February 24, 2019 Sermon
Our History of Faith
Jeremiah 31.1-14 and 31-34
What is spirituality? In what ways does spiritual inspiration guide our everyday life and attitudes?
Spirituality is a foundation of the awesome adventure of being human. Yet spirituality is elusive, MYSTICAL, mysterious, beyond complete understanding.A comic depicts Tinkerbelle whispering to an elderly man, I already told you—I’m not religious. I’m spiritual. He rubs his chin thoughtfully and asks, But WHAT does that mean? Well…. Tinkerbelle replies, I appreciate the incorporeal. He looks shocked and asks, You mean ghosts? Tinkerbelle tries to explain, I mean the intangible, based in a vital life force, universal energy that awes and inspires all people. The man thinks he gets it, “Electricity!” Tink tries again: Spirituality could include electricity…physical and emotional electricity. Spirituality helps us develop as compassionate, loving creatures. The man TRIES to understand, and asks, Humanism? Tink replies patiently, “Humanism is probably included in spirituality; and spirituality is much bigger, including gaps in our knowledge and all the mysteries of life It’s huge and ethereal, like…The man finishes for her: Like Spirit-uality! He lights up with enthusiasm. “Exactly! Tinkerbelle replies and lights up, too.
Many people outside the church consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious.’ ‘Religious’ implies being part of a particular church or denomination or following a set of doctrines. But many Americans today are skeptical about institutions and rigid doctrines. Perhaps even Jesus was spiritual but not religious. Yet spiritual yearning spans history across all cultures. Most people long to be more spirituality connected. Most of us wonder about things beyond our understanding. Many people would like to talk about their own spiritual journey and want to learn about other people’s spiritual experiences.
So, what is the purpose of the church? All too often, people recollect that the church of their younger years seemed to have had negligible meaning or purpose. The church was little more than a social club for old-timers. People tend to say that what they value about their church today is friends and food. Do we cultivate intentional spiritual nurture and inspiration, and humble Christian servitude? Churches collect money for the poor and yet rarely work together to change causes of poverty and oppression. Church members gather together for an hour each week—To give praise and thanks to God? What motives bring us to church?
When and where was the last time you told or heard about someone’s personal spiritual journey? Many faith journeys start with a confession, like “My life used to be a mess…then I engaged in a spiritual practice or met an inspiring faith teacher, and my life changed. And now I have hope for the future.” When we share our spiritual story with others, we build bonds of empathy.
Sadly, most Americans bury spirituality deep down inside us. We sublimate spirituality because our culture elevates practicality and rationality. Capitalistic incentives launched the U.S. into the industrial and the technical age. However, these accomplishments come at the cost of obscuring spirituality and caring community. Our task-driven orientation demeans spirituality. Success orientation blocks us from admitting a need for a greater power than our own. Pride and fear impede admitting that God even exists.
Our competitive society makes it dangerous to expose our vulnerability. Men especially feel that they need to look like they ‘have it all together.’ In recent decades, spirituality has been deprecated to the extent that men often dismiss religion as being only for women and children. When I had fewer grey hairs and fewer inches around my waist, I met an older man who had learned that I was a pastor. He told me that he had not gone to church since his mother stopped making him attend worship. Then, as a youth, he hung out on Sundays with his dad at a tavern. He paused and added somewhat flirtatiously, “Now that there are attractive women in the pulpit, I might start attending worship.”
Is the church a safe, supportive environment, for people to tell about their vulnerabilities and hurts? Decades ago, Christian teachers gave Doubting Thomas that shaming title despite his unparalleled courage to ask Jesus for proof of his having returned from the dead. Nobody else was bold enough to ask such key questions.
Do we encourage one another to ask spiritual questions?
Not too many years ago, a friend asked me to attend her lesbian support group. She told me that her group realized that they had become ingrown and they wanted broader dialogue with people who were not lesbians.
My friend wanted to invite a Christian; yet I was the only Christian she knew who would not be judgmental. The lesbian group graciously welcomed me. They discussed meaningful issues, including spirituality. It was apparent that they respected and cared for one another, even an annoying egocentric transgender woman. They shared vulnerabilities and supported one another through rough times.
Most American churches offer ‘spirituality light.’ This is not spiritual light from the Holy Spirit. American churches tend to serve shallow, over-simplified Spirituality ‘light,’ like celery without peanut butter or ranch dressing. Members want churches to be upbeat and amenable to all. We try to hide from struggles and tough issues. Pastors want their church to be popular; so ministers rarely address challenging spiritual or ethical issues. Are churches supposed to be comfortable? Surprisingly few people engage in personal or group Bible study. Yet, church people often feel shamed because they do not know enough about faith and the Bible. What can Christian Education do to inspire lifelong learning?
In recent decades, churches were primarily social clubs for socially compatible people. We talk about our families, sports and movies.
Should churches be more than friendliness and good feelings? Baby boomers and millennials grew up in churches that did not delve deeply into faith. They silently lament the shallowness of churches.
Those outside the church sense that spirituality is essential, yet they are turned off by shallow or judgmental churches., ‘Nones’ (those who have no formal religious affiliation) may soon be a majority in our country. People who are disillusioned or feel burned or shamed by their experiences of “RELIGION” have more freedom in our increasingly isolation-ized society to be “done” with churches. “Dones” feel deep down that spiritual life is foundational for humanity, but they are “done” trying to find loving acceptance and spiritual nurture in churches.
Even some of us have experienced “Christian” shaming, badgering, or worse, as has come to light regarding Catholic Church sexual abuses.
Yet few of us readily acknowledge that Christians often do not reflect the love Jesus meant to inspire. People of all faiths tend to sincerely believe that MY way is God’s way. Just one person who presumes to be infallible God’s emissary can cause conflict and disunity.
Is this church a safe place to share doubts, question and hopes?
Do we listen non-judgmentally, supportively and confidentially so that spiritual sharing can thrive? Do we stand alongside those who are suffering? Do we befriend those who are difficult to like? How does our faith tangibly shape our caring for others? Do we follow up with caring?
Will others judge or shun us if our beliefs are “non-traditional”? Fear of not knowing enough and fear not fitting are often causes silence. All of us may worry that most Christians basically believe the same things—except for me. Even as a longtime pastor, I have self-doubts because I have spiritual questions, doubts and beliefs that people around me might not share. Safety to be open with one another builds community and caring.
Ironically, worry about not fitting the mold is basically misguided, since “traditional” has a different meaning for each Christian. Union Church people have had different faith experiences and hold a wide range of beliefs. Listening to each other’s faith experiences and beliefs can help us develop deeper understanding. Learning about our differences in faith can help us continually discover that God is much bigger than our own limited point of view.
Jeremiah reported centuries ago: “Thus says the Lord: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back…. I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.