Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

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Sermon 052911

 

Su29   Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31

Psalm 66:8-20

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

 

Acts 17:22-31

22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm 66:8-20

8Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,

9who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

10For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

11You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

12you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

13I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,

14those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.

15I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.

17I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.

18If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

19But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

20Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

1 Peter 3:13-22

13Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

John 14:15-21

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Plato, Mind-Body Dualism and the Holy Spirit 052911

 

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago I was camping by the side of the Russian River in Northern California. I was hitchhiking around the country and ended up there somehow. I was thinking about the topic of today’s sermon, but the fact that today’s scriptures, and today’s sermon topic and my meditation and poetry on the riverbank of the Russian River didn’t occur to me at once. In fact, I’ve been reading the scriptures over and over again all week, and reading commentaries both new and old, and I was stuck. Starting early didn’t help. It was a last minute term paper kind of pressure that led me, maybe, to a final sermon direction, and we’ll hope there finally is a direction in the sermon.

 

All three of today’s scriptures are on this same topic: that is, the relationship or unity and disunity of the mind and body. In a moment we’ll discuss this mind-body dualism and how each of the three scriptures discuss this topic, but returning the my story, I was camping by the side of the Russian River and considering the relationship of mind and body, the same topic as today’s scripture.

 

In 40 some years I haven’t learned much. The topic is difficult so I’ll go slow, for my benefit.

 

The first scripture introduces the topic. The missionary Paul is talking to the Athenian elite. Acts 17:22-31 Greek philosophy was well known around the Mediterranean by this time, of course. It had been 600 years since the monumental advances in Greek and Western logic of Aristotle, Socrates and finally Plato, and Greek traders and merchants had carried Greek culture everywhere, so Paul knew he was speaking to Athenians in a language and pattern they could understand. Paul was speaking and reasoning like Plato, in a very Greek logic pattern (which was used by the Romans and is now the base of our reasoning used in law, in science, etc. The Greek culture is ours also.

 

One of the Greek cultural assumptions is that there is a mind and a body. The soul resides in the mind and relates to a perfect existence as a pure, but disembodied spirit that leaves the body. This is known as mind-body dualism, or as Platonic dualism.

 

But Jesus, and Paul were Jewish. The Hebrew conception is that there is no duality. The mind and body are one ‘thing’ so when Jesus died and rose again, it was as an incarnated being, a bodily being. In Acts 17:30 Paul turns the tables on his Greek audience by ending with ‘he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

 

Platonic dualism and Greek thinking comes up again in 1 Peter 3:13-22 when Peter (or the writer) makes a distinction between the Christian believer and ‘the world’. The writer is speaking to a Jewish audience, and the topic of Jewish purity comes up. The idea for Jews was that bodily purity and spiritual purity were the same thing, since there was not a mind-body duality—so, pure mind, clean bodily existence, and spiritual purity were all the same thing. There are hundreds of Jewish laws, in practice, about purity in Jesus’ time, and baptism had become a way to wash off the mental, physical and spiritual dirt all at once. Baptismal founts had become popular in Jewish settlements, and many houses had multiple baptismal founts.

 

This writer says Jesus was ‘put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’, so he is really taking the Greek thinking side in the discussion over whether there is in reality a mind-body dualism, or a mind-body unity. Are the mind and body two things or one, and is a Christian and the world two things, or one? Are we in the world, but separate from it, or are we part of the world, embodied in it? This writer seems to say we are physically and spiritually in the world and part of it in our bodies, yet also speaks to the idea that Jesus’ spirit was alive after execution. The writer was probably in Rome when this was written, having gone there with Peter, in the early days of the Christian church and may have written this shortly before or after the crucifixion of Peter, which is legendary and not recorded in the Bible or elsewhere.

 

Then finally, we have the words of Jesus in John 14:15-21. Jesus says that God has sent ‘another Advocate’ (the paraclete, in Greek) to be with us forever. Since it says ‘another Advocate’ it makes it sound as though we have someone who will plead our case to God for us, like a lawyer in court, or a health care advocate, etc. But the opposite is true.

 

Jesus and the Advocate both bring the reality of God to us. Jesus did so as an human being, in flesh and blood and people saw him, ate with him, touched him and saw him bodily suffer and die.

 

The Advocate also brings God to us, but as the Holy Spirit, or ‘the spirit of truth’ which believers will given. The Spirit is the very beginning source of faith in God and Jesus, which the spirit brings to us from God.

 

This whole discussion of mind-body duality, or of believer-world duality is confusing. What do I believe, what do you believe? This problem isn’t at all resolved. A psychiatrist I worked with many years ago said the relationship of mind was not near resolved. What if, he said, it is the body that becomes mentally ill and is expressing it through mental illness? Mental illness is not necessarily mental. How exactly the mind and body relate to one another is not clear at all, if they are two things.

 

And maybe, when we are spiritual, maybe it is as an embodied human being. Our ‘souls’, our mind, our body and spirit may be just one unified existence.  This creates a new kind of existence for us, where we can’t say that our spirit is Christian while we exist as non- Christians in a non-Christian world.  The theologian Alan Watts once wrote that Americans use their body to take their mind out for a walk, like a sophisticated transport vehicle, or the mind takes the body out for a run, like a lease-trained dog.

 

I invite us to consider whether we assume a mind-body duality, and do we love God with ‘all our heart’ or with ‘all our hearts, minds, body, souls and spirits’? Is there a joy to be found as a believer by being an ‘embodied believer’?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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