We are being addressed

Lent III, March 20, 2022

St Andrew’s Indooroopilly Anglican Church

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9

Psalm 63:1-8

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

Fr Richard Browning

Joao lived by the sea with his parents in a community whose livelihoods came from the waters. 

At three years of age, Joao learnt from his father how to fish with a net. 

At five years of age he learnt how to fish with a spear using goggles made from mangrove wood and washed up glass.

He loved his father Mario and he loved his village life by the water. 

When the catch was good, Mario would travel across the open ocean to the markets on the island just visible on the horizon. It was a treacherous journey.

At seven years of age, Joao said goodbye to his father as he headed off in his motorised canoe to the markets. If he knew then what he found out later, he would have lingered long on this farewell. But at seven, the call of sand and water remained strong.

At first Joao’s mum said his father went away on a longer trip.  It took a long time before she acknowledged that he was never coming home. 

It wasn’t until Joao was about fifteen that could name what he felt – it was a hole, somewhere around his stomach that came not long after his father left. He didn’t know it, but all the substances he took were attempts to fill the gap. His last was food. Almost any kind. He would eat until he was full and then he’d eat more. It worked for a while. But never for long. And then he would eat more and more and more. No matter how much he ate, the hole would never fill.

I heard that story twenty years ago, told by Stephen Harrison. The details are different, but the substance remains. One of the reasons I remember it is because I have found it to be true.

That is, there is an enmeshing of soul and body that resists dissection.

We know the mind and body are bound. One remarkable example is placebo, a mind trick that can have extraordinary effects on a body’s healing and wellbeing. A more recent example might be the gaming and virtual world. The play is on a screen and the game is virtual, but waves of endorphins surge through the body in volumes that can be measured with addictive power.

The soul and the body are similar. In the reading from Isaiah and the Psalmist, the language of soul is blurred with the body. Observe: Thirst; Eating; Wine; Milk; bread; Delight; Good; Rich; satisfaction. There is straight up desire: buy what you want without money or price, come. These words apply to the body as they do the soul.

“Only the body saves the soul” writes Rowan Williams. He goes on: “It sounds rather shocking put like that, but the point is that the soul (whatever exactly that is) left to itself, the inner life or whatever you want to call it, is not capable of transforming itself. It needs the gifts that only the external life can deliver.”

Just as the mind and body cannot be easily dissected, nor can the body from the soul. This is different to our popular culture, where the soul is typically cast as an entity on its own, like the seed of an avocado, it is something that can be removed from the flesh and set aside. At many a funeral, hear the eulogist and the minister speak in first person to the soul of the one whose body lies before the gathered, beneath the flowers and photos.

The scriptures we inherit are different. Our scriptures have the Soul enmeshed with the sinews of the limb, the groaning of the heart, the hungering of the stomach and the fainting of the flesh.

The reality of Soul, ‘whatever exactly that is’, the essence of one’s true self, is inseparable from the body, and in the Christian faith, death is death. At the heart of our faith is the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead. The Apostle’s Creed is explicit; we believe in the resurrection of the body. 

In death as in life, there is no soul without body; the soul cannot be saved without a body.

We are all being addressed by something bigger than our selves. Listen.

We are being addressed by life, come, live.

We are addressed by love to love;

by mercy to mercy;

by goodness for goodness.

This calling speaks into the soul of each person and posits a need bigger than any food can satisfy. Responding to this call takes us not out of the body, but wholly and utterly into it, there, in the Soul of you, to be alive, wholly, fully, sensually, truly.

Joao’s burden was grief. The hole was to be felt in his body, but nothing can return the lost loved one nor repair the loss. 

Come then, you who hunger and thirst. 

There is a food and a presence here that will satisfy.

Our bodies carry the scars of loss, pain, loneliness, shame, longing. It should not surprise that the deep afflictions of the soul are felt in the body and our remedies in the body are earnest but not enough.

Come then, you who are hungry, thirsty, 

find here in the Lord’s presence 

a loving kindness that satisfies, a mercy freely given.

Understanding the body/soul bond changes things.

  1. Understanding the bond will lead to greater empathy at the death of every soul. It means we would mourn and lament more over every lost soul. It means we would never use the death of another for winning arguments and scoring points. The question brought to Jesus at the death of the Galileans is way off the mark. Understanding the body/soul bond increases our empathy towards the plight of every other soul.
  1. Understanding this body/soul bond also means that we will respond to the devastating needs of the others with material for the body, (not in thoughts and prayers alone).

Below this church in the undercroft is an array of new clothes sponsored by ThreadTogether. People have already come bearing in their bodies the trauma and loss of flood. To give clothes, and food and a face is to attend to the bodily needs of the other, and the soul that is bound to it.

  1. Understanding the body/soul bond in this way will help us open to Jesus’ language of repentance. Repentance is not an activity of the mind, as if there is a switch that can be turned to right thoughts and right belief. Repentance that addresses a mind bound in a body with a soul is fuller than thinking. 

Isaiah uses the language of ‘returning’. It is rich. In your deepest longing: return, with your mind in your body with your soul to the Ground of Being, the Source of Life, the wellspring of loving kindness, the banquet table of mercy.

There is urgency in the way Jesus speaks. This urgency has taken some Christians to the Polish border to preach at passing Ukranian refugees saying ‘repent’. (If you can believe it!)

Understanding the body/soul bond brings urgency, to speak to those same preachers as we would ourselves: return to the Lord; return your whole self in mind body and soul to the Lord’s table and receive what is freely on offer, and in that encounter turn outwards and attend to the burgeoning needs of their bodies: the refugee, the hungry, the overcome, the flooded.

Come here, full bodied, bring your whole self, its aching bones and failing sight, your story in all its glory and brokenness, your sexuality, your loving and longing: come, bring your thirst and your hunger.

God’s nature is mercy,

God’s justice is loving kindness.

We are being addressed by loving kindness.

But by loving kindness is not an idea; loving kindness is a person.

We are being addressed by mercy.

But mercy is not an idea. Mercy is a person.

We are being addressed by goodness.

But goodness is not an idea. Goodness is a person.

This person’s name is Jesus. The Eternal Word, 

the one who is as light is from light, so true God from true God, 

the one through whom all things are made, 

the Universal one beyond all of time 

surrenders all to enter into a body

and participates in the particularity of one moment and one time, 

born of Mary, in a body, truly human. 

And this in order for this ‘particular’, my body, 

and your ‘particular’, your body, 

and every particular body may be drawn into the Universal, 

such is the work of Jesus the Christ. 

This is a mystery. It is salvation. It is the beauty that saves the world. 

It has begun and it is being wrought in our bodies.

We are addressed:

Come.

Here, nearer than our heart beats and closer than our breath:

the Lord our God. 

Return with your whole self. 

Here your thirsting and your hungering is met with a table and a feast. Come.

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