category: Musings, Sermon Starter

More than Words

By Rachael Keefe

We, as church, have thought our way into an identity crisis. We have spent so much time thinking about what is right, creating right doctrines, and rules for membership, that we have forgotten that we are the Body of Christ. We’ve been distracted by our love affair with “word and …

More than Words


We, as church, have thought our way into an identity crisis. We have spent so much time thinking about what is right, creating right doctrines, and rules for membership, that we have forgotten that we are the Body of Christ. We’ve been distracted by our love affair with “word and speech” (1Jn 3:18) that we have forgotten to incarnate the Word with “truth and action” (1Jn 3:18). When confronted with the physicality of the Resurrection accounts – Jesus holding up his wounds, inviting touch, breaking bread, eating fish, etc. – we respond with a tendency to spiritualize in an intellectual way. We either rationalize those early encounters with the Risen Christ as fabricated encounters that have deep Truth (in the way that all mythology points toward truth), or way say it’s all a mystery beyond our understanding. Either way, we dismiss these accounts and fail to hear the invitation to live in our bodies and allow ourselves to be transformed into the Body of Christ.

This separation of body and mind and spirit is nothing new, and it’s not unique to Christianity. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to integrate body, mind, and spirit in my own life. In my youth I prided myself on my “mind over body” capacity. I could eat less than 100 calories a day and still push myself to run several miles, sleep a few hours a night, and go to classes. I didn’t realize how significantly the disconnect between my body and my mind affected my faith formation. Since I viewed my body as an enemy to be conquered and controlled, it’s no surprise that I thought of any relationship with God as being impossible.

My experiences of church widen this gap between mind and body, as well as the one I experience between me and God. This wasn’t done intentionally, of course. Most of my church experience has been in Mainline congregations that have the expectation of quiet, controlled, observance in worship rather than full body expression. There was no wiggling in the pews, no giggling, no clapping, no talking back to the preacher. We were to come and be reverent and respectful. There was little place in worship for one’s body. It was all done with the mind.

Decades later, I inhabit a body that is limited by dysautonomia. It seems all my systems are slow – from digestion to heart rate. The primary effect is that I am tired all the time. So I employ, without even thinking about it, some of my old mind-over-body techniques just to get through the day and do what I want or need to do. It’s not the same now. Now I acknowledge that I’m tired, and do what I need to do anyway (and nap whenever possible.) I don’t see my body as an enemy any longer. I am my body and my body is me. This may sound silly, but it’s an important statement. Once I made peace with my body, tentative though it can be, I became better able to accept that God loves the particularity that is me.

Now, church, we live in a world whose needs are not satisfied by our words and speech. We can continue our squabbles over right theology and right language and right doctrine, or we can get real. We can stop separating our words from our actions. If we have signs on our lawns that read, “All are Welcome,” are these words empty or do we truly welcome everyone, without exception? Think carefully before you say yes. Are LGBTQ+ people welcome into the full life of your congregation, including your pulpit? Are people with serious mental illness welcome and included? Do people with physical disabilities have full access to your whole building and are they able to share fully in worship? Are people who are experiencing homelessness welcome without condition? Are women, men, Trans* folks encouraged and affirmed in their calls to ordained ministry? You get the idea. Who is welcome in practice?

I’ve been repeatedly struck by the physicality of the Easter scripture readings. The Good Shepherd passages are no different. I can practically smell the sheep pasture as I read these texts. Jesus is the Good Shepherd willing to lay down his life and take it up again for his sheep. While we may not particularly enjoy being compared to sheep, there is an implication here that should not be overlooked. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is willing to risk his life for his followers, then it stands to reason that the Body of Christ is also supposed to be the Good Shepherd. We are to embody Christ in such a way that takes risk in body, in mind, and in spirit. We are to incarnate the Love of Christ in such a way that the lost are found and the excluded enter in. And we are to do this completely, not just with words. Imagine a church that is inclusive of all the wonderful diversity that exists in human bodies…

I think it’s time the church is bodily resurrected. Let’s be the Body of Christ in truth and action, bearing witness to the power and presence of the Risen Christ with our whole selves. It’s time to step away from the pristine piety of the mind and revel in the incarnation of wholeness that can change the way we think.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 22,2018
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Beckmann-Metzner

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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