Thursday, January 05, 2012

January 8, A Passionate Spirituality of Engagement

Baptism of Jesus, Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Let me open this sermon with a checklist which I took and adapted from a lecture I heard recently by Bishop N. T. Wright.

1. We’re in a global cultural shift from Modernism to Post-modernism. Modernism believes in progress and humanistic ideals, and it produced the great institutions of government and education that we value. Post-modernism doubts how great those institutions really are, and to progress it says, “Yeah, right,” and to humanistic ideals it says, “All I know is what works for me.” Humanity is just individuals with individual needs and individual truths. And so we are watching the general fragmentation of global society. Do Christians have anything to offer here?

2. We’re in a global struggle between secularism and fundamentalism. They fear each other and feed on each other. Most of us Christians are stuck in the middle. The fundamentalists say we’re secularist, and the secularists say we’re fundamentalists, and everything is polarized. We are so afraid of being labeled as the one or the other that we are silent on the issues of the day.

3. We’re watching the unsated idolatry of Mars, the god of war. After the outrage of 9/11, the leaders said, “We have seen evil out there,” and then they said, “We will deal with  evil by dropping bombs on it.” What were we thinking? Must Christians be content with this?

4. We’re in a global crisis of credit and debt and we’re struggling with banking and the purpose of banking. When we hit the credit crunch, and the great banks asked for relief, we were quick to bail them out. But what about the nations of the global south which have been groaning for decades under the load of debt to those same banks which kept enabling the foolish spending of their former dictators? Do not the prophets and the gospel have something to say on this?

5. We are watching the global polarization of the rich and the poor, and the wealth of America is less and less a commonwealth. Do Christians have any prophecy to offer here?

6. We’re watching the increasing unhealth of our global ecology. The cause of global warming is disputed, but the fact of it is not. We are taking increasingly great risks with our landscape and our groundwater in order to extract every last bit of natural gas and oil. We are making deserts of our oceans. If the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, have we got anything to offer here?

7. We’re watching the fragmentation and polarization of our American democracy. We no longer can agree on what “truths we hold to be self-evident,” we are unable to have a civil debate, and our government is unable to address our problems. Can we not offer some new wisdom here?

8. We’re developing the awesome power of biotechnology at the same time we are less and less able to agree on ethics to use this technology. Can we not offer some new creativity here?

9. We’re watching the fragmentation of ethics and aesthetics. We are not able to agree on what is good and what is beautiful. We are developing a brutalist culture with pretty surfaces, and works of art are valued only for their market price. Can Christians not offer some healing here?

10. The polarization of medical care.
11. The fragmentation of the global community into new kinds of nationalisms.
12. The fragmentation of sexual identity.
13. The problem of political Islam.
14. The power of electronic communication both to connect us and to dehumanize our daily interactions.
15. The prurient preoccupation of our media on the sex lives of celebrities at the same time as its silence on the real life conditions of most of the people on this planet.

Have we Christians got anything helpful and healing on these problems that we’re facing?

Let me be clear that I am not saying the church as an institution should be making statements or forging policies on these issues. Not that the church should never ever take a stand on an issue of the day, but it should be rare and only when the gospel is at stake. This is not so much from a lack of capacity or expertise as a matter of the church’s proper mission. But to engage these issues is the calling of the church in the organic sense as the community of God’s people.

I am saying that Christians should be addressing these problems and issues from out of our discipleship and in service to salvation. Not as the institutional church, but as Christian persons in our places of work and play and as Christian organizations which target particular issues. And I am also saying that a function of the institutional church is to nurture the spirituality that you need to address these problems in the world. You need to be spiritual to engage these issues with a view toward healing and justice and peace, and just to stay involved and fight the fatigue you need to be passionately spiritual, which belongs to the mission of a congregation like Old First.

I’m returning to my sermon series on passionate spirituality. Our congregational surveys keep telling us that of the eight vital signs of a healthy, growing congregation, our weakest vital sign is passionate spirituality. This may partly be a function of the survey’s bias in the meaning of this vital sign, and I will address this bias two weeks from today, on January 22. But it’s still a vital sign. This sermon is an introduction, and I hope you can stay with me over the coming weeks.

We are naturally spiritual, just because we’re human beings. The universe itself is naturally spiritual. Spirituality is not something supernatural. We only call it that because it is beyond our ordinary senses and we cannot measure or predict it or control it. But we are estranged from our native spirituality and from the spirituality of the world, which only aggravates the problems in my checklist. And yet it’s not enough to just revive our natural spirituality. Indeed, just doing that can lead us back to ancient pagan bondages. You can be spiritual and still be enslaved.

We need the spirituality of the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of God’s self, who enters into you, as certainly as you are baptized. God’s Spirit enters into your own spirit, into your soul, and your mind and your emotions, within you to inspire you and strengthen you and heal you and to make you whole. The Spirit enable you to hear God’s word and understand it, and then to live it out prophetically and creatively in the world. Prophecy and creativity are gifts of the Holy Spirit.

From Genesis 1. “A wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” That can be translated several ways, intentionally I think. “The spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep.” Like a mother hen broods on her eggs to warm them into life. Like you breathe on your hands, or you breathe into your trumpet to warm it up, or you breathe into your woodstove to bring the fire to life. God breathed God’s Spirit into the ancient deep to waken it and make it ready to listen to the Word of God and then respond to it. “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The Spirit of God goes out into the world, into all the world, ahead of the Word of God, ahead of us, ahead of the church, and we follow it. We follow the Spirit, bringing the life-giving Word of God to all the world God loves, creatively and prophetically, for healing and justice and for peace.

Who are we to do this mission in the world? What resources do we have, what strength do we have, or wisdom or knowledge or expertise? Exactly, we are right to doubt ourselves. But then we hear God say, “With you I am well-pleased.” God finds us quite acceptable to share this mission, because it is God’s mission, after all, not ours, we are only partnering with God in it. It does not depend on us. We are told that the final future of the world already has begun, and the new creation cannot be undone. We are not told what it looks like or how we’ll get there, but we know who holds it and who pledges it.

How do you know that you’ve been given this Holy Spirit? You cannot know it scientifically, you have know it by means of belief. So I’m inviting you to believe that you’ve been given the Spirit of God, and I’m challenging you to be responsible to learn what that means. And yet you can feel the hints and suggestions of the presence of the Spirit within you, and those take the form of your desire for God, and your desire for the love of God. God does not put within you any desire that God does not satisfy. Your desire for the love of God already is a sign that God does love you. With you God is well-pleased.

Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.


Jim Bratt said...


Do I detect some residual Kuyperian organic vis a vis institutional church, Daniel? If so, fine--esp as suffused/framed with the insights into passionate spirituality.


Old First said...

Bingo. I guess I'm a small "k" Kuyperian. Or maybe a large "H" Hoedemakerian, one of the few.