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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity 2023

Sunday 2nd July 2023, St Anne’s Lewes Genesis 22.1-14

Psalm 13

Romans 6. 12-end

Matthew 10.40-end

May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit of life,


I want to start today by inviting you to think about your body. It may be feeling rather creaky, and there may be bits that aren't working as well as you would like, or it may be that you've already run for miles over the downs this morning before swimming a dozen lengths of the Pells and that you are glowing with physical well-being. Whichever it is, just stop and think what an extraordinary thing your body is; Bill Bryson does this brilliantly in his book 'The Body', where he tells us that:

'We are made of seven billion billion billion atoms; over a lifetime our hearts perform work equivalent to lifting a tonne weight 150 miles into the air... If you laid all the DNA in your body end to end it would stretch 10bn miles, beyond the orbit of Pluto'.

'Think of it,' he says, 'there is enough of you to leave the solar system.' I think these amazing facts are a good way into thinking about how wonderful, as in truly full of wonders, our bodies are. Realising how extraordinary our bodies are is a first step in understanding what Paul has to say about sin and the body. Later in the book Bryson tells us that 'Junk food and sedentary lives mean that children born now are expected to have shorter lives than their parents' and he rails against the damage we do to our bodies through poor diet and lack of exercise.

There's a sense in which we can hear echoes of Paul in Bryson's anger at the way twenty first century humans abuse their bodies. He doesn't use Paul's language; concepts like 'wickedness' and 'sin' which Paul faces head on are ones C21st readers tend to sidestep, but Bryson makes it clear that he believes twenty-first century western lifestyles are damaging our bodies and our mental well-being. Today's Gospel give us a Christian interpretation of those same concerns. Paul demands firstly that we think of our bodies as integral to our relationship with God and secondly that we see abusing our bodies as deeply harmful to that relationship. Paul seems to me to be saying that by treating our bodies as God given, by living healthily and by rejecting the things we know damage our bodies we can come closer to the God who created us. Later, in Romans 13, Paul makes it clear that he's thinking of habits such as 'drunkenness and debauchery', but that might just as well in our twenty first century context be lack of exercise and junk food. Romans 13 helps us understand that for Paul treating our bodies as God given transforms us spiritually-in his words acknowledging that our bodies are ours to treat with wonder and respect means putting on what he refers to as 'the armour of light', it is a way of 'putting on the Lord Jesus Christ'. This is the opposite to being enslaved to our desires for the things that damage us physically and spiritually; when we understand that our bodies, properly respected, can enable us to experience God, perhaps through the touch of someone we love or the sound of music, or birdsong, or the welcome implicit in the offer of a cup of water which Matthew refers to, then we are experiencing the grace which Paul says is the free gift of God.

And this is where he turns the terrible associations we have with the term 'slavery' on their head. Being 'enslaved' isn't something we would wish on anyone, but that's to understand the term in a sense which has been defined and shaped over thousands of years by our sinful history as human beings and our desire to exploit others who are weaker than us for our own profit and greed. We know that Jesus turns everything upside down; Just as He is a 'Lord' who ends His life dying broken and beaten on the cross, a Lord without any earthly power, so His service isn't slavery as we understand it but eternal life. This I think is what Paul means by God's gift, a transforming love which empowers us to live life to the full. I don't think Paul means us to see eternal life as something for the future, but rather something to experience now; and we can do that as we marvel this morning at the wonderful way in which our bodies are made, and by committing ourselves to using them, however creaky and troublesome they may be, to living life to the full. This idea is beautifully expressed in my favourite psalm, psalm 139, in which the Psalmist sings of their wonder at the mysterious relationship between body, soul and God, and gives us finally the words to reflect this morning on the wonderful relationship between our bodies and God.

‘ was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works.’

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit



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