Spiritual or Christian? Mining Religious Instinct in the Modern Institution

jungA Sermon by Rev. Sherry Cothran      Feb. 9th, 2014 – Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

1 Cor 2:1-16 :  When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.   
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.   ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’  But we have the mind of Christ.

There is an ongoing debate in our religious culture today about what it means to be “Christian” vs. what it means to be “Spiritual.” In an effort to discover why people have fled the religious institution, much survey time has been spent reporting on a large group of people in our society who prefer the term Spiritual to Christian to define their value system. The apostle Paul, interestingly enough, never uses the word, Christian in his letters. What we moderns would call Christian, Paul simply calls a spiritual person, and he meant by that one who had received the Holy Spirit.

While our primary definition of a believer in our day and age, in our religious culture, might be more defined by what church you belong to or don’t belong to, how much you go to that church or whatever kinds of identity markers we associate with doing Christianity in our time, Paul’s primary definition of the believer lies in a sense of being, by means of the spirit. “It is the reception of the spirit that is the hallmark of entry into the community.” (from NIB Commentary on the text) This Spirit is the conveyer of all wisdom, of God’s very self, the root of all being.

How do we understand, in our modern religious culture, what it would mean to embody a daily way of practice that preferences the Holy Spirit as the root of our being, the very thing that communicates between our hearts and God with words that we cannot form upon our lips.

Paul says that our bodies are holy temples of the spirit. Our bodies are the vessels for the Holy Spirit and for God’s work in the world. (3:16,17) What would it feel like to practice being a vessel of the Spirit more intentionally?

Paul infers what we know in our modern time, to refuse the way of becoming a vessel for the spirit is to get very stuck in our adult lives and quite possibly, we are very stuck in our religious bodies as well.

None of the rulers of this age understood this, Gods wisdom, secret and hidden, declared before the ages of our glory, and because they did not understand it, they perished and if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the very embodiment of it standing before them.

Paul tells us that knowing the Spirit of God and becoming a vessel for that is to be unstuck, in other words free. But unstuck from what and free from what?

And this is the point in our modern society, isn’t it? To keep us stuck, in a loop of consumerism, distracted from knowing ourselves. If you watched any ads during the superbowl, while entertaining, there was an underlying message of making meaning out of consumerism. For example, if you own a jeep, then you must be one of those people who is a free spirit and owning a jeep confirms this identity for you, it makes a statement about who you are. And, then the message is simply if we can convince ourselves that our stuff has meaning and our material possessions, jobs, careers, status, etc., carry within them our true identity, then we can rationalize being wedded to a culture of consumerism as our identity, and certainly we have.

If we can stay stuck in this mentality, then a whole structure can be built and maintained – Because then we become better consumers, better workers, better automatons, programmed by the system to be dependant upon the system, if we feel that we are discontent and that we must have more to be content then we will invest our time, belief and energy in the market place, making the market more valuable rather than our very selves. It’s hard to unwind from such a state of being.

But Paul tells us of a different ethic, Paul defines this way of being as perishing, not the way of the Spirit, a different ethic, one in which humanity finds its identity primarily rooted in the Spirit, not the indomitable and stubborn will.

The way of the will, and we are taught this from a very young age, is to succeed at any cost, to produce to establish your own worth, to build your identity in the marketplace. And we have used our morality to bolster these principals.

We don’t realize that our souls have been starving for real intimacy until we hit bottom or frag out because we just can’t keep up the ruse and then we hit a wall and begin to pay attention to our spirit, our soul. When we start to put some of the pieces together, we see that we have been robbed of ourselves and the intimacy that is there because we bought into a lie that we were, in fact, worthless. We ultimately find that our loneliness finds its roots in our isolation from our very selves.

We have to unlearn so much just to find out what we are worth and the find the very thing that brings value to our lives, God’s spirit alive in our souls.

You have, no doubt, heard of the fight or flight instinct. It’s what we’re born with as a kind of survival mechanism. We tend to apply it to every aspect of our lives. We either stay and stick it out and end up fighting battles that we never feel like we can win, or don’t really even believe in, we produce at any cost, to our health and relationships; or we fly away from our commitments and promises and find refuge in something like a substance or someone like a co-dependent relationship that cannot contain all of our anxious compulsions. Fight or flight. Yet, God offers a third way, surrender. Because we all long to give ourselves to an ultimate something or someone and we finally find it only in God.

There is a merging that happens in the choice of surrender, between the human and God, in the moment when all barriers are down and we give up trusting our misguided instincts and in place of that trust God to re-route us, sustain us and conform us to the Divine strength and wisdom which will become to us, in time, living water. This is the receiving of the Spirit of God that Paul talks about here, made available through Christ.

The psychologist, Carl Jung, believed that we have a religious instinct that rises up from the soul, and in fact, our bodies are vessels for this soul. He says that the heart has to be dedicated to a dialogue between the self and God and this requires tremendous humility, honesty and willingness. He examined so many patients who had become hopelessly stuck or off track in their adult lives because they had refused to have this kind of honest dialogue and had failed to find a system of support in which to do it. And indeed, our culture does not encourage this kind of dialogue.

Jung says that when we turn toward this religious instinct, it actually assists us in this dialogue when we become committed to it. (a distinction between religious institution and religious instinct should be made. Paul never used the word Christian, but Spiritual.)

Jung provides a good description for the kind of thing Paul is talking about here, this dialogue between the self and the Spirit of God. But even more so for Paul, in referring to the Spirit that is from God that illuminates the holy and sacred in the world and in us. We would call this kind of ongoing conversation between the self and Spirit a kind of integration, this is what Paul is talking about when he talks about faith, the integration of the wisdom of God into the soul, but as he states so often, it does require a sacrifice of other ways of being and living. However, it is the pathway to peace, if you so desire it and to God.

There are so many things, as Jung states, that prevent us from ever finding this peace, listening to this religious instinct or hearing, really ingesting these words of Paul today. For Westerners, he says, there are so many blockages, Jung states, “Western man is held in thrall by ‘ten thousand things’ he sees only particulars, he is ego bound and thing bound and unaware of the deep root of all being.” (Collected Works Vol II 12:8)

We have to learn new ways of being, it is through intentional contact with God and God’s spirit in this way that we can learn, through surrender and humility, to let go of the ego driven lives we are so prone to live.

We even have to unlearn these ways of being in our religious culture, too. In the book “Invisible Church,” the author states:

“If we are to create a mature and healthy 21st Century spirituality for ourselves, we are called on to make consciousness and build soul by living the questions and suffering the paradoxes. Most people, however, are all too eager to abdicate this responsibility to someone or something outside ourselves, preferring to stay stuck at a level where the church, family, government or corporation will tell us exactly what to do in every situation.”

Awakening, as Wesley called it, or becoming conscious as this author states, is painful but necessary if we are to live as free people of God and be free to enact the kind of change that God’s love brings about in our lives and in our world. When we become stuck as adults in our lives, what we don’t realize is that our very ability to love is stuck, to love ourselves and love God and one another, the very essence and core of our faith.

The paradox that the apostle Paul calls us to, so infamously, as we know, is that paradox that in our greatest weakness is our strength. In our deepest ability to become dependant upon God and God alone is our very independence. We become powerful by first becoming powerless. Powerless over the addictions of our lives and our lives have become unmanageable.

The true spiritual Christian life calls us to examine whether or not we are spiritualists, are we first filled with the Holy Spirit, are our bodies vessels for the Spirit of God? This is the very root of the Christian journey, without which it withers.

The soul’s journey is what re-orients us toward a way of living that is purposeful, fulfilling, filled with real strength and courage.

Paul says that those who have this mind of Christ are able to discern all things and are subject to no one’s scrutiny. You’ve heard the phrase, “being your own person,” and yet we have a very skewed idea of what this means. We think we achieve this kind of independence by will power, by all or nothing thinking, by the ego’s drive to succeed and become all powerful, no, it’s actually achieved through surrendering to God’s power and ultimate design for your life. A dialogue between God and the self, asking God to remove your shortcomings, your faults, the things that make you feel distant from God, that’s what you’re after.

The fruits of the Spirit, as we know them, will show up in our lives and we will be changed. Peace, love, understanding, compassion, gentleness, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, endurance, longsuffering, patience. Amen.

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Speaker, Author, Musician, Pastor, Nature Lover. Co-Founder of the Social Enterprise: Dreamweave: Renew Lives, Recyle Products;

4 thoughts on “Spiritual or Christian? Mining Religious Instinct in the Modern Institution

  1. Dear Rev Sherry. Thanks for this reflection on what Religioin should be in modern worlds. I am indeed happy with your theological position. Hope we keep in touch through this electronic vehicle. I am also a Methidist, but at the moment i am a lecturer at the United Seminary of Ricatla in Mozambique. Greetings, Helder!

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