This sermon has its roots in a blog.
Which, in turn, inspired an idea.
Which then led to an interview with a living, breathing, resident hero of mine at Good Shepherd.
So below you’ll see a sermon designed to set up an interview which was to fuel enrollment in our LifeGroup Launch event.
From early reports, the plan is working.
You can only be spiritual if you are first religious.
It’s a little bit ironic, is it not, that in a series all about the Holy Spirit (and that’s what Wake Up Call is), I want to talk to you for a few moments about religion? That in a series about the Spirit we have inserted an entire day called Religion Rehab?
Because is not Jesus the end of religion? Isn’t religion for people who are afraid of going to hell while spirituality is for people who have been there? Don’t we want to walk by the Spirit? And isn’t this why so many people tell us – and probably you’ve said this yourself – that they are spiritual but not religious? And I know that on more than one occasion when people have said that to me, I have answered back with “Great! Neither am I! I, too am spiritual but not religious!” Because religion is supposedly man’s attempt to reach God while spirituality is the much more fluid truth of God’s reaching out to man. So, actually, maybe since this is a series about the HS and we’re more into spirituality than religion, we should recite the modern mantra together: Recite: I’M S-N-R.
There. Don’t you feel better? Except, you’ve just uttered a load of bull. Except, you totally don’t understand what you just said. Except, when I’ve gone along with that notion of SNR, I’ve been clueless about what I was proclaiming and what I was condemning. Because do you know where the word “religion” comes from? It shares the same root word with “ligament.” And what is a ligament? What do ligaments do? Ligaments are connective tissue linking bone to bone. Ligaments purposely link one part of the body with another part of the body. Ligaments are the ultimate antidote to body isolation; they instead call out: “Everything here is linked, connected; nothing works in isolation!” And here’s the cool thing – you have them working all over your body RIGHT NOW.
You know how you know how important ligaments are? By realizing how destructive it is when one or more of them get damaged. When a ligament gets damaged or torn – football fans here know that the WORST injury is a torn ACL (explain) – then your body is a mess and rehab is a beast. Ligaments are so vital that when they have to be rehabbed and repaired, you’re gonna need tenacity & encouragement. But don’t believe me; here’s a doctor to prove it. (YouTube video about ligaments.)
Huh. See, SNR is me, mine, my, personal and private. Don’t you get in the way of my own understanding of God/The Spirit/Divinity, and I am good to get through all of this on my own. But when you understand that “religion” and “ligament” share the same root and the same meaning, then you realize “religious” isn’t the enemy. It is instead this beautiful, connected way of saying, “we’re in this together. I can’t get God or faith or the Spirit or Jesus by myself. On my own, I am a torn ACL!! I need others in the community to help me figure life out and to help me understand Jesus.” See, religion – the ligamentary connection bringing all kinds of people together – is behind Paul’s thinking in I Corinthians 12:12-14:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Look at that! Baptized by one Spirit into our own little enclaves, right? Baptized by one Spirit into our private spirituality, yes? No! Into one body! Connected by ligaments! Religion!
Paul is telling us you must follow Jesus for yourself, but you can never follow him by yourself. He is telling us that bad religion is my religion. But good religion is our religion. He is saying that only when you are connected, ligament by ligament, to others in the Body will you experience the freshness of the Holy Spirit. Religion (properly understood) and Spirit are not opposites and they’re not enemies. They are indistinguishable, inextricably linked. Because here it is: You can only be spiritual if you are first religious.
And we are here, this month and always, to give you plenty of opportunities to connect with others. To sort of “practice religion” — to be ligamentary! – so that you will be well positioned for spirituality to break out. For you to know what the depth and joy and passion of a living relationship with Jesus Christ is all about. But it doesn’t happen alone. It’s not all about transcendental meditation, you connecting with the universe. It happens in community. In small gathering who gather on purpose for a purpose. On purpose for a purpose. You ever take your kids to soccer practice? Bball? Ever go yourself? Of course. That’s on purpose for a purpose. And we at GS are exactly the same when it comes to your lrwJC – on purpose, for a purpose. Gathering not in rows but in circles, groups of 8-12 people, making a big church feel small and making an alien library feel understandable. We call them LifeGroups and they are our heartbeat. They are the connective tissue bringing life to this church. They are the religious venue that, when you plug yourself into it, will pave the way for the Spirit to break loose. You can only be spiritual if you are first religious.
You know who already gets this? That when you get together on purpose for a purpose then growth happens? AA. NA. GA. Folks get caught up in behaviors – INFANCY! – that they can’t get out of alone and then the community helps them out of it. They don’t gather because they all like each other. They don’t. They gather together because they know without it they’ll stay drunk. That’s all. And some of you are like, “yeah, but I’m not an alcoholic.” Hey: we’re all powerless over something. And we all only have power to grow out of it, beyond it by connecting. Not just in rows but in circles. They get religious so they can become spiritual.
Because you know what? We all have ligament damage. Somewhere, somehow. Marriage in trouble, job on the chopping block, child who has gone AWOL, a faith you can’t quite trust. But you don’t improve your damaged ligament by severing it all together! But instead by going through re-hab, by reconnecting, by going through those massively small steps of realizing you’re only complete in faith when you’re connected to others.
Pastors need this. Pastors learn this. Sometimes they learn it in the middle of great difficulty. Sometimes their body literally has to break before they truly understand what it means to be in The Body. That’s why I want you to meet my friend Ron Hall . . .
Interview ensues with Ron, an Assemblies of God pastor paralyzed by a rogue wave in the Pacific Ocean in October of 2013. The interview explored all the ways COMMUNITY, not isolation, led to his rehabilitation.
So you’ve heard Ron & what other ligaments & even LifeGroups mean to him. Here’s what we’re gonna do. We have a LifeGroup Launch event on Tues, Aug 23 and I want all who aren’t in a LG to be there. That’s where you’ll get in one. Now: And I know what some of you are thinking as I talk about LifeGroups. #1 I don’t have time. I gotta drive her to soccer and him to baseball and work and FB and stuff. You’re right. You don’t have time. I don’t have time. But you know what? I bet that if you took your kids to fewer activities and the trade-off was your spiritual growth that resulted in a healthier marriage and stronger home . . . your kids would be just fine with that. Because they are the collateral damage from your immaturity are they not? Slow them down, slow YOU down, so you might relocate and reinvest your life into what’s truly important. #2 I tried one once and didn’t like it. So I’m not interested. Have you ever gotten a bad meal at a restaurant? So what’d you do? Vow never to eat again? No! You tried a different one! Same with LifeGroups! Yes! SOME DON’T WORK AND SOME DON’T WORK FOR YOU AND SOME DON’T WORK BECAUSE OF YOU. Welcome to life. You try another one. Because the principle doesn’t change. These sort of structured relationships are how God relocates us to where we belong in the body . . . and that’s the only way we grow. You can only be spiritual if you are first religious.
You know what all this means for me? (I love this!) Your main connection to this church ceases to be through worship, through music, through me . . . and becomes through your LifeGroup. As your pastor, that’s terrifying . . . and liberating! You won’t all know me . . . but you will all know Jesus and a small connection of fellow ligaments. And that’s when, that’s when you’ll wake up to the Holy Spirit. REFRAIN