Spiritual and Religious – January 11, 2015 – Matthew 3: 1 – 17

I get really annoyed when someone tells me they are spiritual but not religious. Until recently, spirituality was synonymous with religion. One who was spiritual went to church. Now, people are trying to practice spirituality privately.

More and more people are saying they are spiritual but not religious. A recent poll found about 1/3 of people say they are spiritual but not religious. This growing number of spiritual but not religious people are hungry for something more than they are getting from their private spirituality. They are filling theaters to see movies like Noah and Heaven Is For Real and God Is Not Dead. They are reading books about prayer, angels, and miracles. They don’t know that what they are lacking is community.

Some of the spiritual but not religious have gone to church. Some may pray. Some may read the Bible. Some were baptized. Some are just unchurched Christians. They may have fallen away from the church because they got out of the habit of going or didn’t fit into the church they were going to. Maybe they found church to be irrelevant. Some have been hurt by the church. For whatever reason, they are without a community and trying to go it alone.

I think the people John the Baptist was baptizing at the Jordan were people looking for something different than what the Temple had to offer. They were searching. They were spiritual but religion wasn’t working for them. They were different than the spiritual but not religious of our day. Those people on the Jordan River were gathering as a community, searching together for a new way to encounter God.

They weren’t the only ones there. There were also Pharisees and Sadducees. This is the first we read of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospel of Matthew. Right off the bat, we know we don’t want to be like them, because John calls them a brood of vipers. It sounds like what is coming for them won’t be good.

I’d like to think of the Pharisees and Sadducees as the religious but not spiritual. They knew all about the Scriptures. They practiced Judaism and followed it to the letter of the Law, religiously. In their dedication to the Law, they lost sight of the intention of the Law. They knew all the right things to say and do in the Temple and prided themselves on putting on a good show, but were missing God in all of it.

I think there are Christians who go to church every Sunday that have fallen into the religious but not spiritual group. They know all the right words to say. They pray at the right time and sit and stand at the right times. They sing the songs. But, their heart isn’t in it. They probably are in the habit of going to church, but forget why they go. The religious but not spiritual are probably those people who inspired the saying, “Going to church no more makes me a Christian than parking myself in a garage makes me a car.” Their lives have stopped bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

Now, I know all of us are waiting for a third category where we can fit in. We don’t want to call ourselves spiritual but not religious. And, we definitely don’t want to think of ourselves as religious but not spiritual. So, where do we fit in?

I think of us as spiritual and religious. We combine our private spirituality with the practice of religion in community. Baptism is the perfect example of a private spiritual moment shared with a community. Today, Kayla, and, at some point, each of us were baptized. It is a moment marking one’s death to sin and new life in Christ witnessed by a community. Each person baptized is baptized into the body of Christ, into a community, because our faith is communal.

We have each dedicated ourselves to this community by coming to church here. By our presence, we are members of a community that journeys in faith together. We are dedicated in different ways, but we are all part of a community. We are gathered as believers in Jesus Christ.

We don’t have rules or expectations of how we are to be part of the church. The only policy we have is one written a few years ago that claims we will seek to resolve conflict respectfully. But, beyond that, what does it mean to be part of a church?

I’d like us to answer that question. What does it mean to you to be part of a church?

Why do you choose to worship in a community?

I recently heard about a church who is laying out before its parishoners what can be expected of them as a member of the community. The church is the Church of the Resurrection. The pastor of the church is Rev. Adam Hamilton. One of our Sunday school classes has done some of his studies.

Rev. Hamilton has set expectations that he believes are signs of a Christian who is committed to their church. He has communicated these expectations to the church and meets with new members to share with them what is expected of them as they are a new part of the community. He describes them as “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.”

I’d like to share these expectations with you and challenge us to commit ourselves to this community by fulfilling these expectations within this church.

First, worship regularly. I’m not sure how you define regularly. Some would say regularly is every weekend; some would say regularly is once a month. However, you define regular attendance, gather that often for worship.

Second, intentionally seek to grow in faith apart from worship. Read your Bible. Study the Bible with a Sunday school class. Come to Bible study Tuesday nights. Come to prayer group Wednesday morning. Pray in private or with friends. There are lots of ways to grow in the faith apart from worship. In a few weeks, I’ll have available devotional books for Lent. That’ll be a great way to grow during Lent.

Third, serve God and others inside and outside the walls of the church every year. That’s not much of an expectation. Not every day, not every week…every year. There are lots of ways to serve. Elders, deacons, greeters, worship leaders, children’s sermon tellers, communion preparers. Help with the potluck next month. We’ll have lots of opportunities as we implement our ministry plan. Or, you could volunteer to change the church marquee, because I really dislike doing it, especially in the cold!

Fourth, give in proportion to your income. Giving is not about funding the budget. Tithing is a healthy spiritual practice of generosity acknowledging that God provides. It doesn’t matter if you give $5 a week or $500 a month. Tithing is a matter of giving a gift proportional to your income.

Finally, share your faith with others. Those spiritual but not religious types need to hear from us what we’ve found. We’ve found a community where we can share the journey through life together. You don’t need to quote Scripture or worry about the right thing to say. Many people are just looking for a place to belong. Invite them to the place you have found.

I get really annoyed with the spiritual but not religious phrase. They’re just people who don’t go to church. I really want them to go to church, any church. You might think I’m supposed to expect people to go to church because its my job. As a Christian, not as a minister, as a Christian, I want people to go to church so they can find what we’ve found together. People who love us, even when we’re difficult to love. People who pray for us when we’re sick or going through a tough time. People who encourage us and believe in us when we feel lost or failed. People who are glad to see us on Sunday mornings.

I’m glad to see you on Sundays…however, regularly that is.


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