Readings – Acts 4:32 – 35; John 20: 19 – 31
I have been spending a lot of time with my mum this week. She is unwell and has some health issues which are not going to be easily addressed. We have been talking about life and of course about the end of life. Mum has always had a very strong faith, she tells me that when she was able to move around in a limited way, she prayed for every step she took as it was physically difficult for her, she was afraid and needed strength.
I have been sharing my thoughts with her as I prepare for sermons here and at St Michael’s later today, and we have been sharing Brian McLaren’s, ‘Naked spirituality’ which has great resonance with our readings today. Our discussion led to religion and spirituality.
Are you religious? Show of hands… or shout out (no wrong answers and it is not a trick question to make anyone look foolish)
My mum would say she is religious but I would say I was spiritual.
Brian McClaren, considers the difference between spirituality and being religious. He is curious and writes that when he asks people what they mean they tend to have four reasons why they say they are spiritual…-
- Secular science politics and economics don’t have all the answers for them, they believe life has a spiritual dimension
- Organised religion does not have all the answers
- Spiritual means an inner sensitivity to aliveness meaning a sense of the sacred in the universe.
- Spiritual people seek practical ways to nourish a sense of integration and communion. Meditation or hiking in the wilderness volunteering, a pilgrimage or fasting, or having deep talks with a close friend.
McLaren reflects that the truth in these four characteristics are at the heart of true religion. He writes about the etymology (source) of the word religion, Re meaning again and lig meaning ligament – attachment – to connect, to join together…to unite, to bring everything together in one body, wholeness – “true religion” and “naked spirituality” are two names for the same thing, both seeking a vital connection, both other names for love.
Pam read to us from Acts about how the disciples led the early church into Living in community – sharing everything. Community Living…”the whole group of believers were of one heart and soul”…there is a certain sense of security a sense of ownership and involvement in this. Being part of something that is going somewhere – a new and exciting way of being…no one claimed private ownership of any possessions but everything they owned was held in common. There are many ways of living in community…
My mother is at home alone, but she is not alone as she is at the centre of a community of carers, family and neighbours and friends, NHS staff who pop in now on a fairly regular basis, her next-door neighbour calls in every day for a few minutes just to check she is OK. She does not always have good things to say about the religious, “the church”, though her vicar and others visit and the community really care…
We know that what some people experience in religious communities can be exactly the opposite of Love. Not in my Mums case but ‘Religion’ can be seen to promote conflict and selfishness rather than generosity. Depending on how people interpret religion and spirituality it can be a way of prioritising personal salvation and religiosity over the well-being of others.
God calls each of us to personal salvation, but this is not a singular exclusive process, God is community and we are each called to be part of that community. God binds us together in one body with Jesus, that may look different for each of us. Modern theologians acknowledge that different religious denominations, draw out different aspects of Jesus/God. During lent I read a book by John Pritchard Bishop of Oxford – he like McLaren writes of how different religious factions bring out different reflections of the character of Jesus. I must just read an extract from Pritchard’s book as it is quite illuminating and gives lots of food for thought. – Read from Living Jesus p73/74 “when you plant a seed called Gospel you get a range of communities called ‘Church’… and each reflects a something different about a universal Christ…”
This week many of us will have been thinking of Martin Luther King junior it is 50 years since he was assassinated, few people today will have anything bad to say about MLK, he was a key leader in the civil rights movement. The hymn we sang between readings is based on MLK junior’s famous speech delivered to over 200,000 civil rights supporters on 28th @August 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln memorial during a march on Washington for jobs and freedom, equality and an end to racial discrimination. The hymn was written by a young woman Pam Pettit whilst training for the ministry with the Methodist church. Quotes from MLK can be regularly seen in a wide variety of places and last week there were a plethora of them in the media.
It may be quite a different matter for the impact of the life of another figure in the news this week Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson died this week. Winnie is a controversial figure she worked alongside Nelson as many wives/partners do, she worked in her own right and supported her husband. When Nelson was imprisoned Winnie was attacked and victimised and subsequently made decisions that led to violence and destruction rather than reconciliation.
After years in prison, many of those in solitary confinement Nelson Mandela – came out of incarceration ready to forgive the man who was responsible for his prison sentence. Nelson came from prison ready to bring peace, reconciliation and to bring a nation together to grow as one.
Winnie Mandela was not of the same mind – she like Nelson had been a victim of circumstances and had made choices that presumably made sense to her – there have been many mixed feelings of her death from – ‘relief and good riddance’ to – Desmond Tutu’s tribute…”her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me and to generations of activists”… you can find Bishop Tutu’s tribute on http://www.churchtimes.co.uk
This morning’s theme displaced people, crossing borders, iterates the need for a sense of belonging, sharing together strength in community, working for the good of all – close alignment with others enables sharing and hospitality.
In our new testament reading today, John is writing for believers and non-believers…
By the time John was writing, almost certainly after the destruction of the temple in AD 70 evidence shows the church had become overwhelmingly Gentile. John would have longed for his own people to recognise the messiah. Johns original writing was probably for Jews including those, not Jewish by birth but who identified with the Jewish faith. They would all be aware of the significance of proving Jesus was the Messiah, the chosen one of God. Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. Jesus showed the disciples his hand and his side… I found the phrase – the disciples rejoiced an interesting one … how would I have reacted? But one of the disciples was missing – Thomas was not with them when he heard the news from the other disciples he was sceptical and did not believe he wanted physical evidence… Once Jesus appeared to Thomas he immediately declares… “my Lord and my God”, for John, this declaration of faith is important as proof Jesus is the messiah. For Jesus it is important too as he can then give assurance that those who believe but have not seen will be “even more blessed”.
Jesus now sends the disciples into the world together – in community. The place of the gospel is in the world is never abstract or academic – it is not clean and tidy and clear cut, it is messy, consider the example and achievements of people down the ages including Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela – we will make mistakes. The church like the physical body of Christ is and will be marked by sacrificial love. However the gospel as I read it is active and dynamic, God wants the church, people of faith, us, to make a difference in the world. Kathy Galloway of the Iona community writes that the gospel, the good news is the place where the word becomes flesh, where you can see the marks in the side…
And in the upper room, Jesus breathes on them and says…receive the spirit. Jesus is sharing his strength and power. People of faith are spiritual people, all of us whatever our circumstances are part of something else – we often align ourselves in religious communities. We are in Easter and Jesus has borne the cross and achieved the resurrection, now we learn that the spirit builds the disciples strength and courage, we may need to pray every step of the way to be the difference Christ can make in the world. To share pure love, only love can drive out fear
I want to finish with some words of Martin Luther King who said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that” from strength to love 1963
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere…”,
Through the spirit, God gives each of us strength and courage to work for justice everywhere – whatever that takes – many situations in the world make this task difficult and dangerous for all kinds of reasons. Some people, like my Mum, will have to pray for every step knowing their fragility and trusting in the power and love of God to strengthen and guide them.
We are all one in the body of Christ, strengthened by the spirit it is our task as part of the local, and part of the world-wide community, to love and support each other as we strive to make a difference in the world.