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Ezekiel 37.1-10

I Corinthians 12.12-26

Body Language

Third Sunday after Pentecost

As postscript to last Sunday’s sermon about Juneteenth:  You may have read about Walmart’s ill-fated attempt to celebrate the holiday with a new kind of ice cream.  They called it the “Celebration Edition Juneteenth Ice Cream,” the carton proclaims, “Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope,” because, you know, nothing says “liberation from bondage” like a nice bowl of red-velvet and cheesecake flavored ice cream.  Yes, it was among the multiple tone-deaf attempts to capitalize on our nation’s newest holiday – Juneteenth beer coozies, anyone?  To its credit, Walmart quickly pulled the ice cream from its shelves and directed customers instead toward Black-owned Creamalicious Ice Cream.  There are some holidays that just don’t seem suited for swag, thought that hasn’t stopped folk from attempting to monetize and profit from them.

And so it is in the spirit of the old adage that when one finger points out, three more are pointing back,  that we may look to our own United Church of Christ for capitalizing on holidays and other celebrations.  I swear, the number of emails I receive from the UCC that try to sell me holiday-themed swag are as numerous as they are dispiriting.  All month long I’ve been reminded that I can purchase Pride t-shirts, Pride stoles, Pride facemasks, Pride bumper stickers, Pride lawn signs… maybe our denomination can partner with Walmart and make some Pride ice cream as well.  Or maybe some Pride neckwear?  One finger out, three fingers back, right?

The past week has brought us a real confluence of holidays and celebrations, hasn’t it – and yes, I’ll get to black Friday’s news in a few moments.  But we had Juneteenth, Father’s Day, the summer solstice, the fiftieth anniversary of my high school graduation, and today we cap a monthlong celebration of Pride and inclusion.  It put me in mind of Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians we heard this morning, about how many different members it takes to compose one single body:  a hand, an ear, an eye, a nose, a head, a foot – and notice that Paul also elliptically mentions the less-mentionable parts of the body which are equally essential:  “those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”  The way that Paul describes the church as a body where every member is indispensable, from the shoulders to the duodenum, is definitive.  Every single one of you, every single one of us, is necessary for the health of the whole.  What is true for the body is true for the church, and what is true for the church  is true for the community.  Walt Whitman captures this thought wonderfully in the final strophe of his poem, “I Sing the Body Electric.”

“O my body!  I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the part of you… Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears / Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows and the waking or sleeping of the lids / Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws and the jaw-hinges / Nose, nostrils of the nose and the partition…”

And he goes on like this until, finally, “Ankles, instep, foot-ball toes, toe-joints, the heel… O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul / O I say now these are the soul!”

For both Whitman and the apostle Paul, every member is essential if we are to be a healthy body and community.  It is the whole point of inclusion.  It is the whole point of the incarnation.  On this last Sunday of Pride month, we celebrate Paul’s image that every human being is not just important and valuable, but essential and indispensable.

But it is also important to pay attention, not simply to inclusion, but to connectedness.  What I mean is, Juneteenth and Pride Sunday, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Easter and Passover and Ramadan can stand by themselves as celebrations of different parts of our culture.  Juneteenth belongs to the African American community, Pride to the LGBTQ, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to them, Easter to Christianity, Passover to our Jewish brothers and sisters and Ramadan to the Islamic.  And while we may share in the celebrations of others, we do not own them.  We honored Juneteenth last week, many of us have marched in Pride parades, and we have sat at the seder table.  We don’t have to become the eye or the ear to be an equal part of the body, but rather acknowledge their important, valuable and essential role as part of the body.  We don’t have to become them, but we have to be connected if life is to achieve its fulness.

The story of the dry bones in the book of Ezekiel is likely a familiar one.  The prophet finds himself standing in a valley filled with desiccated human bones, which represent the empty shell of an Israel that had gone after other gods and idols and as a result were captured into captivity by Babylon.  “[The Lord] set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  I  was led all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry… [And God said,] Say to these bones:  I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”  It is a vision of the body that stands next to Paul’s words in I Corinthians:  not only is every discrete member of the body essential; they are knit together by flesh and bone and sinew and skin, and they are animated by the word and spirit of God.  That is, not only do we need to honor every part of the body, we also need to understand that we are all joined to one another by the word and spirit of God.

And so we can honor Juneteenth and Pride month and Passover and Ramadan as individual parts of the one great human body, but we need to go one step further and recognize how we are all knit together every single one of us; not only is every part essential, but every part is conjoined.  What this said to me this past week is that we should not place what each culture and religion celebrates in isolation; we cannot silo the African American experience here and the LGBTQ experience here and the Jewish experience here and the Christian experience here and every other experience each in its own quiet corner.  We need to perceive and live out the many ways we are connected to all of it, flesh and bone and sinew and spirit, if the body of humanity is to remain both healthy, and its fullest self.

Boston Globe business writer Shirley Leung made a similar observation earlier this week, writing principally about Pride month, but with a sharp and wary eye on the Supreme Court’s pending decision in Roe vs. Wade.  Lueng has speculated, as others have, about what comes next after women have their reproductive rights forcefully stripped away.  As one woman plaintively asked at a rally late Friday afternoon, “I feel like my humanity has been diminished today.  What if I am not in charge of my [own] body?”  What comes next after women have had their reproductive rights forcefully stripped away?  Will marriage equality suffer the same fate?    There is good reason to think so, given comments by Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas this week  Or what about affirmative action?  Will decades of efforts to bring quality and equality in education to the poorest of our cities and towns come to a halt?  And what will come of efforts to keep our children safe from gun violence after this week?  These are not discrete, siloed topics of polite conversation, they represent an interconnected threat to the health and wholeness of the body of our culture and our society.  As Paul wrote, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”  To borrow from this morning’s Call to Worship, an adaptation of the apostle’s words to both the Galatian and the Corinthian churches, the Greek may not say to the Jew, I have no need of you; the free may not say to the slave, I have no need of you; the white may not say to the black, I have no need of you; the male may not say to the female, I have no need of you; the straight may not say to the gay, I have no need of you; the jurist may not say to the pregnant woman, I have no need of you.  We are all one in Christ Jesus; we are knit inseparably together by the word and spirit of the God who created us, and because we are we have a responsibility to one another.

The erasure of a woman’s agency of her own body is not a reversal only with respect to pregnancy, it is a tear in the fabric that keeps us knit together.  To put an edge on it, very little of this affects me directly, right?  I mean, I’m an old, white, straight male.  I’m never going to be pregnant, my marriage rights are secure, affirmative action isn’t part of my education and I’ve got a nice sinecure here atop the hill in one of the finest towns in Connecticut.  But I have two daughters.  I have a grandson who goes to school in Boston.  I have a pension whose value is tethered to the stability of society.  But more important, far more important, I have all of you.  I am your minister, and not just to the United Church of Chester, but also to a wider community where, even in our relatively affluent town, there is poverty and food scarcity and tenuous health care and there are gay and lesbian couples and pregnant women and people who have been marginalized to the point of near-invisibility.  If I do not stand with you and with them together, especially in times of uncertainty and dire need, who will?  If I don’t stand with you and with them together in times of uncertainty and dire need, then I am little more than a dusty pile of bleached bones in a remote valley.  And equally to the point, if we as a church do not stand with and for those who on Friday morning awoke to find themselves with fewer rights that than they went to bed with on Thursday night, then who is to say that they will not turn to us and say, “We have no need of you?”

And we never know with whom we will be called to stand in a given moment.  Two years ago it was with the young black unarmed men and women who were shot or strangled for little, if any offense.  This weekend it is with every woman, pregnant or no, who just had her reproductive choices limited by six idealogues.  This morning it is with the dozen people who were killed or wounded in a LGBTQ bar in Oslo.  Tomorrow it may be with the family who has suffered a medical emergency only to find themselves woefully underinsured.  Inasmuch as you do for one of these, my brothers and sister, so you do for me.

So in this moment I ask you to literally take a stand.  On this Pride Sunday when we stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we also stand with the women of America, we also stand with the African American community, we also stand with the lonely and the hurting and the marginalized and the near-invisible because we are all connected, body and blood and flesh and bone and sinew and skin and breath and soul.  Last year after we affirmed our Open and Affirming statement together the last Sunday in June, our Deacons suggested this was something we should do on an annual basis, to remind ourselves of our connectedness born of our covenant, and I think it is a terrific idea.  Let us stand and remember who we are as an Open & Affirming congregation of the United Church Christ.

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