July 16, 2014 by Pastor Ben McIntire
“Matter matters to God.” This nugget of wisdom came from the lips of one my latest favorite theologians, Barbara Brown Taylor. In a video interview from The Work of the People, Taylor expounds on this idea that God, as Creator, deeply cares for and about Creation itself. Human beings are certainly included in God’s focus of care, for we are created in God’s very image–male and female, God created us!
I was blessed to attend the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis last spring, and to hear Barbara Brown Taylor as one of the keynote speakers. She impressed me as an insightful thinker, teacher and author. I naturally, therefore, purchased some of her books and got one signed.
I recently finished reading her book, An Altar In the World. If you’re interested in reading it for yourself, you can easily find it at a bookstore or online–and I highly recommend it! And if you’re interested in a review of the book, you can find plenty of discussion by googling it, so I’m not going to review the whole thing here. What I want to say is that An Altar In the World reminds us that God, while Divine, cares about this world, “the rocks and trees, the skies and seas” as the hymn says. Plants and animals, our bodies and health, all physical life is precious to God.
The twelve chapters of An Altar In the World each discuss faith practices that help us grow spiritually while remembering that we are both physical and spiritual creatures at the same time. The unfortunate side-effect of our contact with Plato’s Greek philosophy is that we are culturally skewed toward belief in a spirit or soul that is separate from our physical nature, our bodies. Hebrew theology does not make this same distinction. As Christians, we confess each week in the Creeds, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” And yet we are inundated with imagery of souls flying off on angel wings to the pearly gates of Heaven-in-the-clouds where one sits all day, singing and playing the harp. NO! We believe in the resurrection of the body! If we take the claims of Scripture seriously, we find that the physical resurrection is the promised hope–not an ethereal, ghostly, disembodied experience. The great thing about physical resurrection is the promise of getting to see Christ and our loved ones face-to-face on the last day, and to greet them with a real embrace!
It’s refreshing to me to marvel at the joy that God must have taken in creating the vast array of light, landscape and life in the cosmos. As we study the Scriptures in worship this summer, we read several of Jesus’ parables from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus (the incarnate Word of God remember) knows how interwoven our physical nature is with our spirit and so he uses stories about the everyday, physical reality that we know well to illustrate the spiritual: the Kingdom of God.
In the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, Jesus uses the imagery of a farmer who plants good seed in his field, but at night an enemy comes and scatters kernels of weeds amongst the good seed. As the plants grow, the wheat and the weeds are so intertwined at the root that the bad cannot be separated from the good until harvest-time, lest the wheat be damaged in the process. It can be tricky to discuss the balance of good and evil, living in tension, and judgment in the abstract. But when Jesus puts it in terms that a person can see, touch and taste, we can connect. It’s no wonder God has given us the Sacraments as a means of grace. In the water of baptism and the bread and wine of communion we receive the promises of forgiveness for our sin and the hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Water, bread, wine–physical things we can see, touch and taste. “Matter matters to God.”
Heavenly Father, your Divine Majesty is more than I can comprehend. Yet you come to me in ways that I can understand and you care about my physical life as well as my spirit. Thank you for all the blessings of life here and now. In Jesus’ name, Amen.