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Homily by Dr. Miriam Pepper

Epiphany 2, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 15, 2012

1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6,13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

I am drawn this week to our epistle reading. It is a passage familiar to me as a child and young person growing up in my church and in my family. “Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit” was for me a cue for strict and simple moral rules – especially no sex, and no alcohol.

There is no doubt that this passage is about sex and sexual conduct. But not as a simple authoritative rule or law as I understood it. Paul speaks here about sexual union and its parallel with mysticism, of communion with God. Both are about being joined with something or someone other, and about experiencing a deep connection something bigger than one’s own self.

So the question becomes, when we enact a sexual relationship, is it in step with our relationship with God, or does it conflict and compete? When we enact any relationship – sexual or otherwise – a relationship with another person, with a social or political cause, with some goal or ambition in our lives, is it in keeping with our relationship with God?

Paul’s broader framing is about being free from law, and instead living life in the Spirit. It is part of an ongoing exchange between Paul and others about what freedom means for those who are committed to Christ. Everything is permitted, says Paul, but not everything is good.

You might expect an ecological reflection on this from me. Our technological prowess means that more is permitted, more is possible, than ever before – to those of us with the wealth and privilege to access the benefits of our times. We can transport ourselves to the other side of the world in less than a day. We can communicate with other side of the world virtually instantaneously. We can upgrade our computers and televisions every few years if we want to, and our clothes and phones more often than this. Most of the time we can choose from a wide selection whatever we want to eat from the shops, no matter the time of day, week or year.

But of course such a way of life has been dependent on physical inputs – fossil fuels, minerals, biological resources – that outstrip the physical limits of the planet. The law does not stop our society from the mass extinction that we are wreaking on the species of this world. It doesn’t stop us from compromising the catchments that we are reliant upon for our food. It doesn’t stop us from tipping the climate into an unstable state.

But if we believe and experience the Spirit in all people and in all creatures – that all life forms are temples of the Holy Spirit, manifestations of God, connected together, dependent on each other – then glorifying God calls us to attend to the Spirit in the other. From there may come a choosing to live within ecological limits – not out of an adherence to law but out of love and compassion for others and ultimately for ourselves.

As the years go on for me, and the more environmental activism I do, I am becoming more cynical about concrete environmental policy outcomes. But at the same time, my hope and prayer has become that people of different faiths and of none might start to come together in our communities – locally, nationally and internationally – and speak loudly of this reality of God/Spirit/Life that is in all creatures.

A homily from me would usually continue to reflect on these themes of respect for ecological limits chosen in freedom, in love and in wisdom.

But the present reality for me is that my perspective is very narrow, and that this homily becomes much more personal than would usually be the case.

Six weeks ago I crashed my bike and lost most of the use of my dominant arm. Since that time, I, who try in my daily living to think about and honour ecological limits, have been forced by necessity to deeply attend to my own physical limits.

Simple everyday tasks like going to the toilet, showering, and getting ready to leave the house take twice as long as usual. I haven’t slept through the night since the start of December and I have faced pain and tiredness every day. Oftentimes the extent of my concern has been to manage to get through the day, and many mornings I have not wanted to get out of bed. I have had to put much of my life on hold, although that hasn’t mattered to me as much as it might because I have found myself disinterested in most of the things that I usually like to do.

I know that my experience is temporary and that I will recover (good news this week that all soft tissues are intact and bone is healing). But that I have been knocked so flat by this injury, that I have found it so difficult to cope, has been deeply humbling. I look toward others with their own experiences of pain and physical limitation with deepened love and respect, including you people here, and including people I know who are paraplegics/quadriplegics.

When I realised earlier this week that this Corinthians passage was on the lectionary, I was deeply struck that it is THIS particular body that is a temple of the Holy Spirit. My injured and distressed body. What does it mean to realise this and to glorify God in my body?

I scarcely know. But I think I am learning that my incapacitation is making other things possible:

At this time in the Christian calendar, Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation of Christ, of God enfleshed in a beautiful and vulnerable human being. And we celebrate the presence of God in us and in all creatures – in all our diversity, our strengths and our weaknesses.

And so I invite you to reflect on two questions, and respond if you would like:

What does it mean to you to understand that you body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? How do you glorify God in your body?

 Dr. Miriam Pepper