Stations of Resurrection: Spiritual But not Religious 4/8/13

We continue today with our series on Stations of Resurrection.  I aim to show you today how resurrection and going beyond mere individualistic spirituality are tied together.
Revelation 21: 1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

April 28, 2013

Stations of Resurrection: Spiritual But not Religious

Last week I talked about resurrection of the body, starting with how I felt when I took a dance class in college and discovered I had a body. I didn’t get to show you these pictures that reminded me strongly of how I felt back then. Today we continue reading in Revelation, almost at the very end, envisioning a new heaven and new earth with all God’s people restored. This scene of resurrection of all the earth is not something you would imagine on your own.
As I said last week, the resurrection of the body is a wonderful claim Christians make – that the body is important. Connected to the belief that God created humanity out of dust and the vision of a new heaven and new earth, it is an outrageous and imaginative claim that would not happen outside a church community.
According to the latest Pew report, almost 1 in 5 Americans identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious. SBNR” In other words, they have some feeling, some intuition of something greater, but feel allergic to institutions. At least one in five in the US now think that religious institutions are not helpful for them.
They feel the institutions are filled with hypocritical people (unlike them). They feel like they are more in touch with God through nature – through trees, they love trees, and through sunsets. Sunsets are great. But not in church or synagogue. Those are not the place they find God, so they don’t go there.
Let’s get this straight.  Religious people love sunsets and nature too. But we also find God’s presence in a hospital bed, praying for someone with cancer, and helping someone fix up their house after a hurricane.  Those events deal with nature too.
And – truth be told, SBNR people might find God there too. But religious institutions encourage people to find God in those places. When you’re all on your own, you tend to avoid those places unless you have to. Religious people for the most part avoid those place too, hypocritical as we are – but sometimes we go where God sends us because we get reminded by the community of the God that we need to do it.
Spiritual but not religious people don’t tend to get those reminders. In fact, they often pick up a different message. Lillian Daniel in her book, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough writes about an SBNR man who was very proud of his teenage son when he had a spiritual realization: “Children are starving with empty bellies in faraway lands. They have nothing to eat. It made me realize that we are so lucky, so lucky and blessed to be living here.” And the SBNR man said, “that’s our religion – gratitude. We are so blessed.”
Clearly in a Christian or religious community, you are usually (not always) going to get a different perspective than that.  It’s no fault of the teenager that he didn’t get a perspective beyond feeling lucky and grateful to have all he has, to live where he lives. But Christians expect more.
And when we read scripture and talk about it in religious community, we encourage each other to expect more – to expect in fact, a new heaven and a new earth.  And because we follow Jesus, we expect each other to be involved in making that new heaven and new earth a possibility for all God’s people, through our giving, through our work together, through our prayer, and through our witness.
I don’t want to get all self-righteous about this, because churches don’t have all that great a record in many areas. There are other institutions that also do a good job at caring for and encouraging care for the poor and working for more equitable systems around the world – but the church is one of the best ones I know at celebrating life events and reminding people of our life obligations at the same time.
People who are spiritual but not religious tend to be focused more on feeling good. We people in the religious business tend to focus on looking good. Neither of those works very well. But to know whether your actions are good, a window is a more effective tool than a mirror. And that means being part of a community. That means asking other people to be part of that work for a new heaven and new earth. That means joining something, not being all by yourself.
On Friday night, the Walking the Walk folks went to the shabbat services at Beth Am synagogue.  It was a really beautiful service and a delicious meal afterward. I found myself wishing for the depth of tradition and commitment that I felt in that place, but it was not my place.  This is my place. This is our place.  And there is a depth of tradition and tremendous commitment here as well.  It’s different, but also good.
We can learn from each other and keep challenging each other to be the community that God wants in this place – to be about creating the world God wants. Together is harder, but together is better. Only together can we hold out hope for a new heaven and new earth. Only together can we hold out hope for a crazy idea like resurrection of the body. Only together can we hold out real hope.