09 June 2013

Spiritual & Religious

This morning about 65 people gathered for my first bandshell service.  Why only 65?  Well, it was 55 and rainy for one reason, the wind was blowing, the seats were wet, and it was just plain ugly out.  But the choir, the house band for the day, the time with children folk, and the pastor, yeah sure the pastor too, brought their A game and had at it.  

I wasn't for sure what to expect, it was an odd experience, but overall I liked it. Here is the sermon from the day.  if you use, for your own service, a version of my commercial, hey sermons are oral culture, go ahead, just give me some credit.  

Spiritual & Religious
Worship at Lake Harriet Bandshell—9.June.2013
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

         If we were to play a little free association game and I said Baptist what would come to mind?  Probably not the greatest picture.  Do folk naturally think of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, not yet but hopefully in the future they will.  So for those who don’t know anything about us, let me introduce us by what kind of people might find this place a home for their souls.

         If you’re from Minnesota and laugh at the jokes on Prarie Home Companion then Judson might be the place for you.
         If you’re not from Minnesota and after living here for a while understand the jokes even more from Praririe Home Companion then Judson might be the place for you.
         If you’re an oft centered person looking for an oft centered church then Judson is definitely the place for you.
         If you always looked for a church that is like that line from a John Prine song, the topless lady with something up her sleeve then your with the right people.
         If you think the Religious Right is neither religious nor right then Judson might be the place for you
         If you are a Democrat who hasn’t given up on Jesus, then may be your place
         If you are someone who wakes up in the middle of night with cold sweats after a nightmare that God cant handle your doubts or questions, rest assured, she can, and Judson may be a place to calm your troubling mind
         We are a Welcoming and Affirming Church and cannot wait till all in Minnesota have the freedom to marry on August 1st so if you are a GLBT person and have one ounce of Baptist in your blood, for sure Judson is your place.
         Or if you a GLBT person and your neighbor is a Baptist that’s close enough, call Judson your home.
         If you want to explore and appreaciate the musical subletities from Bach to Bluegrass this is your place.
         If you pine for more Johnny Cash and John Coletrane in yoru life looks up.
         If you would want to laugh on Sunday mornings (which by the way according to Karl Barth is the closest we can get to God’s grace and which G.K. Chesterton said is the only true test of religion, can it handle a joke, can it laugh at itself) then Judson is your place for if it is one thing we do well is laugh.  Or if you are drawn more to the smile of the Dali Lama rather than the scowl of Pat Robertson, then this is your place.
        If you want to be a part of a group of people who will laugh with you till your sides hurt, cry with you till your eyes are dry, who will sit with you in silence and not be freaked out, then this is the group to sojourn with.
        If you want to read the Bible and scruntize all 66 of its book, this is your place
        If you are tired of being told you are going to hell, this is most definitely your place.
        Finally, if you are tired of labels, if you are tired of the lies religious hucksters have sold you, if you simply want to live as a friend of God nothing more, nothing less, then try us out. 

        Trying us out will take, in an honest fashion will take a few weeks.  If after a few weeks you  like what you feel, see, hear and taste then let’s join hearts and hands and walk together.  If you don’t like it no problem because there are wonderful faith communities with talented and loving people I’d glad to recommend.  But let’s say you already have a place your soul calls home, no problem we only ask that every time at your house of worship you secretly wish you were here instead of there.  Furthermore, if you are simply passing through and stopped because your dog had to pee and you vaguely like what you’ve heard know this sometime in the future weeks, months, maybe even years from now something shakes your soul and on Saturday night you have the overwhelming need for to go tot church know that quirky, gracious, and loving folks of Judson will have our doors open and will welcome you. 

         I neither repeat that nor give you a copy of that list, it is too good and I know as soon as I do someone else will adapt it and call it their own.  So I boil it down to its essence.  When folk ask what kind of church is Judson it is both spiritual and religious. 

         The other day on MPR a discussion on retirement commenced and sure enough someone brought up moving to Florida.  As the discussion went on, especially after all of this gray, damp, cold stuff, the sunshine, white sands, & fresh citrus sounds pretty good.  But then the guest made an interesting comment, that more people are moving back to the northeast & Midwest from Florida then are moving to Florida.  The reason?  Not because of sinkholes, hurricanes, tasteless tomatoes and god bless ‘em the Marlins and Devil Rays but because of the benefits of higher taxes: more benefits and care for seniors. 

         Not exactly your everyday beginning sermon illustration but stay with me for a moment.  The fastest growing religious demographic in America is the Nones, people who choose not to affiliate with any religious qualification.  Most believe in God but not totally.  They are more than likely to dabble in the elements of Buddhist thought (think of all the times you recently heard of mindfulness), Judaism (is Madonna still practicing Kabbala?), and Christianity (especially if Jesus has business practice advice).  I have no problem with people drifting from religion to religion, from nibbling from the best of tappas bar of religious truth and practices.  The nones may be new but for years folk have been calling themselves spiritual but not religious. 

         And here is the great temptation to always be spiritual without putting in all of the necessary religious work.  Or in other words: Florida with all of the social service benefits of Minnesota. 

         I feel that part of my vocation as a pastor is to be as honest as possible with people about the religious life.  Yes, it is boring.  There are times when nothing much happens.  I pray and pray and pray, read the bible and works from the ages, I observe holy days, change my diet, fast, feast, mark time diligently with blessings and meaning, and still nothing.  A dry, thirsty soul.  But then a transcendent moment when a meal with friends is somehow the reenactment of the Last Supper, the maple tree in my back yard becomes the oaks of Mamre from Abraham’s journey eons ago, or after a pastoral prayer someone’s face has changed they are Transfigured like Jesus was.  These moments get us over the hump, onto the next day, they enlarge our hearts and make our capacity for reconciliation and mercy greater.  Then there was the one mystical moment when  I felt at one with the Universe, where the space between heaven and earth was membrane thin, when I knew a Love Supreme was fully present.

         Will I have another of those grand experiences?  Probably not.  I cannot control those moments, you cannot control those moment, they come without invitation or warning. But I’m more than satisfied with the transcendent moments that occur.  We can place ourselves in a routine and pattern of prayer, reading, self giving acts, that quicken our souls for those moments.  We can put ourselves in a readying position so that when they come, we are ready.  When we embrace both sides of the equation, when we are both spiritual and religious, we open our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to the working of the Living God in our lives. 

         We can see why folk would want and desire these experiences but not have to do the necessary work to get them.  I coach two baseball teams and every time I bring out the betting tee the kids start moaning, then I tell them Joe Mauer hits off a tee for at least two hours each day in the offseason.  A friend of mine while teaching in Dublin used to live with Christy O’Connor, the famous Irish golfer.  My friend said Christy never had a conversation or watched television without a golf club in his hand always working on his grip.  His greatest advice to all golfers, if you cant play 18 holes, play 9 and if you cant play 9 then get at least 60 swings in when you come home from work.  Always readying and preparing your body. 

         The same with the inner matters of the soul, you have to put in the necessary work to prepare yourself for the outward working of grace, justice, and mercy.  You have to feed yourself if you are going to help heal, transform and reconcile others. 

         And to be the spiritual person you have to a religious person too. 

         Reading the bible and praying are not easy acts.  But neither is eradicating racism, or ending war, or working towards a fair, just and living wage, or transforming from abusing the environment to blessing the earth.  All are spiritual and religious works.  All require ripe and blossoming souls. 

         In our gospel lesson we hear about Jesus healing a man with leprosy, a spiritual act if there ever was one.  And then, and then he retreated for a time of prayer, a religious act if there ever was one.  It’s a nice illustration of the circular relation between being religious and being spiritual.  In our second lesson we heard one of the most mystical and grace filled portions of scripture from none other than one of the most religious human beings in history, The Apostle Paul. 

         More than anything you a community to uphold, support, succor, and love you to a balanced human being, as someone who is both religious and spiritual, as someone who can laugh and cry their way to grace, as someone who can seek justice and sing the psalms, as someone who can offer bread and melt a heart, as someone who both heals and prays. 

         The world has enough religious people who never laugh and enough spiritual people who never think.  What the world needs most are not more of the same but some creative combinations of both, go and be the people this world desperately needs people who live at that intersection where God’s deepest desires for you meet the world’s deepest needs as religious and spiritual people.  Amen and Amen. 

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