To view a video of this sermon, please click here. (The sound is okay, but not great)
There is a growing trend in the United States where people claim that they have a spiritual connection to the divine, but they reject institutional religion. It is certainly possible to cultivate a spiritual connection with God without participating in an organized faith, but that kind of spirituality is not Christianity. I think the term “spiritual but not religious” is probably just the new term for agnosticism, which is the belief in a higher power without understanding what it is. Being spiritual but not religious is not Christianity, our faith requires community; although our faith tradition does not negate personal relationships with God, it does require that we remain connected with one another through Christ, which is the purpose of today’s gospel.
According to John, Jesus is attempting to make it clear that when we become separated from him we will not be effective ministers or caretakers of creation. This is because it is through our mutual connection to Christ Jesus that we are connected to each other. Coming together on a weekly basis allows us to build relationships with one another and the foundation of that relationship is the worship of God. The core or the heartbeat of our worship in the Episcopal Church is the Eucharist. In Eucharistic prayer C we are reminded that we come together at the table to not only receive comfort and forgiveness, but also for renewal and strength. This is meant to be a reminder that we should not only turn to God in the bad times, but that we need to rely on God during the good times as well.
As Episcopalians we rely on three things to remain connected to both God and one another, namely scripture, tradition and reason, this morning I will be focusing on the first two. The first is this book, which is The Bible. The words on these pages represent the spiritual history of our faith, but more importantly they are how we can build our relationship with God through Jesus. The only way we can truly know Jesus is through these pages. In the gospel we heard Jesus say, “Abide in me as I abide in you”, well those words can be interpreted in a bunch of different way. First, I would like to offer my own twist, “Abide in God, as God abides in you”. Meaning as the Holy Spirit lives in us, so do we need to live in the Holy Spirit, which is to say pay attention to the Holy Spirit and the ways in which God is guiding our lives in all that we do. The second meaning, and the one I will focus on, is that we need to follow the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught his followers how to live a life fully connected to God, he taught them through both his actions and his words; they in turn wrote down his teachings, as well as their own actions so that future generations would know what he said and how to do it. It is through the bible that we gain access to Jesus, but just occasionally reading the bible is not the same as “abiding in him”, to do that we need to look at scripture daily and internalize it so that the teachings of Jesus, along with the Holy Spirit can guide us in all that we do. I will be and am the first to admit that I am bad at this, but I am committed to the idea that it is important and do my best.
The second thing that aids us in our quest to relate to both God and one another is our tradition, which is represented by the Book of Common Prayer. Everything in this book is based on scripture in some way or another, and when used on a regular basis can aid us all in our quest to abide in God, but it alone is not enough. The BCP is meant to be a tool to aid us in our attempts to be a community of faith. It is designed to be used with scripture, not on its own. Beginning on page 935 of the BCP it gives us a daily reading schedule that will allow us to read nearly the entire bible over the course of two years. On page 137 you will find the daily devotions, which are provided to give the reader a way to organize their daily prayer life in a similar fashion to what we do here on Sunday morning. The ultimate purpose of the prayer book, the first of which was written in 1549, was to give every member of the faith community full access to the church and a way to feel more included in the church. Additionally, it gives every member a sense of belonging. If you were to utilize the Daily deviations you would likely be joining thousands of people from around the world who do the same, making your personal worship corporate worship, even when we are alone.
When we do not engage in corporate or community-based worship we are like the vine that has been cut away, our relationship to God will suffer, it will whither away and possibly even die. When we do not regularly engage with the bible we are not abiding in God, we may think we are, but we are not. There is always something to be learned from scripture, even if you read the same passage every day for a month, you will soon begin to see God speaking to you in knew ways through the same words. Engaging in religion and reading scripture is how we can tend the vine of which Jesus spoke. It allows us to cut away the parts of our lives that cause us pain, so that newer and better things can flourish. When we do come together as a community of faith, or dare I say as a religion, we do so because we are both literally and figuratively fed by the Eucharist. When we eat the bread and drink the wine we are literally inviting and accepting God into our bodies and our lives. We abide in God by engaging in the regular study of the bible and prayer; by participating in regular and community-based worship; and by engaging the world in Gods name. Religion requires us to take an active role in the world based on our spiritual connection to God and to further that spiritual connection through our actions.
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