Sermon from October 10, 2010
(Pentecost 20 – Year C)
Luke 17: 11-19
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus is approached by ten lepers with a multitude of skin diseases.
Using words, the ten lepers acknowledge that Jesus is their master, saying:
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on me.”
Then Jesus tells the ten lepers to go on their way to the temple where the priests will certify that they have been cured.
And along the way, the ten lepers are healed.
Yet one of the lepers, a loser who was a Samaritan, turns around on his heels, and runs toward Jesus with his arms open wide.
He rushes toward Jesus and falls down on his face at Jesus’ feet.
With his whole entire body bent down, the healed Samaritan leper expresses his gratitude and thanks as he looks up into Jesus’ face and exclaims,
“Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you for healing and saving me.”
The ten lepers express their gratitude and faith in words - and they are healed.
Yet Jesus points out the gesture of the one leper, the Samaritan, who turned around with his whole body and who used his entire body to fall down at Jesus’ feet, expressing thanks with both words and with his body.
The Christian faith is not just about words.
The Christian faith is not just concerned with our souls.
The Christian faith, fully lived, is an alignment of body and soul, as we worship and give thanks, with our whole entire bodies.
Just when I thought I had heard everything, last Friday morning, I read a headline in the first section of the Waco Tribune-Herald that screamed out at me.
The headline read.
“Baptist leader [says]: Yoga [is] not Christian.”
As I read even further, the news article was reported from the Associated Press, discussing how a leader in the Southern Baptist church is proclaiming that the practice of yoga is incompatible with Christianity.
I did further research on this subject and discovered that Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an influential leader in the Church, has written the following – and I quote directly from Dr. Mohler’s words:
“The growing acceptance of yoga points to the retreat of biblical Christianity in the culture.
Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding.
Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine.”
My friends, I must tell you that I am embarrassed beyond words by Dr. Mohler’s much-publicized viewpoint - and by the bad press that these words give to our Christian faith.
For from what I know about the practice of yoga, it is, for many, a spiritual and physical practice of aligning our body and soul, as a means of connecting to the divine.
The practice of yoga can take our faith beyond words, introducing our entire body, our whole being, into prayer and thanksgiving and worship.
The practice of yoga is similar to when I was a boy and I knelt beside my bed at night to say bedtime prayers, aligning the posture of body and soul.
The practice of yoga is similar to the ancient practice of contemplative prayer, experienced sitting cross-legged by the light of a solitary candle.
The practice of yoga, of bringing our souls and bodies together as one, is similar to a Samaritan leper falling down on his face at Jesus’ feet to give thanks for his healing.
Throughout our Christian history, rooted in our Jewish heritage, our bodies have been used to take our worship to a more profound level.
In the Hebrew Psalms, we are encouraged to “fall down and kneel before the Lord our Maker” and we are to “lift up our hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord.”
In the New Testament, the very first people to ever worship Jesus Christ were wise men from the East, who knelt down to the Christ child, with their entire bodies.
A sinful woman, most likely a prostitute, used her whole body to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair.
Jesus himself used his own body to breathe the Holy Spirit onto his followers.
And St. Paul tells us that our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit.
In our own Episcopal heritage, we use our whole entire bodies in worship.
We stand up for praise and singing.
We sit for spiritual instruction.
We kneel for corporate prayer.
We stand or kneel before God’s gracious Table, where we have been made worthy to stand before him.
Some of us Episcopalians cross ourselves as a reminder of God’s saving cross.
Some genuflect with their knees to God’s presence.
Some even raise their hands up and shout “Alleluia!”
And in the ancient words of our Eucharistic worship, the priest prays these beautiful words:
“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies.”
My friends, I believe that the use of our bodies to pray in a lotus position in yoga,
Or to bow as the processional cross comes down the aisle,
Or to lift up our hands in praise,
Or to fall down on our faces at Jesus’ feet,
Is not contrary to historical and biblical Christianity.
So I say to Dr. Mohler, even though you are the President of one of the largest seminaries in the United States, that I respectfully disagree with you.
The use of our whole bodies is not contrary to a biblical understanding of Christianity.
In fact, I would say the opposite:
Our human bodies are to be used to connect to the divine.
Yet, the question is:
How? How do you and I use our bodies to connect to the divine?
With our bodies, we can worship the gods of youth and perfection by enhancing our bodies with tummy tucks and facelifts and hair plugs and injecting ourselves with Botox.
Or, with our bodies, we can worship the God who created our imperfect bodies, by daily scripture readings at our desk or waking in the quietness of the pre-dawn hours or even prayerful yoga on the floor to align our souls and sagging bodies, connecting us to the divine.
With our bodies, we can worship the gods of self-centeredness and self-absorption by spending our free time as a couch potato, glued to the TV or to the internet or to Facebook.
Or, with our bodies, we can worship the God who commands us to love our neighbor, by getting our bodies up off of the sofa and out into the world, to love and serve other people.
With our bodies, on Sunday mornings we can worship the gods of St. Mattress and the Holy Quilted Comforter by sleeping in and skipping church.
Or, with our bodies, we can worship God by getting our bodies out of bed, throwing on some clothes and coming into these doors to give thanks and to kneel at Jesus’ feet around his Table.
For as the sign says at the entrance of Gold’s Gym, sometimes the hardest step is just getting our body in the door.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters ten lepers, all of whom use words to express their faith – and they are healed.
Yet one of the lepers, a Samaritan, makes that hard step of turning his entire body around.
He runs back and falls down on his face at Jesus’ feet, in thankful worship, using his soul and body to connect with the divine.
So use both your soul and body in prayer.
Use your soul and body in love and service to other people.
Use your soul and body in worship.
For here, in this church, we offer and present unto thee, O Lord,
Our selves, our souls - and bodies.