July 9, 2018
“Spiritual but not Religious” ~ Sermon for July 8, 2018
Our New Testament reading this morning continues in Mark’s gospel, recounting Jesus’ visit to his hometown synagogue and his commissioning of the first twelve disciples.
This passage reminds us of the importance of opening our hearts and minds to the prophets among us.
Hear now a reading from Mark 6:1-13.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
God of grace and powerful weakness, at times your prophets were ignored, rejected, belittled, and unwelcome.
Trusting that we, too, are called to be prophets, we ask you to fill us with your Spirit, and support us by your gentle hands, that we may persevere in speaking your word and living our faith.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
One of the phrases that I often hear is the claim of ‘Spiritual but not religious.’
People use this disclaimer to explain their absence from church or their reluctance to join any type of organized religion.
I have spent a lot of time over the years trying to figure out what ‘spiritual but not religious’ is code for.
At one point I analyzed it as individual relationship with God verses communal relationship with God.
I thought the ‘spiritual’ people didn’t want to take on the communal responsibilities of belonging to a church.
But then I encountered spiritual people all over the community offering their compassion and resources to help their neighbors.
For a while, I thought the ‘spiritual but not religious’ folks just didn’t like our religious rituals.
I do think that interpretation carries some weight.
Many of our rituals, our words, our music sound dated or irrelevant to contemporary ears.
Just last month, my Yale Alumni magazine touted new findings on the issue of “Individualized Transcendence.”
“In a new study, published in Cerebral Cortex (paywall) on May 29, neuroscientists explain how they generated “personally relevant” spiritual experiences in a diverse group of subjects and scanned their brains while these experiences were happening. The results indicate that there is a “neurobiological home” for spirituality. When we feel a sense of connection with something greater than the self—whether transcendence involves communion with God, nature, or humanity—a certain part of the brain appears to activate. The study suggests that there is universal, cognitive basis for spirituality, as opposed to a cultural grounding for such states.
These changes in the brain may help explain why, during spiritual experiences, the barrier between the self and others can be reduced or even eliminated altogether.
“Spiritual experiences are robust states that may have profound impacts on people’s lives,” explains Yale psychiatry and neuroscience professor Marc Potenza, in a statement about the work.
I believe that we, the church, have created this idea that spirituality and religion are separate.
I define ‘spirituality’ as one’s relationship to God – and awareness of the spirit’s movement in one’s life.
‘Religion’ was developed to help people facilitate that relationship, to introduce people to the concept of spirit and grace and to provide opportunities to know God.
Through scripture, music, and prayer the faithful were encouraged into relationship with the divine.
The problem arose when the people within the church decided that their ways were the only way and judged or condemned those who chose to know God differently.
Doctrine and dogma drive people away from organized religion.
This past week I finished reading a book that described the torture inflicted on people during the Christian Crusades – barbaric treatment of anyone who did not embrace the Catholic Church’s doctrine at the time.
I also finished watching a Netflix series on life after World War II in Australia that included dramatization of the treatment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
These fictionalized accounts provide a glimpse into the history of the Christian church excluding people in a most unloving way.
Today’s reading tells us that the people of Jesus’ own congregation rejected him.
He was not their idea of what a rabbi or prophet ought to be.
His interpretation of scripture was too bold for someone not designated as a religious scholar.
Would Jesus be considered ‘spiritual but not religious?’
Didn’t Jesus come to help us free ourselves from rule-bound law and to introduce us to the spirit of God moving in our lives?
I want us to reclaim the role of the church in bringing people closer to God.
I want us to draw on the hospitality of our ancestors who gathered in each other’s homes to share a meal and learn to pray.
Jesus was a radical.
Jesus identified the religious hypocrisy of his day.
He didn’t care what people thought of him.
He instructed his disciples to greet people in peace, expect hospitality, and to simply ‘shake the dust from their feet’ if they were unwelcome.
It’s interesting to note in today’s readings that David was welcomed as King and served for thirty three years while Jesus was rejected by his hometown synagogue and spent a mere three years in his ministry before he was killed.
Who are our prophets today?
Maybe you are a prophet.
Are we listening for prophets?
Do we listen for God’s voice?
Do we pay attention to the movement of the Spirit in our lives?
Henri Nouwen said:
Prayer is the gift of the Spirit. Often we wonder how to pray, when to pray, and what to pray. We can become very concerned about methods and techniques of prayer. But finally it is not we who pray but the Spirit who prays in us.
Paul says: “The Spirit … comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and God who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
Let’s have a conversation about what it means to be ‘spiritual’ and how we can support and nurture that within the confines of the church.
Let us pray.
Gracious and Holy God, spirit of life, be with us this day as we discern the many ways that we might know you.
Help us to live as witnesses to the abundant love you bestow upon us.
Grant us the grace to recognize the prophets among us and to heed their call.
We turn to you, O God, for comfort, for love, for recognition that we are each blessed and beloved by you.
Hear our prayers this morning for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who believe they do not belong, we pray that our welcoming hearts might ignite a spark of faith in their lives.
We pray this day for all who are trapped by addiction, violence, hatred, ignorance and bigotry. Free them, O God, to know the joy that comes from loving you.
Hear us now as we turn to you in the sacred silence of this Meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts….
Jesus taught them to pray together in these words…Our Father.