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 Sermon illustrations

 

The Body

The Asher Yatzar

Judaism has a prayer called the Asher Yatzar that is often recited after using the bathroom, a prayer grounded in the very real needs of our bodies. At first, some of us might blush over the idea of God caring about our bodily functions, especially those considered most vulgar. However, this prayer, as Tish Harrison points out, “dares us to believe that the God who holds the planets in orbit deigns to be involved with even the most mundane, pedestrian, and scatological parts of human embodiment:

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

Macy Nulman, ed., The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer: The Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rites (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 42. Quote taken from Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (p. 41). InterVarsity Press.

The Body’s Daily Results

If you are an adult of average weight, here is what you accomplish in 24 hours:

your heart beats 103689 times
your blood travels 168,000,000 miles
you breathe 23040 times
you inhale 438 cubic feet of air
you eat 3.25 pounds of food
you drink 2.9 quarts of liquids
you lose 7/8 pounds of waste
you speak 4800 works, including some unnecessary ones
you move 750 muscles
your nails grow .000046 inch
your hair grows .01714 inch
you exercise 7,000,000 brain cells

Source Unknown

The Body at Work in the World

Bear one another’s burdens, the Bible says. It is a lesson about pain that we all can agree on. Some of us will not see pain as a gift; some will always accuse God of being unfair for allowing it. But, the fact is, pain and suffering are here among us, and we need to respond in some way. The response Jesus gave was to bear the burdens of those he touched. To live in the world as his body, his emotional incarnation, we must follow his example.

The image of the body accurately portrays how God is working in the world. Sometimes he does enter in, occasionally by performing miracles, and often by giving supernatural strength to those in need. But mainly he relies on us, his agents, to do his work in the world.We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it.We announce his message, work for justice, pray for mercy . . . and suffer with the sufferers.

Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Zondervan Publishing.

The Complexity of the Human Body

In his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, author Bill Bryson details the complexity within the human body:

No one really knows, but there may be as many as a million types of protein in the human body, and each one is a little miracle. By all the laws of probability proteins shouldn’t exist. To make a protein you need to assemble amino acids…in a particular order, in much the same way that you assemble letters in a particular order to spell a word. [For example, to make collagen,] you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence….

The chances of a 1,055-sequence molecule like collagen spontaneously self-assembling are, frankly, nil. It just isn’t going to happen. To grasp what a long shot its existence is, visualize a standard Las Vegas slot machine but broadened greatly – to about ninety feet, to be precise – to accommodate 1,055 spinning wheels instead of the usual three or four, and with twenty symbols on each wheel (one for each common amino acid).

How long would you have to pull the handle before all 1,055 symbols came up in the right order? Effectively forever. Even if you reduced the number of spinning wheels to two hundred, which is actually a more typical number of amino acids for a protein, the odds against all two hundred coming up in a prescribed sequence are 1 in 10260 (that is 1 followed by 260 zeros). That in itself is a larger number than all the atoms in the universe.

Yet we are talking about several hundred thousand types of protein, perhaps a million, each unique and each, as far as we know, vital to the maintenance of a sound and happy you. 

Taken From Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Books.

Discerning Sense of Call By Paying Attention to Our Bodies

As I have worked to clarify my calling, I have learned to pay attention to my energy levels in response to different activities. If I experience a particular activity as being inordinately draining, I begin to consider very carefully how much of myself God wants me to give to that.

On the other hand, if I feel particularly energized by a certain person or activity, I can pay attention to how God may be leading me to incorporate more of that into my life. Paying attention to what gives our body and our spirit a sense of life or drains life from us can help us stay connected with God’s guiding presence. When I honor my body by “listening” to tension, discomfort, lightness, or joy and wonder, asking, Now what is that about? often God speaks into that awareness with truth and insight that proves very helpful over the long haul.

Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Disease is a Breakdown of Conversation in Our Bodies

Our bodies, created in the image of the Triune God, have much to teach us about the virtues of conversation. The human body is a wondrous symphony of diverse parts: 206 bones and over 600 muscles, controlled by more than a billion neurons and energized by 60,000 miles of veins and arteries in the circulatory system, enough to circle the globe twice. These intricate parts work together in a harmonious conversation, mobilizing our body and striving for its health. Our bodies constantly adapt to instabilities among their members.

When I trip over a curb, for instance, my body tries to adjust itself and regain my balance. If that doesn’t work, it will in an instant adjust its members to break my fall and cause as little damage as possible. When my body is thrown into instability by an infection, the lymphatic system works around the clock to fight the infection and restore the body’s stability. Instabilities like these are not merely exceptional cases; to walk, for example, is to fall and repeatedly catch oneself.

Similarly, our bodies are constantly fighting toxins that enter through the air we breathe or the food we eat, and the overwhelming majority of these skirmishes go unnoticed by us. In order for systems and body parts to work together successfully in these ways, the body maintains a complex, constant conversation among its parts as information and needs circulate and are refined and adjusted as a result of this ongoing conversation.

We exist in our flesh as a many-layered conversation that is not simply idle banter but that moves us toward stability, health, and action. At the most basic level, the human body is a conversation among proteins that are absorbed by our cells or transferred from one cell to another.

The emerging science of proteomics studies the dynamics of this conversation, but it is still developing the tools necessary to listen effectively to the conversation and track the changes and movements of the proteins within it.

Researchers like Danny Hillis, a computer scientist who has developed some of the rudimentary tools of proteomics, are hopeful that by better understanding the conversation unfolding at the protein level, we can better describe how diseases like cancer operate.

Cancer is a breakdown, Hillis notes, “at the level of this conversation that’s going on between the cells, that somehow the cells are deciding to divide when they shouldn’t, not telling each other to die, or telling each other to make blood vessels when they shouldn’t, or telling each other lies.” Indeed, it seems that the health of our bodies is intimately tied to the ability of their members to effectively converse together.

C. Christopher Smith, How the Body of Christ Talks, Brazos Press.

Exercise & Spirituality

Interestingly enough, even secular research indicates that exercise and spirituality go hand in hand. “A biological mechanism is at work,” says William C. Bushell, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist specializing in medicine and anthropology. “Whatever creator made the body had this in mind.

It comes out in physiological science like a clear blueprint.” Exercise brings mental and physiological changes, including the flood of body-made opiates that induce what’s called the “runner’s high.” This physiological dynamic can create a change in consciousness, a kind of expansiveness in which the runner feels more integrated with his or her surroundings and the Creator himself.

Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Getting to Do the Things She Loves

Chris Spielman was at one time a paragon of athletic performance. A two-time All-American Linebacker at Ohio State University, and later three-time all pro for the Detroit Lions, Spielman knew what it meant for a human body to function at its highest ability. Which may have made it all the more difficult as he watched his wife Stefanie battle breast cancer for twelve years.

As the cancer metastasized throughout her lungs, spine and spinal fluid, it became clear that the end was approaching. Chris was a trained professional athlete. He knew how to discipline himself to achieve greatness, but now he had to tell his four children that their mother would not be with them for much longer.

When the time had come to let them know that the end was near, these are the beautiful words that Chris shared with his children:

I put an arm around each one of them and said, “Mace, Aud, Mommy isn’t going to get any better.

They started crying. They weren’t inconsolable, but the news profoundly affected them. I think, in their hearts, they knew this was coming.

Then I said, “But there is one way she can get better. When she gets to heaven, she’s going to get a whole new body. She’s going to get to do the things that she loves to do. You know. Mom loves to run. She loves to dance. She loves to play. She’ll get to do those things she loves to do, and she won’t ever have to worry about being sick again. That’s something we should be very, very happy about.

Audrey asked, “Is her hair going to grow back? ”

Isn’t that what heaven is all about? Where we will be given new bodies. Where the consequences of injuries, of ageing, of disease will no longer have their way, but rather, where God’s resurrection power will give new life, new bodies, where we get to enjoy Him forever.

Taken from Chris Spielman, That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story, Zondervan.

The Goodness of the Physical World

God is the author of the physical world, and in his wisdom, he designed physical realities to convey spiritual mysteries. “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God,” as C. S. Lewis insisted. “God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why he uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not….

He likes matter. He invented it.” We should like it too. For we are not angels “trapped” in physical bodies. We are incarnate spirits; we are a marriage of body and soul, of the physical and the spiritual. Living a “spiritual life” as a Christian never means fleeing from or disparaging the physical world. Tragically, many Christians grow up thinking of the physical world (especially their own bodies and sexuality) as the main obstacle to the spiritual life, as if the physical world itself were “bad.”

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, Baker Publishing Group, 2020, pp.6-7.

The Heresy of Body/Spirit Dualism

Christianity Does Not Reject the Body The “spirit-good / body-bad” dualism that often passes for Christianity is actually an ancient gnostic error called “Manichaeism,” and it couldn’t be further from a biblical perspective. In fact, it’s a direct attack on Christianity at its deepest roots. If we’re to rediscover God’s glorious plan for our sexuality, it will be necessary to contend with some ingrained habits in our way of thinking that stem from Manichaeism. So let’s take a closer look. Mani (or Manichaeus), after whom this heresy is named, condemned the body and all things sexual because he believed the material world was evil.

Scripture, however, is clear that everything God created is “very good” (see Gen. 1:31). It’s critical to let this point sink in. Unwittingly, we often give evil far more weight than it deserves, as if the devil had created his own “evil world” to battle God’s “good world.” But the devil is a creature, not a creator. And this means the devil does not have his own clay. All he can do is take God’s clay (which is always very good) and twist it, distort it. That’s what evil is: the twisting or distortion of good. Redemption, therefore, involves the untwisting of what sin and evil have twisted so we can recover the true good.

In today’s world, sin and evil have twisted the meaning of the body and sexuality almost beyond recognition. But the solution is never to blame the body itself; it’s never to reject or eschew or flee from our sexuality. That approach is gnostic and Manichaean in its very essence. And if that’s our approach, we haven’t overcome the devil’s lies. We’ve fallen right into his trap. His fundamental goal is always to split body and soul. Why? Well, there’s a fancy word for the separation of body and soul. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: death. That’s where Manichaeism, like all heresies, leads.

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, Baker Publishing Group, 2020, p.5.

Maria Goff and Insecurity

Insecurity is a funny thing. It makes us into someone we’re not as a way to cope with someone we used to be. For me, it started at home. Growing up, my dad had been critical of my mother’s weight, and he evidently didn’t want my sister and me to look like her. One day my dad called us into the bathroom.

He was standing by a scale he had placed on the floor with his arm extended, inviting us to step up. I can’t remember the number that appeared, but I remember being so humiliated. This was another moment for me. I began to believe the lie that the love and acceptance and approval I longed for was conditional and depended on my outer appearance. This happened in high school, but when I left for college this untruth found a corner of my suitcase to hide in. When I unpacked my clothes in my dorm room, I unpacked the lie too.

Taken from Maria Goff, Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want. B&H Publishing Group.

Nakedness is a Funny Thing

In his excellent book, Strong & Weak, Andy Crouch discusses the unique phenomenon of nakedness, something, as he will argue, no other species really experiences. “Nakedness” has, for good reason, been used as a shorthand for experiences of vulnerability. Therefore, one might argue, a part of what it means to be human is to be naked is to be vulnerable:

Of all the creatures in the world, only human beings can be naked. By adulthood, every other creature naturally possesses whatever fur, scales or hide are necessary to protect it from its environment. No other creature—even naked mole rats or Mr. Bigglesworth, the hairless feline sidekick of Mike Myers’s movie villain Dr. Evil—shows any sign, in its natural state, of feeling incomplete in the way that human beings consistently do. Only human beings live our whole lives able to return to a state that renders us uniquely vulnerable, not just to nature but to one another.

Taken from Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch. Copyright (c) 2016 by Andy Crouch. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.

Nothing to Hide

The relationship between wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been well chronicled by historians of the period. On one visit to the United States, Roosevelt wheeled himself right into the British Prime Minister’s bedroom, opened the door to find Churchill completely naked and yet unashamed. Churchill’s response was classic: “You see, Mr. President, we British have nothing to hide.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

New Bodies in the New Creation

I love that part in The Silver Chair when old age simply vanishes from frail King Caspian, because age is the unavoidable meltdown, stripping even the bravest and most beautiful of their former glory. Whatever physical affliction you have known, whatever your limitations have been, everything old age will eventually strip you of—it will all be washed away.

Your renewed body will be like the body of Jesus.

We will burst forth into the new creation like children let out for summer break, running, somersaulting, cartwheeling into the meadows of the new earth. Running like the children, “without getting tired . . . faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they.”

John Eldredge, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love, Thomas Nelson, 2018.

One of the Major Functions of the Skin

My wife was grading a science test at home that she had given to her elementary-school class and was reading some of the results to me. The subject was “The Human Body,” and the first question was: “Name one of the major functions of the skin.” One child wrote: “To keep people who look at you from throwing up.”

Sam Jarrett, Reader’s Digest.

The Quasimodo Complex

Two decades after I worked with the airmen, I read a fascinating article, “The Quasimodo Complex,” in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery, Two physicians reported in 1967 on a landmark study of eleven thousand prison inmates who had committed murder, prostitution, rape, and other serious crimes. Medicine has long known that emotional conflict may produce physical illness. These doctors raised the possibility of the reverse syndrome. Physical deformity may lead to emotional distress that results in crime, according to the article, 20 percent of adults have surgically correctable facial deformities (protruding ears, misshapen noses, receding chins, acne scars, birthmarks, eye deformities). The researchers found that fully 60 percent of the eleven thousand offenders had such deformities.

The authors, who named the phenomenon after Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, raised disturbing questions. Had these criminals encountered rejection and bullying from school classmates because of their deformities? And could the cruelty of other children have bred in them a response of revenge hostility that later led to criminal acts?

Authors proposed a program of corrective plastic surgery for prison inmates. If society rejects some members because of physical appearance, they reasoned, perhaps altering that appearance will change how they are treated and thus how they behave. Whether a murderer on death row or a pilot in the RAF, a person forms a self-image based largely on what kind of image other people mirror back.

The report on Quasimodo prisoners reduces to statistics a truth that every burn victim and disabled person knows all too well. We humans give inordinate regard to the physical body, or shell, that we inhabit.

Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Remembering We Have Bodies

Surprisingly enough, it was in the process of staying faithful to the spiritual journey that I first began to face my profound ambivalence about life in a body. At the ripe old age of thirty, I could no longer ignore the fact that I was tired, lethargic and somewhat depressed. Thinking that my lethargy and lack of enthusiasm for life were psychological or spiritual problems, I went to a psychologist who was also a spiritual director. To my surprise, some of our initial conversations had to do with my physical condition: my eating patterns, how much sleep I was getting, whether I was getting any exercise, my water intake and my general attention to health issues. Even though over the years I had been intent on paying attention to the condition of my spiritual life, no one else had ever called any serious attention to the connection between my physical well-being and my life in Christ.

I, too, needed to face the fact that rather than caring for my body as I would any other highly valued gift, I had been using it for my own ends, to the point that it was now protesting. I hadn’t been paying much attention to what I ate, so there was far too much sugar and junk food in my diet. Rather than getting enough rest, I had become quite dependent on caffeine for additional energy. I had never considered the importance of drinking enough water. And as a busy parent juggling the demands of home and family plus church and career, I thought that I didn’t have enough time or energy to exercise or engage in physical activities that I enjoyed. Just as the angel gave Elijah very concrete instructions about eating, drinking and sleeping, I needed specific guidance for how to care for my body as a part of my spiritual practice and as preparation for the rigors of the spiritual journey into which I was being invited.

… The spiritual discipline of honoring the body helps us find our way between the excesses of a culture that glorifies and objectifies the body and the excesses of Christian tradition that have often denigrated and ignored the body. As we become more intentional about finding this middle way, we will be surprised by the spontaneous combustion that comes when aspects of ourselves that were always meant to exist as an integrated whole finally come together in a way that produces great joy and vitality.

Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Two Sketches

Have you ever noticed that we often see ourselves, specifically our bodies, our facial features differently? In 2013 the soap company Dove decided to explore this phenomenon by hiring an FBI-trained forensic artist to draw sketches of women. The artist was tasked with doing two sketches: one based on how the woman described herself, and the second based on how complete strangers described the women.

The results were shocking. The sketches done based on the description of the strangers were always more beautiful than the ones described by the women themselves. The point of the ad was rather obvious: most woman do not appreciate their own beauty, nor can they accurately describe how they look. The goal of the ad was to help woman see their own beauty and to foster a greater appreciation for their own beauty. 

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Two Wrong-Headed Views of the Body

Christians are often accused of two wrong-headed views of the body. One is that we ignore the body in favor of a disembodied, spirits-floating-on-clouds spirituality. The other is that we are obsessed with bodies, focusing all our attention on policing sexual conduct and denigrating the body as a dirty source of evil. In certain communities at certain moments in history these accusations may have been legitimate. But the Christianity we find in Scripture values and honors the body. At root, Christianity is a thoroughly embodied faith. We believe in the incarnation—Christ came in a body.

And while he may not have brushed his teeth with a pink Colgate brush like mine, he spent his days in the same kind of bodily maintenance that we do. He slept. He ate. He groomed. He took naps, got his feet dirty and had them washed, and likely enjoyed a good, long dinner since he was derided by his more ascetic critics as a drunkard and a glutton. In the Scriptures we find that the body is not incidental to our faith, but integral to our worship. We were made to be embodied—to experience life, pleasure, and limits in our bodies.

When Jesus redeems us, that redemption occurs in our bodies. And when we die, we will not float away to heaven and leave our bodies behind but will experience the resurrection of our bodies. Christ himself appeared after his resurrection in a mysteriously changed-but-fleshy eating and drinking body. Even now, he remains in his body. The biblical call to an embodied morality—to sexual purity, for instance, or moderation in food and drink—comes not out of a disdain for the body and its appetites, but out of the understanding that our bodies are central to our life in Christ.

Our bodies and souls are inseparable, and therefore what we do with our bodies and what we do with our souls are always entwined. It’s no wonder that one of the first heresies passionately opposed by the apostles was Gnosticism, which shunned the embodied life to embrace a higher spiritual reality. In Gnosticism, teeth brushing and shower taking and nail clipping would simply be burdensome hindrances to the soul’s pure engagement with the spiritual life.

But in Christ, these bodily tasks are a response to God’s creative goodness. These teeth I’m brushing, this body I’m bathing, these nails I’m clipping were made by a loving Creator who does not reject the human body. Instead he declared us—holistically—“very good.” He himself took on flesh in order to redeem us in our bodies, and in so doing he redeemed embodiment itself.

Taken from Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. Copyright (c) 2016 by Tish Harrison Warren, pp.39-40. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Your Body

Think of your own experiences as a human being: your body is not just a “shell” in which you dwell. Your body is not just a body. Your body is not just any body. Your body is somebody—you! Through the profound unity of your body and your soul, your body reveals or “makes visible” the invisible reality of your spiritual soul. The “you” that you are is not just a soul “in” a body.

Your body is not something you “have” or “own” alongside yourself. Your body is you. If someone broke your jaw in a fit of rage, you wouldn’t take him to court for “property damage” but for personal assault. What we do with our bodies, and what is done to our bodies, we do or is done to ourselves.

Once again, our bodies make visible what is invisible, the spiritual…and the divine. Aren’t we made in the image of God as male and female (see Gen. 1:27)? This means that the very design of our sexually differentiated bodies reveals something about the mystery of God. The phrase “theology of the body” is just another way of stating the bedrock biblical truth that man and woman image God.

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, Baker Publishing Group, 2020, p.11.

A Wild Naked Man Running Towards Me Is A Very Scary Thing

The Summer Before Junior High School was filled with anticipation. I was excited to leave elementary school behind me. Junior high sounded so robust and adult. And I felt ready—with one caveat. Physical education class. The rumor was that we had to shower after each class . . . and that the showering process was communal. In other words, we had to get naked and take a shower with a bunch of other naked guys.

Not cool. I wasn’t alone in my anxiety about this. In one heartfelt and vulnerable exchange, my best friend looked at his shoes and said, “Dude, don’t be looking at me in the shower.” To which I replied, “Dude, I’m only going to be looking at myself.” To this day, a naked man remains one of the last things I’d like to see. If a naked man were running toward me, arms flailing and everything else jangling close behind, I would be highly unnerved. But this was precisely what Jesus encountered as He prepared to dock in the land of the Gerasenes.

Brian Hardin, Sneezing Jesus: How God Redeems Our Humanity, The Navigators.

See also Illustrations on Healing, Illness, Medicine, Nakedness

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on the Body. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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