Fighting the Flab
Words for 5th Sunday after Trinity – 12 July 2020 – Parish of Felixstowe
A Cyber Sermon from the Vicarage
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (from Romans 8v1-11)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Do you struggle with ‘the flesh’? I know I do. A struggle that is not made any easier by the way this, otherwise glorious passage of scripture from Romans, has been handed down in different church traditions and practices.
Too often, and my early attempts at Lenten devotions mirrored this, I thought the sins of the flesh meant eating far too much chocolate cake! If I could only get the calories under control that would secure my path to salvation, canonisation, and sainthood.
Three things put the mockers on my somewhat ‘inventive’ teenage theology.
- Lent on a diet of Boarding School food did not offer many opportunities for renunciation, though I do remember one very dark year when I went without baked beans 😢
- Giving up food and going hungry didn’t make me feel any more saintly towards friends who taunted me with their Tuck Shop Treasures
- Quiet binging on forbidden food didn’t make me feel any better and also led to me lying about how ‘well’ I was keeping Lent!
As the apostle Paul said earlier in his letter, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’
Hopefully age, and a smattering of Biblical Greek, has brought some wisdom to my attitude to fasting and a realisation that when Paul writes about ‘the sins of the flesh’ he is not talking about cakes and calories but those inner hungers which drive us to mar the image of God within us.
This misunderstanding has not been helped by the exaltation of a ‘normal’ body shape and the use of the word ‘syn’ by groups such as Slimming World to describe unhealthy eating habits. And besides this our obsession with what is ‘normal’ has only made the lives of those with eating disorders worse.
We need to learn the difference between sarx (flesh) and soma (body) – although sins of one are reflected in weaknesses of the other. The root of sin, regardless of whatever values we imbibed at Sunday School, is not found in what we do with our bodies (soma) but in how we allow our desires (sarx) to rule our actions.
Jesus reminds us throughout the Sermon on the Mount that sin is not so much what we do with our bodies but allowing our fleshly selves, our sarx, to drive our thoughts and deeds.
So we come to St Paul’s diet for the Christian life.
It is simply this – set our minds on the Spirit;
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Romans 8v11)
Yes, we can tame the soul by disciplining the body, but beating Brother Ass (as if salvation is to be found by becoming a member of the Flagellants) will only weaken us for further service, make us resentful of the faith and, worst of all, extinguish any of the joy with which the Holy Spirit imbues the Gospel.
If we seek life rather than the death of the flesh we must become people who set our minds on the Spirit. No, I do not mean we should all join Pentecostal churches – after all in some sense the Body of Christ has always been Pentecostal having been born on the Day of Pentecost. But we should all have as good an acquaintance with the Third person of the Holy Trinity as we have the with other two.
It is only as we listen closely to the Holy Spirit that will we be able to discern how to direct our lives.
We know that all that is goodly is not necessarily godly
We know that desire can lead us to righteous actions as well as evil deeds
We know that, left to our own devices, most of us will choose what pleases us rather than that which serves others
We know that we need help with our diet if we are to ever tame the flesh (sarx)
How then will we live this Spirit-filled life?
In one sense it is as simple as saying ‘yes’ to the call of God and ‘no’ to our fleshly desires. This is made easier in the knowledge that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit because indeed…
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8v1-2)
But I know I need daily, (sometimes hourly!) encouragement to ‘set my mind on the Spirit’. During Lockdown this has been hard work – one of the reasons why Christians need to meet together is to remind us to keep on meeting Christ!
Things are beginning to return to normal and we will soon be faced with being tempted by all the desires of the flesh (sarx) that our enforced isolation may have hidden from us and we will need to tighten our prayer practices to avoid extra spiritual flabbiness.
How about together we try committing the Collect for the Day of Pentecost to memory to use as a defence against the desires of the flesh that will become even more sharper however our response to the current pandemic proceeds. Those who have attended a Cursillo weekend will already be very familiar with these words…
who taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
[This blog ‘Fighting the Flab’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]