Pentecost 19, Proper 23 October 15, 2017
Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver City, NM Rev. Paul Moore
Click here for a pdf version. Good for printing.
This coming Tuesday the Student Interfaith Alliance at Western is hosting a religious leaders forum. Sarah asked me to line up religious leaders from as wide a spectrum as I could. I’ve got everyone I could from Pastor Joseph Gros of Calvary Chapel to Paul Stuetzer from the Buddhist Center. The Alliance gave us topics to touch on. I am very much looking forward to it. If any of you want to attend, it will take place at the Library at 6:30.
The very last topic is an interesting one. “How can I find inner peace without becoming religious?” I’ve run into it before. There is this sense that being religious and having inner peace are somehow at odds with one another. People try to find peace in a hundred other ways, mostly alone or with lose groups of relatively similar-minded people. I hear it in, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”
The “spiritual but not religious” movement betrays two major failings. Both have a certain degree of validity and both need to be addressed. One, a sense of wanting inner peace without having to pay the price for it—that is, surrender, and two, a failure on the part of organized religion to deliver what we say we do. Two of our readings this morning address these questions, one apiece.
The Gospel lesson deals with surrender. In the Gospel lesson Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast. A king puts on a wedding feast for his son. Now, when the king puts on a spread for the prince you know how important that is. The son may very well become the next king. Being on the outs with him is not a smart thing to do. The end of the parable makes this clear. Consequently, the stubbornness of the guests is really serious. They show a casual disregard for the systems of power that have the capacity to hurt them. They have a really shallow understanding of the nature of the political system they live under, and they are not willing to go to the work to work within it. It’s a matter of surrender, of allegiance. They have not surrendered to the authority of the king, and so, they will be destroyed.
The point is surrender. Surrender is the essential element in all spiritual life. One cannot achieve inner peace without surrender. One cannot have a deep, transforming relationship with God without surrender. One of the purposes of organized religion is to call people to spiritual surrender. God is bigger than us. God holds all the cards. God calls us into relationship. We either surrender to that divine invitation of love, or we rebel and end up destroying ourselves.
The Epistle lesson today deals with organized religion. Someone said about this passage once, “No wonder those two women couldn’t get along. One of them is “Odious,” and the other is “So-touchy!” Someone didn’t know how to read Greek names, for sure, but it makes the point. The lack of harmony in the community of God destroys our credibility in the eyes of the world. Too many times in the eyes of the world, we preach love and practice contention. We teach tolerance and can’t handle some kinds of people. We declare that we serve the world and too many times we end up serving ourselves instead. Paul is calling on the Philippians to be at peace, and to truly serve the world in harmony, shoulder to shoulder, pushing all in one direction, showing the radical, world-transforming love of God in a world that is filled with contention, violence and isolation.
The point really is authenticity. Are we really who we say we are? Are we humbly genuine? No organized religion can lead you to inner peace without being humble and genuine.
At the Forum on Tuesday evening in answer to this question I’m going to say three things:
- Inner peace is not achieved, it is discovered, found, received as a gift.
- The purpose of organized religion is to help its adherents discover the gift,
- Because inner peace is really, really hard to discover alone.
To say it in different words,
- Lone sheep are wolf-bate and usually aren’t very peaceful.
- We do best spiritually when we are in community.
- And community needs organization or it isn’t community. It’s just part of the fabric of who we are.
Every year we have an ingathering of our United Thank Offering gifts. We will take them to Convention at the end of this week, ad one of us will parade down the center aisle at the Opening Eucharist and deposit our gift on the Altar along with everyone else who has held a Fall Ingathering.
What we do symbolizes something really important. We in the Episcopal Church hold that the community of God isn’t just located in our local parish. We are part of a larger community—then Diocese, and the diocese is part of a larger community, the Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Church is part of a larger community, the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion is part of a larger community, the community of Christians around the world. Our community of faith is organized on a much broader scale than just our little group. We are nested in a worldwide community of believers, as diverse as you can imagine, yet one in Christ.
This is, perhaps, a warm and cozy thought, but being in community means we have responsibilities. One of our responsibilities is participation in the UTO Ingathering, and we are doing that. Other responsibilities include participation in the councils of the Diocese and National Church as it falls to us to do. Your rector is President of the Standing Committee and Chair of Rio Grande Borderland Ministries. Your deacon is co-chair of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew for the Diocese. Your postulant and your deacon are on the Youth Commission for the Deanery. We pay our fair share to maintain the needs of the Diocesan and national staff. We are well-connected to the larger community.
It also means that we get perks. The Bishop is coming at the end of November and again on Easter Sunday. The Bishop is symbol of the unity of the local Church with the wider Church. He will share with us, I’m sure, what’s going on out there, especially if we ask him to.
Your pastors have a pastor. When I need a pastor, I go to my bishop. When I need direction and counsel I go to my bishop. Bishops have been there for me through going on 30 years of ordained ministry, and I am profoundly grateful for their ministry. The Bishop gathers the clergy from time to time in community to share, support one another and learn together.
We get support for things.
The Rev. Jan Hosea will be here for our stewardship wrap-up on October 29th. She is a dynamic preacher, and she has some teaching she will be doing at the potluck afterwards. We have access to her through the Dioceses.
We have Camp Stoney. I still have this ideal of sending every eligible kid to camp every Summer at no cost to the families. It’s a high goal, but the fact is, the camp is there for our kids.
We have the Bosque Center. The Bosque Center is more than just the location of the diocesan offices. It is a retreat center, and in due time it will have a lovely chapel dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Ted Howden.
We have financial oversight. So many congregations get in trouble financially, but we have someone watching our books, overseeing how we do things, giving us tips on best practices, and keeping us out of trouble.
We have organizational support. When a congregation needs to find a new clergy person the Diocese is highly involved. My presence here is a product of successful clergy transition management in partnership with strong diocesan support.
I could go on, but you get my drift. Being part of a larger community imposes responsibilities, but it also makes us stronger.
In this month of stewardship, we need to keep this in mind. Stewardship extends beyond the parish. Our financial obligations to the Diocese allow for that greater community in which we live and move and have our being. Our participation in the life of the Diocese only enhances our parish life. Our surrender to the structure of the Episcopal Church is a spiritual exercise that teaches us to surrender to the gift of inner peace. Our harmony in the community of God both here and beyond us testifies to the world that we’ve got something good to offer.
And it works. It is not said of us in this community that we serve only ourselves. It is not said in this community that we are contentious and troublesome. It is not said in the Diocese that we are one of the Bishop’s special, high-maintenance cases.
This is stewardship month. Our finances need additional help, and I am confident that we can and will rise to the challenge. In the rest of what we do, things are going well, and I am grateful to God and to you. Thanks be to God for the family of families in which Good Shepherd lives and moves and has its being. Let us continue to step up and do our part. Let us be good stewards of the Church.