Spiritual Impulse

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

23One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 25And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ 27Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

I had a discussion with a woman last Wednesday, a woman who belonged to a conservative church with a conservative pastor who had strong conservative beliefs, and she asked me about my beliefs. So I shared them and gave her some food for thought. She also gave me some food for thought, and after about an hour we prayed together, and she went on her way.

And since then, as I’ve thought about our conversation, and the things that people are really looking for in a church, and what I was looking for in a church when I reached a point where I was ready to give church another chance (I had some very negative experiences with church folks whose minds were quite narrow).  

When I first started attending church, my main concern was eternal life…like the man I spoke about last week (“Saved from What?”), the one who comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to gain eternal life. At the core of my desire for eternal life was my aversion to eternal death; generally speaking people don’t want to die and go to great measures to extend their lives as long as possible. But we all face death eventually.  And Christians have a petty definitive answer on the question of eternal life: Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life, and we too can expect to enjoy eternal life. Halleluia! That question is answered.

Buy what else drove me to attend church? Beside an assurance that life didn’t just end when my body gave up the ghost, I sought community. I wanted friends who accepted me and loved me, friends that I could trust. And I found them; I have great memories of the warm feelings I  had for my Christian friends in college who were always friendly and helpful and caring. Some of my most joyful memories were from that time when my friends and I worshiped and worked and played and prayed together. And that is a true function of the church, to build a community of love and trust where one feels one is among friends.

But friendship requires candor. We have to be honest with one another if our friendship is authentic and deep and enduring, and organized religion seldom tolerates thoughts and beliefs that stray too far from what it claims to be orthodoxy. So when we have thoughts and ideas that fall outside of the box of the beliefs of the community to which you belong, tension develops; when your thoughts and ideas about God are at odds with what your church or mosque or temple or synagogue are preaching, you keep those thoughts and ideas to yourself because you don’t want to risk alienation from the community that you have become so comfortable with. It’s called cognitive dissonance; expressing your true beliefs threatens to isolate you from the community to which you belong.  

And so you repress your thoughts and questions and instead accept the answers that the authorities give to those questions in order to feel safe.

And pretty soon you end up with a well-defined set of rules and beliefs that everyone accepts so that everyone can feel safe.

And the rules end up taking on a life of their own.

And everyone becomes a slave to those rules because everyone is afraid of breaking the rules because doing so would banish them from the community that they are so deeply concerned about belonging to.

You become a slave to the law, to orthodoxy, to the status quo.

We have this impulse to conform out of fear that a failure to conform will endanger our lives. That danger plays itself out in many authoritarian regimes where people are afraid to criticize their government because they could be permanently silenced. The fear is real in religion as well where the so-called authorities threaten you with eternal death or eternal punishment for not professing the right belief. We don’t drown people or burn them at the stake anymore, but we do violence to their souls when we reject them for thinking or believing differently than the rest of the community.

And while it is an impulse born out of fear that prevents us from questioning or opposing the rules set up by a community, it is an impulse born out of love that prompts us to act in ways that very often break the rules that were set up by a community.

Jesus broke the rules, and the impulse that drove Jesus was not fear but love, a spiritual impulse that we need to nurture within us.

Because THIS community should never be defined by anything other than love for God, love for one another, love for all creation, and love for ourselves.

And when I say “love for ourselves” I mean love for the things that nurture our souls, that draw us closer to God and closer to each other.  

Let us be moved by the true Spirit of God that assures us of eternal life in the One who never forsakes us, regardless of what we think.

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