2nd Sunday after Pentecost – June 23, 2019
– Isaiah 65:1-9, Luke 8:26-39, Hebrews 11:1
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
Many of you have probably read the Pulitzer prize-winning book by Sylvia Nasar, or seen the Academy award-winning movie based on her book by the same name, A Beautiful Mind, about Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Nash who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which included seeing individuals and things that didn’t exist. And one of the ways he eventually managed to control this mental disorder was to ignore the things that seemed real to him, but no one else could see.
Faith may seem to many like a mental disorder, for followers attempt to live their lives according to a vision that no one else can see. Yet the only thing that keeps us from physical restraints is the knowledge that we know no one else can see what we see.
Faith, according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.” (11:1)
The Prophet Isaiah conveys a concept of God caught up in a spiritual hide-and-seek in which God anxiously wants to be found shouting, “Here I am, here I am!” (65:1) But the people whose attention God seeks are no longer interested, and have decided the follow their own spiritual pursuits.
Such is the difference between being spiritual and being religious. A spiritual person is one involved on a personal path to spiritual enlightenment unencumbered by the trappings and traditions of institutional religion that define and sometimes confine its members. However, it is my personal experience that this personal path will ultimately confront a point where you can’t go any further without companionship and community; where you discover there are so many other personal paths going in so many different directions contrary to your own, and too often selfishly motivated, that you lose sight of the light that motivated your search.
A religious person, on the other hand, is one mindful that personal spirituality must be in constant dialogue and interaction with like- minded spirits as a means of keeping one’s fire fueled and one’s journey energized. That person will encounter like-minded souls who are different in so many other ways and must, therefore, be compelled by the God of the Prophet Samuel, who warned us to not look on outward appearances as mortals, but to look upon the heart as God.
It is only through the heart that we learn to see each other as neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28); and further as neither gay nor straight, rich nor poor. It is only through the heart that we enter a non-binary realm of reality that reorients our sense of being and awakens us to the luminous light of God within and around us.
Religion involved a need for the Gentile from Gerasa, once freed from his demonic affliction, to remain among his people when he preferred to follow Jesus. For when the Gerasenes realized the miraculous work Jesus had done, instead celebrating and inviting him to stay, they feared him and told him to leave. The demonic fear that once occupied this Gentile now seized his people. So, Jesus commissioned him to remain among his people and free them with the good news that what God had done for him could also be done for them, if they but only open their hearts to God’s liberating presence. “Here I am, here I am!” says the Lord.
Our personal paths of spirituality run the risk of deviating down roads of escapism from the harsh realities of life unless we find a room and resting place among religious communities with fellow seekers living in life’s harsh realities, where together we may feel empowered and liberated to change life’s realities in the presence of an impartial and unconditionally loving Lord, who requires as our only guiding principle that we love the Lord with all our heart and soul and strength and mind; and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. (Luke 10:27)
Not long ago, I sent my daughter a list of churches within walking distance of where she lives that might offer a suitable space for her spiritual path. I attached an article about a Vanderbilt University study, based on a Harvard University study (1), which concluded that attending worship lowers stress and increases longevity of life because of the sense of social support, community, compassion, and being a part of something greater than one’s self people experience in worship. Is not this experience the presence of God among us?
The psalmist reminds us:
“Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.” (146:3-8)
Faith is the divine invitation to enter the realm of intuitive, spiritual reality. It is “the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.” “Here I am, here I am!” says the Lord. Amen.
1 Jim Folk, Going to Church Reduces Stress and Mortality, anxietycentre.com, April 3, 2019