ELM Lenten Blog- Rev. Aaron Decker

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A Mind Set in Flesh

Why does Paul hate flesh?

Ezekiel’s “dry bones” always set my mind on the past. College was difficult, coinciding with my first appearance of bipolar depression. There wasn’t a name for it yet, let alone good treatment. I suffered for years before dropping out. It wasn’t until seminary that I finally found competent medical help.

Back then, music lifted my suffering. I got involved however I could, including assisting with the local youth symphony. One semester, we performed Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. It’s a memory of joy from a time long gone—a dear one that rings in my ears when Ezekiel rattles his own ancient fossils.

The prophet proclaims a fleshly image. Bones hear God’s presence and then are covered with flesh. And then again, filled with Spirit. Like the human-dust in Genesis 2 that needs God’s breath to live, flesh is not enough. Is that why Paul complains about flesh?

But Lazarus, too, is a fleshly creature. “Come out,” Jesus cries! And Lazarus does, out of hiding, into the celebration, strides like a debutante into the banquet that is life. His body–his FLESHLY body–still wrapped in the clothes of death, is filled with Spirit and life.

Paul says, “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” But he is wrong. We are human; we are flesh. So is the second person of the Godly Three. And it is very good.

But Paul has a point. In college, I was trapped in misbehaving flesh. The musical Spirit let me breathe, occasionally, in those years.

Today, I am on a bench, waiting for colleagues to drive me to an obscure Andean village to hear adult theology students present their learning. Not the typical career for a twice college dropout. I wait in a busy public transit station, with too many people waiting to get into the city below. Tired faces, hopeless, visibly trapped by poverty and abuse in this land where poverty and abuse are epidemic.

But, in these villages where resources are scarce, where time and flesh go to die, I encounter joy unexpected, revealing God’s grace unbidden.

“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.” Paul’s—and God’s—concern for us is our flesh. Our mortal bodies will be raised by the Spirit. Is Paul talking about more than just us? If we are beings of Spirit, do we bring Spirit to the flesh around us? Are we whose bones were once dry, now called to resurrect dead Lazarus, to speak to dry bones, to proclaim incarnation?

Spirit is useless without flesh. Flesh is dead without Spirit. This is why Christ had to be both. May you know the Spirit in our Flesh, and as we share it with others, may your Flesh dance.

Rev. Aaron Decker (he/him) is a theological educator with ELCA Global Mission. After dropping out twice, he did manage to earn a Bachelor’s, and is now working on his third master’s degree. It turns out that in Jesus Christ, resurrection always follows death. Either that, or he is just addicted to school. It might be both.

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