Sunday, October 4, 2015


Our Gospel lesson about Jesus' baptism
            is downright peculiar viewed from the angle
            of spirituality and religion today.
It is currently a popular notion that spirituality
            is best done privately, by the individual,
using his or her own critical thinking.
That is a very attractive way to go about spirituality.

I get to figure it out for myself.
Knowing that I am smarter than St. Thomas Aquinas,
            holier than St. Athanasius, and humbler than St. Francis,
            I can devise a better spirituality than Christianity.
I can invent better rituals than the ones practiced by millions
            of lesser people over the millennia.
I can make up better stories than the Bible and craft a better Creed
than the Council of Nicaea.

The most convenient thing about private spirituality
            is that I basically get to make up my own God.
And that is great.

The God I create will not ask for any of my money,
            or even any time I do not already want to give.
The God of my making will not infringe on my political convictions
            with Biblical social morality.
The God I invent will never ask me to take up my cross.
No, the God of my creation will be the shield and sustainer of my ego.

There are a few problems with my private little God.
First, as I say, he works for me because he works for me.
He is the shield and sustainer of my ego.
But all the name brand religions – Judaism, Christianity,
            Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the rest say
            that my ego is the problem.
My ego is the prison of my soul.
So my private little God is on exactly the wrong side
of the spiritual project
            that should dismantle ego,
not fortify its prison walls.

Second, when I die, the God of my creation dies with me.
In the world of private individual spirituality,
            I am the Alpha and the Omega.
So when I turn the lights out, that’s all she wrote.

Third, the God of my own creation won’t connect me with other people.
Worshiping my own God in my own way in my own place
            at my own time is convenient, but lonely.
St. Augustine said what we all know from experience.
The joy of life is found in human friendship.
We don’t make friends in a private spirituality.

So let’s flash back to 30 A. D.
If anyone had the qualifications to do private spirituality,
            it was Jesus.
But he didn’t do it.
He prayed and studied at synagogue,
            worshiped in the Temple,
            and was baptized by John.
He wasn’t too good for the faith of his ancestors
            or the seekers of his own day.
Jesus didn’t have his Holy Spirit experience off by himself.
He had it in the Jordan River with John.
So John also saw the Spirit descend on Jesus.
When Jesus came up from the water,
John heard the voice of God
When Jesus was baptized, when Jesus had his encounter with God,
            it wasn’t just so he could get himself in the zone.
It was for the sake of others, including John.

The next time John saw Jesus, he didn’t say
            “Master let’s go off and have a private guru and disciple chat.
            Tell me your secrets so I can be a spiritual hot shot too.”
Instead he pointed Jesus out to his friends and said,
            “If you are looking for God, go follow Jesus.”

So they followed  him, and when Jesus asked then, “What do you seek?”
            they said, “Where are you living?”
They just wanted to be where he was.
So he showed them his place and they stayed with him.
One of those disciples, Andrew,
            Immediately brought his brother Peter to Jesus.
They were forming connections.
Jesus shared his experience with John,
            John passed it on to Andrew       
                        then Andrew brought in Peter.
They were all looking for God together.
They weren’t each making up their own God.
They were looking for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
            the God of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel.
They were looking for the God of Moses, Samuel, David, and Isaiah.
Their hope was grounded in promise made to their ancestors.
Nothing private about this.
It’s a group project with the group spread through the centuries.

And Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God.
He told them where to look for it.
In the 1960s we started privatizing the translation.
 We had Jesus saying “The Kingdom of God is within you
(2nd person singular)”
-- meaning look inside yourself to find God.

But actually Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is among you
(2nd person plural).”
The Kingdom of God is in the relational space between you.
It’s about the relationships.

If you are on your way to the altar with your gift to God
            and you remember you are at odds with your brother,
            stop right there and make peace with your brother first.
Forgive. Share. Tell the truth. Give more than is asked.
God on earth resides in human connections.

All of this adds up to three things for us.
First, it makes a difference for how we treat each other
            in the Church.
The other people in Church with are not just fellow consumers
            of the sacraments.
They are the sacraments. They are the body of Christ.
They are the face of Jesus.
If we want God the way we want him, we have to keep him private.
But it we allow the God of Jesus to appear to us,
            he will show up in the curious guise of each other.
Second, if our faith is relational, we have to share it.
Like John the Baptist, we naturally point people toward Jesus.
Like Andrew we go find someone we care about and tell them
            where to find Jesus.
We know where that is. It’s right here.

One of our parishes recently reported that 85% of their newcomers
found their church through their web site.
But we still have churches that don’t have web sites.
That may reduce their chances of meeting a newcomer by 85%.
But it gets worse.
We have churches you can’t find on a GPS,
            churches that aren’t even in a phone book,
            churches with small signs hidden behind shrubbery.

I am very pleased to see St. Christopher’s beginning
            to let Boulder City know you are here.
In one of our congregations a middle school boy
            was listening to a classmate tell him about her unhappiness.
He said to her, “You need Jesus” and he invited her to church.
She’s now a regular at the communion rail.
Maybe you’re not that bold,
            but can you wear a cross?
If you find anything good about this Church,
            could you mention that in a conversation?
We meet God in the connections we make with people.
When we don’t make those connections, we are missing God.
The third thing about relational faith is that it calls us to care for people
            who are not like us, people we don’t even know.
Like Deacon Ann Langevin’s project to buy solar lanterns
            for our companion diocese in Kenya
                        so they can have light in rural villages with no electricity.
We have two ways to share the light of Christ.
One is the send people solar lanterns.
The other is to invite someone to church.
Both ways are connecting to people in caring ways,
            looking for Christ in them and with them.

That’s the Christian religion.
It’s often inconvenient.
It costs money – like $9.50 for a solar lantern.
It costs time. It costs attention.
Eventually, it costs us our whole life.
But that’s where the love is. That’s where the joy is.

That’s where we find our hope for all eternity.