At the root of our relationship with God is the gift of choice. Our thoughtful Designer never intended us to be obedient robots who live out a particular plan, so God included the seed of agency. God recognized that choice is healing and the most loving. We have been called to co-create something beautiful echoing the freedom and grace we have in this risen Christ. We all have been given this gift of choice to create, to heal, to love.
After Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, they hid. They covered themselves with leaves. When love found them God asked, “Who said that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11). Some may hear these words as angry. I hear a breaking. Now instead of wonder, Adam and Eve are clothed with shame and a lie that has now made a home in them. This lie became more real to them than God.
According to the American Institute of Stress
…77% of Americans are experiencing stress that affects their physical health.
…73% of Americans experience stress that affects their mental health.
…Stress is the number one health concern in High School Students.
Is it possible we too have been clothed in a shame that lies to us and tells us we can’t stop? We can’t rest? We can’t take a moment to catch our breath?
No matter how much we earn or how much recognition we get, do we still feel naked?
Maybe it whispers “you need to be, you ought to be, you should be more …” Fill in the blank.
It is safe to say many of us may not be the best versions of ourselves right now. This pandemic has definitely taken a toll on our “stress,” and we are arguing if the end is in sight. Yet amidst all of this chaos we still have choices to create, to heal, to love.
This call is both holy and heavy.
To be called to create with God is wow. Who are we, that the Creator would allow us spaciousness to have ideas, voice, and agency to build together a world we believe is good. This call can be heavy because as humans it is challenging work to sit in this ambiguity together.
Instead of doing the work to listen to the diverse choices of others, many people feel obligated to restrict, edit, and/or silence the voices they don’t agree with in the name of God.
These binary attitudes toward everything being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ distracts us from our call to co-create. We are finding ourselves back in the garden eating from the tree of knowledge believing we are God and deciding for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Beloveds, we need to take many seats. At a time when the choices of so many are being taken away, we need to remember this gift of agency.
To take away a person’s agency is beyond even the lengths God will go.
We see throughout scripture how God goes to the people who have been robbed of choice and offers them the way, a new possibility. We see Jesus going to the woman at the well, and while knowing everything about her, he offers her living water. She leaves her water jug behind and tells everyone about Jesus. She no longer thirsts. She no longer believes she is naked. This Samaritan Woman has living water.
Before Jesus heals the man at the pool of Bethesda he asks, “Do you want to be healed?” This always gave me pause. Yet Jesus knew that by healing this man, his whole life would change because his body had changed. No longer would he be begging by the pool, or doing the things he had always done.
Healing does that. It changes us. Jesus never takes away our agency. Our bodies cannot be compartmentalized from our faith or from worship; our bodies are not disposable; God never takes away our choice.
As people of faith, many of us have become detached from our bodies, compartmentalizing them from the human experience for many different reasons.
This compartmentalization is profoundly destructive. When we disconnect from our bodies we begin relying only on our minds, trusting our bodies less and discounting them as shameful. Our bodies are holy sacred spaces because of the Spirit that animates our limited physicality.
Each of us carries the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We carry resurrection. It is the holy rooting itself within our very flesh, consecrating us Beloved. What if we saw one another and didn’t judge each other's flesh bag? Instead, we saw everyone as a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. This would mean an injustice against people and their bodies would be an injustice against God. Not because we are mistaking humans as God — we are mistaken when we believe everyone is not carrying God in their very being.
When we ignore our bodies, we begin to reduce people to ideas and sides. We detach other people from their bodies and their lived human experience. When we do this it is easier to dehumanize them and reduce them to an issue. And what causes us to go there? You can tell how hard a person is on themselves by how hard they are on other people. If a person does not have radical grace for themselves, they struggle to have it for others.
If they believe they are naked they are going to work pretty hard to appear clothed and unashamed.
Who told you that you are naked? Who told you that you are not good enough? Who said this would be easy? You do not need to have all the answers. You don’t have to pretend this isn’t hard. You get to show up with your questions, wonderings, bad decisions, and receive living water.
There is chatter that the Church is dying. Beloveds, you cannot kill the Church. In many ways it is reforming. The more time I spend outside of the Church and embodying this God given holy temple in the wild, I see there are many people who have been told they are naked, not good enough, not holy enough, not Christian enough… and they are building The Church. They are dreaming of living water and feasting on it.
God has always been in the margins with those who have had their choices taken away and said, “Come, follow me.”
Reverend Jenny Sung is an ordained free range pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She has been preaching, writing, and curating spaces worldwide for healing through brave love and community art. She received her Masters of Divinity through Luther Seminary and is the founder and co-director of One Dance Company.
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