small communities of monks to live together in pray and work. Even as the world faced uncertain times, this rule offered a way of cultivating a stable spiritual family. This year I want to introduce various elements from the rule because it can help us to consider a life of formation in the midst of our troubled culture. Anglicanism grew up alongside the rule and reflects many aspects of the rule in our Book of Common Prayer. While it is rooted in a life of prayer and work, the rule speaks to all sorts of practical aspects of living in a community.

For instance, here is guidance to the steward. “Let him look upon the furniture, utensils, and the entire property of the Monastery in the same light as the sacred vessels of the Altar.”[1] The steward and all the community members were all to treat the tools and other things in the monastery as sacred gifts.

This reminds me of some of the directions in the Torah where people are commanded to watch over the animals and other things of their neighbors.

“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. [2]

It matters what we do with our bodies. It matters how we treat the things we own and the things other people own. It matters how we act and how we see others in this world. In his book, Being Human, Rowan Williams, invites us to consider our own habits. He asks, “What is the ‘human face’ that is being uncovered in the practices of faith?”[3] Are we becoming people who reflect the glory of God?

Paul gives us things to avoid: sexual immorality, thieving, drunkenness, dishonesty, greed. In other places, he will talk about positive things to do with our body. Honor one another. Serve one another. Show hospitality.

We might think of our eyes, our ears, our mouths, our hands, and our feet. How can these reveal the love and mercy of God?

Consider how we look at other people. Jacob has a dramatic encounter with the Angel of the Lord and says that he has seen God face to face. Then he meets his brother Esau and they embrace. Jacob says, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.”[4]

What a statement. Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God. Might we pray for eyes to see the people around us as glorious persons created in the image of God.

Might our hands and mouths become instruments of blessing. The other day I left early in the morning before Kelly was up. I told her I was leaving, and she laid her hand upon my head and spoke a blessing. What if we cultivated habits of blessing with our touch and words? Years ago, when Kelly and I were at my parents’ house, we told them about a book we read called, “The Blessing.”

My dad said, “Let’s try it now.” Him and my mother laid their hands on us and spoke a blessing. Years later when he was dying, he laid his hands upon his family and spoke a blessing again.

We might use our skills to serve others. A man asked my friend Larry about how to build a doll house. Larry not only answered him but went to his house and helped him build it.

Might we ask the Spirit to prompt us to give of our lives in some way to others. There are times I have felt prompted to write a letter of encouragement: sometimes to complete strangers. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve seen God move in their lives. Sadly, more often than not, I have felt prompted to write a letter or do a kindness, and I’ve simply thought about how good it would be if I did that. Then I’ve forgotten and not done a thing.

Lord forgive me for those things left undone.

Years ago, we watched a documentary on Mister Rogers called, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it. What a beautiful picture of offering your body in service. I never realized how deeply his faith shaped his life and his vocation. He truly saw his children’s program as a calling. Beyond his amazing service to children, Mister Rogers lived a life of being present to those around him. He listened. He waited. He spoke softly. Though his program was not religious, his spoke deeply about faith and grace in his correspondence with people. His staff, his family, and many strangers were deeply touched by his life of gentle grace.

Might we learn to pause, listen, and give our complete attention to those around us? It might be that the Lord would speak through us to those in need. It also might be that we serve those near us by listening alone.  

When we follow Christ in this age or in any age, we are following him with our whole selves. Not just our mind. Not just our emotions. But with our bodies as well. Scriptures are clear on things we should not do: no stealing, no false witness, no adultery, no coveting, no murder. It gives us some images of how our bodies are used: kneeling, hands uplifted, laying on of hands, giving to the needy, feet carrying the gospel of peace to others. This is just the beginning. The Spirit can lead us any number of ways to offer our bodies on behalf of those around us. He can make us instruments of peace in a world of writhing in anger and pain. 

[1] Saint Benedict Abbot of Monte Cassino, The Holy Rule of Saint Benedict (London: Thomas Richardson and Son, 1865), 67–68.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 22:1–4.

[3] Williams, Rowan. Being Human (p. 84). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 33:10.


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