“SPIRITUALITY” ~ January 18, 2017

When I was looking for a stuffed toy lion at the Lockport Salvation Army store, and I explained to the clerk why I was looking for one, (a sermon of course) a young women at the counter spoke up to me about her faith.

She said, “I’m spiritual; but I’m not religious.” She’s not the first person to describe herself in those terms. It’s becoming quite faddish, really. So what can that mean?

Spiritual, but not religious?
Getting down to definition of terms, religion is all about the practice of faith; spirituality is the experience of life that exceeds physical and emotional dimensions of existence.

Spirituality is about engaging in prayer and living life on a higher plane
before a higher power, if you will. In other words, spirituality is all about the practice of faith.

So is the catch phrase so often used today just an irony? “I’m practicing faith, but I’m not practicing faith?” Maybe. Or maybe it’s more of a means of saying, “I’m all about feeling like I fit into the universe and all its reality.”

“But I’m not into institutions.”

“I’m not interested in naming a definition.”

“I don’t really want the rules I think something ordered by a community of faith may impose on me.”

“I want my relationship with the universe and God as I choose to define God to be something I decide and not have others get in the way.”

“I’m spiritual” might mean, “I don’t want commitments. I don’t want accountability.”

If that’s what she means, I understand in this self-centered world. I suppose it means…”I want to be totally self-directed. I don’t want to answer to others who tell me how poorly I acted.   And, I certainly don’t want to hear it if someone thinks my understandings are all wet!” Understanding that, I think I might rather be spiritual and not religious.

There’s a problem with that level of autonomy, though.

Radically privatized faith can sometimes be pretty restrictive. When faith is reduced to the purely personal, “we” are subject to the limitations of our experience and intellect and relationship with God. It becomes awfully two dimensional.

Experiencing God from only your own point of view reduces your perspective. It’s only when we take in others’ viewpoints and experiences of the holy in life that we can begin to experience God in a three dimensional scope.

Jesus called us into community. Read John 17:20-24 and consider Jesus’ prayer for and become strong enough to show the world a better way.

It’s in sharing that love that we experience the Spirit the continuing, powerful presence of God.
It’s in sharing that love that we share the full experience and the full insight of the faith.
It’s in sharing the love that we are held by each other even as we are held by God.

I have no doubt that those who insist that they are spiritual and not religious are loved by God. They are. But their journey alone pales in depth in comparison with the journey taken in the company of others.

It’s in community that we share the love God has shown through Jesus Christ who is our (and all) Lord & Savior! ~ Pastor Jim

christmas-message-from-pastor-jimOctober 2016

Matthew 24:42-51
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

These parables describing the end of all things broken and the beginning of all things made new reveal truths so staggering as to be breathtaking. Unfortunately, we are inoculated from their impact by our casual familiarity with them. According to my fifth grade understanding of the subject, when I get a flu shot, they are actually injecting me with the flu in a small enough dosage that my body can fight it off and build an immunity to it.
At least this is how I related to these texts for so long. I read them through the W.W.J.D. discipleship motif. Because Jesus fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, healed the sick and so on, I should do likewise. It was just another set of noble aspirations I should be more about in my life. I got just enough of a sense of the text that inoculated me from actually being impacted by the truth of it.

WARNING! DANGER WILL ROBINSON! This is not a W.W.J.D. kind of text. It is an eschatological (read “end times”) heaven and hell, up or down vote judgment text. Jesus is pulling us into the theatre and showing us the movie trailer of the great and ultimate feature presentation of the return of Jesus Christ and the final accounting.

The text is nothing short of severe.

It’s just too easy to retreat into our easy-peasy sentimental understanding of what it means to be saved by grace alone through faith alone and not by works so that none can boast. (See Ephesians 2:8-10).

So is Jesus saying we are not, in fact, saved by grace alone through faith alone but by feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, clothing the naked, ministering to the sick and visiting those in prison? Now, before you start that nasty email, reason with me. How do you reconcile this?

Don’t we tend to believe if a person prays the “sinners prayer” and accepts Jesus into their heart that they are golden—whether they ever lift a finger to help anyone or not for the rest of their days?

So how do we reconcile these un-minced words of Jesus that seem to say just the opposite?

Here’s how I resolve it. Yes, we are in fact saved by grace alone through faith alone by the unmerited favor and forgiveness of God through the shed blood of his Son on the Cross and his glorious resurrection from the dead. Nothing we can do, no matter how extraordinarily meritorious can ever cancel our own unpayable debt and earn for us the grace of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ—NOTHING.

I think Jesus is mercifully giving us the answers to the final exam. He’s revealing to us what a person who is saved by grace alone through faith alone actually looks like in the midst of a fallen and mercilessly cruel world. The hallmark quality of a person who has received mercy is that they have become a person who shows mercy.

In this famous final judgment parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus is offering us a severe mercy. He is giving us the gracious opportunity, right now, to examine ourselves preemptively according to the terms of the judgment before it actually happens.

The question? Are we becoming the kind of people whose lives exude the evidence of having been saved by grace through faith. Or are we fooling ourselves?

Translation: Am I becoming the kind of person for whom it is becoming “second nature” to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, and welcome to the stranger and clothes to the naked and compassion for the sick and love to the imprisoned?

These aren’t just things we do because we think we should.

These acts of mercy are part and parcel of who we are becoming, true Disciples of Jesus Christ!

Pastor James Brown