Message by Rev. Jenny Carter
July 30, 2017
Based on Acts 17:24-29
When I was a teen, and had my first car, and would be getting ready to go out on a Friday night, my Dad would often remind me to “remember who I was.” To be clear, he wasn’t concerned about my brain’s ability to remember – that I would go out and suddenly not be able to remember my name or where it was that I lived. He was concerned for me. Concerned for my well-being. It was one of his ways of telling me that he loved me, and wanted me to be safe as I went out to be involved in all of the shenanigans that I was known to get involved in.
It was a reminder to remember all I had been taught about right and wrong, safety, and being true to the person I was – to not let the dreaded peer pressure lead me into places that I did not want to be. His admonition to “remember” was a statement of trust, as well as a reminder, that who I was was important – more important than the events of any one Friday night happening. It was also a not so subtle reminder that I belonged to a family that held certain truths and behaviours to be important.
The same is true for all of us this morning. This morning we continue in the series that was started before I went on my holidays – where we look at the different theological streams that make us who “we are”. We, as a congregation, are more complex and beautiful than we may have believed in the past. We are made up of evangelical, ecclesial, missional, and ecumenical folk – people who share the same faith, but experience it, and God, differently. We are a beautiful mosaic, not a monochromatic painting.
Today we add the final vibrant colour to our mosaic. Today, as we seek to remember who we are, we take a look at the “spiritual theological stream” that is so prevalent in our own faith home here at First.
It might surprise you to know, that the spiritual stream is not something new in the church. In fact it is ancient. From the very beginning it was a vibrant part of our faith. It, along with the ecclesial stream, are older than the other three streams combined. It’s just that back then we didn’t call spiritual people, “spiritual” we called them mystics. And now, like then, the church doesn’t always understand or make room for the mystics among us.
Those who find themselves in the spiritual stream are not always moved by well-ordered worship, or ancient theological statements, or church meetings – their experience of God is different. God is in, and works through, all of creation – there is an inter-dependant relationship between God and all that is. They understand that God is at work in the universe, and that this work is positive, not ever punitive – and it will continue until creation is fully healed and restored.
They understand that they are an important part of this unfolding of creation – it is through their naming of intention and their seeking to be a force of love and healing in the world, that God’s reality will become our reality. So God’s presence is everywhere. God is “in” everything. God is in you. God is in me. God is in the plants and the animals and the sun and the moon and the stars. This is incarnationalism – raised to another level. It is Christ embodied in everything.
That is why those in the spiritual stream seek to nurture the spiritual path. They continue the ancient pilgrimage of trust in the ways of Jesus, so that they might understand more and more deeply the interdependent nature of all that exists within the reality and mystery of God. They are pilgrims on a journey of divine discovery and active participation. For those in this stream the “reward” is personal and social awakening. The further they get on their spiritual journey, the more in tune with God they are – and the more in tune with God – the more meaning, joy and life they will experience, which is then shared with the church and the whole of creation. In fact, this attunement helps with the unfolding of God’s creation and the realization of the divine dream. That dream of wholeness and peace, which takes us all pulling in the same direction as Spirit, if it is to become a lived reality.
The gift to the church and the world from this stream is twofold. First, they gift us with compassion. If you experience God through the connection and interdependence of all that was, is and will ever be – it is impossible to not be compassionate. There is no person or place beyond your concern – there are no “enemies” – everything is connected, so where one hurts all will hurt. When one rejoices, all will rejoice. Second, this stream gifts us with illumination. They help us to see the divine – help us to see God in everything – even when we are too hurt, or too confused, to see God for ourselves.
The main strength of this stream, and one of the ways they make us stronger as a community – is through their spiritual discipline. They remind us all that we need to be intentional about our walk through this divinely infused world in which we live. While some of us may want to jump right in to the “business” in a church meeting, it is those spiritual folks who will remind us that we need to take time to listen to the Spirit – maybe pray – maybe leave room for the Spirit to even speak.
Yet, like every other stream, they too have a shadow side. The shadow side here is “self”. We need to remember that in this stream God is in everything – and so personal spiritual awakening is always in service to not just the individual, but to the whole of creation. When it becomes only about how spiritual we as individuals are – or how much we get out of praying or meditation, or our yoga or contemplative prayer – then we have drifted in to shadow. Because as important as self is, and we should always seek to love ourselves and grow spiritually, our faith is weighted toward the well-being of all.
It is interesting to me that while the spiritual stream has always been a part of our faith – it is perhaps the fastest growing segment in, not only our church here, but in the larger society as well. Just for fun, complete this sentence for me: “when I talk to people who don’t currently go to church, they always say they are, “spiritual but not…”
Theologians and others who study such things have called the age in which we live “the Age of Spirit’ –a time when people are less interested in hearing about God, yet are passionate about experiencing God. So, in this age of Spirit, how are we being called to change? How are we being encouraged to share worship styles? What new ways of seeing God are we being exposed to? Big questions – yet they are questions for another time. (And by another time, I mean next week!)
I began this reflection by inviting us to remember who we are. So, who are we? We are evangelical, ecclesial, missional, ecumenical and spiritual. Separately we are lovely, but together we are beautiful and strong and vibrant and Spirit infused. So when we gather on a Sunday, or any other day for that matter, we need to remember who we are, so that we can resist the peer pressure that will lead us to not good places – while enabling us to engage in the holy shenanigans we are being called to engage in. We need to remember that we are not the same – we do not all experience God in the same way – and that is exactly how it should be. There is life in this.