Sunday, September 01, 2013

True Religion: "That which binds together people in their quest for the divine"


TRUE RELIGION

September 1, 2013 | All Saints Church, 1pm Service

 

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our

hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all

goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our

Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and

ever. AMEN.

 

That is the “Collect of the Day” –

the prayer which began our worship this morning

as it does every Sunday with words

intended to summarize the themes of the lessons

appointed for this particular day.

 

 “True Religion” –

that’s what we just prayed for God to increase in us.

And this morning I am convinced that true religion

is a whole lot easier to pray for

than it is either to recognize or to agree on.

 

Here’s a confession:

I spent a number years

suffering from what I can only describe as a “religion allergy.”

That is maybe a weird admission from a priest,

but when I was a young adult

I spent a lot of time

explaining to people

that I didn’t need religion in order to be spiritual.

 

I also spent a lot time avoiding attending the church I grew up in

which was so full of rules and rituals,

do’s and don’ts, judgment, criticism

and cranky old people talking about the love of God and being mean to each other that there seemed to be no actual room for GOD –

which I was naïve enough to think

was supposed to be the POINT of this whole thing in the first place!

 

It got to the point

where religion became a roadblock in my spiritual journey –

and so I took a detour.

And because the Lord works in mysterious ways,

my detour led me back not only to the Episcopal Church of my birth

but to altar and pulpit, to Word and Sacrament –

and to All Saints Church!

 

I looked up the word “religion” in the dictionary and here’s what I found:

it turns out to have the same root as the word “ligament” –

that which “binds together” –

and one of its definitions is

“that which binds together people in their quest for the divine.

 

Not “that which insists that our way is the only way.”

 

Not “that which gives people license to villainize, exclude and even kill in God’s name.”

 

Not “that which creates enough rules and restrictions that everybody you disagree with has to stay out.”

 

No – the definition is:

“That which binds together people in their quest for the divine.”

 

And if that’s true religion then that’s something I’m willing to pray for.

To work for.

Because it turns out the allergy I had wasn’t to “religion” at all –

but to what it had become in the hands of those

who had taken what God intended as a means to draw all people TO God

and turned it into a system to hold everyone they found unacceptable

AWAY from God.
 

And it turns out the allergy I had was the same one Jesus had –

and acted on –

throughout the gospels

whenever he was confronted by the rule makers,

gate keepers and power brokers of his generation.

People like the synagogue leader last week

who complained that Jesus had healed a woman on the Sabbath –

like the Pharisees who gossiped

about his eating with tax collectors, sinners and outcasts –

and dozens of other examples all throughout the Bible.

 

“And what is the commandment of God?”

they will later ask –

in other words “what IS “true religion?”

And Jesus will tell them:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind – this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it –love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang ALL the law and the prophets.

 

There you have it: the essence of true religion –

that which binds us together in our search for the divine –

turns out to be love:

love for God and for each other.

 

ANYTHING else that we manage to create –

even our most beloved rituals,

most comforting routines,

most cleverly designed systems –

can become religious roadblocks if they themselves

become more important to us that this walk in love,

this quest for the divine –

this journey to God.

 

We risk abandoning the commandment of God and holding onto human tradition whenever we create a litmus test for inclusion that is based on anything other than these first and second commandments that our Lord calls us to honor above all others.

 

The “True Religion” we inherit

equips us to be the Body of Christ –

the hands and feet of Jesus

in a world in such desperate need of his healing and his love –

for as St. Teresa’s Prayer reminds us,

Christ has no body now but ours.

 

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good

Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world

You are his hands, you are his feet, you are his eyes, you are his Body

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 

If we are indeed to be that Body of Christ in the World

we need ligaments of love

which will be limber enough to stretch

and include all who seek a place to be received joyously,

all who desire the food we offer as strength for the journey,

all who wish to be bound together in a community of faith

as we journey together in our quest for the divine.

 

Today we Claim the Blessing of True Religion

as the gift God has given us

to enable us to do the work God has given us to do –

binding us together as we work to become a place of radical hospitality –

where all are received joyously:

even those we disagree with,

even those who wish we weren’t here;

even those who would prefer

we would keep someone else out.
 

In a moment we will gather around this altar

and receive the holy food and drink

which will give us strength for this journey –

courage for this work –

vision for the future:

a future wonderfully described in these words I leave you with this morning – words of a 21st century saint of the church: Dr. Louie Crew:

“I pray that we can unite in loving one another as much as God does, so that we can get on with the mission of loving the world.”

That’s the blessing we claim.

That’s the True Religion we celebrate – this day and always.

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen

2 comments:

George Waite said...

But your version is as boring and time-consuming and expensive as the other kinds, so why bother?
Why not just sleep in on Sundays?

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Gosh, thanks for stopping by, George!

I guess my short answer is 1200+ people stop by on Sunday morning here every week because it's not boring, it's worth their time and they like being able to support the work of making God's love tangible 24/7 with their resources.

That's why I bother.
If you'd rather sleep in, party on. If not, try tuning in some Sunday morning at 11:15 when we're streaming the service ... http://www.allsaints-pas.org

Cheers!